Truck Hunt 2016: 2001 GMC Yukon XL (aka Suburban 2500)

2001 GMC Yukon XL suburban exterior
At my day job, I lead early-stage technology development projects. I earn my pay by wrangling a crew of innovator-type engineers to take something from a pile of cool ideas to a mature, workable product that will go into people’s brains. My job is to strike the balance of risk: are the small sample sets of data we’ve collected to date enough to say something’s good enough, or should we take an extra month to fully prove it out? Basically, which “might-be” problems aren’t, and which could blow up on us later.
And it’s that part of my brain that’s working over the weekend as I’m attempting to assess a 15 year old luxo-truck. This truck gives every indication it can do the job, but am I going to look back at the little issues I’m seeing as the signs I should’ve avoided it, or just typical roughness that comes with age?

The with the 1988-2000 GMT400 family of trucks and SUVs, GM worked to make them civilized: fuel injection, independent suspension, non-metal interiors, etc. The 2001-2006 GMT800 showed the first dedicated embrace of luxury. Secondarily, they brought a few major engineering upgrades in the form of the LS-based 5.3L and 6.0L motors. I love this generation for the motors, but I’m wary of the extra feature content.
2001 gmc yukon xl suburban lq ls engine2001 gmc yukon xl suburban interior
Literally the first thing I noticed on hopping into this was the whirr of the seat lumbar motor. It was running despite no button being pressed, and continued running for a minute or so. Sigh. Ignoring that (actually easy to do), the truck drives fine. The 6.0L hauls the ‘Burb’s mass admirably, if unimpressively. The 4L80E transmission shows none of its 174k miles and kicks down a gear or two with a pedal stomp, just like its grandfather the TH400. Overall the powertrain gives the impression it could do all I ask of it in similar completely unimpressive adequacy. The steering and front suspension have none of the looseness I’d expect from an IFS truck that’s circled the globe seven times, though the steering wheel is 15 degrees off. I vaguely recall there’s been a recent rebuild of all that stuff. Remember, kids: Condition matter more than mileage or age.
Despite the general consensus of the GMT800s being light years ahead of -400s in terms of refinement, my biggest surprise was how much this truck reminded me of the ’95 Suburban 2500 of my youth. Unladen, the ride’s not jarring, but a notch too rough, like an unnecessarily firm pat on the back from some ex-football-playing salesman. Throw six people inside and a few tons on the hitch and it’ll all make sense. The rear discs are a nice touch. It’s worth pointing out the “2500”-series GMT800s kept their rear leaves while the half-tons got coils. For all I know, they’re the same springs as my folks’ ’95.

Inside, the aforementioned humming seats are thoroughly broken in but arguably more comfortable than those in our ’12 Mazda5. The Missus like that the seat heaters still work. Definitely 10-hours-to-the-racetrack quality. There’s plenty of room, not just in the cavernous rear cargo hold, but around everyone’s elbows and feet as well. GM’s “nominal human” may well be twice my size by volume. The stereo is literally the same unit as my parents’ ’95, so hopefully I’ve still got an Aerosmith tape lying around somewhere. Unfortunately, when we stopped to switch drivers, the fuel gauge pegged to empty (despite having 3/4 tank). It snapped back to life once we got moving, but that’s a thing I’d have to deal with.
In the end, this truck turned out about like I’d expect: reasonably civilized, mechanically solid, but with hints of aging Old GM electronic doodads hitting their end-of-life. Worst case, I’m signing up for an engine and trans rebuild plus a never ending stream of failed multi-hundred-dollar modules and constantly having to say “oh, yeah, that doesn’t work”. Best case, I have a couple of quick fixes and a few trouble-free years of tow rig duty.
In the absence of anything to compare to, this 2001 GMC Yukon XL goes in the books as “Thoroughly Adequate”. Now, to go find a few comparisons…

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  1. P161911 Avatar

    All GM trucks of the 2000s will need the stepper motors in the dash replaced. 95% chance that’s the fuel gauge issue. It is a $40 fix if you buy the motors on ebay and do your own board level soldering. About $200 if you send the whole dash off for a rebuild. Eventually all the dash gauges will go bad. Don’t know if GMC used a better quality of leather than Chevy, but the Chevy leather doesn’t last too well. Look for cloth seats if possible. My in laws have a 2004 Avalanche and the leather driver’s seat is worn and torn. Our 2004 Trailblazer with cloth seats and similar miles still looks good. I still say look for a GMT400.

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      Yeah. Came here to say the same, re: stepper motors in the cluster. It’s a known problem with a known solution.

  2. KentMB1 Avatar

    Check those brake lines!!!

    1. mad_science Avatar

      Any reason in particular?

      1. KentMB1 Avatar

        Yup. GM truck brake lines from 2000-2006 were highly rust prone. GM artfully dodged a massive recall. All new brake lines can be around $1,000 or more if you can’t salvage the ABS module from the corrosion.

  3. Ross Ballot Avatar
    Ross Ballot

    Oh man, it has barn doors?? That makes me pull for this thing even harder. The Tahoes/Yukons we had when I was growing up, including the ’04 Z71 Tahoe I drove for a year(ish), had barn doors…something I would really miss if I were shopping for a new ‘Hoe or Yukon.
    Everything you mention is accurate though. The chassis will hold its own, but it’s all the little electrical gremlins that make these trucks a bit of a pain to own. Something always seems to be wonky, and if not then it’s a matter of time before something goes wrong. That being said, the GMT800s are great trucks that, as long as you don’t mind regular maintenance and repairs (which can be done on the cheap via junk yard or forums etc), will work hard and treat you well.

    1. Vairship Avatar

      Is the Transit Connect Wagon the only passenger car available with barn doors these days, or are there others?

      1. Ross Ballot Avatar
        Ross Ballot

        Mini Clubman might be the only other one

  4. Alff Avatar

    Does this have torsion bars? If the front end has been recently rebuilt, the off center wheel may be the result of an out of spec height adjustment.

  5. Scoutdude Avatar

    Since this is intended as a tow rig keep in mind the old disclaimer “when properly equipped”. Just because a truck has the big engine does not mean that it is properly equipped to tow the max rated capacity of the vehicle. So be sure to research what equipment a given vehicle needs to have to meet your intended load. Preferably including the aftermarket equipment like a brake controller but at least having the factory wiring for brakes present means that you can plug and play with the controller of your choice.

    1. Scoutdude Avatar

      Here is a nice compilation of tow ratings going back a few years. according to this one get the wrong gear ratio in your 6.0 2500 and your tow capacity could be less than the best 5.3 1500.

    2. karonetwentyc Avatar

      To add to the list of things to have if towing: an auxiliary transmission cooler. I’ll admit to being overly-paranoid in this regard, but most manfacturers’ tow packages at the time generally didn’t include one, and most stock in-radiator coolers are only just about adequate for the vehicle’s weight with four passengers and some luggage on board.
      Okay, I’ll admit that I’m exaggerating somewhat – but absolutely add an auxiliary cooler. Doesn’t hurt to have it even if not towing.

    3. mad_science Avatar

      4.10:1 gears, aux trans cooler, has electric brake controller.

  6. Grant Linderman Avatar
    Grant Linderman

    My dad has had one of these as his beater/drive-through-the-woods vehicle (a 2002 Suburban 2500). Was the main family tow rig until he recently got a 2500HD duramax pickup. Even though he’s got the 2500HD now, he’s planning to keep the Suburban. Your assessment is pretty accurate. Some stuff breaks, but it’s all of the ‘it doesn’t work but who cares’ variety. Engine (the 6.0) and trans have over 200k miles and work as they should. Steering even feels weirdly tight for the mileage. In short, it feels like a truck is supposed to feel and works like a truck is supposed to work. Speakers cut in and out, but the heated seats always work. I had to change the stepper motors in my ’04 Denali a few years ago. It ain’t that bad if you can solder without burning yourself.

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