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2004 GMC Yukon XL 4WS 4 x 4

Simply Quintessential

GMC’s three-quarter-ton Yukon XL doesn’t need four-wheel steering to be an outstanding tow vehicle, but it helps.

You can find a more luxurious sport-utility vehicle, or one with a better ride. But if you’re looking for something that pulls a lot of trailer without having to opt for a diesel engine, the three-quarter-ton GMC Yukon XL is one of the best choices on the market.

For starters, buyers who want four-wheel drive don’t have to sacrifice one ounce of towing capacity. In two- or four-wheel drive trim, the Yukon XL can haul up to 12,000 pounds.

Our test model came with four-wheel drive and the oh-so-cool four-wheel steering setup. In the past, we have offered caveats on this system, in terms of long-term reliability and the possiblity of parts being unavailable in five or six years. Our trepidation stemmed from a fear that the system wouldn’t be popular enough and would be discontinued by General Motors in a couple of years. That, of course, would lead to the discontinuation of necessary service parts.

But we’re beginning to wonder if we were wrong. The system works so well, we only switched it off for extended highway driving. Around town, it was always on because it made the Yukon so much easier to maneuver into tight parking spaces and make U-turns at narrow intersections. “How could anyone who has driven a 4WS Yukon not want it?” we thought.

The obvious barrier is price. At $4,495, the four-wheel-steering setup was one of the most expensive options on our test model, second only to the SLT décor package ($4,684). Long story short, if you can afford the 4WS option, buy it. In addition to making everyday driving far easier, four-wheel steering makes it easy to back a big trailer into a small space, with less need to pull forward and try again.
The power extending mirrors also are great for backing up, and for the $175 it costs to get them, they’re a bargain. They’re not so necessary for highway driving—we kept them tucked in on freeways—but for backing, they help bring things into view much more quickly, especially while turning. However, the right-side mirror is not convex, which we didn’t understand. It would be better if it were.
One other thing we didn’t get, especially since earlier GMCs and Chevrolets were so equipped, was that the winshield wipers didn’t fold out to a spring-loaded vertical position. It might have something to do with the “wet arm” washing system. It doesn’t sound like much, but that feature makes it far easier to clean the windshield at gas stations. Foreign automakers, such as Volkswagen, have built wipers this way for decades and still do. And as much sense as it makes, it seems odd that the General ceased to build them like that.

Speaking of gas stations, we visited a few of them, and paid nearly $70 to fill the tank with 87 octane. On a trip to the World Superbike Races at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif.,—with nothing in tow—the Yukon delivered a paltry 11 miles per gallon. At 65 mph, the 6.0-liter Vortec engine was spinning 2,300 rpm. Yes, the truck weighs more than 6,000 pounds, with heavy four-wheel drive running gear and a lofty 4.10:1 rear axle ratio, so perhaps that dismal mileage is what it is and something to be expected.

If we were equipping the Yukon for towing, we’d probably forego the four-wheel drive. Because of the 365 foot-pounds of engine torque and the delicate tip-in from the electronic throttle linkage, there was no wheel spin. We’d also probably go with a higher gear ratio, such as 3.73:1. But to do that, according to GMC literature, you’d have to special-order that ratio to keep the heavier duty 4L85-E transmission. You can get the 3.73:1 ratio off the lot, but only with the 4L60-E transmission.

Our test model also came with second-row captain’s chairs, which were as comfortable as the front seats, but they reduced the truck’s seating capacity by one or two people, depending on their size. The captain’s chairs folded to create a flat load floor and offered room in between for passengers in the third-row to stretch out a bit.

The rest of the interior was as luxurious as you would need in a tow vehicle. Leather seating surfaces, power everything, including adjustable brake and gas pedals, and a rear-seat entertainment system for those long road trips. The truck also came with XM satellite radio and an in-dash six-CD player. What else do you need? Really?

The Yukon XL Denali we also tested came with a better console, what with its extra compartments and power outlets. I guess maybe we’d like to see it come standard on all Yukons, but other than that, this truck is the quintessential tow vehicle.

And even though it’s a three-quarter-ton truck, the ride isn’t intrusive, even on flawed patches of concrete freeway. With torsion bars and double wishbones up front and a live axle perched on multileafs at the rear (the Denali comes with coils out back) the Yukon XL delivers a decidedly firm ride, but it’s probably as good as it gets on such a vehicle.

Among the other things that made the truck so well suited to its task was the tow/haul mode, which takes the busyness out of the transmission while towing. The smooth, flat torque curve of the engine makes it easier to drive and a comfortable driver’s seat means you don’t become unduly tired after long trips.

And because the places we play aren’t always right in our back yard, that level of comfort makes the Yukon XL that much more attractive.


Fuel Consumption:
Towing... <10 mpg
Non-towing... 11 mpg

0-60 towing... 25.38 seconds
40-60 towing… 14.36  seconds
0-60 non-towing... 10.19 seconds
40-60 non-towing...5.78 seconds

Engine... 6.0-liter Vortec V-8
Horsepower... 325 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque... 365 pound-feet @ 4,000 rpm
Compression ratio... 9.4:1
Transmission... four-speed electronic automatic

Axle ratio... 4.10:1
Fuel capacity... 37.5 gal.
Tire size... LT245-75-R16
Brakes... four-wheel disc with antilock
Suspension...  Front: independent with torsion bars; Rear: Two-stage, five-leaf, with auto-leveling
Tow rating... 12,000 lbs.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating... 8,600 lbs.
Gross Combined Weight Rating... 20,600 lbs.

Overall length... 219.3"
Maximum width... 78.8"
Wheelbase... 130"
Curb weight... 6,113 lbs.
Base price...$41,930
Price as tested... $56,143

2003 Formula 271 FAS3Tech
8,000 lbs.

Customer service... 800-462-8782
Web site...


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