There I was, throwing a laptop bag into my GMC Yukon Hybrid test car, when a guy pulled up next to me. He lowered his window and peevishly hollered: "Why don't you invest in some hybrid technology that actually gets you better gas mileage, huh, buddy?" (Yep: "some hybrid technology." I'm not making this up.)
We might have had quite an instructive debate had the traffic light not changed, but he drove home an important point: The Yukon Hybrid has an image problem. It's a rolling billboard of hybridness, complete with aerodynamic bumper extensions and absurd decals. Yet its overall EPA mileage ratings are just 20 to 21 mpg — hardly the figures Prius & Co. have conditioned consumers to expect.
The difference, of course, is that the Yukon is a full-size SUV with big-league towing capabilities, ample power and seating for eight. The fact, buddy, is that the Yukon Hybrid does get better mileage — some 25 percent better than the non-hybrid Yukon overall, and up to 50 percent better in city driving. That's nothing to scoff at, especially considering how few compromises it requires. Presuming you really need the capabilities of a full-size SUV, the Yukon Hybrid deserves a look. I only wish it weren't so expensive.
Introduced for the 2008 model year, the Yukon Hybrid comes in two- or four-wheel drive; little has changed this year, but you can compare the 2009 model with the 2008 one here. This review focuses on elements specific to the hybrid. For details on the Yukon lineup overall, check out our coverage of it here. The extended-length Yukon XL, which doesn't come as a hybrid, is covered separately.
As hybrids go, the Yukon Hybrid and its GMC siblings — the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid and Cadillac Escalade Hybrid — are impressive. There's lusty V-8 thrust when you need it, and the transition between electric and gas power is almost seamless. The GMC hybrid skips the conventional automatic transmission, and opts instead for a CVT. The regenerative brakes impart a more linear, less bricklike feel than in many hybrids. Last year, Cars.com editors drove the '08 GMC Yukon Hybrid back-to-back with a Ford Escape Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius (all 2008s) as part of a hybrid mileage challenge, and we readily agreed: The Yukon Hybrid felt the most refined.
Of course, that's not to say its hybrid workings are invisible. The brake pedal still feels stiffer than a normal car's, and if you need to accelerate quickly from a stop — say, a left turn with oncoming traffic — there can be a moment's delay as the drivetrain first tries electric power, then kicks in with the engine. That's to be expected in a hybrid system, and the lag isn't excessive; Chrysler's now-retired Aspen Hybrid lagged so much I found myself devising ways to keep the engine from shutting off.
Beyond that, the Yukon Hybrid operates much like a regular Yukon, and that's a good thing. Its 18-inch wheels create little road noise, and wind noise is also low. Ride quality, a strong suit for GMC's full-size SUVs, is equally impressive. Bumpy roads rarely intrude on cabin comfort, though they can create a moment or two of vague steering response. On the highway, the wheel has a more secure, well-weighted feel. Naturally, the Yukon Hybrid is no athlete: Take a turn aggressively, and there's plenty of body roll.
Maximum towing capacity is 6,200 pounds — that's big-league capability and impressive for a hybrid. The non-hybrid Yukon tows up to 8,500 pounds.
Browse the photos to see the GMC Yukon Hybrid's unique displays; suffice to say they give you an idea of where the power is going — among the electric motors, engine and battery — and how efficiently you're driving. Beyond that, the Yukon Hybrid looks like its non-hybrid siblings. Cabin materials are well-fitted and generally attractive, and the navigation system that comes standard with the Yukon Hybrid is immediately intuitive. It's a $2,500 option on non-hybrid Yukons.
Leather seats are standard, and the front two rows offer enough room for adults to stretch out. The third row is too cramped for anyone but kids; if you need an adult-friendly third row, the Ford Expedition's is more generous.
Though the Yukon hasn't been crash-tested, it offers the expected safety features for a modern SUV, including three-row curtain airbags, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. Click here for a full list. Reliability data for the Yukon Hybrid is still pending, but Consumer Reports surveys for the non-hybrid Yukon have returned average scores.
Worth the Money?
Being a so-called "full" hybrid capable of low-speed electric cruising, the Yukon Hybrid sees its highest mileage gains in city driving. Highway gains, in comparison, are slight. Here's the rub: The SUV starts at $50,920, minus a $2,200 hybrid credit that you can claim on your taxes. That's $465 more than an identically equipped Tahoe Hybrid.
|EPA Gas Mileage Compared|
|Base price||City mpg||Highway mpg||Combined mpg|
|GMC Yukon Hybrid (6.0L V-8)||$48,720*||20-21||20-22||20-21|
|GMC Yukon (4.8L V-8)||$37,705||14||19||16|
|GMC Yukon (5.3L V-8)||$39,970||14-15||20-21||16-17|
|GMC Yukon (6.2L V-8)||$50,135||12||19||14-15|
|Ford Expedition (5.4L V-8)**||$34,150||14||20||16|
|Nissan Armada (5.6L V-8)||$37,210||12||18||14|
|Toyota Sequoia (5.7L V-8)||$35,275||13-14||18-19||15|
*After $2,200 tax credit.
**Expedition mileage ratings for 2WD only; 4WD version is exempt from EPA tests due to its higher weight.
Source: Automaker and EPA data for 2009 models, except 2008 Toyota Sequoia. Mileage ranges due to driveline variations (2WD, 4WD, etc.). Note that the 6.2-liter Yukon recommends premium fuel, but it can run on regular. All other engines listed, including competitors', recommend regular.
If the bottom line is your top priority, get a base Yukon — or, better yet, get the less-expensive Tahoe — with either the 4.8-liter or 5.3-liter V-8. The initial savings far outweigh either engine's lower gas mileage. (Conversely, if luxury features are more important to you, the 403-horsepower, 6.2-liter Yukon Denali is the best-equipped option.)
In an apples-to-apples comparison, loading up a 5.3-liter Yukon — whose 310-hp V-8 provides something closer to the hybrid's 6.0-liter gas/electric output — with features similar to the well-equipped Yukon Hybrid's puts its cost around $45,645 with two-wheel drive. That's about $3,000 less than the hybrid.
Factor in your potential savings at the pump — using the EPA's combined mileage rating for both SUVs, $2 per gallon gas and the assumption you'll drive 15,000 miles a year — and it would take seven to nine years to recover that $3,000, depending on whether you're comparing two-wheel-drive or the GMC Yukon Hybrid 4WD. If you drive mostly city miles, the Yukon Hybrid makes more sense: You'd likely recover the difference in a reasonable four to five years. With highway miles, it makes the least: Recovering the difference could take decades, if it ever happened at all. Dramatically higher gas prices, of course, would help the Yukon Hybrid's case — but as gas prices rise, generally so do dealer asking prices for hybrids.
Yukon Hybrid in the Market
Hybrid or not, the fact that the Yukon comes from a company that says it's at bankruptcy's doorstep can't help its case. The Yukon Hybrid, however, is not one of the products that brought the General to Waterloo. Quite the contrary; it's evidence that when GM invests in product development, it can build first-rate fuel-efficient cars and trucks. The GMC Yukon Hybrid may not be the right vehicle for many shoppers, but it's a compelling choice for a few. As underwhelming as 20 mpg sounds, it's a rather dramatic percentage increase for SUV owners who rack up miles in stop-and-go commutes and weekend errands. Need three rows of seats and occasional trailer-hauling capacity, too? The Yukon Hybrid ought to make your short list.
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