If I had to choose one word to describe GM’s redesigned full-size SUVs, it would be refinement. From the way they drive to how their interiors are finished, these truck-based SUVs are anything but truck-like.
I traveled to Northern California to spend a day driving the 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon on a mix of winding mountain roads, urban freeways and city streets to see how they perform. If they’re not already on your local dealer’s lot, they should be arriving soon.
The first thing you notice about these SUVs is how quiet they are. It’s easy to carry a conversation with front and backseat passengers at highway speeds because wind noise is nearly nonexistent. GM says the SUVs’ new inlaid-door design helps keep wind noise low, but noise from other cars and trucks isn’t bothersome, either. It’s so quiet, in fact, that I was surprised more than once by how fast I was traveling when I glanced down at the speedometer; there’s not the kind of ambient noise you normally associate with 55 or 75 mph.
These are big SUVs: They’re 17 feet long and 6.7 feet wide. Their size might be intimidating, but they’re actually really easy to drive. You sit up high with good forward views, and they track confidently without needing to constantly make minor steering corrections. The steering wheel feels a little numb, but the electrically assisted power-steering system offers predictable responses.
A few different suspensions are offered and I tested two of them: the Premium Smooth Ride Suspension on a Yukon SLT and GM’s Magnetic Ride Control in a Tahoe LTZ. Magnetic Ride Control features shock absorbers with variable damping properties and does an exceptional job controlling body roll, but I preferred the Yukon SLT’s suspension because it provides better ride comfort and keeps body motion in check nearly as well as Magnetic Ride Control.
Both the Tahoe and Yukon come standard with a 5.3-liter V-8 engine that makes 355 horsepower and 383 pounds-feet of torque; Yukon Denalis get a 420-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 with 460 pounds-feet of torque. The 5.3-liter V-8 and its six-speed automatic transmission work well together, readily accelerating these SUVs up to highway speeds and easily maintaining highway cruising speeds through hilly terrain.
Four-wheel-drive models like the ones I tested get an EPA-estimated 16/22/18 mpg city/highway combined. With rear-wheel drive, gas mileage increases slightly to 16/23/18 mpg. The 5.3-liter V-8 has a number of fuel-saving measures like direct fuel injection, variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation that automatically switches from V-8 to V-4 mode when less power is needed. With some cylinder-deactivation systems, like the one for Honda’s V-6 engine, you can feel a slight change in the engine when it deactivates cylinders, but I wasn’t able to notice it in the 5.3-liter V-8. It’s seamless. The only giveaway is an instrument panel indicator that shows whether the V-8 is using all or half of its cylinders.