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Yukon Adventure: Driving the 2015 GMC Yukon Full-Size SUV Across Its Northern Namesake

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
August 29, 2014
4 min. Reading Time
2015 GMC Yukon Denali ・  Photo by Benjamin Hunting

2015 GMC Yukon Denali ・ Photo by Benjamin Hunting

The lure of the far north is inescapable for anyone who’s ever dreamed of exploring the vast, empty reaches that serve as a prelude to the ice caps at the top of the world.  In fact, the land immortalized by Jack London’s ‘Call of the Wild’ has become an obsession for some, especially the thousands of German tourists who every year invade Canada’s Yukon Territory in search of White Fang and the endless frontier.

My own sub-Arctic quest came about no less poetically, although I doubt London ever would have conceived from his Dawson City cabin of a vehicle quite like the 2015 GMC Yukon being christened after his beloved wilderness.  And yet there I was, being given the rare opportunity to sample a vehicle in the land of its namesake, and to push the full-size SUV to the limits of what the largely unsettled and generally harsh northern terrain had to offer.

Times Gone By

Just as the mountain valleys that linked Whitehorse, Yukon Territory with my final destination of Dawson City ring with the faded echoes of long-gone prospectors hell-bent on striking it rich during the gold rush of the late 1800s, so too does the 2015 GMC Yukon bring with it a number of characteristics that could very well live on the pages of a history book.  Why yes, that’s a solid axle peeking out from underneath the SUV’s rear skirt, and your ears aren’t wrong when they discern the eight-cylinder rumble emanating from under the Yukon’s long hood.  You can even order this monster in a larger-than-life extended-wheelbase model dubbed the XL that grafts even more passenger and cargo room onto its three-row, eight-seat cabin.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Back To The Future

And yet, tempering this unapologetic display of pickup truck ancestry and old school design is a wave of thoroughly-modern technologies stuffed inside the GMC Yukon’s ample platform.  Just as the stream panners and dog sleds that once dominated the mining efforts of the Territory’s original occupants have been complemented by helicopters and seismic imaging radar, so too has GMC’s SUV seen its technological prowess updated to reflect the demands of modern drivers.

Of course, one has to add an asterisk to that particular claim, and that asterisk is better known by its Denali brand name.  Order the 2015 GMC Yukon in Denali trim, and this shout-out to another icon of the Arctic brings with it a magnetically-controlled suspension system that significantly civilizes the vehicle’s ride – an important detail when traveling along hundreds of miles of highway that can suddenly see its asphalt surface disappear in favor of a broken and rutted gravel base whose loose surface claimed the windshield of one of the trucks I drove in short order.  Despite this occupational hazard, I can state that the Yukon Denali’s trick suspension had me flying low while ascending mountain passes at speeds of 85 to 90 miles per hour, completely assured in the grip of the GMC’s available four-wheel drive system and the predictability of its chassis.  You never completely forget that there’s a live axle kicking up the cloud of dust in your wake, but its negative effects on the truck’s handling experience are significantly mitigated by the magnetic system.  I wish I could say the same about the standard version of the Yukon, but with no such high tech blanket to cuddle up with every rough-hewn impact is felt, and complained about, via the truck’s traditional suspension design.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Supremely Safe

Even on the sparsely-traveled roads that cut through the Yukon’s far-reaching expanses, the risk of a collision is still very real due to the sheer amount of wildlife that calls the Canadian territory home.  Whether it be the roaming herds of caribou I was warned about by roadside placards, the ever-present specter of 2,000 lbs of moose lumbering across the road, or even the occasional bear encounter, anything that can help improve peace of mind by contributing to safety in such a remote part of the world (where emergency response can take hours at best) is more than welcome.

The 2015 GMC Yukon’s most obvious contribution to collision safety is its impressive bulk, as the fortress of steel and airbags that surrounds you from any of the SUV’s passenger positions serves as an immediate mental cushion.  Beyond that, the vehicle is also outfitted with a head-up display that allowed me to keep my eyes firmly locked on the road (and shoulders), along with a forward collision warning system that can often detect obstacles of both the vehicular and flesh-and-blood variety before the human eye.  These are in addition to the GMC’s more urban-oriented safety features such as blind spot warning.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Small Block Bluster

The eight-cylinder engine options provided by the 2015 GMC Yukon also score safety points for the SUV, especially considering that what little traffic I did encounter during my northern trek was either of the camping trailer or 18-wheeled variety.  Overtaking slower quarry as quickly as possible is imperative so as to avoid the uncertainty that lurks around the next corner, and there’s no question that the Denali edition’s 420 horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 offered exceptional gusto when pulling out to pass.  The less-gifted, 355 horsepower eight-cylinder offered by all other Yukon models isn’t quite as impressive, but it still manages to execute its orders in a timely manner.  I look forward to the upcoming eight-speed automatic transmission set to replace the existing six-speed unit in the Yukon by the end of 2014, which should help further smooth out the SUV’s throttle response and save a bit more fuel in normal driving. 

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Still Relevant, Still Classy

The sophistication of the crossover segment has in large part pushed full-size, truck-based options like the 2015 GMC Yukon out of the spotlight, and while sales continue to meet GM’s targets, there’s no question that the halcyon days of ever-increasing market share for the vehicle’s big-boned ilk are in the rearview mirror.  And yet, like the Yukon Territory after which it has been named, the GMC people mover continues to be an important part of that brand’s identity.  Who could conceive of Canada without the Territory’s snow-capped, majestic wilderness, pioneer spirit, or seemingly endless natural resources?  The same can be said for GMC and it’s own Yukon, that impressive reminder of a past continually perfected and presented to those still willing to go big or go home..2015 GMC Yukon Denali

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting


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