Up until fairly recently, getting 21 mpg in a full-size SUV seemed pretty fanciful. But a few years ago GM introduced a pair of these vehicles that would do just that. The 2011 GMC Yukon Hybrid is one; its Chevy Tahoe Hybrid twin is the other. Normally, a fuel appetite of 15 mpg is what you'd expect from a large, truck-based SUV. But thanks to a hybrid powertrain, the Yukon Hybrid gets nearly 50 percent better mileage while still offering a powerful V8, the ability to transport up to eight people and a towing capacity of 6,200 pounds.
To the 6.0-liter V8 engine, the hybrid system adds a pair of 60-kilowatt motors (packaged within the transmission) for electric motivation. The transmission is rather complex, as it is essentially like having two transmissions inside one -- a continuously variable drive unit for light load conditions and a standard four-speed fixed-gear type for high load conditions. Thusly equipped, the Yukon Hybrid can (under low-load conditions) move solely under electric power to speeds up to around 25 mph. This is how its city fuel economy rating (21 mpg) manages to virtually match its highway estimate (22 mpg). To minimize the weight gain associated with all that hybrid hardware, GM utilized aluminum for several body panels and even slimmed down the seats. Strangely, the hefty and difficult-to-remove third-row seats didn't take part in the diet.
While the Yukon Hybrid may save at the pump and help save some of the earth's finite resources, all this enhancement is going to cost you. At around $50,000, the big GMC commands a hefty premium not only over a conventionally powered Yukon, but also over a lighter and better-handling crossover SUV that offers similar or greater passenger/cargo room and fuel efficiency. And there are also the powertrain components to consider, which add weight and complexity. We'll let you decide if the environmental benefits are worth it, but how green can a 5,600-pound SUV ever really be?
So, unless the 2011 GMC Yukon Hybrid's significant towing capabilities are beneficial to you, full-size crossovers like the 2011 Ford Flex, 2011 GMC Acadia or 2011 Mazda CX-9 are likely better choices. You might also take a look at smaller but similarly priced diesel-powered three-row crossovers like the 2011 Audi Q7 TDI and 2011 BMW X5 xDrive 35d that provide greater fuel efficiency and a superior driving experience.
The 2011 GMC Yukon Hybrid is a full-size SUV available in one trim level. Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, rear park assist with rearview camera, tinted windows, power-folding heated side mirrors and tri-zone automatic climate control. A trip computer, Bluetooth, OnStar, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, remote engine start, leather upholstery, power front seats and a removable 50/50-split third-row seat are also standard. In-car entertainment includes a navigation system, a hybrid system display and a nine-speaker Bose audio system with a CD/MP3 player, a USB port and satellite radio with real-time traffic reporting. A sunroof and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system are the lone options.
Aside from instrumentation, there's nothing to distinguish the Yukon Hybrid from a traditional Yukon. Even so, The Yukon Hybrid boasts attractive, high-quality materials and tight panel gaps while maintaining a simple control layout. Even the standard navigation system is easy to use.
The Yukon's standard third row enables it to accommodate up to eight passengers. The 50/50-split third-row seats don't fold flat into the floor, however; they must be removed manually to free up maximum cargo space, and each seat weighs more than 60 pounds. With the third-row seats out of the picture and the second-row seatbacks folded, cargo capacity expands to a whopping 109 cubic feet, making the Yukon the roomiest hybrid on the market.
The 2011 GMC Yukon Hybrid is available with rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. Both models utilize a 6.0-liter V8 engine coupled to a pair of 60-kilowatt electric motors located inside what GM calls an electrically variable transmission. Together, they produce 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque. The system can accelerate the Yukon up to speeds of approximately 25 mph using electricity only, while the V8's cylinder-deactivation system helps reduce fuel consumption at higher speeds. Regenerative braking replenishes the batteries by capturing energy normally lost when you come to a stop.
Fuel economy ratings stand at 20 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. Maximum towing capacity for a properly equipped 4WD model is 6,000 pounds.
It's not a stretch to say that driving the 2011 GMC Yukon Hybrid feels like being behind the wheel of a 5,600-pound Prius. There's the same eerie quiet when accelerating and braking, as the gas engine shuts off to let the electric motors do their thing. Although it's a tad strange, the result is a quiet cabin.
Although the Hybrid is the most powerful Yukon available, it's also the heaviest, so don't expect particularly brisk acceleration. Also, the transmission can hesitate when you ask for full power. Handling is about what you'd expect: safe but ponderous. Most crossovers are notably more carlike from behind the wheel.
Standard safety equipment includes full-length side curtain airbags, antilock disc brakes, traction control, OnStar and a rearview camera.
In the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash-testing procedures, the Yukon Hybrid earned an overall rating of four stars (out of five), with five stars for overall frontal crash protection and five stars for overall side crash protection. Its three-star rollover rating was the cause for the lower overall score.
For 2011, the GMC Yukon Hybrid sees no changes.