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.
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 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…