As most any owner of a full-size, truck-based SUV can tell you, average vehicular thirst of 15 mpg or less is a sad fact of life. But it doesn't have to be that way, as the 2013 GMC Yukon Hybrid (and its Chevy Tahoe Hybrid twin) is rated at 21 mpg in combined city/highway driving. And little sacrifice is made in terms of passenger or trailer-toting capacities. Other than the hybrid powertrain, the Yukon Hybrid is functionally little different from a standard Yukon. So you still get a powerful V8, the ability to transport up to eight people and a towing capacity of up to 6,200 pounds.
To achieve this level of fuel efficiency in a near-3-ton SUV, the Yukon's 6.0-liter V8 engine is paired with a hybrid system that features two 60-kilowatt electric motors packaged within the transmission. If that sounds complex, well, that's because it is. It is essentially two transmissions inside one. For light load conditions there's a continuously variable drive unit, while a standard four-speed fixed-gear type takes over when load demands increase.
Thanks to this engineering prowess, the Yukon Hybrid can (under low-load conditions) move up to 25 mph solely under electric power, a feat that allows it to earn its impressive city fuel economy rating of 20 mpg. That's about 50 percent higher than what a standard Yukon 2WD with the 6.2-liter V8 rates (14 mpg city). Of course, all that hardware adds weight, so to minimize the gain, this GMC sports several aluminum body parts and even the front seats have been slimmed down. Sadly, the heavy and awkward-to-remove third-row seats didn't take part in the diet.
It's all well and good that the 2013 GMC Yukon Hybrid cuts down on fuel expense and the consumption of a finite resource, but that doesn't necessarily make for a strong economic argument. Priced in the mid-$50,000 range when new, the Hybrid costs considerably more than a non-hybrid Yukon. More to the point, you're looking at a huge premium over a lighter and better-handling crossover SUV that offers similar passenger/cargo space and fuel efficiency. And then there's the Yukon Hybrid's heavy and complex powertrain to consider.
So, unless you really need the 2013 GMC Yukon Hybrid's significant towing capabilities, a full-size crossover like the 2013 Ford Flex, 2013 GMC Acadia or 2013 Mazda CX-9 is likely a better choice. There's also the Toyota Highlander Hybrid (it's not as brawny, but it's cheaper and more fuel-efficient) or smaller but similarly priced diesel-powered three-row crossovers like the Audi Q7 TDI and BMW X5 xDrive 35d that provide greater fuel efficiency and a superior driving experience.
The 2013 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. It 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're heavy and must be removed manually to free up maximum cargo space. With the third-row seats out of the picture and the second-row seatbacks folded, cargo capacity expands to 109 cubic feet, making the Yukon the roomiest hybrid on the market.
The 2013 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. On its own, the V8 is rated at 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque. GM engineers say that combined output with the electric motors is 379 hp.
Under light throttle/load conditions, the Yukon can accelerate up to speeds of approximately 25 mph solely on electric power, thus optimizing fuel efficiency in low-speed, stop-and-go driving conditions, while the V8's cylinder-deactivation system helps reduce fuel consumption at higher speeds. Regenerative braking replenishes the batteries by capturing energy normally lost while slowing down.
Fuel economy ratings for both 2WD and 4WD versions stand at 20 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. Maximum towing capacity for a properly equipped 2WD model is 6,200 pounds, while the 4WD version is rated at 5,900 pounds.
It's not a stretch to say that driving the 2013 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.
While 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 front seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, antilock disc brakes, traction control, OnStar and a rearview camera.
In government crash testing, the 2013 GMC Yukon Hybrid earned an overall rating of four stars (out of a possible 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 2013, the GMC Yukon Hybrid is essentially unchanged.