THE 2012 GMC YUKON XL 1500 SLE REVIEW
Full Review by Andy: Sense and Cents
To the lay economist, mammoth SUVs make no sense. “It’s the Reign of the Small Car! Viva la Ford Fiesta!” trumpets Average Joe Number-Cruncher. The hulking relics from the cheap gasoline era look out of place in the new, fuel-efficient utopia. Yet Average Joe Economist is wrong. Full-size SUVs like the 2012 GMC Yukon XL 1500 SLE are here to stay, at least for several more years, and here is what is most surprising of all: said Ford Fiesta is egging them on.
The key to the Yukon’s existence is money and lots of it. Full-size SUVs have long stocked the coffers of their makers for several reasons.
Reason One: Detroit Protects Its Own
Large SUVs have traditionally been produced by Detroit. As domestic auto manufacturers, Ford, GM, and Chrysler are able to avoid the 25 percent protectionist tax tariff imposed on imported trucks and SUVs. Sorry, Toyota.
Reason Two: Truck Power, Car Comfort
SUVs are to trucks what minivans are to cars: same capability, bigger haunches. The ability to take a truck and add a pant size slashes R&D costs, stabilizes tooling expenses, and streamlines manufacturing expenditures. In the case of the GMC Yukon XL 1500, it shares its 20th-century underpinnings with three other GMC products. The big Yukon also borrows a 5.3-liter Vortec V8 from its workaholic siblings that puts out 320 horsepower routed through a six-speed automatic transmission with manual control to the rear wheels. Maximum towing capacity is 8,100 pounds. Front wheel-biased all-wheel drive (AutoTrac) is available.
When piloting a three-ton, 222.4-inch GMC Yukon XL 1500, one feels like the rider of one of Hannibal’s elephants, or perhaps a gold-seeking frontiersman traipsing across the Sierra Nevada in a covered wagon. “The green light or bust!” There is a nary a semblance of agility, a trait from which all super-size SUVs suffer, but the big lug keeps on pluggin’. It behaves in the city and cruises on the highway, and even has a little power to pass slow-going senior citizens in Mercury Sables.
Reason Three: Family-Friendly
Full-size SUVs often command a loyal, youthful, and affluent demographic – ambrosia for auto manufacturers. The Chevy Suburban, for instance, has one of the lowest average buyer ages in the entire industry. This is because big SUVs, such as the Yukon 1500 XL, appeal to burgeoning families of any size with any need.
With all seats down, the Yukon XL 1500 is able to carry over 137-cubic feet worth of materials – more space than the entire interior of a midsize sedan. With all seats up, the Yukon XL offers a prodigious 45 cubes. The second-row seats fold and tumble flat into the floor, but the third row requires bulging biceps to manually remove from the boot. Depending on configuration, the hulking Yukon can fit up to nine occupants, the highest occupancy short of a bus. Crafted with small children in mind, the interior is built more for durability than luxury.
(See 80+ images of this Yukon XL’s interior and exterior.)
The base SLE trim is also equipped with a number of features essential for families, such as running boards, tri-zone climate control, keyless entry, and USB/iPod integration. Numerous options are available, but the most high-tech amenities are reserved for the buyers of SLT and Denali trims, reviewed separately. Amenity controls are easily accessible via the central control stack, which is simple but handsome.
Fourth Reason: Small Cars Steal Money
The fourth reason that SUVs succeed is somewhat complex. It starts with small cars, which are often considered “loss leaders.” Compact fuel-sippers often sell for several hundred dollars less than their build cost. Then why are they produced? Firstly, they provide financially hamstrung customers a route into the car-owning hive. Secondly, auto manufacturers often use small, fuel-efficient cars to achieve CAFE standards. Meanwhile, SUVs have some of highest profit margins in the industry. According to S.C. Gwynne in, “The Ups and Downs of the National Car of Texas,” full-size SUV profit margins extend up to $10,000 per unit, more than seven times the national average. Profitable sales of large SUVs offset the losses due to small cars sold to entry level buyers.
Unfortunately, the GMC Yukon XL is having trouble doing its job. While its corporate fraternal twin, the Chevrolet Suburban, has experienced recent sales growth, the Yukon XL has struggled to make par. Sales in 2011 just crested 25,000, fodder compared to 2000-2007 figures, and 2012 YTD statistics forecast nothing but doom and gloom. Why the downfall? Simple – the analogous Suburban is more widely available and usually costs less. But The General gets its money either way, and that makes sense and cents.
Engine: 5.3-liter V8: 320 hp @5,400 rpm/335 lb-ft of torque @4,000 rpm
Transmission: six-speed shiftable automatic
Fuel Economy: 15/21 mpg
Base MSRP: $43,555
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