The 2016 GMC Yukon deserves consideration if you're shopping for a large, near-luxury truck-based SUV with impressive towing capacity. However, its competitors are better overall, and for practical passenger and cargo use, a large crossover SUV might also be a better choice.
For 2016, the GMC Yukon gets a number of technology and hardware upgrades. The IntelliLink touchscreen interface gets a welcome increase in processing speed along with Apple CarPlay. Newly available features include lane-keeping assist and automatic high-beam headlights, along with a standard hands-free power liftgate on SLT models and a capless fuel filler.Read more
Strong V8 power; stout towing capacity; available nine-person seating capacity; extremely quiet highway ride; impressive interior quality.
Need a big family vehicle? Well, dealerships are overflowing with big, three-row crossovers well suited for carrying the kids and all your stuff while providing a more civilized driving experience than the big truck-based behemoths of old. But what if you want to kick it old school? Well, the 2016 GMC Yukon is a survivor of that endangered species.
This large SUV retains the classic combination of rugged body-on-frame construction and V8 power. As such, it boasts substantially more towing capability than crossovers, while also delivering a higher degree of burliness and solidity. It also provides the availability of seating for nine, which is something even a minivan won't be able to offer.
Few SUVs can match the 2016 GMC Yukon's rugged nature and impressive tow rating.
Unfortunately, even if this GMC seems right for you, we've found that the Yukon is still just too much of a truck in comparison to its competitors. Its suspension, for example, sends the occasional trucklike shake and shiver through the cabin when driving over bumps. Cargo-carrying versatility is also disappointing. For instance, while the Yukon's third-row seat finally folds flat (unlike in the old generation, where you had to remove it entirely), the cargo floor is quite high, reducing total capacity and making it harder to load heavy items. Passenger space in the third row is also poor since the floor and seat cushion are so close together.
The Yukon's top competitors, the Ford Expedition and Toyota Sequoia, do not suffer in such a way. The Ford, in particular, boasts a more refined ride quality and a more comfortable and usable third-row seat. Additionally, should towing capability not be required, one of those big family crossovers like the Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot or GMC's own Acadia still boast roomier passenger space and less cumbersome driving experiences. So while there may be nothing wrong with kicking it old school in the SUV segment, the Yukon may not be the best way to do it.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2016 GMC Yukon is a body-on-frame SUV available in three trim levels: SLE, SLT and Denali. Seating for eight is standard, but there are two optional seating arrangements: Second-row captain's chairs drop the count to seven and an available 40/20/40-split front bench seat increases it to nine (SLE only). There is also an extended-length version known as the Yukon XL, which is covered in a separate review.
The entry-level Yukon SLE comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights, front and rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers, a driver integrated blind-spot mirror, rear privacy glass, roof rails, a locking rear differential, side assist steps, a rearview camera, remote ignition, keyless entry, cruise control, tri-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped tilt-only steering wheel, power front seats (eight-way driver seat and four-way passenger seat, both with two-way power lumbar), a 60/40-split folding second-row bench seat and a 60/40-split folding third-row seat. Electronic equipment includes Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, OnStar (with a 4G LTE connection and WiFi hotspot), a 110-volt household-style power outlet, the 8-inch IntelliLink touchscreen interface (which includes voice controls, smartphone app integration and Apple CarPlay capability) and a nine-speaker Bose sound system with HD and satellite radios, a CD player, five USB ports (two with front bench seat), Pandora Internet radio, a media player interface, an auxiliary audio jack and an SD card slot.
SLE buyers can also opt for an Enhanced Driver Alert package that includes forward collision alert, automatic high-beam headlight control and lane-departure warning with a vibrating safety alert seat and lane-keeping assist. The SLE's Convenience option package adds an auto-dimming rearview mirror, power-adjustable pedals and a power liftgate.
The SLT model includes both the Enhanced Driver Alert and Convenience packages and adds rear cross-traffic alert and a blind-spot warning system, power-folding mirrors (auto-dimming on driver side), keyless ignition and entry, a hands-free power liftgate, perforated leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats (with four-way lumbar), heated second-row seats (a power fold-and-tumble 60/40 bench), power-folding third-row seats, driver memory functions, a heated power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, ambient interior lighting and wireless phone charging.
All Yukons are prepped for towing and feature a 2-inch receiver and seven-pin wiring harness. An HD Trailering package is also available on both SLE and SLT that includes specific gearing, a trailer-brake controller, an air suspension with increased capacity and leveling, and low-range gearing when combined with four-wheel-drive models.
Options include second-row captain's chairs (heated and power fold-and-tumble), an enhanced alarm system and adaptive cruise control with crash-imminent braking. An Open Road package combines a sunroof, navigation, a rear entertainment system with a DVD/Blu-ray player and an additional nine months of satellite radio and real-time traffic info service.
Rear climate and entertainment system controls are located on the back of the front-row console.
The Yukon Denali adds to the SLT's standard features plus a unique grille, a more powerful V8 engine, 20-inch alloy wheels, a magnetically controlled adaptive suspension, xenon headlights, a reconfigurable digital instrument panel, a trailer-brake controller, a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system, active noise cancellation, the navigation system and second-row captain's chairs (heated and power fold-and-tumble).
Optional for the Denali are 22-inch wheels, power-retractable assist steps, a sunroof, a heated second-row bench, a head-up display, adaptive cruise control (includes automatic emergency braking), and single- or dual-screen rear entertainment systems (both include a DVD/Blu-ray player).
Powertrains and Performance
The 2016 GMC Yukon SLE and SLT models come with a 5.3-liter V8 engine that generates 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. It is paired to a six-speed automatic transmission that sends power to the rear wheels on two-wheel-drive models or all four wheels on four-wheel-drive models. The SLE and SLT's four-wheel-drive system is a single-speed part-time setup, but a two-speed transfer case with low-range gearing is available as an option. Properly equipped, the maximum tow rating for the two-wheel-drive Yukon SLE or SLT is 8,500 pounds.
EPA estimated fuel economy is expectedly low, but as full-size SUVs go, it's pretty respectable. Equipped with the 5.3-liter V8, the Yukon earns 18 mpg combined (16 city/23 highway with two-wheel drive and 22 highway with four-wheel drive).
In Edmunds testing, a four-wheel-drive 2016 Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ (nearly analogous to a four-wheel-drive Yukon SLT) hit 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. This is a solid performance, but the Expedition and Sequoia are quicker.
The 2016 GMC Yukon Denali is powered by a 6.2-liter V8 that produces 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. It comes with an eight-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive, while the optional four-wheel drive includes the two-speed transfer case. Max towing is 8,400 pounds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 17 mpg combined (15/22 with two-wheel drive and 21 highway with four-wheel drive).
Standard safety equipment on the 2016 GMC Yukon includes antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. A center airbag located between the front bucket seats (when so equipped) aids in side-impact crashes. Also standard is OnStar, which includes automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking, stolen vehicle assistance and turn-by-turn navigation. Front and rear parking sensors and a rearview camera are standard on every Yukon.
Available safety equipment includes forward collision alert with auto-braking, lane-departure warning and lane keeping assist, a vibrating safety alert seat, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring.
In Edmunds brake testing, a four-wheel-drive Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ (similar to a Yukon SLT) came to a stop from 60 mph in 126 feet. A rear-drive, lesser equipped Tahoe stopped in 121 feet. Both are short distances for a vehicle in this class, but we disliked the soft, long-travel pedal that elicits little confidence.
In government crash tests, the Yukon earned a four- (out of five) star rating for overall performance, with five stars for total frontal-impact protection and five stars for side-impact protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The passenger cabin of the 2016 GMC Yukon is both attractive and of a high quality. Gauges and controls are easy to read and access, while the large IntelliLink central display operates intuitively and for 2016, quicker than before. The cabin also benefits from a range of sound-deadening measures that give it a hushed ambience usually reserved for luxury cars.
Center stack controls are laid out in a thoughtful, logical manner, and the touchscreen gets a noticeable hardware upgrade for 2016.
Up front, seats are comfortable and supportive, though it bears noting that the SLE model's lack of a telescoping steering wheel may make it hard for some drivers to find an optimal seating position. The choice of bucket seats or a 40/20/40-split bench up front and the standard second-row bench or captain's chairs offer a seating flexibility that's downright uncommon these days. The power-releasing second-row seats make getting in and out of the third-row seat a good bit easier.
This is where the Yukon falls far short, however. That third row is quite simply cramped, as its seat bottom is as close to the ground as possible. Adults and even kids will be substantially more comfortable in rival SUVs. For cargo carrying, the third row's ability to fold into the floor is a marked improvement over the previous generation that required owners to wrestle those seats in and out of the Yukon. Yet, this change has resulted in a higher load floor that makes it difficult for anyone (let along smaller owners) to lift and reach bulky cargo. Maximum cargo capacity also suffers, as the Tahoe offers roughly the same space as large family crossovers.
On the road, the 2016 GMC Yukon's standard 5.3-liter V8 is smooth and quiet, yet still has the oomph to move a mess of people or cargo between Points A and B without breaking a sweat. Contrary to what you might expect, Yukons with this powertrain also have higher tow ratings than Denali models despite the latter's larger, more powerful engine. The Denali's eight-speed automatic, however, does aid in towing.
One of the Yukon's weak points is the engine's delayed response to throttle inputs. Step on the gas and there's a noticeable hesitation, especially when trying to accelerate at highway speeds or from a standing stop.
The Yukon feels confident in everyday driving, especially with the Denali model's adaptive suspension. Ride quality with the base suspension leaves much to be desired, though. It cushions sharp impacts well and is resistant to large float and bouncy motions, but even small imperfections send shivers and shakes into the cabin due to the old-school solid rear axle. It doesn't do anything for handling either, and as with all full-size SUVs, handling is ponderous.