At the outset of our Death Valley trip, we felt the 2000 GMC Yukon XL wouldn't be the most able 4x4 of the group. In fact, many predicted it would be the first one stuck while trying to navigate the boulder-strewn "roads." However, by the end of the three-day desert sweatfest, the Yukon surprised us all. It managed every trail the 2000 Ford Excursion did, rubbing the top of some large rocks with its optional runningboards, but otherwise emerging unscathed.
For 2000, GMC has dropped the Suburban name it shared with Chevrolet and adopted the Yukon XL title for its largest sport/ute. Our test vehicle was a four-wheel-drive half-ton fitted with the new coil-spring rear suspension and AutoRide real-time damping system. It was powered by the smooth and willing 5.3-liter Vortec OHV V-8 producing 285 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. On the highway, most of us felt the XL was one of the best-riding vehicles in this test. Off-road, it benefited from 8.4 inches of ground clearance (a 1.5-inch increase over '99). At the test track, the XL also excelled compared to the Excursion, making it to 60 mph in 9.1 seconds and running the quarter mile in 16.8 at 82.0 mph. The Excursion could manage only 10.1 seconds to 60 mph and 17.5 seconds at 77.7 mph on the dragstrip. The big GMC wheeled through the slalom at 56.7 mph and pulled 0.74 g on the skidpad, compared to 52.6 and 0.69 for the big Ford. The XL came to a stop in a respectable 142 feet compared to the Excursion's 167 feet. The XL's numbers were also notably better than the last '99 model Chevy Suburban we tested. However, more important for Ford and the marketplace, the XL (with only the 5.3-liter engine, not the 6.0-liter) soundly beat the far-thirstier V-10-powered Excursion in acceleration.
If you're serious about towing, then you may want to consider a step up to the three-quarter-ton XL. It comes standard with the 6.0-liter/300-horsepower V-8 and a beefier leaf-spring rear suspension. The result is the expected harsher ride, compared to the half-ton. However, you also get more power and an increase in towing capacity (8800 for the half-ton 4wd versus 10,100 for the three-quarter-ton 4WD). The Excursion looks like it'll tow more, but is only rated at 10,000 pounds. Another strike against the Excursion is its mammoth 7688-pound base curb weight compared to the 5123-pound XL. Inside and out, the Excursion is slightly larger, but at the expense of garageability. GMC says its 75.7-inch-tall vehicle will fit in a standard 78-inch garage door, while the 80.4-inch-tall Ford won't. The Yukon got bonus points for its front/rear air-conditioning system (with ceiling air ducts) that could keep the interior meat-locker cool on 120-degree days. Despite idling in the sun for hours, the Yukon also won praise for its superb cooling system. However, there is a downside: Cargo volume with the seats folded down has dropped by more than 17 cubic feet over the '99 Suburban.
In the wilds of Death Valley we learned this: If you're a serious off-roader, the Yukon's not for you. It's just too big and heavy to really get to the outback. But if you seek a vehicle to load the family into and pull your boat to the lake, then the XL will get you there in comfort and style without overheating your bank account.