The model-year 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon are the best SUVs for you if you wonder what it might be like had dinosaurs not gone extinct.
Full-size, body-on-frame SUVs are the fossils of the automotive world. Built like trucks, they belong to an age before crossovers, when weight and mass ruled. But the Tahoe and the nearly identical Yukon have continued to evolve. Indeed, the all-new model-year 2015 versions boast levels of refinement and a range of features entirely appropriate for the 21st century.
That’s true, too, for their even-larger brethren: the model-year 2015 Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL. Returning as well are the upscale Yukon Denali and Denali XL—sort of Escalades with taste. Speaking of which, Cadillac’s SUV flagship is also redesigned, again using the Tahoe and Yukon as its foundation.
But for all the new technology and luxury, there’s no escaping genealogy. Beneath that finishing-school veneer, these are still monsters. There is a place for them in today’s world, but is that place your driveway?
Redesigned for the first time since model-year 2007, these SUVs get crisp new styling and a smartly revamped interior that again holds up to eight passengers. New features include pushbutton ignition, lane-departure, frontal-collision and cross-traffic alerts and an airbag between the front bucket seats to keep noggins apart in a side impact.
A choice of rear-wheel drive or full-time four-wheel-drive with low-range gearing returns. And a 5.3-liter V-8 remains the mainstay engine. But it has 355 horsepower, a gain of 35, and 383 pound-feet of torque, an increase of 48.
The Denali retains a 6.2-liter V-8, shared with the Escalade. It gains 17 horsepower, to 420, and 43 pound-feet of torque, for a total of 460. All these trucks again use a six-speed automatic transmission. There is a tow-haul mode and a steering-column shift lever that includes a button for manual gear selection.
It’s hard to overstate how much these big SUVs mean to General Motors’ bottom line. Nearly all have base prices in the $50,000 to $60,000 range. Denalis top $70,000—and they account for 60 percent of Yukon sales. And boy, do buyers love options.
Profit margins are huge, and the competition is relatively weak. Just about any way you care to define the full-size SUV segment, this family of GM trucks accounts for at least two out of every three sold. Tahoe and Suburban alone have 50 percent of the market.
They continue to share some engineering with GM’s big pickup trucks, though their frames are not identical. That these SUVs have frames is part of their identity, of course. Most SUVs are crossovers, with lighter-weight, carlike construction in which body and frame are a single unit. That’s good for comfort, handling and fuel economy, but it can’t match truck-type SUVs for heavy towing or hauling.
GM stylists do a reasonable job giving the model-year 2015 Tahoe and Yukon distinct identities. Appealing to a more affluent audience, Yukons get a rather European-style grille and businesslike, square headlamps. Tahoe and Suburban celebrate their “Chevy-ness” with a wide chrome grille, fussier wrap-around headlamps and a hood with sharper creases. Differences in back are limited to taillamp lenses.
Denalis, meanwhile, are distinguished by a polished modern-art grille, more brightwork and exclusive xenon headlamps. They’re fancier inside, too, with real wood trim to go along with premium leather seating.
Already among the largest vehicles on the road, the model-year 2015 Tahoe and Yukon are some two inches longer and an inch wider than their model-years 2007 to 2014 predecessors. The roofline is about two inches lower, though, for improved aerodynamics.
Compared to the Tahoe and regular-length Yukon, Suburban and Yukon XL are nearly two feet longer overall and 14 inches longer in wheelbase. They have a sliver more legroom in the second-row seat, usefully more in the third row and nearly 30 percent more cargo volume. At almost 19 feet stem to stern, however, they’re the longest passenger vehicles on the road. Think about that, then look at your garage or consider your local mall parking lot.
Tahoe, Suburban and Yukon use the same basic dashboard, and it’s a terrific new design: contemporary, functional and good-looking. Inspired by watch faces, the gauges are shared with the pickup trucks and have a cool, precision look. Bluetooth is standard, as are five USB ports and a half-dozen power outlets.
All models have a central dashboard display. On most it’s an eight-inch touchscreen that hosts the available navigation system. It powers open to a hidden compartment, just one of a small boat’s worth of bins, pockets and beverage holders.
Materials quality deserves special praise. Padded surfaces abound, and uplevel Tahoes and Yukons have lots of dressy stitching. In both lines, all but the entry-level versions come with leather upholstery.
Our nitpicks include some details that seem out of scale in a vehicle this large. The 4WD switch is rather dainty. And in a bow to aerodynamics, the side mirrors are just too small to provide optimal outward vision.
Despite the new bodies, wheelbase is unaltered. Wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear axles and the key to a vehicle’s legroom. So even though front-seaters get about an inch more headroom, legroom in the second and third rows is pretty much unchanged.
It’s a 22-inch step up into the cabin, but once aboard you’ll enjoy generous front-seat space. For the second row, you have a choice of a bench or buckets, depending on the model. The rear doors open wider than before, and room is good, with more knee clearance thanks to reshaped front seatbacks. The second-row seatbacks recline, but the seats themselves don’t slide, as in some rivals. And the third row is much tighter than these dinosauric dimensions would imply. Blame that on a floor budged to accommodate that big beam rear axle. Third rows in the Tahoe and regular-length Yukon really only accommodate children.
With their longer wheelbase, Suburban and Yukon XL provide 10 additional inches of third-row legroom, but that intrusive floor still puts a squeeze on foot space. And in no model does the third-row seatback recline. Sequoia, Expedition and Armada treat their rearmost passengers better. Frankly, so do the smaller Chevy Traverse and GMC Acadia crossovers.
Cargo volume is a plus, although the Tahoe and regular-length Yukon don’t offer much when the third-row seat is up. New is a power-folding third-row seat and an automatic flip-fold second row. Those are real conveniences, though you’ve got to manually un-flip that heavy second-row seating.
To create the flat load surface—and to clear the spare tire—GM installs a raised six-inch section. Unfortunately, it elevates the load floor to more than 33 inches above the pavement. That could make for some heavy lifting.
That shelf cuts into cargo space, which shrinks about 12 percent with this redesign. Still, fold those rear seatbacks and there’s plenty of room in both body styles. That said, Suburban and Yukon XL have more than twice the space behind the third row as their regular-length counterparts, as well as a load floor that can swallow objects over six feet long.
The 5.3-liter V-8’s horsepower and torque are up 10 percent for model-year 2015. This latest generation of GM’s small-block has direct fuel injection and cylinder deactivation. Both help improve fuel economy, despite the added muscle. Acceleration is smooth, responsive and robust—especially in the 420-horspower Denali. At a maximum 8,500 pounds, tow ratings are impressive—its only about midpack for this class.
City and highway fuel-economy ratings are up slightly, and the combined rating climbs by one mpg, to 18 with both rear- and four-wheel drive. That’s still thirsty, of course, but a significant three to four mpg better than those competitors we’ve been talking about.
And while the Tahoe, Suburban and Yukon may be big as libraries, they’re quiet as libraries, too. No rival better isolates you from wind, road, or engine noise. The model-year 2015 redesign brings electric power steering. That’s a fuel-saving measure, as well.
We like its weight and natural feel around town but find the steering too light at highway speeds. There’s nothing lightweight, however, about the way these SUVs ride or handle. They’re stable cruisers, but in anything more than the gentlest changes of direction they’re ponderous and plagued by body lean.
Denalis and top-line Tahoes and Suburbans come with GM’s magnetic shock absorbers for better body control, but no model has a cushioned ride. Bumps send shudders through the structure, and they’re amplified as you increase wheel size, from the base 18s to the 20s standard on the Denali and available on most other models. Don’t fall for the Denali’s optional 22s unless you crave punishment.
Nothing in this class is really inexpensive: Chevy says the typical Suburban goes out the door for around $60,000. Each brand offers three levels of trim, and you probably could find a Tahoe or Yukon for under $50,000. But midline Tahoe LTs and Yukon SLTs are in the mid- to upper-$50,000 range. The quickly goes over $60,000 once you start adding a $3,300 sunroof and navigation packages and vanities like the $1,400 20-inch wheels. And 4WD adds $3,000 across the board.
Yukons are priced some $3,000 above their closest Tahoe and Suburban counterparts. They come with a bit of gear that’s optional on some of the Chevys, such as front and rear park assist and trizone climate control. But mostly you’re paying for whatever prestige is associated with the GMC badge.
Some buyers in this class rationalize their purchase by insisting they need the room or the hauling ability. Some don’t feel the need to justify anything. Did the Stegosaurus make excuses?