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At $73,540, it isn’t cheap, but GM’s Yukon Denali has a big 6.2-litre V-8 engine separates it from the less pricey models. (Dan Proudfoot/The Globe and Mail)
At $73,540, it isn’t cheap, but GM’s Yukon Denali has a big 6.2-litre V-8 engine separates it from the less pricey models. (Dan Proudfoot/The Globe and Mail)

Chevrolet Suburban LS and GMC Yukon SLE

Big SUV has a nice new feature for 2015 Add to ...

Moms, hockey goalies, and cottage goers will scarcely believe their eyes.

In fact, anyone who ever lived large in a Chevrolet Suburban or Tahoe, GMC Yukon or XL, or Cadillac Escalade SUV, will zero in on one advance among many in completely redone 2015 models: Press a button inside the cargo area, and the third-row seats disappear, folding flat.

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For 80 years, owners have been straining sacroiliacs pulling and reinstalling the rear-most seats in order to maximize either cargo or passenger capacity. As with the first Chevrolet Carryall Suburban in 1935, so it was through the 2014 model year. The 12th-generation SUV and its siblings finally make the conversion easy.

It’s telling that General Motors’ second priority in the new SUVs also pertains to access, addressing oft-heard complaints of entangling feet and legs getting in and out of the rear seating. Tossing the pickup truck front doors and replacing them with shorter, SUV-specific doors, facilitates larger rear doors, improving what the engineers call “foot swing.”

They may be trucks, but it’s becoming obvious that the less truck-like they feel and appear, the better. GM couldn’t make the vehicles any bigger and achieve needed fuel-efficiency gains, so it has made them perceptibly better, or perhaps more precisely, finer.

Case in point, the Yukon Denali we’re driving, $73,540.

 

GM markets Denali versions of GMC trucks and SUVs as alternatives to luxury cars: the second row of seats is heated as is the steering wheel, the aluminum trim on the dash and the poplar wood on the doors are genuine, unlike in less pricey Yukon models and Chevy’s comparable offerings, the Tahoe and Suburban. Active noise cancellation complements a host of measures taken to quiet the interiors of all the SUVs.

All nice, but the difference maker is the Denali’s 6.2-litre V-8. The big SUV surges effortlessly, initially credit to the 460 lb-ft of torque, building with 420 horsepower. The 355-hp, 5.3-litre V-8 in non-Denali Yukons and all Chevrolet models actually has a higher towing capacity – but the Suburban LTZ that I drove later doesn’t haul nearly as energetically as the 6.2 Denali.

Both V-8s operate as V-4s in steady cruising to improve fuel efficiency. That’s not new, but they’re now capable of higher speeds in four-cylinder operation. Feathering the throttle, I touch 124 km/h in the Denali before V-8 operation resumes.

The Chevy Suburban LTZ initially looms too large for comfort on the roads snaking through the Sierra Madre. It’s sports car country – all ups, downs and sweeping turns. And the Suburban, like the Yukon XL, is stretched beyond the Yukon/Tahoe for more cargo space. A wheelbase a first-down long cannot favour agility.

But this Suburban consumes Highway 80 without a hint of indigestion. It corners flat, precisely, pleasurably. Advances in body rigidity help, as does the electrically-powered steering and improved rear-suspension tracking. GM’s variable magnetic damping, which the $70,785 LTZ shares with GMC’s Denalis, some Cadillac Escalades and Chevrolet Corvette, magically makes this seven-to-nine seater feel like a two-seater.

SHORTCOMINGS

Cargo space shrinks as a consequence of the fold-away rear seat.

Despite its refinements, Yukon/Suburban still rides like a truck over rough pavement because of the solid rear axle it shares with GM pickups.

Needed: Independent rear suspension. Competitors Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada and Toyota Sequoia along with the upmarket Range Rover all have independent rear suspension.

MULTIPLYING MEGABYTES

All of the new SUVs are equipped to become mobile WiFi hubs for up to seven devices. The OnStar 4G LTE system, coming this fall following its introduction in Chevrolet cars in the summer, processes up to 150 megabytes per second.

Prediction: Apps galore. In the United States, many phone plans can connect, but in Canada, accessibility will be exclusively through OnStar.

TECH SPECS

2015 Chevrolet Suburban LS and GMC Yukon SLE

Type: Full-sized sports utility vehicle

Base price: Chevrolet Suburban LS 2WD, $52,145; GMC Yukon SLE 2WD, $51,090

Engine: Suburban, 5.3-litre direct-injection V-8 with V-4 function; Yukon, 6.2-L direct-injection V-8 with V-4 function

Horsepower/torque: For 5.3, 355/383 lb-ft; For 6.2, 420/460

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Rear drive in base vehicles

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): For 5.3 in 4WD 15.1 city/10.4 highway using regular fuel; For 6.2 in 4WD, 16.2/11.4, premium fuel recommended

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