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Eric
04-19-2008, 09:37 AM
Here is one hybrid that actually makes some sense.

And no, it's not the Prius - or any other passenger car hybrid. Those things don't impress me. Only slightly better real-world fuel economy than a standard economy compact (the Prius, for example, typically delivers about 40-45 mpg overall) for more money up front (on average, a hybrid costs about $2,000 more than an otherwise equivalent non-hybrid car) with acceleration/performance/capability that is almost always less than an otherwise similar regular car. Might make you feel good; probably won't save you money. And will cost you capability - and fun, too.

Then there's GM's "two-mode" hybrid GMC Yukon. Yes, I too was prepared to mock it mercilessly when I first saw it parked in my driveway. Yee-haw. Eighteen mpg instead of 16 mpg! Look, Vern - the engine shuts off at traffic lights.

We're saving the planet!

But it's much more than that, as I began to realize after two trips down the mountain and back (about 100 miles, total) plus another trip to town (about another 30 miles on top of that). By the time I got home, the Yukon's fuel gauge was still reading almost three quarters full. After 130-plus miles of driving. With a six liter V-8 under the hood packing 332 horsepower that is dragging along 5,600 pounds of full-frame, full-size, three-row SUV capable of pulling a 6,200 lb. trailer. My little Nissan Frontier - half the size and half the engine - would be half empty by now.

I was impressed.

You should be, too.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

The hybrid Yukon is powered by a 6 liter V-8 supplemented by electric motors and a 300 Volt battery pack. The Corette-derived, all-allloy V-8 is slightly smaller than the non-hybrid Yukon Denali's 6.2 liter V-8, but still packs a 332 hp punch (vs. the 6.2's 380 hp). It features cylinder deactivation technology, which means that it can run on just four of its eight cylinders under light load/steady-state cruising. When more power is needed, the other four cylinders come back online automatically. The changeover is virtually undetectable by sound or feel - though you will notice the fuel gauge doesn't move to the left nearly as rapidly as it does in the non-hybrid Denali.

The V-8 can also shut itself off when you're idling at a traffic light - restarting instantly and automatically as the need arises. When the engine's off, you won't lose amenities like air conditioning or power steering; both (and other systems) are electrically driven, not run by the engine's pulleys and fan belts. This, too, is seamless and unobtrusive. The only indication you've got that the engine has turned itself off is the tachometer needle - which will drop to "auto stop" - and the oil pressure gauge - which will read zerountil the engine restarts.

But what makes the Yukon hybrid really special is the "two mode" operating system that lets it do something no large, 4WD SUV has ever been able to do - run completely on electric power alone at speeds up to 30 mph. The vehicle has an Electrically Variable Transmission (in place of the conventional six-speed automatic used in the non-hybrid Denali) with a pair of integral 60 kilowatt electric motors that can both propel the vehicle and provide an extra boost of power to the V-8's output when maximum performance is wanted.

So, where's the beef? How about MPG capability of 21 city and 22 highway - with a maximum highway range of almost 540 miles? Contrast that with the regular Yukon - which slurps unleaded like a heavily laden '69 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser - to the tune of 12 MPG in the city and 18 highway. And (trust me on this) those numbers are optimistic. Drive a standard Yukon (or any equivalent in sizxe/power non-hybrid full-size V-8 SUV) with anything more than the lightest pressure on the pedal and you will be lucky to stay in the double digits around town.

21 city/22 highway, meanwhile, is close to what a light-duty, car-based "crossover" (without real four-wheel drive or any kind of serious towing capability) delivers. And unlike a weak sister crossover, you still get big-time V-8 power, linebacker torque, all the hugeness and glory of a big road tank that doesn't compromise a single thing in terms of function or capability.

RIDE & HANDLING

Just like the non-hybrid Yukon. Meaning, you are king of the road. Though it's huge and heavy, it's amazingly easy to drive; light (but not vague) electro-hydraulic power steering, solid-feeling (bumps and road irregularities are isolated to faint echoes you are aware of but don't get assaulted by), decent reflexes (for what it is) and no sensation of tipsiness in corners. If you abuse it, the tires will eventually squeal, but you have to be really working it hard to get to that point. Under any kind of normal driving this rarely happens; the thing is very "wife driveable" - and not at all intimidating or awkward or overpoweringly massive.

People around you in Civics and Smart Cars may feel otherwise.

But - and this is key - it does not handle oafishly, as many hybrid vehicles do. I could not tell the difference between it and the regular Yukon. And the hybrid's brakes are actually better - due to the regenerative braking function, which uses the vehicle's momentum to help recharge the batteries but which also has the side bennie of providing an "engine braking" function, too.

STYLING & UTILITY

The hybrid Yukon looks virtually identical to the non-hybrid version - excepting the "hybrid" callouts that are literally all over the thing. Remember '70s-era Pontiac Firebird Formulas that had huge "F-O-R-M-U-L-A" decals on each door? Well, the hybrid Yukon has a similar graphics package, although it's done a little more discretely (but not much) by using matte charcoal decals that blend in a bit better than the contrast color callouts on the '70s-era Firebird. There are also "hybrid" badges on the rear sail panels - and the front end has an aerodynamic skirt to decrease wind resistance (and thus save a little more fuel) at road speeds.

Inside, the cabin is also very similar to the regular Yukon - with the exception of the hybrid-specific gauge package that includes a a dual-mode tachometer that shows both engine RPMs and "auto stop" when the engine turns off and battery power is driving the vehicle, as well as a separate gauge that tells you when you're in the "green zone" - the most economical mode of operation. The console-mounted GPS display also has a screen that shows the hybrid powertrain's operation in real time. Like the system in the Toyota Prius, it tells you what's happening at any given moment; whether power is going to the rear wheels or all four wheels (4WD models), whether the engine is running - or the electric motors/battery assisting - and so on.

The hybrid Yukon (like its corporate cousins, the Chevy Tahoe and Cadillac Escalade) is a handsome lug with by far the nicest (and most quality-looking) interior GM has put into a truck, ever. It's classy and not overdone with buttons and busyness (as, frankly, you'll find in the Toyota Sequoia and some others). Toe to toe, it's arguably nicer than the interiors of the mainline import SUVs. To my eye, GM - and Ford - now have the best large SUV interiors available.

Three row seating is standard - with the one drawback being the third row is not fold and stow. (This is probably due to packaging issues with the battery pack, whichtakes up space underneath the floorpans.) So you have to remove it manually - and it is heavy and unwieldy if you have to do that. Also, third row occupants have to sit "tucked" with their knees up - because there's no "well" for their legs. It's fine for kids, though.

Hybrid models come "loaded" with most of the stuff you'd get in a top-of-the-line Denali - which is fitting since the hybrid's price point of $50,045 (2WD) and $52,855 (4WD) is actually higher than the base MSRP of the Denali - $46,485 for the 2WD model and $49,480 for the 4WD version.

You get all the hybrid equipment - which is no small thing - plus 18-inch rims, Park Assist with rearview camera, three-zone climate control, GPS navigation, remote start, multi-stage heated leather seats, nine-speaker premium Bose audio system with CD changer and Mp3 capability, deep tint windows and all the power stuff (windows, locks, cruise control, etc.) There are only two major options, in fact - a rear seat DVD player/entertainment system and sunroof.

QUALITY/SAFETY

Very impressive. This is the machine GM should have built five years ago. Had it done so, it would be the dominant player not just in trucks and SUVs but also hybrid vehicles. It makes the Prius feel flimsy - and as dated as an Atari 800.

As far as crashworthiness, next to an armored Stryker troop carrier, few conveyances offer as comprehensive a safety cocoon as a full-frame 5,600 lb. SUV. It is, literally, a battering ram that could total a Civic without more than a few scratches on its flanks to show for it. Beyond the tremendous built-in advantage of sheer mass, the Yukon hybrid also comes with full-row side/curtain airbags, GM's StabiliTrak electronic traction and stability control system (which can be fully turned off, incidentally) and ABS brakes. It earned the best possible scores in both government and insurance industry crash tests - including frontal and side impact testing.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The hybrid Yukon made me rethink my opinion of hybrids - it was that good. Imagine a vehicle this size that can operate entirely on electric/battery power at speeds up to 30 mph - all the while not burning up a single drop of $3.50 regular unleaded. Getting a miserable little econo-box to move at road speeds without the use of internal combustion is one thing; but managing the same trick with a massive SUV - full frame construction, eight passenger capacity, V-8 engine, 4WD and all - now that is an engineering achievement that is worth many pats on the back.

At 70 mph in steady state highway driving you'll rarely see the high side of 2,000 RPM. This allows you to drive nearly 600 miles on a full tank. For me, that is enough to drive from my mountain redoubt in Roanoke to Washington, DC and back (a round trip of more than 450 miles) and still have about a quarter tank of fuel left. A standard Yukon might make it up to DC on a single tank without a stop.

Maybe.

But the key thing to keep in mind is that unlike econo-compact hybrids like the Prius, the Yukon hybrid is a full-service SUV that can do heavy lifting (and trailer-tugging) and which offers muscular thrust from its 332 horsepower engine room. Where the Prius and most hybrid passenger cars are feeble the Yukon is big-armed and manly. It can accelerate with spine-squeezing thrust if you need it to; yet it can also mosey along in dead silence - producing zero emissions and saving you a pile of money on fuel.

I love it!

THE BOTTOM LINE

Arguably, the only hybrid vehicle that makes financial sense (as opposed to making some kind of statement) is a hybrid SUV. With something like the Prius, you get real-world mileage that's only marginally better than non-hybrid economy-type cars deliver - but you pay considerably more and generally lose performance as well as capability. With a full-developed hybrid SUV like the Yukon, you get substantially better gas mileage - which makes a large SUV a lot more palatable in an era of $4 per gallon fuel - but don't have to trade-in capacity, functionality or performance.

That's about as have your cake and eat it, too as it gets.


END

chiph
04-19-2008, 01:42 PM
Editor Chip mode [ON]

Typo:
momentum to ehlp recharge should be: momentum to help recharge

Correction:
Atari 8000 should be Atari 800
(The Atari 800 wasn't bad for it's time -- it had hardware support for game graphics & sound when most computers just went 'beep')

I'd be looking at one, if it weren't for the $50k pricetag.

Chip H.

Disco Man
04-21-2008, 12:44 AM
Nice interior only beef I have with the Yukon is why does GM put a 1970s pickup column transmission shifter? On a $50,000 upscale SUV the shifter needs to be on the console.


Here's a link to this article on the main page with pictures:

http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/images/stories/automotive/gmc/09yukon-h-b.jpg


http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=504&Itemid=10848

Ken
04-21-2008, 05:25 AM
Editor Chip mode [ON]

Correction:
Atari 8000 should be Atari 800
(The Atari 800 wasn't bad for it's time -- it had hardware support for game graphics & sound when most computers just went 'beep')

I'd be looking at one, if it weren't for the $50k pricetag.



That's a lot of moolah for an old computer Chip.

Ken.

Eric
04-21-2008, 07:31 AM
"Nice interior only beef I have with the Yukon is why does GM put a 1970s pickup column transmission shifter? On a $50,000 upscale SUV the shifter needs to be on the console."

Thangya!

The reason for the column-mounted shifter is to free up space on the console; it's actually a pretty smart approach and doesn't looks "old fogey" to me the way GM designed it. The stalk is thick asnd manly - etc. This is also where the + and - controls are for manually controlling the tranny's shifts, etc.

Disco Man
04-21-2008, 10:42 AM
Point taken, however I rather loose a little space on the console than to smash my knee on a column shifter when I drop it down to low 1 & 2 gear during a snow storm. Personally I think the column shifter was a cost saving measure since they could use the same parts as the Chevy/GMC pickup truck. Another thing to consider is that the Yukon's competition for the most part have console shifters. The buying public has become accustomed to center console transmission shifters on upscale SUVs.

chiph
04-21-2008, 04:51 PM
Editor Chip mode [ON]

Correction:
Atari 8000 should be Atari 800
(The Atari 800 wasn't bad for it's time -- it had hardware support for game graphics & sound when most computers just went 'beep')

I'd be looking at one, if it weren't for the $50k pricetag.



That's a lot of moolah for an old computer Chip.

Ken.


Arrrg, you got me with a misplaced reference!
My 8th grade English teacher would be so ashamed!

Chip H.

Eric
04-21-2008, 05:09 PM
Point taken, however I rather loose a little space on the console than to smash my knee on a column shifter when I drop it down to low 1 & 2 gear during a snow storm. Personally I think the column shifter was a cost saving measure since they could use the same parts as the Chevy/GMC pickup truck. Another thing to consider is that the Yukon's competition for the most part have console shifters. The buying public has become accustomed to center console transmission shifters on upscale SUVs.


I actually just went outside and tried it - to see whether it would hit my leg or anything like that. No problemo. To downshift into lower gears, you don't pull down on the lever as in the old days. Instead, you tap + and - buttons. So there's no issue with the stalk smashing your knee. I also like console shifters, in general. But the Yukon's shifter didn't bother me, functionally or aesthetically. And I like having the extra room on the console. The space there is huge... you can almost lay out an entire Taco Bell dinner, drink included, and have a mobile picnic!

Disco Man
04-21-2008, 05:46 PM
Eric,

Thanks for checking. Sounds like even though it's a column shifter, GM did their homework and it functions well. Personally I could care less about having a large open console space where the shifter should be. However I can see if a "foodie" wants to have a kitchen table next to him as he drives so he can have a sampling of Taco Bell, Micky D's, etc. food at his fingertips or for somebody who wants to have a place to put a laptop the free space in the console would be beneficial.

chiph
04-22-2008, 08:37 AM
Is there still a mechanical linkage between the column shifter and the transmission?
I suspect it may all be done with wires now.

Chip H.