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2000 GMC Yukon

The Suburban has long been synonymous with monster proportions, so it seems a bit bizarre to call it nimble.

  • Driver

The Suburban has long been synonymous with monster proportions, so it seems a bit bizarre to call it nimble.

Yet, that is the impression left after driving both short and long versions of General Motors' new, big sport-utility vehicles.

Despite the recent automaker trend away from redundant brands, GM still has some badge engineering going on. The large standard-wheelbase GMC Yukon and extended-wheelbase Yukon XL (formerly known as GMC Suburban) are almost identical to the regular-length Chevrolet Tahoe and extended Chevrolet Suburban, respectively.

The selling dealer and a few hundred dollars are the biggest differences.

Greater distinction between GM's two main truck brands will come with future models, some of which were revealed in New York last week.

For now, the big differences are found in comparing the old models with the new ones.

For 2000, there are carryover (GMT400) regular-wheelbase Yukon and Tahoe models, as well as upscale GMC Denali and Cadillac Escalade versions.

Completely new for 2000 are different (GMT800) versions of the Yukon and Tahoe, only available in a four-door body, plus the Yukon XL and Suburban.

The branding overlap and mix of new and old designs is enough to confuse even GM workers. When this scribe went to pick up a test vehicle in Oshawa, the paperwork included a price list on the new model and a brochure on the old one.

This is a review of the newstyle GMC Yukon XL, but the observations also apply to the identical Chevrolet Suburban. Much also applies to the slightly shorter newstyle GMC Yukon and Chevy Tahoe.

Despite its size, the Yukon XL drives and steers like it is much smaller. Calling it nimble is not overstating the issue, once you have driven it. And driving is what really distinguishes this vehicle.

Despite being derived from the Sierra pickup platform, it drives with a lighter feel.

Three rows of seating mean there is room for up to nine people. The last three are more likely to be kids, but shorter adults will fit there and will be comfortable during the short haul.

Access to the last row is via second-row seats that fold and flip forward. It's as good a setup as any. Nonetheless, it requires some mid-row occupants to get out to let the back seat riders in. Optional mid-row buckets create a centre aisle.

The XL provides a 38 cm longer wheelbase versus the nonXL, and over twice that in additional length. Overall, it spans more than 5.6 metres. Yet the turning circle is a relatively taut 1.29 m.

Cargo can now be loaded in the rear without having to reach over a drop-down tailgate. The standard liftgate also has a separate top-hinged window.

Dual swing-out rear doors are optional.

Whether you haul your stuff onboard or in a trailer, the ability to tow and carry is another strong suit in GM's line of full-size utilities.

The new models share new hightorque Vortec 5300 and 6000 V8 engines. The 285 hp 5.3 L on 1500 series models is powerful enough for just about any situation, while being a little more frugal with the fuel.

On the 1500 XL, the minimum payload is just under or over 907 kg, depending on the model. The maximum trailer weight is 3,992 kg.

The bigger 300 hp engine available only in the 2500 series for now will carry over 1,430 kg and pull up to 4,763 kg. That's serious weight.

A tow/haul mode on the four-speed automatic transmission reprograms shift points by increasing the hydraulic pressure for delayed but faster transitions. It means more engine torque and power is available when needed, and also will prolong the life of the gearbox even if the shifts seem harsh to old GM drivers.

In regular mode, the shifts are as smooth as ever.

I tested the XL back to back with a regular-length (new-style) Yukon and the differences were not pronounced.

I would have to think long and hard to justify the extra space provided by the Yukon XL/Suburban over their shorter stablemates. The shorter distance between the axles and smaller rear overhang are better offroad.

The four-wheel drive versions are quite capable of conquering the great outdoors. Despite several attempts, I could find no flaws in the off-road capabilities and my driveway has the mud to prove it.

Ascending a muddy hill, this truck kept clawing away, eventually pulling itself up and over leading to squeals of delight from the kids in the back, and panic from my wife.

Without going into any embarrassing descriptions of previous off-road experiences, it shall suffice to say that the new chassis is even more capable than the old one when the going gets muddy.

A seriously capable off-road system usually is compromised on paved surfaces, thus part-time drive allows the vehicle to be shifted into two-wheel drive.

Yet, when it starts to rain or snow, the driver has to switch into four-wheel drive. Driving all four wheels on dry pavement can damage the driveline as each wheel tries to rotate at a slightly different rate, while bound to the others by the driveshafts.

Automatic systems, like GM's AutoTrac, automatically engage four-wheel drive if slip is detected, but stay in rear-drive otherwise, for better fuel efficiency.

So, with all the improved attributes, one annoying trait remains in GM's new full-size trucks: initial brake response is slow, so you have your foot well into the pedal before deceleration begins.

The four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes work well at the limit, and distances are shorter than most. But, when only a small amount of braking is needed, the amount of pedal pushing seems inordinate.

That said, this trait is improved over the old models.

Another continuing gripe is the mediocre quality of some interior trim. If GM can ever attain Toyota standards, it could make the best trucks in the world.

As they are, the new Yukon XL/Suburban/Yukon/Tahoe's space has been augmented by greater manoeuvrability and fuel-efficient power.

Prices/residuals *

Yukon 1500

2WD SL: $32,615/n/a

2WD SLE: $38,985/59

2WD SLT: $47,035/58

Yukon XL 1500

XL 2WD SL: $36,455/n/a

XL 2WD SLE: $43,545/59

XL 2WD SLT: $51,050/58

4WD: Add $3,360.

Residual is 1 per cent less.

Air tax: $100

Freight: $960

* Residual percentage for a 36month lease, as supplied by ALG Canadian Percentage Guide.

HIGHS

* Steering

* Engine power

LOWS

* Brake feel

* Badge engineering



Freelance journalist Paul Fleet prepared this report based on driving experiences with a vehicle provided by General Motors of Canada.

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