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CarGurus Expert ReviewThe Good
Decent looks, a spacious cabin and cargo area, three rows of seating, tolerably agile handling, and a comfy ride, powerful, trailer-hauling V8, and Hybrid trims keep the 2011 GMC Yukon a viable workhorse and people mover.The Bad
Lackluster fuel efficiency in the regular trims, a cramped and inconvenient third-row seat, stratospheric Hybrid pricetags, and some low-budget interior materials dampen the 2011 Yukon’s appeal somewhat.
The CarGurus View
Call it a throwback to the era of cheap(er) gas and macho, status-hunting overkill, but the 2011 Yukon still delivers tons of towing capacity, a comfy ride, dominating stance, and scads of passenger space. As the crossover has its place in the grand scheme of automotive engineering, so the likes of the brawny, full-size SUV will keep filling a needed niche, a task the Yukon performs admirably, even in Hybrid garb.
At a Glance
Perhaps the hulking, truck-based SUV has had its day, but the 2011 GMC Yukon still packs the tools to do the heavy jobs. Virtually unchanged from 2010, this looming brute looks and feels good, tows like a semi, and will even handle those pesky off-road chores without breaking a sweat. A base price of just over $35,000 may seem a tad steep to some, and fuel efficiency certainly isn’t in this Jimmy’s nature (except, of course, for the Hybrid trims) but, hey, nobody’s perfect. Unfortunately, GMC has seen fit to retain a few other of this ute’s less attractive features, like a surplus of low-rent hard plastic interior surfaces and the frustrating removable third-row seat that keeps one from truly appreciating its nearly 109 cubic feet of cargo space. There are, however, those who rather enjoy the capability of toting up to nine passengers around town, or through the forest, though the front bench seat needed for that many folks is an optional item.
Once again, three trim levels grace the Yukon lineup. The SLE1 is the base beast, the SLT1 the elegant beast, and the Hybrid the efficient beast. Each trim level can be delivered with either standard rear-wheel drive (RWD) or available on-demand four-wheel drive (4WD), and all carry a standard V8 powertrain with auto-manual transmission, or, in the Hybrid’s case, a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Though each trim is delivered with a standard trailer hitch and wiring, all but the Hybrid can be upgraded to an optional Class IV Heavy Duty Trailering Package with integrated trailer braking, extra engine and transmission cooling, and a 3.42 axle ratio. Additionally, both regularly powered Yukon trims are off-road capable, especially with the available Z71 Off-Road Suspension Package on the SLT1, with hefty all-terrain tires, a beefed-up suspension, skid plates, and added engine and transmission filtering and cooling. Alas, the Hybrid is a tad delicate to venture far from the beaten path, though its available 4WD system is perfectly suitable to adverse weather or muddy roads.
Competition for the Yukon remains the Ford Expedition and the Toyota Sequoia, with the Sequoia being this big Jimmy’s closest rival. One advantage that the Jimmy has over the others is a fairly tight turning radius, good news for those who find the need to dodge city traffic or challenge a Prius for that last parking space at the mall. Price-wise, all these behemoths are about the same, and it comes down to a matter of bang for the buck.
For 2011, GMC stands pat with a standard 5.3-liter Flex Fuel V8 engine and six-speed auto-manual transmission in the regularly powered Yukon. This combo nets some 320 hp at 5,400 rpm and 335 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, with the six-speed additionally boasting a rear locking differential. With the Heavy-Duty Trailering Package, towing is maxed out at 8,500 pounds on the RWD trims and 8,200 pounds with the 4WD versions, while EPA-estimates for both drivetrains, each of which boasts variable valve timing (VVT) and cylinder deactivation at highway speeds, stays at 15/21 mpg with regular gas, and significantly less than that using E85 ethanol-based fuel. Yukon trims with on-demand 4WD, meanwhile, boast electronic hi-lo gear selection, auto-locking hubs, and, of course, the rear locking differential, all of which makes this big SUV suitable for serious off-road use.
The Yukon Hybrid sports a VVT 6.0-liter hybrid V8 combined with an electric motor for a total of 332 hp at 5,100 rpm. The standard continuously variable transmission (CVT) allows 367 lb-ft of torque at 4,100 rpm and regenerative braking helps recharge the 300-volt nickel-metal hydride battery. The Hybrid can run for short distances on electric power alone, while cylinder deactivation and auto-engine stop/start help this hefty Hybrid achieve a decent 20/23 mpg in both RWD and 4WD versions. According to reviewers, the transition from gas to electric power is smooth and reliable, and the CVT works flawlessly in nearly all situations. In a unique blend of utility and efficiency, the Hybrids' CVT will effectively morph into a four-speed automatic when heavier loads are toted.
Reviews are all positive regarding the Yukon’s power and performance. Acceleration from a stop, merging and passing, and, especially, trailer-towing oomph are all noted as above average with the potent V8, while the six-speed auto-manual transmission is found by virtually all reviewers to be smooth and responsive. One test of the identically equipped regularly powered 4WD Tahoe had it scooting from 0-60 in 8.5 seconds, just a tad better than the class average. Engine noise is well-modulated in all trims, as well, according to most reviewers, even during hard acceleration, with the Hybrid, obviously, the quietest of the bunch.
Ride & Handling
A short and long arm front independent suspension is bolstered by front and rear stabilizer bars and a multilink rear suspension to give the 2011 Yukon a good feel for the road. Though it’ll never be confused with a Maserati, this big Jimmy acquits itself fairly well in most driving situations. According to reviewers, there’s little body lean and noseplow in corners, while the ride is surprisingly compliant rolling on the standard 17-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires. Relatively low sidewalls on the available 20-inch wheels and tires, however, results in some significant ride and handling degradation, according to some reviewers, while a bit of float and wallow is also to be expected. A few reviews note that the Autoride load-leveling suspension system available with the Yukon SLT1 may mitigate a marginal amount of float, but overall contributes little to ride and handling aspects. Others, however, deem this active suspension well worth the extra money.
Steering is a tad over-friendly on the highway, according to reviewers, though a fairly tight turning radius complements this lighter steering feel for improved low-speed maneuvering. Braking is described by most reviewers as smooth and potent with a glitch-free feel to the pedal. Finally, reviewers are generally pleased with the quietness of this truck-based ute, claiming road and wind noise are generally well muted except for a bit of minor wind rush around the outside mirrors at highway speeds.
Cabin & Comfort
Though not quite up to Cadillac Escalade standards, the 2011 Yukon nevertheless offers a significant number of standard cabin amenities. The base SLE1 is delivered with bucket front seats and two rows of rear seating for a standard capacity of eight passengers. Cloth upholstery, power-adjustable front seats, power windows, door locks, and heated outside mirrors, tilt-wheel steering, tri-zone climate control, and steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, meantime, are all dedicated to passenger comfort. Furthermore, standard electronic goodies on the SLE1 include a single-CD player with nine Bose premium speakers, XM satellite radio, and a USB connection, as well as OnStar/Bluetooth Connections and Directions hands-free navigation and communications technology. To top it all off, simulated wood and simulated alloy trim and dashboard touches give the SLE’s cabin a touch of elegance. The upper-echelon Yukon SLT1, meantime, adds standard leather upholstery, adjustable pedals, a universal remote garage door opener, rear-view camera, and leather and simulated alloy steering wheel.
As befits its higher pricetag, the Yukon Hybrid sports such additional standard amenities as leather upholstery, multi-level heated driver’s seat, reverse-tilt outside mirrors, DVD voice activated navigation, and remote engine start.
Optional cabin amenities for all three trims include bench front seating, rear-seat DVD entertainment, and a power glass sunroof. Additionally, the SLE1 can be delivered with the Convenience Package featuring a rear-view camera, power-adjustable pedals, and rear parking assist, and 4WD versions are available with the SLE1 Off-Road Package with all-terrain tires, as well as beefed-up shocks and struts. Moving up to the SLT1 begets such added available goodies as voice-activated DVD navigation, second-row captain’s chairs, Autoride active load-leveling suspension, Z71 Off Road Package with extra engine and transmission filtering and unique badging, power liftgate, 22-inch alloy wheels, and premium leather-trimmed upholstery. Options for the Hybrid include the power glass sunroof, advanced remote engine start, and rear seat DVD entertainment.
Reviewers generally find the Yukon’s cabin inviting, spacious, and reasonably well laid out. Gauges, however, while certainly large enough, have been cited by a number of reviewers as too indistinct for accurate reading on the go. Though few soft touches mitigate the usual plethora of hard plastic surfaces inside, overall cabin build quality is otherwise considered top-notch by most reviewers, with its high stance made more negotiable by standard step running boards. Finally, leg- and headroom are deemed better-than-adequate in most reviews, but the need to remove the bulky third-row seat to take advantage of the cavernous cargo area leaves virtually all reviewers sweaty and frustrated.
The bulky 2011 Yukon uses its size and heft to good advantage in protecting occupants from the hazards of road travel. Complementing this super size with all trims, meanwhile, are such standard safety items as four-wheel ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, traction and stability control, dual front side-mounted airbags, three-row head airbags, daytime running lights, dusk-sensing headlights, OnStar collision and airbag deployment notification, and a post-collision safety system. The SLT1, additionally, sports standard front fog/driving lights that are optional with the SLE1, while the Hybrid boasts standard turn-signal-integrated mirrors and a remote anti-theft alarm. A further optional safety item for each trim level is a rear parking assist system, while the SLT1 can be delivered with optional side blind-zone alert sensors.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the 2011 Yukon its highest rating of five stars in front- and side-impact testing, while rollover protection is awarded a middling three stars for both RWD and 4WD trims. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), meanwhile, has no data on the Yukon, doubtless due to its large size making such ratings moot in its eyes.
What Owners Think
Needless to say, gas mileage remains somewhat of a sore spot with owners of the 2011 Yukon with regular gas engines. Most, though, will readily admit that they were aware of this huge ute’s prodigious appetite for fuel going in. Other glitches that come to the minds of many owners are those pesky removable third-row seats, the over-abundance of low-rent, easily damaged hard plastics inside, and the inability of the second row seats to fold flat onto the floor. The lack of what many owners consider traditional standard goodies also has some scratching their heads, while the hefty price of the Hybrid has a few owners wondering if the fuel savings are worth it.
Styling, however, as well as herculean towing capacities, decent ride and handling properties, the spacious cabin, hulking stance, and potent V8 engine make nearly all owners of the Yukon firm believers that the day of the truck-like SUV is far from past. Hybrid owners, no matter their worries about initial cost, still appreciate this green machine’s environmental friendliness and, yeah, passing a gas pump or two has its appeal, as well.
by Eric Tallberg
Talk about the 2011 GMC Yukon
Looking for a Used Yukon in your area?CarGurus has 10,360 nationwide Yukon listings starting at $3,100.