Both among just a few full-size, body-on-frame crossovers on the market, the GMC Yukon and Lincoln Navigator are uniquely American—and American-sized.
They’re quite luxurious, too. Although Lincoln’s traditional luxury rival is Cadillac, with the ascension of the Cadillac Escalade as a pop-culture icon and status symbol the more direct tival to the Lincoln Navigator is more appropriately the top-lux GMC Yukon Denali.
These models stand as quite compelling alternatives for those who need to do more than just carry around the family. They command a presence; they work for taking clients out to dinner; and they can even flex their muscles with trailer-towing when necessary.
The Navigator was starting to look like a forgotten relic in the Lincoln lineup; then for 2015 the brand gave it a new direction, with some freshening of its details, a new infotainment system, and a more fuel-efficient (and stronger) twin-turbo engine. Meanwhile, the GMC Yukon was fully redesigned for 2015, with much-improved ride and refinement, stronger and more fuel-efficient powertrains, and new flat-folding third-row seats.
Both of these models are offered in multiple lengths. The Yukon family of SUVs includes the standard-length Yukon, the long-wheelbase Yukon XL, and the luxurious Yukon Denali. And for the Lincoln, the difference is between Navigator and longer Navigator L models.
Is hulking size and mass, a high hood and huge front grille enough of an extroverted statement? Both of these models make that, although there’s little more than that on the outside. The Navigator’s grille got a little slimmer in its last minor refresh, with new LED accent lighting squaring off its headlamps and lowering the rear end visually. The Yukon, meanwhile, looks straightforward and purposeful, with a more chiseled look on the outside, countering the Navigator’s more rounded look.
Inside, the Navigator’s twin-binnacle dash wears a new leather-wrapped dash with twin-stitched seams. It speaks to a more classic luxury aesthetic, while the layout of the Yukon Denali goes for more of a modern luxury look, with a cleaner layout and ambient lighting. In both models, big touchscreen systems now dominate the center stack, and cabins are now covered in soft-touch materials.
As for what’s under the hood, it’s completely different in these two models. Neither of these two models are especially nimble or responsive to quick power demands, but it’s the Yukon Denali and its 6.2-liter V-8, making 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, that’s the clear winner here. The Navigator’s engine, a turbocharged V-6, kicks out nearly as much—380 hp and 460 lb-ft—and its six-speed automatic is a little bit smoother than the six-speed auto in the GM trucks (soon to be replaced by an eight-speed). Direct injection and cylinder deactivation help bring the big GM V-8s surprisingly good mileage under some conditions, so the difference between them and the Lincoln’s turbo V-6 isn’t as vast as you might expect in real-world driving.
While we tend to think that the Navigator is fundamentally tuned a bit better for ride and handling, Magnetic Ride Control in top Yukon models helps filter out coarse surfaces and gives these models a nice, isolated ride while retaining control that’s pretty good for a live-rear-axle truck.
The Navigator still includes a power-fold system for the third row that folds neatly and conveniently, and you can now get power folding for both the second and third rows in the Yukon. Both models aren’t as spacious as you might expect when pressed to three-row duty, and the standard-length versions of the Yukon remain saddled with a center pillar that gets in the way of ingress and egress for those in the second rows. We’ll give a slight edge to the Navigator for its more space-efficient seating layout.
We’ll give the GMC Yukon a slight edge on safety. Some of GM’s latest active-safety technology is now featured in the Yukon—things like lane-departure warning with haptic alerts, and forward collision alerts—while the Navigator keeps its safety features to blind spot monitoring and parking sensors. The Yukon also gets a front-center airbag when it’s equipped with front bucket seats. But the Lincoln does offer a MyKey system that could help put the kibosh on your teen driver’s after-hours hijinks.
Both of these big SUVs have buffed up their infotainment offerings for 2016. The Yukon now includes Apple Car Play with its IntelliLink infotainment system, and the Navigator features MyLincoln Touch, with voice, touch, and steering-wheel controls.
The Yukon Denali absolutely piles on the luxury features, including 10-speaker Bose Centerpoint audio, heated second-row seats, heated-and-cooled front seats, and the power-folding second and third rows. You can also get a head-up display on the Yukon. Meanwhile, the feature set for the Navigator is nearly as good, but it tends a bit less to the tech-savvy and a little more toward traditional luxury, with items like adjustable pedals, a great rear entertainment system, power-deploying running boards, and real wood trim.
Which of these two plus-sized big SUVs emerge ahead? If you value comfort and space, we think the Navigator has a slight edge, but the Yukon gets a better list of available safety features, and more tech features. With the Yukon Denali’s more updated look inside and out, and plush feel throughout, it’s narrowly the winner here.
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