- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

MILEAGE: 14 city, 18 highway

Would you believe a full-size sport utility vehicle that's, well, svelte?
In many ways, it's an apt description for the redesigned GMC Suburban, now known as the GMC Yukon XL.
Formerly the biggest of all SUVs along with its sibling, the Chevrolet Suburban, GMC's new sport utility, at 18 feet 3 inches long, is 7.4 inches shorter than Ford's Excursion.
The four-door Yukon XL also is 0.2 inches shorter overall than its 1999 Suburban predecessor. Its wheelbase is 1.5 inches shorter, and there's 11.1 cubic feet less cargo room.
But it's the new, modern platform underneath the 2000 Yukon XL, the stiffer body and suspension improvements, that make this 5,000-pound vehicle feel leaner and more in control than ever before.
The half-ton, two-wheel-drive Yukon XL test vehicle, for example, managed turns and curves without the big pitches and overt body roll that I expected.
I made relatively quick lane changes and the vehicle successfully fought the urge to flail about.
There was a palpable stiffness in the ride in mild slalom maneuvers, too, and the Yukon tracked correctly in a straight line.
In fact, I can't remember feeling the test vehicle "quiver" in its ride, even on dirt paths.
The 42.3-foot turning circle is more than a foot smaller than that of the 1999 Suburban.
The variable-effort, power, recirculating ball steering provided decent response, too.
The Yukon XL's platform is borrowed from General Motors Corp.'s full-size pickup trucks the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra and incorporates front and rear rails and supports that are produced in a hydroform process to reduce weight and eliminate hundreds of welds.
Major body sections are 23 percent stiffer than those of the previous Suburban and the front now has a torsion bar layout. In back, the old two-stage leaf springs are gone on the half-ton models like the tester. They're replaced by a five-link coil spring suspension that better manages road manners.
Engines are updated, too, providing more power this year. The standard 5.3-liter, Vortec 5300 V-8 produces 285 horsepower at 5,200 rpm 30 more horses than the bigger Vortec 5700 it replaces. Maximum torque is 325 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm vs. 330 at 2,800 rpm.
This compares with 255 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of torque in the 5.4-liter Triton V-8, the base engine in the Excursion, and 230 horsepower and 320 foot-pounds of torque in the Toyota Land Cruiser's 4.7-liter V-8.
The Vortec 5300 in the test Yukon XL brought a relatively quick, steady response each time I pressed the accelerator.
I passed other vehicles without fuss and merged into highway traffic without a problem. Keep in mind, however, that this heavy vehicle doesn't zoom forward like a lightweight sports car.
Fuel economy an estimated 14 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway isn't the greatest.
The only transmissions for both the Vortec 5300 V-8 (standard on half-ton Yukon XLs) and the 300-horsepower, 6-liter, Vortec 6000 V-8 (standard on three-quarter-ton Yukon XLs) are improved four-speed automatics.
Besides subtle styling updates, the windshield is larger and outside mirrors give improved visibility.
Headlamps provide a broader light pattern and illuminate a longer range, and the roof rack is redesigned.
For the first time, an optional sunroof is offered.
But like past Suburbans, this car requires buyers to choose between a liftgate and panel doors for the rear. Ford's Excursion has an innovative tailgate glass/rear cargo doors package that gives buyers the best of both.
Inside the Yukon XL tester were some nagging issues.
None of the head restraints locked into place. The middle rider in the back bench seat got no head restraint and only a lap belt. Toyota's upcoming Sequoia full-size SUV will include three-way seat belts at each of the eight-passenger seat positions.
Shoulder belts in the front bucket seats of the Yukon XL and in the rearmost bench were integrated into the sides of the seats, rather than attached to pillars. Nonadjustable for height, they brought complaints from a 6-foot rider.
The inner armrests on the front bucket seats blocked access to the seat-belt connectors and had to be moved out of the way each time I buckled or unbuckled.
Power window and door lock buttons sounded cheap and clickety for a vehicle with a $35,203 starting manufacturer's suggested retail price plus destination charge. And second-row floor mats bulged upward and wouldn't lay flat. (The starting manufacturer's suggested retail price plus destination charge for a 2000 Ford Excursion is $34,285. A 2000 Toyota Land Cruiser starts at $52,208.)
Dashboard audio system items weren't grouped together. In the test vehicle with the optional upgraded system, the radio controls and CD player were up top on the dash, the ventilation controls below, and way down sat the cassette player.
Rear quarter windows weren't built to open, even a crack, while the Excursion has power rear quarter windows that provide ventilation way in back.
The Excursion also provides access to the third-row seats from either side of the vehicle. Like past Suburbans, the Yukon XL lets you in only from the passenger side.
The Excursion offers standard running boards; on Yukon XL models they're an option.
The Yukon XL also lacks the Excursion's reverse-sensing system to help the driver avoid small obstacles while backing up.
But it does offer the OnStar emergency-communication system that includes automatic notification of a crash if an air bag deploys. And an instrument panel display warns of specific repair or maintenance issues.
There's also a tow-haul mode that helps smooth out the transmission workings when towing a trailer. Maximum towing capacity is 10,500 pounds, compared with 10,000 pounds for the Excursion and 6,500 pounds for Toyota's Land Cruiser.
The Yukon XL also can haul more than the competitors 3,153 pounds compared with 1,950 for the Excursion and 1,745 for the Land Cruiser.

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