General Motors has hit the equivalent of a Las Vegas jackpot in the form of its redesigned full-size SUVs. Given the lead time necessary to develop these profit-generating monsters, GM evidently decided to go big rather than to go home, placing a huge bet on its lineup of traditional SUVs wearing Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC badges. They arrived in showrooms in conjunction with record stock market performance, a resurging economy, reduced unemployment numbers, and continued historically low interest rates, and now GM is reaping the rewards of its risky investment.
But, is this success deserved? After all, with the Cadillac Escalade factored into the equation, GM commands more than 75 percent of total full-size SUV market share, leaving Ford, Nissan, and Toyota to duke it out over the remaining huge-ute buyers who, for whatever reason, aren’t interested in what are supposed to be the best vehicles in the class.
To find out what’s what in the world of full-size SUVs, AutoWeb has crunched the numbers and determined that while the redesigned Escalade, Suburban, Tahoe, and Yukon models are impressive upgrades over the previous-generation versions, they’re not necessarily the best ones to buy when it comes to towing weight, hauling cargo, or carrying people.
You know, all the reasons you think you need a full-size SUV in the first place.
Let’s start by taking a look at base prices, and for the sake of sanity we’ll kick the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator out of the conversation. As you can see below, full-size SUV buyers are definitely helping to underwrite GM’s gamble on the segment:
|Base Price||Destination Charge||Rebate*|
|Chevrolet Suburban||$49,000||$1,195||No rebate|
|Chevrolet Tahoe||$46,300||$1,195||No rebate|
|Ford Expedition EL||$47,295||$1,195||$3,500|
|GMC Yukon||$47,740||$1,195||No rebate|
|GMC Yukon XL||$50,440||$1,195||No rebate|
|Nissan Armada||$38,060||$995||No rebate|
|Toyota Sequoia||$44,395||$925||No rebate|
* Listed rebates in effect as of April 6, 2015 for Los Angeles region
We wouldn’t necessarily recommend a Nissan Armada just because it is so affordable, though it does retain a few charms of its own. Instead, that big, fat, juicy rebate on the Expedition’s hood looks really tasty, especially when applied to the enormous long-wheelbase Expedition EL model.
My wife, Liz Kim, also reviews cars for a living, and she talks with lots of other moms when picking up the kids from school. One of her gal-pals drives a decade-old GMC Yukon that was originally purchased to tow a 28-foot travel trailer. They’ve used the Yukon for that purpose exactly one time while they endure lousy fuel economy every day of every week.
If you really do need something for towing, and renting a truck for the occasion doesn’t make sense, nothing can replace a full-size SUV for the combined purposes of tugging a trailer and toting children. Below, you’ll find power ratings and maximum towing capacities for the full-size SUVs on sale in America:
|Horsepower||Torque||Max. Tow Capacity|
|Chevrolet Suburban||355 @ 5,600 rpm||383 @ 4,100 rpm||8,300 lbs.|
|Chevrolet Tahoe||355 @ 5,600 rpm||383 @ 4,100 rpm||8,500 lbs.|
|Ford Expedition||365 @ 5,000 rpm||420 @ 2,500 rpm||9,200 lbs.|
|Ford Expedition EL||365 @ 5,000 rpm||420 @ 2,500 rpm||9,200 lbs.|
|GMC Yukon*||355 @ 5,600 rpm||383 @ 4,100 rpm||8,500 lbs.|
|GMC Yukon XL*||355 @ 5,600 rpm||383 @ 4,100 rpm||8,300 lbs.|
|Nissan Armada||317 @ 5,200 rpm||385 @ 3,400 rpm||9,000 lbs.|
|Toyota Sequoia**||381 @ 5,600 rpm||401 @ 3,600 rpm||7,400 lbs.|
* A larger and more powerful engine is available for GMC Yukon models, but does not return increased towing capacity
** Toyota Sequoia tow rating is SAE J2807 compliant
Check out that Nissan Armada! Who knew? Still, the 2015 Ford Expedition beats it, and every other full-size SUV, when it comes to towing. You just don’t get a throaty V8 engine to go along with the talent.
Forget for a moment that so-called minivans carry more stuff inside of them than any full-size SUV. As my wife’s friend said when Liz suggested getting a Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna as a replacement for the aging Yukon, “Oh, I’m not a minivan kind of gal.”
That’s fine. We recognize that the image of a rugged-looking SUV is a part of its appeal. But if you’re thinking about buying a big sport-ute because it can carry lots of cargo, and you want one with a Chevy or GMC badge on the grille, you might want to think about getting a more fuel-efficient crossover SUV like a Chevrolet Traverse or a GMC Acadia. (Pssst…don’t tell anyone, but they’re actually bigger inside than a Tahoe or Yukon.)
You see, when General Motors completely redesigned its full-size SUVs for 2015, the automaker retained a live rear axle suspension design while adding fold-flat third-row seating. As a result of these changes, all of the company’s full-size SUVs are actually smaller inside rather than bigger in comparison to the previous-generation versions. And that makes the Traverse and Acadia crossovers more accommodating of cargo.
Check out how the GM SUVs stack up against their main competitors:
|Behind Third Row||Behind Second Row||Max. Cargo Volume|
|Ford Expedition EL||42.6||85.5||130.8|
|GMC Yukon XL||38.9||76.7||121.1|
All measurements in cubic-feet
As you can see, the Tahoe and Yukon are the smallest vehicles in the class when it comes to cargo space, no matter how the seats are configured. Also, the Chevy Suburban and GMC Yukon XL can’t match the Ford Expedition EL in terms of size.
Not only can the Expedition carry more cargo, it offers more space for third-row passengers than its primary competitors from GM. The reason why is that the Expedition has an independent rear suspension, a more compact design than a live rear axle that allows for a lower interior floor while (theoretically) supplying a better mix of ride and handling. Check out the legroom measurements for yourself:
|Front||Second Row||Third Row||Total|
|Chevrolet Suburban||45.3 in.||38.7 in.||34.5 in.||119.5 in.|
|Chevrolet Tahoe||45.3 in.||39.0 in.||24.8 in.||109.1 in.|
|Ford Expedition||43.0 in.||39.1 in.||37.7 in.||119.8 in.|
|Ford Expedition EL||43.0 in.||39.1 in.||37.7 in.||119.8 in.|
|GMC Yukon||45.3 in.||39.0 in.||24.8 in.||109.1 in.|
|GMC Yukon XL||45.3 in.||38.7 in.||34.5 in.||119.5 in.|
|Nissan Armada||41.8 in.||41.9 in.||32.2 in.||115.9 in.|
|Toyota Sequoia||42.5 in.||40.9 in.||35.3 in.||118.7 in.|
Granted, with the Ford you’ll give up 2.3 inches of front seat legroom, but if the idea is that you need to carry lots of passengers much of the time, the GM SUVs fall, ummm, short.
Like the SUVs from GM, Ford’s Expedition also gets 5-star crash-test ratings in every single test performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)*. Where it does them one better is with regard to rollover resistance when equipped with four-wheel drive:
|Frontal, Driver||Frontal, Passenger||Side, Driver||Side, Rear Passenger||Side, Pole Test||Rollover Resist, 2WD||Rollover Resist, 4WD|
|Chevrolet Suburban||4 stars||4 stars||5 stars||5 stars||4 stars||3 stars||3 stars|
|Chevrolet Tahoe||5 stars||5 stars||5 stars||5 stars||5 stars||3 stars||3 stars|
|Ford Expedition||5 stars||5 stars||5 stars||5 stars||5 stars||3 stars||4 stars|
|Ford Expedition EL||5 stars||5 stars||5 stars||5 stars||5 stars||3 stars||4 stars|
|GMC Yukon||5 stars||5 stars||5 stars||5 stars||5 stars||3 stars||3 stars|
|GMC Yukon XL||4 stars||4 stars||5 stars||5 stars||4 stars||3 stars||3 stars|
|Nissan Armada||Not rated||Not rated||Not rated||Not rated||Not rated||3 stars||3 stars|
|Toyota Sequoia||Not rated||Not rated||Not rated||Not rated||Not rated||4 stars||4 stars|
Is this a big deal? If you’re sliding laterally on an icy road and suddenly hit a dry patch, or if you’re taking evasive action to avoid a collision, pedestrian, or other obstacle, it most definitely is.
Other Important Stuff
After the pummeling winter of 2015, we understand why a full-size SUV might be on your radar. After all, a big and tall truck should be able to get through deep snow better than anything else, right? Keep in mind that a Subaru Forester, Outback, or XV Crosstrek provides 8.7 inches of ground clearance, and then check out the ground clearance data below:
|EPA Rating, Combined Driving, Best||Basic Warranty*||Powertrain Warranty||Ground Clearance|
|Chevrolet Suburban||18 mpg- 2WD, 18 mpg- 4WD||3 years/ 36,000 miles||5 years/ 100,000 miles||7.9 in.|
|Chevrolet Tahoe**||18 mpg- 2WD, 18 mpg- 4WD||3 years/ 36,000 miles||5 years/ 100,000 miles||7.9 in.|
|Ford Expedition||18 mpg- 2WD, 17 mpg- 4WD||3 years/ 36,000 miles||5 years/ 60,000 miles||8.3 in.|
|Ford Expedition EL||17 mpg- 2WD, 16 mpg- 4WD||3 years/ 36,000 miles||5 years/ 60,000 miles||8.3 in.|
|GMC Yukon**||18 mpg- 2WD, 18 mpg- 4WD||3 years/ 36,000 miles||5 years/ 100,000 miles||7.9 in.|
|GMC Yukon XL**||18 mpg- 2WD, 18 mpg- 4WD||3 years/ 36,000 miles||5 years/ 100,000 miles||7.9 in.|
|Nissan Armada||15 mpg- 2WD, 14 mpg- 4WD||3 years/ 36,000 miles||5 years/ 60,000 miles||10.4 in.|
|Toyota Sequoia***||15 mpg- 2WD, 14 mpg- 4WD||3 years/ 36,000 miles||5 years/ 60,000 miles||10.0 in. (SR5/Limited)|
* All except the Nissan Armada include free roadside assistance
** GM models include free scheduled maintenance for 2 years or 24,000 miles, but only through 2015 model year
*** Sequoia includes free scheduled maintenance and free roadside assistance for two years or 25,000 miles
Where the new SUVs from Chevrolet and GMC are clearly superior to most competitors is with regard to fuel economy. Every one of ’em gets 18 mpg in combined driving, according to the EPA, despite a standard 5.3-liter V8 engine. That’s one reason you want a full-size SUV, right?
Also, it is worth noting that Chevy and GMC offer a better powertrain warranty for 2015, plus free scheduled maintenance, but GM is inexplicably reducing the warranty and eliminating the free maintenance for the 2016 model year.
Logically, the reason for GM’s incredible success in the full-size SUV segment can only be rooted in one of the following assumptions about buyers:
1. They don’t actually care about towing stuff.
2. They don’t actually care about carrying stuff.
3. They don’t actually care about comfortable passengers.
4. They don’t do their research before buying a full-size SUV.
Before you conclude that I’m a GM SUV hater, that’s not true. I spent a week in a 2015 GMC Yukon XL Denali and thoroughly enjoyed driving it right up until a software glitch forced it home to General Motors on a flatbed. Plus, it generated a mellow exhaust burble that can only emanate from a V8.
But for GM to utterly dominate the full-size SUV class in such fashion not only escapes all common sense but also completely refutes the reasoning that people give for buying them in the first place.
[Disclaimer: We have attempted to be completely accurate with all of our numbers. To the best of our ability, all specifications were crosschecked between official media websites and official consumer websites. You would be surprised by the lack of accuracy between the two, and how oblique the information can be when not favorable to the automaker.]