Think of GMC's full-size Yukon sport-utility vehicle (SUV) as a truncated Suburban and you get the picture quickly.

Even though it differs significantly from the Suburban, it looks much the same, and it's easy to confuse the two at a cursory glance. The Yukon's wheelbase is 14 inches shorter, and overall length 20 inches less. Its shorter length makes it more maneuverable than the Suburban, and it fits into a regular garage easier. Most of the space is taken from aft of the back seat. While the Suburban can carry eight people, the Yukon is limited to six.

The Yukon, and its clone from Chevrolet, the Tahoe, started the current rush to full-size SUVs and caused Ford to develop the Expedition, which has become a serious challenger. For this year the Yukon gets a passenger-side airbag, speed-sensitive power steering and a tighter turning radius.

While there are both two-door and four-door models, the bulk of sales will like our test vehicle, a four-door with four-wheel drive.

While the Yukon may be shorter than the Suburban, it is still a big vehicle that feels bulky. As I wheeled into a parking garage I instinctively ducked my head because I was sitting so close to the ceiling. Negotiating the tight twists and turns was tedious, but got easier when I realized that it fit just fine. The revised front suspension lets it turn somewhat sharper, but its girth can still be intimidating in such environments.

But size sells, and that is part of the Yukon's allure. As GMC's press kit puts it, this vehicle is for "people who want to comfortably dominate the roads they travel." Plus, the 7,000-pound towing capacity of the two-wheel-drive model makes it ideal for pulling heavy boats or big campers. Even the four-wheel-drive model can pull 6,500 pounds.

Engaging four-wheel drive is done with a button on the dash.

Befitting its size, power is prodigious, as well. The 5.7-liter, Vortec V8 pumps out 255 horsepower, enough to give it serious pulling power and strong acceleration. Coupled to a four-speed automatic transmission, it drives as effortlessly as a luxury sedan, and luxury is a great deal of its appeal.

A 6.5-liter turbo-diesel with 180 horsepower is available in the two-door.

The vehicle I drove was a dark red SLT with a sticker price of nearly $35,000. It was swathed in yards of light tan leather and loaded with convenience items such as power windows and locks, power seats, keyless entry, tilt wheel, CD player and power mirrors.

The front bucket seats are wide and soft, with folding armrests, and they straddle a huge center console that has gobs of storage for maps, notes, even your lunch. A fold-out note pad holder is built into the top of the lid, and a removable cupholder reveals a place to put CDs. Two more cupholders are built into the dash. The note pad holder is a clever item that will be greatly appreciated by those who use their vehicles for work or extended trips.

The split-folding back seat can be collapsed to create up to 118 cubic feet of cargo space. Folding it down, however, requires removing the headrests and tipping the bottom seat cushion forward first.

The clamshell-type rear tailgate opens up at the top and down at the bottom. You have to reach across the outstretched tailgate to load large objects and that can be awkward.


The base price of our test car was $31,549. It was equipped with options of aluminum wheels, rear window defogger, roof-mounted luggage rack, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, power seats, keyless remote, running boards, 3.73 rear axle ratio and an AM/FM stereo cassette with CD player.

The sticker price was $34,790.


The basic warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles.

Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers.

Point: The Yukon is big and brawny, yet it is as plush as a luxury car. A passenger-side irbag was added for 1997, as was a tighter turning radius.

The 255-horsepower engine gives it exceptional pulling power.

Counterpoint: The clamshell tailgate can be awkward for loading large objects, and hauling around more than 5,000 pounds means fuel economy in the city sags to around 13 mpg.


ENGINE: 5.7-liter, V8


WHEELBASE: 117.5 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 5,225 lbs.

BASE PRICE: $31,549


MPG RATING: 13 city, 17 hwy.