The annual family vacation Texas style
Reviewing the 2015 GMC Yukon Denali and Yukon Denali XL
The Chevrolet Suburban, which we reviewed recently, has been around since the 1930’s, but it wasn’t until the Suburban’s 10th generation in 2000 where the Yukon comes into play. Built on the same platform and, at first almost identical in design, the Yukon was GMC’s Suburban counterpart, as well as being a Tahoe counterpart. The Yukon is based on the smaller wheelbase Tahoe. While still seating up to 8-passengers, the cargo space behind the third row is quite slim. The Yukon XL, though, is based on the Suburban’s longer wheelbase and has a quite massive rear-end making it a fantastic vehicle for larger families making long road trips. I was lucky enough to be able to drive both versions of the big SUV. I drove the basic Yukon for a week as an everyday driver back and forth to the office and shopping and hauling around the family. The XL, on the other hand, I had for two weeks. I was able to use this as a daily driver as well, but the real goal was taking the family out for a long family vacation around Texas.
This vehicle is very closely tied to the 2015 Suburban, besides some great exterior touches, so I’m not going to dive too deeply into the details here. If you’re looking for more details, check out our review of the Suburban here.
Speaking of the unique exterior design, one of the things I harped on when it came to the Suburban was the headlight design that still just doesn’t do it for me. At first, I had the same reaction with this Yukon. The headlights are extremely stylized and quite beautiful but has a strip that comes up over the fenders that seem a little out of place. Unlike the Suburban, though, they have grown on me.
Now let’s get into how this vehicle serves as a daily driver. I have a larger family, so a three-row SUV is a must. There are a lot of SUVs that I’ve enjoyed over the years that have third rows and are quite nice to drive. Unlike almost every SUV on the market today, though, the Yukon is still built on a truck platform. This gives you a more solid feel, smoother ride, better ground clearance, but also worse fuel economy. You also get more overall room for yourself and passengers. This means that I can carry the kids in comfort, but if I’m taking my co-workers out for lunch, they will be able to fit and be comfortable as well. Not many SUVs can claim that today. The only area where it seems you’re lacking space is in the cargo area. Sure you can easily fold up the rear-seats, even the second row, and have massive amounts of room behind the driver, but how many families actually take advantage of this extra room? The week I had the short wheelbase Yukon, I couldn’t once fold down the rear-seats as anytime I might have needed to, I also had the whole family in the car with me. A weekly trip to the grocery store will have you wanting for a larger cargo area.
The Yukon XL, on the other hand, will never leave you wanting. This was abundantly clear when packing for our family vacation. We’re getting ready to head out of Dallas to spend a few nights in San Antonio where we’ll go downtown to visit the Alamo and the River Walk. Also, while in San Antonio, we’ll be making a trip to SeaWorld. After that, the plan is to hit the highway and head toward the coast. We’ll be staying in Port Aransas right on the Gulf of Mexico. We’re not just hauling my family either, we’re taking some extra passengers. On the way to San Antonio, we’ll be taking my sister-in-law with us. Once we’re headed to Port Aransas, though, we’re dumping the sister-in-law and picking up two more kids – my niece and nephew.
Packing the back consists of a large canopy tent for keeping us shaded on the beach. We’ve also packed four folding chairs, again for the beach. The kids have boogie boards, buckets for sand castles, and swimming goggles. We’re also taking a large, rolling ice chest and another smaller cooler. Each of us has our own bags for a week’s worth of clothing and some pillows and blankets for the ride and extra comfort in the hotels. With the right kind of planning, I was able to get it all fitting with ease. Since we were able to pack everything we needed into the back, unlike years before, that leaves floorboards and seating areas less cramped letting the kids be more comfortable for the long drive.
Other ways to keep the kids comfortable for the drive is keeping them entertained. Driving from Dallas to San Antonio is just over a 5-hour haul. Plus, we’ll be stopping for refreshments and bathroom breaks. Luckily the Yukon comes to the rescue once again. Our tester was equipped with a dual screen backseat entertainment system. That means both rows have their own individual screens tying into the central DVD system. We made sure to bring some movies we knew the kids would enjoy, but we also stopped by the local RedBox before heading out to grab a few movies. This works out well because you can return the movies to any RedBox and they’re all over the place. In a 5-hour trip, you can easily knock down 2 or so movies and this helps keep the kids distracted.
As for driving for 5-hours going straight down I-35, the Yukon handles that with ease. The climate control kept the entire vehicle nice and cool during our 100 degree plus days and the seat-coolers are like sitting on heaven. The best bit of technology for these long trips, though, is the radar guided cruise control. I know I’ve mentioned this in many other reviews including our trip in the 2015 Hyundai Sonata, but it’s always worth mentioning how great these really are.
In the Yukon, the system works a little more wonky, though. I don’t know if this is down to calibration or just trying to reign in such a large vehicle. The cruise control could vary by 3-mph in either direction. If you lock it in at 70-mph, you could start wondering up to 73, or as low as 67-mph. This didn’t seem to be caused by an incline or decline in elevation either, it would just wonder. Once you have your cruise set, you can adjust your gap or the distance between you and the car in front of you. Again, this seemed to be more of an estimation than an exact as it would bring you uncomfortably close to the vehicle in front of you sometimes before it would catch and slow the vehicle down. Once you grew more comfortable with it and drove accordingly, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but I would like to see an extra step in the gap keeping you just a little further away from the vehicle you’re trailing.
The next day as we headed into downtown San Antonio, the size of the Yukon XL became even more of a burden. Driving down tight, crowded, city streets is never fun in a larger SUV or truck. Parking was a little more difficult too, but given we were able to fit everyone in comfort and San Antonio is a very walk-friendly city, it all really worked out.
After downtown San Antonio and SeaWorld, it was time to hit the highway once again. This time heading toward Corpus Christi and jumping over to Padre Island, then heading north to Port Aransas. Once again, the radar guided cruise control is the hero in our three-hour trek across the southern part of the state. We’ve also picked up two more passengers and their accompanying luggage.
Port Aransas is a great place to spend time on the Gulf Coast with very clean beaches and beautiful scenery. Our first day out and about, we hit a few shops gathering some extra supplies for the beach. Luckily with all of our bags and luggage out of the Yukon, we had plenty of extra room for extra gear.
Next, we head down to the beach where you’re faced with loads of sand. Sometimes you have to be careful exactly where you drive or where you park. I’ve seen many of small cars and even front-wheel-drive SUVs get stuck in deep sand. Well, it just so happens that we found the exact right spot where this 5,545-pound SUV buried itself down in the sand. I actually rocked it back and forth a few times before I remembered our tester was equipped with 4-wheel-drive. A simple knob to the left of the steering wheel lets you change from a 2WD mode, Auto mode, 4WD high, and 4WD low. Twisting this into the 4WD high mode allowed for the perfect amount of traction to pull this heavy beast out with ease. Just for the fun of it, though, I decided to spend a little extra time plowing through the sand in 4WD before the kids spoke up as they were ready to hit the waves.
We spent a lot of time at the beach, but we also spent a lot of time driving from town to town looking and checking out what some of the great gulf towns had to offer. With all this driving, I was happy the Yukon had a pretty massive 26 gallon fuel tank, but like any heavy vehicle with a big V8 engine, the fuel economy wasn’t great. Our tester was equipped with the 5.3-liter EcoTec3 V8 with 4WD which is rated by the EPA at 16-mpg city and 22-mpg highway. The cool thing about this engine, which is the EcoTec3 part of the equation, is the cylinder deactivation. Chevrolet and GMC have been utilizing this technology for some time now, but I think they really have it down. As you switch from V8 to only using 4 of those cylinders, the only indicator is a small message in the driver information display. The great part is it actually does help and since we did mostly highway driving, our average mpg for the trip was quite high at 18.2-mpg. That’s better than our daily driving with the 2015 Suburban we reviewed a few months back.
During our trip home, we were packed even tighter with lots of cargo and lots of people, but we were also making a straight trip; a full 474-miles averaging out to just over 7-hours if we made no stops. This means it was time for our old trick once again; time to visit the RedBox and pick our 3 or 4 movies to keep the kids occupied during the drive.
Needless to say, we had a pretty amazing trip made better by a great American, and Texas built SUV. People these days like to hate on large SUVs as being too extreme or not being good for the environment, but without vehicles like this, it would have almost been impossible for my family to make a trip like we planned. Owning one of these large SUVs really opens up a lot of options for large families. Of course, with the Yukon, it’s not just about the extra passenger room. This Denali-trimmed Yukon gives you a great touch of luxury from front to rear. This is easily one of the most comfortable and luxurious vehicles you can buy today. That does come at a price, though, so making that leap from your normal, everyday SUV to a Yukon is an extremely difficult decision. If I had the means to do so, there’s nothing else out there today that I’d want to haul my family around.