While there are plenty of small, compact, and even subcompact crossover models out there these days, the number of truly massive and overbearing SUVs is surprisingly low. Fans of full-size SUVs can still find kindred spirits at a GMC dealer, where models like the GMC Yukon and the gargantuan Yukon XL are ready to demonstrate just how well a large SUV can truly shine. That’s all well and good, but these large SUV fans will soon find that they might have more options than they know what to do with.
On top of the fact that there are two Yukons—though to be fair, the details on both models are nearly identical other than the XL being longer with more room inside—there are also three different engines, different drive types available, and much more. Among these plentiful options, there is also the fact that both the Yukon and Yukon XL are available in five different trim levels. Five trims certainly isn’t a record, but it can still seem like more than enough, particularly at a casual glance where their differences might appear minuscule. So, let’s take a look at the five trims available for the 2023 Yukon (and XL) to determine if they’re really all necessary or if GMC is overdoing it.
The Yukon SLE
To kick things off, we have the starting trim for the Yukon and Yukon XL, which is the SLE, and there’s honestly a lot to like about it. While there are a total of three engines available for the Yukon, no single trim has all three available, and that’s one of the few potential flaws with this SUV. The SLE trim has a 5.3L V8 that delivers 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque, with an available 3.0L Turbo Diesel that offers an impressive 460 lb-ft of torque. I like that you can get a diesel engine even on the starting trim for the SLE, but you can’t go for the more-powerful V8 engine, and that’s a shame.
This starting trim also comes with 18-inch wheels, LED headlamps, fog lamps, and taillights, along with heated, power-adjustable outside mirrors. There’s a manual liftgate on the rear of the standard SLE trim, which is fine since this is the starting option, though it would be nice at this point if a power liftgate was standard. The Yukon SLE also includes some impressive standard safety technology, including a Forward Collision Alert with Automatic Emergency Braking, Front and Rear Park Assist, and Lane Keep Assist with a Lane Departure Warning.
Standard features inside the Yukon are excellent, starting with a 10.2-inch infotainment system with Google built-in and support for Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s a six-speaker sound system, which is fine if not exciting, cloth seating, a ten-way power driver’s seat, and eight-way power front-passenger seat. A 12-inch Driver Information Center is standard, which is fantastic, along with Keyless Open and Remote Start functionality, tri-zone automatic climate control, and a manually-adjustable day/night rearview mirror. So far, so good, but let’s see what the other trims add.
The Yukon SLT
The second trim for the Yukon is the SLT, and it’s a pretty decent jump in price from the standard option, so it should have some impressive features to go along with that. I see the same two engines here as the SLE, though this trim has larger 20-inch wheels for a bolder overall look, which is nice. There are a few other exterior upgrades with the SLT, like bright chrome bodyside moldings and chrome door handles, plus the SLT gets the hands-free power liftgate I was looking for on the SLE. Safety features are also improved on the SLT with a Lane Change Alert and Side Blind Zone Alert, along with a Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
More upgrades for the SLT are found inside, with things like a Bose nine-speaker sound system, perforated leather-appointed seating, and heated and ventilated front seats. This trim also has a safety alert seat that uses vibration pulses to warn you about potential collisions, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a wireless charging pad. Overall these are nice improvements from the starting SLE trim, but they’re not necessarily revolutionary.
The Yukon AT4
While choosing the SLT is mostly about some feature upgrades, the AT4 is a trim that immediately justifies itself through a simple focus: this is an off-road trim. It has the same starting engine as the previous two, but with a 420-hp 6.2L V8 engine available, and four-wheel drive is standard here. The front fascia on the AT4 features a high approach angle, plus it has a performance front skid plate to protect the underside, magnetic ride control, and an Autotrac two-speed transfer case that lets you choose the level of traction you need. Inside, this is a lot like the SLT, so it’s really all about the off-road engineering and design.
The Yukon Denali
In the past, the Denali trim was the top option for the Yukon, but that’s no longer the case (more on that below). Still, the Denali comes through with some impressive upgrades over the SLT, including magnetic ride control and an HD Surround Vision system that gives you a virtual overhead view of the area around your vehicle while maneuvering at low speeds. The Denali starts with the powerful 6.2L V8 engine, though you can choose the diesel option if you prefer, and it has an auto-dimming driver-side outside mirror. Inside, numerous upgrades include a 14-speaker Bose Surround with CenterPoint sound system, heated second-row seats, and a power-sliding center console that can slide back up to ten inches for concealed storage. The heated steering wheel is a nice touch, while a 15-inch multicolor head-up display rounds out the impressive features inside the Yukon Denali.
The Yukon Denali Ultimate
Here’s where things get a bit sticky: GMC has introduced a Denali Ultimate trim for the 2023 model year that manages to one-up the “standard” Denali. This trim features some striking and surprisingly understated options like Vader chrome bodyside molding and details that are gorgeous without being ostentatious. You’ll find 22-inch wheels on the Denali Ultimate (because why not?), plus a panoramic power sunroof, adaptive air ride suspension, and power-retractable assist steps with LED perimeter lighting. Inside, the Denali Ultimate has an 18-speaker Bose Performance Series audio system, a rear seat media system with dual 12.6-inch displays, full-grain leather seating, and 16-way power front seats with massage functionality. There’s also a leather-wrapped steering wheel and adaptive cruise control, plus GM’s Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving system is available to really take this trim to the next level.
What’s the Verdict?
Personally, I’m a bit torn on whether there are one too many trims in the GMC Yukon’s lineup because something just feels off. The starting SLE trim makes sense, as does the SLT upgrade, while the AT4, as an off-road trim, also establishes a great place for itself. For me, the two Denali trims are where things get cloudy. I think adding a “Denali Ultimate” muddies the water and diminishes what “Denali” means. GMC might’ve been better served simply upgrading the Denali to what the Denali Ultimate brings to the road, though this might’ve required a price hike for the trim that would’ve scared away customers. I understand why there are five trims for the Yukon right now, but I can’t help but feel the selection can be tidied up a bit and simplified. We’ll have to see what the next few model years bring and whether GMC decides to streamline this selection to offer clearer choices for their fans.