The 2003 GMC Yukon XL Denali – Our Luxury Dog Show Transport!
For the largest part of my life, I scoffed at SUV’s. In my mind, they were over priced “trucks”, and simply not something I had need of in my day to day. In fact, they irritated me as they’re difficult to see past/around in traffic when you drive a car.
Having added more dogs to our fur family (currently standing at four large dogs), we had a problem – even IF we were OK with taking dogs in either of my wife’s or my BMW, (which we’re not excited about doing…) all four dogs won’t fit in one of the cars. Compounding this problem is the fact that we’ve started showing our dogs the past couple of years in both working and conformation events – some of which take us out of state. When you add luggage, cages, and photography equipment to the mix, a passenger car is woefully inadequate.
About three years ago, my wife inherited an old mini-van from her aunt (a 2001 Chevy Venture). It had fairly low miles for the model year (just over 100,000), but it looked less than dignified, with significant rust around the underbody. And it had several interior issues of things that weren’t well maintained and weren’t quite functioning properly. In other words, it made a fine around town dog hauler. We used it sometimes as much as twice a week for local travel to dog training classes, dog shows, and vet appointments. But we never trusted it for longer trips and I typically rented a mini-van for out of state dog shows – which cost me about $1200.00 last year alone. Between the cost of renting trip transport, and the embarrassment of driving the dodgy mini-van, I was ready to buy a better solution.
I initially thought we wanted a newer, more reliable mini-van than our current one – a solution which would have been the most budget friendly for us. They generally cost less than SUV’s, get better gas mileage, and are cheaper to insure. Those remote sliding doors are wonderful when you’re trying to get the dogs in and out of the vehicle too. But having rented several different makes and models, I never found one I was completely happy with enough to buy one. Some weren’t all that comfortable and I worried about long-term reliability (Chrysler/Dodge) while others lacked the “stow and go” seat features we needed (Honda and Toyota in the model years in our price range). And by the time you got the cages, coolers, luggage, and other gear in them, most mini-vans were a bit cramped with two large dogs (our Rottweilers that we most often show). We then began looking at “extra large” SUV’s. Essentially the Chevy Suburban and the Yukon XL were the only choices for us here. Sure, the Cadillac Escalade also fits in this category (the Suburban, Yukon, and Escalade are all basically the same vehicle) but it’s a little flashier than what I was looking for in a dog hauler. Same goes for Lincoln Navigator (I’m not really a Ford guy anyway). After seeing and driving a couple of different options at a local dealership, the Yukon XL Denali looked like a very attractive option – none of the Cadillac Escalade stigma, and all the size, performance, and luxury appointments typically found in the Escalade. So my search began for a Yukon XL Denali. My budget? About $10,000.00.
In my price range, I was looking at model years from about 2000-2006, or what’s referred to among Yukon enthusiasts as the “NBS” (New Body Style) models. Typically pre-owned prices for the models ranged from about $8,000.00 to $15,000.00, with miles on the odometer widely ranging from about 100,000 miles to about 180,000 miles. I wanted to find one that we could get at least 4 years out of before I’d thinking about trading it or selling it. I’ve never personally owned a vehicle with more than 60,000 miles on the odometer, so high miles made me nervous – particularly on an American made vehicle (which I haven’t personally owned in about 20 years…). Everything I’ve read about these vehicles indicates that the motor is good for upwards of 300,000 miles if properly maintained (a big “if” in a pre-owned model…) and the transmission is also very long-lasting. Both the engine and transmission life however can be diminished if the vehicle is used for significant towing…and often these vehicles are purchased to tow boats. Still, I figured I was probably safe at under 150,000 miles. We’ll drive it about 5000 miles a year, so if I wanted to keep it four years, I needed to make sure I found one with no more than 130,000 miles on the odometer.
After several months of searching, I found what very much appeared to be a dream come true advertised by a dealer in the Cincinnati, OH area – Specialty Interest Auto Sales. The father-and-son company (SIAS for short) specializes in investment grade/classic cars. But every year the owner and his son go to Naples, Florida and instead of renting a vehicle to drive back, they make a game of which of them can find the best vehicle to buy to drive back and sell when they return home. This year, they came back with a 2003 Yukon XL Denali which had just 72,000 miles on the odometer – the lowest I’d encountered in several months of searching. My wife and I went down to their warehouse to take a look at it, and were extremely impressed – the Carfax report was completely clean with no accidents, and showed two previous owners. The original owner bought it in New York, and moved to Florida eventually selling it to his neighbor – both maintained the vehicle immaculately. When SIAS bought it, they took it a GM dealership and had the vehicle inspected. They did a standard maintenance, and repaired a ball joint, then drove it back to Ohio. Here are the photos I took at the SIAS warehouse:
The interior of the vehicle was every bit as clean as the exterior:
This last photo really shows the reason why a Yukon XL/Suburban works so well for a large breed dog owner. Not only do you have two rows of seating for multiple dogs, but you have an area in back that can fit all your cages, luggage, cooler, chairs, and other gear you typically need at a dog show. It’s simply more space than you get with a mini-van.
Back in high school, I drove a 1979 Z-28 that a 350 cu. in. V8. I haven’t had a car with a V8 engine since…until now. The 2003 Yukon XL Denali comes with a good old American V8 – the Vortec 364 cu. in./6.0 liter, old-school 16 valve engine that puts out an impressive 325hp. The transmission has just 4 electronically-controlled forward gears. By comparison, my BMW 335i M-Sport has a turbocharged 24 valve V6 that puts out over 300hp, but gets significantly better gas mileage than the approximately 12 mpg city and 16 mpg highway fuel economy numbers on the Yukon. But wow is it cool driving a V8 again! Speaking of my BMW, I was SHOCKED to see the sticker price on this vehicle as the original owner had kept it with the owners manual – this vehicle stickered for nearly $53,000.00 TWELVE YEARS AGO.
I’ve had the vehicle for a few days now, and so far it’s exceeding my expectations. It’s quite comfortable to drive and will be fantastic to drive this Spring and Summer to some trips we have planned with our dogs. Quite honestly, the vehicle is more opulent/luxurious than what we need, but having most of the “creature comforts” I’m accustomed to means I look forward to driving our Yukon XL Denali. The all-wheel drive and “StabiliTrak” stability control option it has will make this SUV a great option for me to drive in the Winter too.
I’ll report back with a longer term report in the weeks and months ahead with how this 2003 Yukon XL Denali works out for us. Now if I can just get my wife to sell our eye sore of a mini-van…
John B. Holbrook, II
John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of ThruMyLens.org, as well as LuxuryTyme.com and TheSeamasterReferencePage.com. *All text and images contained in this web site are the original work of the author, John B. Holbrook, II and are copyright protected. Use of any of the information or images without the permission of the author is prohibited.