Versus the competiton:
The basic nature of sport-utility vehicles has changed.
As few as 10 years ago, most sport-utility vehicles were Spartan machines, offering little in the way of optional luxury features, and they had rides so stiff that driving over rough terrain would bruise your kidneys.
Nowadays many sport-utilities have been dolled up with numerous luxury items, such as plush leather seats, electric sunroofs, CD players and a full menu of power accessories.
Some ”off-road” vehicles now even ride as comfortably as cars.
And why not make sport-utilities more carlike?
Automakers have discovered that few owners of sport-utility vehicles actually ever venture into the woods or anywhere else off the road.
But the GMC division of General Motors, which builds only trucks and sport-utility vehicles, offers a vehicle that can handle the best – and worst – of both worlds.
The GMC Yukon SLE is easy to drive, rugged and powerful as well as luxurious and comfortable.
It proved to bean enormously pleasing vehicle to drive in all situations. The Yukon glided quietly and easily over rain-soaked streets; through thick sand; down bumpy, pothole-ridden dirt roads; on long highways and in stop-and-go city traffic.
Our test vehicle came with a quiet but very muscular 5.7-liter, fuel-injected V-8 and a computer-controlled four-speed automatic transmission.
Otherdrivetrain options are available; 1994 models can be ordered with a turbocharged 6.5-liter diesel engine and an automatic, or you can choose a five-speed manual for the gas engine.
All Yukons, however, come with a shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive system. That means you never have to get out of the Yukon and manually lock the front hubs to engage the all-wheel drive system, according to GMC.
Most of the 450-mile test drive took place on the road and with power going only to the rear wheels.
In the city, the big V-8 gives the Yukon excellent all-round performance. Even though the Yukon is a big vehicle – it weighs 4,710 pounds – it accelerates briskly from a stop.
If you floor the accelerator, the transmission’s usually smooth shifts will become harsh. In fact, the shift from second to third gear makes the vehicle shudder slightly under full acceleration.
To engage four-wheel drive, all you do is move a floor-mounted shift lever that is in front of the storage console. A diagram in the shift lever’s housing lights up, showing you that the transfer case is sending power to all four wheels.
I like the demeanor of the Yukon when you shift into four-wheel drive and make it work hard, such as when you’re climbing a steep, sandy hill. The engine remains smooth and quiet, but you can hear it working. It’s a sound that inspires confidence. Though you might not take it off-road, it occurred to me that the four-wheel-drive system would be excellent to use when trailering a boat out of the water on slippery boat ramp.
Fuel mileage can vary greatly. If you drive with a heavy foot and use the four-wheel-drive system, the V-8 will gulp gasoline at the rate of 12 miles per gallon. However, if you drive easily in two-wheel drive, you can get close to 19 mpg on the highway.
One of the nice things about the Yukon is that you needn’t bother slowing down for speed bumps, and if you hit the occasional pothole, well, it’s no big deal. The heavy duty suspension can handle it. One of the advantages of driving a serious sport-utility vehicle is that it is designed to handle a fair amount of abuse.
The Yukon’s suspension system is stiff by car standards, but the ride is not harsh – unless you encounter very rough terrain. Then you will experience considerable bouncing, but no more so than you feel in any sport-utility vehicle other than a Range Rover, which handles that kind of terrain like a Rolls-Royce would a smooth road.
Generally, the Yukon’s suspension system does a good job erasing bumps. Unlike other four-wheel drive sport-utilities vehicles, the Yukon has an independent front suspension.
This setup allows the front wheels to react individually to road conditions. Yukon uses a standard solid rear axle. Heavy-duty shocks are standard on all four corners.
Off the road, the Yukon’s comfortable seats make driving in rough terrain nothing short of fun. You find that you don’t worry about what the vehicle can do. Instead, you concentrate on where you want to go.
On the road, the Yukon’s ride is smooth and quiet.
The power-assisted steering does not require a lot of effort; the wheel turns easily, but the response is not really sharp. The 41.5-foot turning radius is excellent for a vehicle the size of the Yukon.
The anti-lock brakes are nothing short of terrific. Big discs up front and drums on the rear bring the Yukon to a quick, panic-free stop. Even under severe braking, the Yukon’s body stays straight, the front does not dip and the vehicle remains easy to control.
FIT AND FINISH
The Yukon SLE is a quality machine.
Although it carries what seems like a high admission price, you get a lot of vehicle for your money.
Our test vehicle sported a full array of power accessories, including a six-way electrically adjustable driver’s bucket seat. The passenger’s bucket seat is manually adjustable.
I knew I would like the Yukon the minute I pulled into heavy traffic.
In fact, it’s in the city where the full-size Yukon seems best. In a long line of traffic, you easily can see what’s going on far ahead because you sit high above most other vehicles. That’s a wonderful advantage in traffic-choked Central Florida. Several times, I looked ahead on Interstate 4 and took the nearest exit in order to avoid a jam.
Visibility is excellent, thanks in part to two huge door-mounted mirrors and an unobstructed view out the rear.
As with other full-size GM trucks, some of the Yukon’s interior appointments could stand a little tweaking.
To operate some of the dash-mounted accessories, such as the cassette deck or air conditioner, you must lean forward because they are more than an arm’s length away.
The rear seats fold forward, leaving you with a big flat area that allows you to carry a staggering amount of cargo.
GMC does a great job of assembling the Yukon. The paint is as smooth as wet glass. There were no rattles or squeaks or any flaws that I could find.
Overall, the Yukon is a tough, well-built and civilized sport-utility vehicle.
Truett’s tip: The GMC Yukon SLE is a vehicle that can do it all. Yukon’s big V-8 packs plenty of power, and the suspension system can handle rugged terrain. But city slickers also will find the Yukon tame, comfortable and easy to drive.