They are the big rigs, the large-and-in-charge three-row family sport-utes — heavy, often thirsty, full-sized brutes that have the muscle to tow the big stuff, whether it’s a sailboat, an Airstream trailer, or maybe even a small building. They can be fairly utilitarian and rugged, or optioned with enough bells and whistles to rival the luxury of their upscale Lincoln and Cadillac siblings. They are the Ford Expedition and the GMC Yukon .
And for the 2021 model year, General Motors debuts its fifth-generation GMC Yukon, available in SLE, SLT, AT4 and Denali trims and in regular length (5,334 millimetres) and extended-wheelbase XL (5,720 mm) versions. Meanwhile, Ford’s fourth-generation Expedition came out for the 2018 model year and saw a few updates for 2020. The 2021 model, also offered in regular length (5,334 mm) and extended-wheelbase Max (5,636 mm), is unchanged. There are four trim levels: XLT, Limited, King Ranch and Platinum, the XLT the only one not available in longer Max form.
Powertrain and drivetrain
Ford is sticking with a one-engine policy for the Expedition — a 375-horsepower 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6, mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission and a two-speed, electronically controlled, four-wheel-drive transfer case. The twin-turbo EcoBoost develops 470 pound-feet of torque at 2,250 rpm. As for towing capability, the Expedition will haul 2,948 kilograms (2,994 kg with the Max) and, with the available heavy-duty trailer towing package, haulage increases appreciably to 4,174 kg (4,082 kg for the Max).
Over in the GMC camp, the Yukon offers owners a choice of three engines. The standard engine is the 5.3L V8, a GM truck staple, putting out 355 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. There’s also an upgraded version of the 6.2L V8 with 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque to tap — more than any competitor, says the company. Both V8s feature automatic start/stop technology and new Dynamic Fuel Management that enables the engines to operate on two to eight cylinders, depending on demand, to optimize power and efficiency.
The third option is an available 3.0L inline-six turbodiesel. And though GM doesn’t expressly say so, it’s likely the same Duramax turbodiesel as offered in the Sierra and Canyon pickups, which means it puts out 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. All three engines are paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission and GMC’s Electronic Precision Shift push-button gear selector.
Standard towing capacity for the 5.3L V8 Yukon with rear-wheel-drive is 3,583 kg, and 3,493 for the 4WD models. The XL can haul 3,538 kg. Maximum tow rating for 6.2L models is 3,719 kg for the 2WD model, 3,629 for the 4WD, and 3,674 for the XL. Tow ratings for the turbodiesel have not yet been published. The new Yukon also sees its four-season, all-weather traction capabilities enhanced with the Active Response 4WD system, a combination of technical systems that include an automatic two-speed transfer case, traction select, chassis controls, and a new electronic limited-slip differential.
A multi-link independent rear suspension is standard, with GM making a four-corner Air Ride adaptive suspension available. The air setup offers ride-height adjustments of up to 100 millimetres total, as well as an automatic self-leveling feature. Drivers can raise the body up to 50 mm for additional ground clearance when driving off-road. When highway driving, the system automatically lowers the ride height 20 mm to improve aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. A driver-selectable setting enacts a 50 mm drop to aid passenger entry and exit when the vehicle is parked.
Both the Expedition and Yukon are known for having substantial interior capacity. That said, the Yukon certainly ups its game against the Ford by adding 127 millimetres to its wheelbase and 145 mm in overall length compared with the 2020 model, not to mention 41 per cent more third-row legroom and 66 per cent greater cargo volume behind the third row.
The Yukon XL is GMC’s roomiest SUV for both passengers and cargo, benefitting from a 104-mm increase in wheelbase. Passenger volume is 4,767 litres (168.3 cubic feet) for the Yukon, and 4,838 litres (170.8 cu-ft) for the XL. For comparison sake the Expedition offers 4,868 litres (171.9 cu-ft) of passenger volume while the Max ups the volume slightly to 4,870.5 litres (172 cu-ft).
While passenger space is closely matched, the Yukon kicks butt and takes names when it comes to cargo capacity. The figures are as follows (Expedition/Yukon): Behind the third row: 592 litres/722; behind the second row: 1,801 litres/2,065; behind the first row: 2,962 litres/3,480. Looking at the Max and XL respectively, cargo capacity breaks down like this: third row: 1,019 litres/1,175; second row: 2,254 litres/2,658; first row: 3440 litres/4,097.
Let’s open up our wallets and throw some big money at these rigs, showcasing the $80,750 King Ranch — added to the Expedition lineup for 2020 — and put it up against the topline $81,098 GMC Yukon Denali. Needless to say, both are tarted up to look nearly as posh as the Lincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade , and are loaded to the rafters with all manner of technology and creature comforts.
As the only full-size SUV “authentically inspired by the iconic Texas ranch,” according to Ford, the King Ranch features premium Del Rio leather covering all three rows of seats as well as door trim, armrests and steering wheels. The centre console combines leather trim and Ziricote wood veneer. As with the topline Platinum, the Expedition King Ranch comes standard with Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist driver-assist technology, continuously controlled damping, a 360-degree camera with split-view and front and rear washers, and power-folding and heated side-view mirrors with turn-signal indicators, security approach lamps, and auto-dimming on the driver’s side.
For more than 20 years, the Denali has stood apart from the rest of the Yukon range with selective features. For the first time, though, Denali models now have an exclusive interior — a completely new instrument panel, unique seats, and a choice among four unique colour themes, outfitted with “premium and authentic” materials. Each of the four themes include wood trim. Leather surfaces are cut and stitched by hand in a unique pattern. The Denali’s list of premium features includes a high-definition surround-vision camera, a 15-inch diagonal multi-colour heads-up display, rear pedestrian alert, and Magnetic Ride Control.
The Yukon’s new first-class interior features a first-ever power sliding center console, available on the Denali, AT4, and SLT. The main storage console between the driver and passenger seats can slide back up to 254 millimetres, offering more storage area. When the console slides back, drivers gain access to an open space for a purse or bag, and an additional hidden drawer underneath the console’s main storage bin, which provides secure storage.
Saying that 20 per cent of Expedition owners in the U.S. use their vehicle for off-road adventures — with 45 per cent taking their SUV hunting, camping, or fishing — Ford added an FX4 off-road package to the 2020 Limited for customers “who want to travel farther off the beaten path.” The FX4 includes 32-inch all-terrain tires on 18-inch cast-aluminum wheels and premium off-road-tuned shocks. There are seven underbody skid plates, including a sand shield to protect the engine’s intercoolers, steel plates to protect steering gear, engine, transmission and transfer case, and a full-length guard for the fuel tank. The chin spoiler beneath the front bumper is shortened to improve approach angles for climbing over steep obstacles, and a 3.73:1 electronic limited-slip differential and heavy-duty engine radiator aid off-road capability.
GMC sees the FX4 and counters with the AT4, “squarely focused on rugged adventure.” The AT4 features a unique front fascia and available four-corner air ride adaptive suspension — which offers an additional 50 mm of ground clearance and a nearly 32-degree approach angle for added off-road capability. Key features include a two-speed transfer case, 20-inch Goodyear all-terrain tires, traction select with off-road mode, hill descent control, skid plates, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats and heated second-row outboard seats and unique Jet Black interior colour theme with brandy accents.
For 2020, the Expedition received Ford’s Co-Pilot360 suite of active safety features as standard, featuring a host of driver-assist technologies including Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic emergency braking, a lane-keeping system, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and a rear-view camera. The Limited model goes farther with standard Co-Pilot360 Assist featuring adaptive cruise control with Stop-and-Go, voice-activated touchscreen navigation, and optional Enhanced Active Park Assist. Pro Trailer Backup Assist is also available to help take the stress off lining up a trailer or boat to make maneuvering more enjoyable.
Yukon features a broader availability of active safety features, including automatic emergency braking standard on all models. Additional available features include HD surround vision camera, rear camera mirror, new rear pedestrian alert and more. New trailering features designed to help improve the experience with hitching and more driving confidence when towing a trailer, including trailer profiles, trailer tire pressure/temperature monitoring and Trailer Side Blind Zone Alert.
The final verdict will have to wait until we can actually test these full-size SUVs together. On paper, though, it seems the new Yukon has the measure of the Expedition. The Yukon is available with a choice of three engines versus the Expedition’s one, and despite very similar overall dimensions and fairly equal passenger room, the Yukon offers greater cargo capacity.
Finally, there’s price. The Expedition starts at $62,710 for the XLT and climbs to $85,725 for the Platinum. Max versions start at $79,020 for the Limited and go up to $85,725 for the Platinum. The Yukon starts at $57,998 for the rear-drive SLE, and another $3,300 for the 4WD version. The topline Denali comes in at $79,798. The larger XL starts at $60,998 for the SLE and tops out at $82,798 for the Denali. And if you prefer your GM product to wear a Chevy bowtie, there’s the Tahoe , the Yukon’s corporate twin.