Alright all, I am here to answer a question that has been burning in the minds of no one: which is better, a GMC Yukon or a Land Rover Discovery II? I know, I know… questions for the ages. That is just the kind of guy I am.
Background: “The Cow”
I’ve owned my 1999 GMC Yukon SLT 4X4 for about three years. In that three years, she has taught me about a lot of stuff and we’ve done a lot together. She revolutionized camping, as we no longer needed to cram two humans, two dogs, camping supplies, and three days of firewood into a Golf. My dogs absolutely adore the car, which is a good thing. It picked up my newest, Youki, from the side of the road and he is the most calm and comfortable when he is in it. She towed my 84 Saab home without a single complaint, and is pretty excellent in the snow and ice.
That said, she has not been without her… eccentricities. She drinks fuel like it is 1950, the factory paint is peeling, maintenance is surprisingly difficult, and the heat and AC are both tepid at best, despite being well maintained. Since owning her, almost every piece has started leaking in some way and required fixing. Water pump, radiator, AC, front diff, rear diff, transfer case, transmission cooler… you name it, it leaked and required $200+ to fix and more kitty litter on the driveway. One day I came out to a pool of transmission fluid on the curb because one of the transmission cooler fittings hadn’t seated quite right after the radiator was replaced. Tighten it too much, and you’ll damage the fitting and it will leak. Tighten it not enough, and the fitting will back out and leak. For approximately three months she would randomly not start. I finally traced the problem to a bad coil, despite none of the traditional symptoms of coil failure.
She is a horrid smelly cow and I love her dearly.
Background: The Disco
The Disco and I are a classic holiday romance. You go away for a week, find someone new and young, have a fling, then decide you’re “in lurv” and they need come home and move in with you. Then when they get to your place they immediately start acting crazy and asking for money. A lot of it. She is still a pretty young thing, but now I’m starting to see the crow’s feet… and the Adam’s apple.
I picked up the Disco entirely by accident on my Overland Road Trip. I had wanted a Rodeo, but the one I went to see didn’t have 4WD and the Disco was the only other thing on the lot. My time and options quickly running out, I bought it against my better judgement. (I am a complete sucker for cars like this! See: Volvo, Saab, Alfa Romeo)
Through the trip it was an excellent vehicle. Comfortable, large enough for all my luggage, and pretty capable offroad. The heated seats and excellent climate control kept me happy from Lake Tahoe to Death Valley and beyond. That said, once we neared the finishing point, the AC started running low on coolant, the transmission started shifting hard, and the brakes started to go. “I can save it!” I thought, and shipped it home. Oh boy…
So I really only have room for one of these vehicles in my life. I figured I could turn my internal struggle into a public display for literally tens of people to be amused by.
I do find it interesting that these vehicles were basically competing for the same customers when they were new… sort of. The GMC was nearly the top of the line at the time, with only the Denali tipping it over into true high-end. Meanwhile the Rover was top of the bottom, so to speak. My Disco has all but one option selected, lacking the ACE system, but the Discovery series was the low end of the Land Rover line at the time. What this really means is, as speced, the Disco had an MSRP in 2001 of about $39,500 and the GMC in 1999 of about $32,500. Not a huge difference considering you’re already looking at spending over $30k on a car.
Let’s begin the comparing!
The Discovery looks like a spaceship from the 1960s that came to save us from crossover hell. Seriously. None of the buttons are where you expect and everything is weird. In a lot of ways it reminds me of my Alfa. Land Rover (and Alfa) just did whatever the hell the wanted, the rules be damned. I acknowledge a lot of the design choices in the Rover were also to make it super easy to change between left-hand and right-hand drive, but I really enjoy the symmetry that brings to the cabin. The interior is plush without being over-the-top. The exterior is interesting and rugged looking, without being too brash. It does have something I consider a deadly sin: fake wood, but not enough to be a deal breaker.
The Yukon is a triumph of function over form. The outside is good looking without looking like anything other than a work truck. Honestly, the GMT400 based trucks are some of my favorite aesthetically, and you can tell GM agrees as most of their new models look like modern reinterpretations of it. The inside of the Yukon is roomy and well thought out. Most of the controls are in the right places and well labeled, if pretty uninspired. This needs to be a knob, so we looked up what a knob looks like and there it is. A knob. Only the cruise control doesn’t make much sense, but it is similar to that on most other GM cars, plus my old Saab, so I am used to it.
Both cars have one “major” flaw: Cup holders. The Land Rover’s are perfect for 12oz cans and nothing else. They sit close to the delicate electronics of the climate control panel and over the handle and linkage for the range selector. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Optional holders were available, but mine is not so equipped (though I have been eyeing them on eBay) so I cannot comment on their effectiveness. The Yukon has three cup holders up front, two shallow ones are perched precariously in front of the largest HVAC vent in the vehicle. The shallowness mixed with a lot of body roll means, more often than not, your coffee is going to be on the floor. To further prove this point, I shampooed the carpets when I purchased the car and extracted enough coffee from the front carpets to fill a medium sized swimming pool. The center console also houses an optional cup holder (other options included a CD holder or a cassette holder, oh the 90s) that is deep, but oddly shaped. The rubber retainers having skipped out long ago, anything other than an irresponsibly large cup tends to tip in the bends.
Before you mention not drinking in the car: this isn’t my Alfa or your NA Miata. These are not drivers cars. They are for getting shit from point A to point B, regardless of if point B is the mall parking lot or the north rim of the Grand Canyon. If I want to drink a double Americano while I’m doing it that is my right and privilege as an SUV owner.
Winner: Matter of taste. I give it, reluctantly, to the Disco
Sort of covered above, both have great seats, arm rests, heated seats, optional rear AC, leather, and cruise control. That said, the Disco’s AC is much better than the GMC’s and the GMC’s heater has always been poor. (Yes, I have changed the thermostat) The ride is also much more civilized in the Disco, lacking the squeaks bangs whistles and rattles of a 20 year old American Truck.
That said, the GMC is easier to get in and out of due to the steering wheel being in a sensible place. In an episode of early Top Gear, Tiff point out that in the early version of the D2 the steering wheel could be tilted such that the warning lights were obscured. It appears that Land Rover took this to heart, as my tilt wheel is barely adjustable, to the point that the wheel is figuratively cupping my gentlemen’s region while driving. Again, a lot like my Alfa. This makes pedal access interesting to say the least as I can’t really pull my legs closer to center without interfering with the wheel.
While I have not done extensive work to either, the Disco comes out surprisingly ahead on this. I will compare three repairs I’ve done to both cars:
Tune up - Both are a pain as both vehicles distributors are located in the rear of the engine bay, against the firewall. The Disco is just that more of a pain as the actual intake manifold needs to be removed to see the coil pack, much less access it. Everything else is fairly evenly matched, though plan for some burns if you want to change the Disco’s air filter with the engine hot. Winner: GMC
Headlights – When I went to change a headlight on the GMC, imagine my surprise when the first step was removing the front grill. In fact, a large portion of the front of the vehicle needs to be removed to access most of the front lights. Being an American car, I honestly expected this to be a 30 second job, not several hours. The Disco, by comparison, involves removing a clipped in cover and, if you have large hands, popping out the headlight. No tools required. Winner: Disco
Transmission service – Another surprising loss for the GMC, which has no drain hole. The entire pan must be dropped and the fluid sucked out with a special machine. The Disco’s transmission is surprisingly conventional, though the fluid change interval is 2 years/ 24k miles, which is pretty damn frequent. Winner: Disco
Ok, not exactly a complete measure of everything, but so far I’ve been impressed with accessibility and ease of use on most things with the Disco.
Well fucking duh the GMC wins. Do I even need to include this? I guess so.
The GMC everything is available everywhere and there really is no unobtanium. Furthermore custom fit “customizations” are readily available too.
Land Rover a lot of available via auto parts stores and Amazon, but a lot needs to be ordered from specialty websites. Rarely a problem if the vehicle isn’t your daily, but can turn a minor inconvenience into a major one. Some parts, like bumpers, are pretty much impossible to find.
Again, no brainer. Parts for the Land Rover are mostly reasonable and comparable to the GMC, but weird stuff is expensive. While I can get replacement brake pads and headlights are comparable, I had to pay $14 a quart for transmission fluid for the Disco. You want coolant by the gallon? Fat chance, but you’re more than welcome to pay gallon pricing for a quart at your local parts chain.
Unfortunately for the GMC, it has not yet reached the age where driving one is “cool”. Cheaply repaired and made in great numbers means a lot of people drive them. For the same reason, a lot of people of lower means drive them, which is fine, but when I drive the GMC people seem to assume I do so because I can’t afford to do otherwise, not because I love the car and enjoy keeping it on the road. WHICH IS FINE, but not very cool. The nice part about this is you can pretty much run in stealth mode most places. No one is going to give an aging GMT400 a second glace exceeeeeeeeept when I take it nice places. Then we get the look.
The Land Rover also comes with a stigma. Despite the low buy-in most people assume you’re well off if you drive one. I haven’t fully explored this side of the coin yet. I will say my neighbors were eager to greet the “new neighbors” when my friends showed up to unload the Disco. Imagine their disappointment when they discovered (ha!) Akio bought yet another car.
How many does that make? Doesn’t matter.
While I smile when I see another Yukon on the road, feeling a kinship with other owners, that feeling is not reciprocated. Meanwhile, every time I passed a Discovery I or II on the road I got “the wave,” which is fun.
The Yukon is also hurt by not being very… good. Again, I love it, but there are better offroad SUVs, there are more interesting SUVs, there are SUVs with more cargo space, better gas mileage, more creature comforts, etc, etc. I didn’t buy the Yukon because I wanted any of those things. I bought the Yukon because I wanted a Yukon. Plain and simple. I learned to drive on one, liked the styling, and had always wanted one.
Should any of that matter? No. A car is good car if someone likes it. But that said…
Finally, one I can use SCIENCE for. MPG is easy enough, over the last 18000 miles the Yukon I have averaged 13.14 MPG, with my best being 15.81 and my worst 10.28. Average fuel cost per mile is $0.158. I’d say my usage is 65% highway and 35% city.
Over the 1800 miles I’ve owned the Disco I have averaged 15.11 MPG, with my best being 17.7 MPG and my worst 11.28, with an average cost per mile of $0.208. I’d estimate that mileage is 20% highway, 50% city, and 30% offroad. My last tank on the Disco was 80% highway and 17.7 MPG, so I am expecting my average to come up as I drive it in more “normal” conditions.
“Wait a minute Akio!” You might say, “Why is your cost per mile so much higher if the Disco gets better gas mileage!? Your science is flawed!” And you would be right to question me. The Disco was driven primarily on the west coast, where gas is crazy expensive, and the GMC primarily in Oklahoma, where gas is basically free. At the time of writing gas costs $1.919 per gallon at almost every gas station in town. In contrast, when we were in California we paid over $4 per gallon at one stop, with $3.50 being the norm. Also, the Disco harbors a dark secret: it fucking takes premium.
Anyway, I’ve solved this with a graph. With the Disco at 15.8 MPG, the GMC at 13.1 MPG, and the upcharge for premium at $0.30, gas needs to be over $1.50/ gallon for the Disco to cost less per mile than the GMC. Math!
I’ve done some offroading in the GMC and it did fine. I’ve done a lot in the Disco and it also did fine. I imagine I would be very proud of it if it hadn’t done all those offroad miles next to two more capable vehicles.
Also not a big contest here. While the GMC has four wheel drive, it is 4 inches wider and about 1,000 pounds heavier than the Disco. While neither is killer offroad, of the two the Disco was certainly the one designed with offroading in mind.
The Disco has a 4.0L V8 with 188 HP and 250 torque. The GMC has a 5.7L V8 which puts out 255 HP and 335 torque. Simple enough… right? Well the GMC is also 1000 pounds heavier than the Disco. Best way to compare is HP/TON. The Yukon has 87 and the Disco 82.
To drive… both feel like heavy, slightly underpowered cars. The GMC is a little more eager and feels quicker, but is also a lot louder which helps with the appearance of acceleration.
According to Zeroto60times.com, the Discovery get to 60 in about 10 seconds and the GMC in about 9, so I guess the seat-of-pants test matches the numbers randomly pulled off the internet.
Both have a similar towing capacity of about 5,000 pounds.
The GMC seats five and all of their shit in relative comfort, with a big, capable roofrack in case you need more room.
The Land Rover seats seven and none of their shit in relative comfort, with a small, useless roofrack in case you want to take something larger than a handbag with you.
But seriously… The Rover has a smaller cargo area that is a bit crowded by the optional folding jump seats. When they’re folded up, you get a decent amount of cargo space, but it is a lot like playing Jenga. The Yukon’s cargo area is much larger overall, but tends to be too big for daily use, with your groceries sloshing about as you drive home.
I’m giving this one to the Disco only because of the jump seats. For my use case I more frequently have needed two more seats than the extra cargo area. The only times I have fully filled the Yukon are when we go camping, but we could probably leave the kitchen sink at home and make do with the Landy’s cargo space.
Why Not Both?
Good question. I could keep both, and kind of want to. That would put my stable at five (just the five) cars, the others being a Volvo C30, Alfa Spider, and a Saab 900. Furthermore, my partner has a Golf and a Cabriolet, putting us (currently) at seven cars for the household. My garage holds three, so that leaves four for the driveway and street. This can create problems if, for example, I want to drive the Saab (not that it runs) the Alfa, GMC, Disco, Golf, and Volvo would all need to move to the street if they weren’t already there. That is pretty much worst case, but you get the idea.
So with parking at a premium and these two vehicles being the most similar, one must go.
Anyone want to buy a 1999 GMC Yukon?