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2015 GMC Yukon XL SLT Review - A Horse Show Provides the Ultimate Test

I recently had a chance to spend some time with the new 2015 GMC Yukon XL and my test time in the true full sized SUV happened to correspond with a four day horse show – giving me a chance to put this family hauler through one of the most grueling real world tests in my little world.


If you are not fortunate enough to have ever been to a Hunter/Jumper equestrian show, before getting into my hard-working review of the 2015 GMC Yukon XL, a quick look at what a horse show weekend entails.

These horse shows run from Thursday through Sunday and the venues are generally in the middle of nowhere and somehow they are almost all located at the end of a long, poorly maintained dirt road. Early on Thursday morning, you hook up the horse trailer and the two horses, along with a 200lb tack trunk and everything that a horse or rider could possibly need over the course of the event. That includes bales of hay, bags of grain, a few dozen cubic feet of compressed wood shavings, grooming supplies, saddles, tables and chairs and that big, heavy tack trunk.

One you have filled the cargo area up (with the rear seats folded down), you load the horses into the trailer and drive for a few hours to the show, with the last few miles taking place on a road that looks like it was taken from post-war London in the 1940s. Once you get to the venue, you unload the horses, unhook the trailer and unload all of the stuff from the back of the truck (in this case, the 2015 Yukon). You then spend the next 4 days getting to the event before dawn and leaving well after dark, all to sit around for a handful of classes that are scattered throughout the day.

2015 yukon xl front

For a show husband, it is a long, tiresome and boring weekend – one that I have gone through with a great many trucks and SUVs over the past few years, but I think that the 2015 GMC Yukon XL made for the most comfortable horse show weekend I’ve ever experienced.

Simply put, the 2015 Yukon XL is so big that you can literally camp in it so when sitting around and waiting for the next class to run in four hours, the Yukon XL provided a little comfort of home.

My 2015 GMC Yukon XL SLT 4WD test vehicle carried a base price of $60,435. The Sun & Entertainment package ($2,805), the 20” wheels ($1,400), the Max Trailer Tow Package ($695), the 2nd row bucket seats ($590), the Theft Deterrent package ($395(and destination fees ($995) brought my price as tested to $67,270. That is a lot of money – but this is a lot of vehicle.

The Interior
In the 2015 GMC Yukon XL family, the SLT is not the top of the line package (that is the Denali), but you would be hard pressed to recognize this vehicle is anything shy of a large luxury SUV. Black leather with white contrasting stitching is found on the seats, dash, center console and door panels launches the luxury feel while high gloss wood trim and satin silver accents throughout the cabin secure the high end look and feel.

15 yukon xl front seats

The front and second row of seats are all high back bucket seats with power controls. The front seats of the Yukon XL SLT are heated and cooled while the second row of seats are “only” heated – all of which were appreciated on a chilly horse show morning. Regardless of whether you are sitting in the front or second row, there is plenty of room in every direction so those in the front or middle rows can stretch their legs on long rides. One of the differences between the Yukon and the Yukon XL is the third row seats and while they don’t offer anywhere near as much leg, head or shoulder room as the middle row, I find the Yukon XL’s third row to be among the few that will actually fit two adults so, unlike so many other 3-row SUVs, the Yukon XL will actually seat six adults.

2015 yukon xl rear seats

In addition to have a ton of seating space for everyone, the Yukon XL has a massive rear cargo area that allowed us to load everything for the horse show into the back with room to spare. Even better, once the vehicle was unloaded, the rear cargo area with the 3rd row of seats folded down was literally big enough for me to stretch out and go to sleep. In fact, in folding down the 2nd row of seats, I was able to basically make a bed in the cargo area and close the door when the rain moved in. I am not exaggerating in any way when I say that two people could go camping in the Yukon XL and sleep very comfortably in the back while still having lots of space for their cargo between and under the middle row of seats.

2015 yukon xl cargo

When I wasn’t sleeping in the massive rear cargo area, I fired up the optional roof-mounted DVD system that has twin screens for easy viewing for anyone in the middle or rear row of seats. When combined with the upgraded sound system, the Yukon XL delivers better picture and sound than some of my friends’ living rooms. Combine that rear entertainment system with the big, bright touch screen that controls the navigation system, the sound system and the hands free phone system. There are a few buttons for the key controls of the infotainment system and for the driver, the Yukon has a huge spread of buttons mounted on the steering wheel for easy access to the infotainment system and the driver information screen in the middle of the gauge cluster. Finally, while the climate control system is not integrated into the touch screen, there is a large panel below the touch screen with easy access to all of the heating and air conditioning controls. Tie in the push button start and the sunroof, and you have a very heavily appointed cabin for a vehicle that isn’t a top of the line trimline.

2015 yukon xl dash

The 2015 Yukon XL is a big SUV and GM made very good use of all of that space. There is real seating for six adults, a ton of cargo space, a big enough rear area for two large adults to make a bed and all of the technology that you could expect from a modern luxury SUV…even though the Yukon XL SLT isn’t the luxury package of the lineup.

Towing and Hauling
My 2015 GMC Yukon XL SLT test vehicle was fitted with the standard 5.3L V8 mated to a 6 speed automatic transmission. This sends 355 horsepower and 383lb-ft of torque to all four wheels via an active four wheel drive system that helps improve fuel economy by automatically shifting to rear wheel drive when the extra traction isn’t needed. This configuration is expected to return fuel economy figures of 15 around town, 22 on the highway and 18 combined, but I towed and hauled so frequently during my testing session that my fuel economy figures were far below that. The Yukon XL averaged a very respectable 13.8mpg with heavy towing times, which is very comparable to many newer half ton pickups. More importantly, when fitted with the optional Max Trailer Tow package, the Yukon XL is able to tow up to 8,000lbs and haul up to 1,775lbs – which allowed this big SUV to meet the horse show towing and hauling demands with plenty of room to spare.

yukon xl side 2015

With the two horses loaded into my small test trailer (the same setup that I use to test all trucks and SUVs), my trailer weighs right around 5,000 pounds. I was a little concerned when I first hooked up the trailer, as the self-leveling suspension system kept lifting against the weight of the trailer, which lifted the front wheels of my trailer off of the ground. This was fixed by going to a bigger drop hitch and once I had the right height of hitch, the rear view camera system made hooking up a breeze.

The 2015 Yukon XL Max Trailer Tow Package includes an integrated trailer brake controller that worked very smoothly with my older horse trailer. The adjustments were quick and easy, and there way very little lag between the braking point of the Yukon and my trailer. I also turned the braking force all of the way down to see how well the Yukon XL stopped without the aid of the trailer brakes, and while braking distances were a touch longer – the Yukon had no problems stopping with the extra 5,000lbs pushing on the back.

2015 yukon xl engine

My three hour drive to the horse show includes a short stretch through town, a long stretch on the highway and a short stretch down a miserably muddy, ripped up road. Not surprisingly, the Yukon handled the driving around town with the trailer with the greatest of ease. I was concerned that the smaller of the GMC SUV engines would be short on power around town, but acceleration was as smooth as the stops in town. Once I reached the highway, I got to experience the 2015 Yukon XL at highway speeds with the trailer out back and while it didn’t pull as well as some of the far more powerful options (like the Yukon Denali with the 6.2L V8), the 5.3L V8 did very well for itself. I don’t drive particularly fast with the horses out back for obvious reasons, and the Yukon had no issues keeping up with traffic and occasionally speeding up to pass a slower moving tractor trailer. Unlike many SUVs, which allow a great deal of the road noise from the trailer to echo into the passenger compartment, the Yukon XL’s size and construction made for a whisper quiet towing experience, whether I was on pothole ridden local roads or the hard bumps of the highway.

2015 yukon xl rear

Finally, I arrived at the long, muddy road that lead to the horse show grounds. I locked the Yukon XL into four wheel drive and took to the slop, carefully navigating the rough road with my hot-blooded cargo out back. The Yukon XL handled this rough road beautifully, and it secured its trailer-towing off-road capabilities when we reached the event. The many horse show moms had gotten their compact SUVs stuck in a portion of the facility that had lots of mud and their efforts to dig out had created a sort of off-road obstacle course. I was very worried that the big, long Yukon XL would have a hard time making it through the tight turns in the sloppy mud, but at no point did it hesitate. Even though the spinning tires caked the front of my horse trailer with thick mud, the Yukon performed beautifully through every step of the trip. Regardless of the conditions or road type, the Yukon was smooth, steady, confident and comfortable in every situation so for anyone who spends a lot of time towing – the Yukon XL SLT is a great option.

The Normal Drive
After getting to the show, unloading the horses, dropping the trailer and unloading all of the stuff in the cargo area of the Yukon XL, the slow moving rigors of the horse show began. This includes regular trips back and forth to the hotel to get things that we had forgotten, and that gave me a chance to experience the 2015 Yukon without the added weight inside and out back.

yukon xl front ow

The 2015 GMC Yukon XL is a big, high riding SUV, but while it sits like a half ton pickup, the ride quality is better than that of your average truck. The big GMC handled the sloppy mud roads with the greatest of ease, even allowing me to take on some of the worst parts of the road just like I would in a smaller, lighter truck or SUV. I didn’t do any actual offroading, but the conditions on this dirt road were bad enough to require four wheel drive, and never did the Yukon feel like it might not be able to climb out of the given situation. Out on the highway back to the hotel, the Yukon was surprisingly smooth on the road and while there was some of the stiffness that you would expect with a big, hardworking SUV, the ride quality was more like a large luxury SUV than a full size truck. Finally, while this isn’t a vehicle that you are going to drive through tight quarters like a rally car, the Yukon XL is a very smooth vehicle around town. Ride quality aside, the 355hp and 383lb-ft of torque allow the big GMC SUV to get away from a stop with some urgency and keep up with fast-moving traffic with no problem. Strictly from a go-fast standpoint, I would prefer the 6.2L V8 of the Denali, but the 5.3L V8 will be ideal for most buyers.

The Final Word
If you are looking for a full sized SUV with real space for six people, tons of cargo space, the ability to confidently tow a 5,000lb trailer – all in the lap of affordable luxury – the 2015 GMC Yukon XL SLT could be the ideal vehicle for you. While the Yukon XL Denali has more power and a bit more luxury, the Yukon SLT offers everything that you need with a slightly smaller price tag. At $67,270, the Yukon XL SLT is far from inexpensive, but when you consider all of the features of my test vehicle, that price comes with no real compromise. This is a gorgeous daily driver in any conditions year-round, while offering the towing and hauling abilities of a half-ton pickup – all while comfortably seating six people.

yukon xl beauty shot

Finally, I can safely say that the 2015 Yukon XL passed the horse show test with flying colors. This vehicle did all of the work that we needed it to do before and after the show, while keeping me and my wife very comfortable in a plush, luxurious cabin between classes at the event. This is a big SUV that checks every box and it is one that I would recommend to anyone who needs a big SUV that can do the work of a truck.