Some lucky kid is going to engineer magic and quickly land a job at General Motors. Unfortunately until then, there’s no magic wand to wave for what’s happening at GM right now, and I’m guessing that the bruised automaker would even settle for a hat with potential at this point.
All of that overshadows the 2015 GMC Yukon and its re-entry into the crossover-loving American consciousness. For the first time since the Great Recession, the Yukon/Tahoe faithful finally has something to bang the drum about and it’s overshadowed by, well, news. Perhaps GM should have put this car on the backburner until we got word that drones will hand out parking tickets or Obama made a guest judge appearance on “America’s Got Talent.”
Then my assessment of “surprisingly good” for the 2015 GMC Yukon would rise to the top instead of getting buried like I just did here. I swear I didn’t mean to. (But seriously, a drone handing out parking tickets is just around the corner, I have a feeling about that. Or something.)
Perhaps no other SUV was saddled with the uncomfortable burden of being the poster child for automotive excess like the GMC Yukon/Chevrolet Tahoe and related Yukon XL/Suburban nameplates were. Both battle cruisers were commonplace along the cul-de-sacs and driveways 10 years ago because their acres of sheet metal, huge engine and gas to power both seemed relatively cheap. Since then we had a global collapse, several gas spikes and Edward Snowden. Oh, and crossovers became a much better idea considering most drivers used gas-guzzling SUVs for transporting and not really towing anyway.
As a result, sales of the Yukon fell off a cliff in 2007 and 2008, and only recently began climbing back — despite having an older model to sell.
Enter the newest Yukon based off of the new Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra pickup truck architecture. GM’s bigger V8s are put to use here with a 5.3-liter V8 or 6.2-liter V8 as standard in either base or ultra-luxe Denali models respectively. Much like the trucks it’s based on, the Yukon uses every trick available to wring the most out of its V8s; cylinder shutoff, direct injection, lightweight materials, valve timing and does anyone know magic? The gains in MPG over last year are real — 16/22 mpg in city/highway driving over 15/21 mpg — if not spectacular. Baby steps, I suppose.
But it’s hard to imagine something as big as your living room wringing out that kind of mileage. The Yukon is seriously big (121 cubic feet of interior space) and seriously comfortable. The talking point this year is the attention to interior details to make the Yukon seriously quiet and smooth on the road. Pardon my surprise, but for an SUV equipped to tow 8,200 lbs. you’d expect it to be louder and bulkier — not unlike a city bus. In reality, there were a few times over my weeklong test that I actually had to look to see if the giant SUV was running. Yes, really.
That’s always been GMC’s game though. The Yukon has been just a smidge nicer than the similarly equipped Tahoe and I suspect it’s been a little too close recently. For 2015, GMC has substantially shifted from Chevrolet’s styling to offer Yukon buyers something unique for their money instead of just differently colored badges. The front fascia of the Yukon is more in line with the rest of GMC’s lineup with a larger grille and C-shaped LED lights that could light up Dodger Stadium at night. Considering the upright stance of the Yukon, the combination of bright light/huge grille is as subtle as getting mugged in broad daylight. I like it.
In recent years, the Yukon was flagging in justifying its price premium over the Tahoe. This year’s model ranges from $2,000 more than the Chevrolet, to a whole lot more for the Yukon Denali ($64,000 or so to start). Our test model was a 4WD SLT model — grades start at SLE, then SLT and up — loaded with everything but the Denali badges and clocked in at $64,520. It’s possible that the Yukon starts stepping now on the other, other SUV that comes from GM, the Cadillac Escalade, which is a good problem to have if you’re a prospective GMC buyer right now.
Driving the big SUV isn’t a problem, thankfully. Thanks to a tall seating position and outward visibility, the Yukon is supple on the road despite weighing more than 2.5 tons. The light steering and backup cameras make navigating parking lots a breeze and when equipped with second-row captains chairs, I’m begging the next person in this parking lot to take me to Wyoming.
Justly or unjustly, the 2015 GMC Yukon may be overlooked for a little while longer. Whether for its own history or its parent company’s present, the Yukon is a surprisingly good step forward for an automaker that seems to step all over itself at the moment. With a better interior and an incrementally better and more fuel-friendly engine, the all-new Yukon is a marked improvement just like the trucks it’s based on. With enough hits like this on its resume, General Motors may well make its own magic instead of relying on someone to find it for them.
Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He enjoys hearing from readers. Reach him at email@example.com or @ColeMeetsCars