Behind The Wheel Of GM's Great Wide Hope

The redesigned Yukon is best-in-class. But it's defending a shrinking market

When General Motors (GM ) decided to spend a few hundred million bucks last year to rush its redesigned large SUVs to market six months early, everyone thought company executives had to be crazy. High fuel prices had already taken a big bite out of sales. Consumers were wild for small SUVs. The fact that GM was still relying on eight-seat gas hogs to save the company seemed so old Detroit.

But when you're king of the road in a particular market, you have to defend it. So I jumped in a new GMC Yukon to see if this truck had a prayer of towing GM out of the mire. I have to say, if you're one of those buyers who still want a big brute of a truck, these large sport utes are best-in-class.

Stylistically, it doesn't look that much different than the old Yukon and its stablemate, the Chevrolet Tahoe. You have to get behind the wheel to find out what the truck is really made of. And let's make one thing clear: Though GM engineers tried their best to bend the laws of physics and make this brute drive more like a car, the Yukon is still a massive truck. Parking it in a garage or crowded lot is a neck-craning exercise in navigation.

Having said that, it's about as smooth and nimble a big SUV as you'll find. I drove the car for seven hours across Canada on a road trip. When it comes to loading up a lot of baggage and cruising for a few hundred miles, the Yukon is a comfy ride. The new front suspension lets you coast over potholes without the bone-shaking ride many competing large trucks have. For a truck this heavy (it weighs 5,000 pounds) the Yukon also takes tight turns without leaning too hard to one side. Its turning radius is pretty good, too. I had to make a quick U-turn on a four-lane road and was able to do so without having to stop, back up, and go forward again.

The cabin is nicely decked out. GM finally ditched the cheap, hollow plastic knobs that belong on the dashboard of a toddler's toy car. In their place is a solid set of knobs and buttons that look like they are built with the precision of Honda (HMC ) or Toyota (TM ). One gripe: GMC is supposed to be GM's upscale brand, but for $38,500 I expected heated leather seats rather than cloth-wrapped benches more befitting a Chevy.

Forget about the 20 miles per gallon that GM bragged about before introducing the new Yukon. I got 15.5 mpg on my trip, albeit driving about 75 mph on the highway. I still think this is the best large SUV on the market, but its gas-hogging ways and outsize body make it a choice for SUV lovers only.

By David Welch

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