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2008 GMC Yukon Hybrid: Rock 'n' roll roadtrip

According to the five badges, twin stylized graphics on its flanks and the large decals on its windshield and rear window, my 2,630 kg 2008 GMC Yukon 4WD was a hybrid.

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According to the five badges, twin stylized graphics on its flanks and the large decals on its windshield and rear window, my 2,630 kg 2008 GMC Yukon 4WD was a hybrid.

Phew!

After all, despite soaring gas prices, we were heading west into the United States with four other families in a convoy of fun to Ohio and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. My friends were all driving sensible minivans, while I was captaining the red beast.

Call me a skeptic, but I was certain no amount of fancy-schmancy hybrid technology was going to turn this body-on-frame 4×4 luxo-truck into a fuel sipper. Especially since our trip was to be mostly highway kilometres, and the benefits of gas/electric hybrid systems are realized mainly in city driving.

The others in our party were a little more open to the possibility of a green full-sized SUV. After all, it did have a bunch of green H's plastered all over it. My inner skeptic then mumbled something like, "Yeah. And if they slapped a hybrid badge on a wheelbarrow, you'd probably dance a jig around that, too."

We hummed out of our driveway and down my street on electric power, then the 6.0 L Vortec V8 unobtrusively came to life and we were on our way. There certainly is no lack of grunt here. The V8 in combination with the two 60-watt electric motor/generators housed within the transmission produce 332 hp and 367 lb.-ft. of torque in total, enough to leave the minivans wallowing in my green wake.

But that was not for me. My mission was to give this Yukon (and my wallet) a fair shake, driving it as economically as possible.

The two-mode hybrid system powering the Yukon was developed in conjunction with Chrysler, BMW and, to a small extent, Mercedes-Benz. In mode one, the Yukon runs like most full hybrids, operating on battery power, engine power, or a combination of both. Mode two is designed for towing, where under higher loads, the V8 does most of the work and the transmission locks into its four planetary gears, largely bypassing the electric motors. With a hauling capacity of 2,722 kgs, this Yukon Hybrid 4WD will still function as a tough eight-seat tow vehicle.

Helping out in the gas-saving department is Active Fuel Management, wherein half the cylinders go on vacation while cruising under light loads. The batteries occasionally kick in to take up the slack, keeping the Yukon in V4 mode for longer periods.

And, of course, like all hybrids, the engine shuts off in stop-and-go driving

The $69,885 Yukon Hybrid 4WD makes for a very comfortable and well-equipped cruiser.

Standard is DVD-based touch-screen navigation, park assist, rearview camera and premium Bose sound. While the kids were in the back laughing at Mr. Bean on the $1,750 rear-seat DVD, my wife and I were rocking out to XM satellite radio Deep Tracks.

It tracks well on the highway too, despite the lifeless electric steering.

With a smoother snout and underbody, plus tweaked running boards and D-pillars, the GMC cleaves the air with a surprisingly low drag coefficient of 0.34. Think of it as a greased elephant.

This pachyderm has also been put on a serious weight-loss program to compensate for the hybrid components and 300-volt battery pack living under the second-row seats.

It gets an aluminum hood and tailgate, lighter 18-inch alloys shod with low rolling-resistant tires, lighter seats and the stripping of 100 kg of insulation (no worries: this truck is quieter than the standard unit). When all is said and done, the hybrid's weight penalty is 181 kg.

GM has left no stone unturned here, and I'm happy to report this skeptic was suitably gob smacked to see the on-board computer showing 11.3 L/100 km when we pulled into Sandusky, Ohio.

Cedar Point boasts 14 roller-coasters – the most of any theme park in the world. So for someone like me, who feels queasy just looking at the things, this place is some kind of multi-coloured hell. Nonetheless, after much cajoling and flapping of arms from various members of our party (and a few beers, which in retrospect makes no sense), I boarded Top Thrill Dragster.

This beast rockets you to 200 km/h in under four seconds and then catapults skyward 120 metres, at which point the car makes a gut-wrenching turn and flies straight towards the earth, twisting the whole way.

My son was quick to tell me I yelled some very un-family-theme-park-like words for the entire 14 seconds.

Next morning we went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Very cool, almost as cool as silently negotiating the whole indoor parking lot on electric power alone.

The Yukon Hybrid is a fascinating engineering exercise, and dammit if it doesn't work as advertised. The question remains whether it is relevant. A full—sized SUV hybrid probably made more sense a few years ago when it was on the drawing board, but these things are selling like brown bananas now.

And there's not a whole lot of financial incentive here, as a similarly equipped Yukon 4WD SLT3 runs about 10 grand cheaper.

Perhaps the Yukon Hybrid's biggest worry is right across the showroom floor. The 3.6 L V6 GMC Acadia, one of the finest vehicles in the GM lineup, gets similar fuel economy, is considerably less expensive, has more usable interior room thanks to its unibody construction, and is dynamically far superior.

Nonetheless, if towing, technology, luxury and a big helping of green rock your world, the Yukon Hybrid could be your stairway to heaven.

Freelance writer Peter Bleakney can be reached at pebleakney@sympatico.ca

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