- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009

The 2009 Yukon is GMC’s full-size sport utility vehicle. It’s offered in two models (Yukon and Denali) and two trim levels (SLE and SLT). Two- or four-wheel drive is available in regular or XL body styles.

My test truck was a Yukon 4x4 SLT, with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $45,500. Standard models are 202 inches long, riding a 116-inch wheelbase. By comparison, XL models stretch an additional 20 inches longer, with a 130-inch wheelbase.

Denali models are the upscale equivalent of the regular Yukon offerings, equipped with a higher level of standard content. While regular Yukons don’t measure up to the level of luxury found in Denali models, they are far from plain. Even “base” trucks are well-equipped, and buyers can add as many options as their taste and budget allow.

The fit and finish in either the cloth-trimmed SLE level or the leather-appointed SLT level of the Yukon is first-rate. All models have standard, three-row seating. The third row is suitable for two or three kids, or smaller adults. As with most three-row SUVs, it does help to be limber to enter or exit the back row. A feature that’s helpful in this regard is the power fold-and-tumble second-row seat, standard on Denali. This provides easier access to row three (or the cargo area), and release buttons are located on the driver’s overhead console and the vehicle’s interior C-pillar for easy access.

Standard-length Yukon models have a sort of either/or arrangement when it comes to passengers and cargo. If you’re carrying a full complement of people on board, there isn’t a lot of room left over behind the last row (16.9 cubic feet) to carry the gear that those passengers might be bringing along for the ride. Those who regularly find themselves with a full house inside will want to consider the XL version.

These XL models have a whopping 45.8 cubic feet of storage space behind the last row. Of course, as the passenger count decreases, the room for cargo increases. On regular Yukon models, folding down row three brings you up to a healthy 60.3 cubic feet of room behind, and on XL versions, it’s 90 cubic feet.

Back upfront, the layout of controls is straightforward and the accommodations comfortable. New for 2009 is the availability of Bluetooth connectivity for wireless phones. A third-row DVD entertainment system is offered on both the Yukon and Denali XL models.

If you order the navigation system and XM satellite radio service, you have the option of receiving real-time traffic information as well. If you don’t choose the navigation system, you can still get the handy rearview camera feature. In this case, the remote view of what’s right behind your vehicle is displayed on a 3.5-inch screen inside the rearview mirror. Driver visibility in Yukon is good in all directions, save the three-quarter rear view, where the headrests on the second-row seats create a blind spot.

With this in mind, Denali buyers will want to consider the Side Blind Zone Alert option. The system uses radar sensors to detect objects potentially hidden from the driver’s vision, and alerts with an audible and visual signal. Currently, the option is only offered on Denali models, but for safety’s sake, I’d like to see GMC make it available on all Yukon models.

Engine choice depends on model chosen. The base Yukon 4x2 is equipped with a 4.8-liter V-8. A 6.0-liter V-8 is available on Yukon XL, but the standard motor in that model and the Denali is a 6.2-liter V-8.

Standard Yukon 4x4 versions like my test vehicle are equipped with a Flex-Fuel E85-capable 5.3-liter V-8. Rated at 310 horsepower and 335 lb.-ft. of torque, it’s matched to a six-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission. The EPA estimates fuel economy for this powertrain at 14 city/20 highway mpg. I logged a little better than 14 mpg during my test, which is class competitive, if not encouraging.

The 5.3L is powerful and smooth, shouldering all driving duties with ease. The Yukon 4x4 can be equipped to tow as much as 8,200 pounds. Handling is stable and solid. Two- and four-wheel drive modes are engaged by twisting a dashboard dial.

Full-size SUVs are for people who need the capability to carry lots of people and/or plenty of cargo, or tow a large trailer - maybe all at once. Yukon measures up very well. It’s a classy and capable choice in this specialty segment.

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