The Chevy Suburban is all new for 2015, but its mission remains the same as it has for decades: It can seat up to nine, carry up to 121 cubic feet of cargo, and pull a four-ton trailer (though not all at the same time). It does this by mating a station-wagon body to Chevy’s half-ton pickup chassis — the same formula the Suburban has been using since 1935.
|Engine: 5.3L V8 Makes 355 hp, 383 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Fuel Economy: 16/23 City/Highway (2WD) or 15/22 (4WD).
Price: $48,295 to start or more than $75,000 for top-of-the-line models.
Styling-wise, the ‘Burb has been edging away from the Silverado pickup on which it is based; this year it not only gets a unique front clip (fenders, hood and fascia), but unique doors as well. The door thing may sound trivial, but it opens up more possibilities for the stylists, who were able to emphasize the Suburban’s big, blocky lines. Forget about small and svelte: Suburban buyers say they like to live big, so Chevy built them a ‘Burb that looks large and in charge.
Vastly Improved Cabin
We expected the Suburban to have the same dash layout as the Silverado, but we were happy to be wrong. Though the basic control layout is the same, the dashboard’s shape and style is completely different. There’s a massive amount of real estate on the Suburban’s dash, and Chevy makes the most of it with big vents and clearly-labeled controls. Even the top-of-the-line Suburban LTZ — which features the MyLink touch-screen stereo and multi-zone air conditioning with separate controls for the back seats — manages to keep its dash largely uncluttered.
Storage spaces abound; thanks to a column-mounted transmission shifter, there is plenty of room on the center console for cup holders, up to six USB and six 12-volt power ports throughout the cabin and a wide armrest covering a large storage cubby. The entry-level LS model can be had with a 40/20/40 split-bench front seat, making the Suburban a true nine-seater. Our test vehicle had front bucket seats, which we found big, comfortable and supportive. While LS models get manually-adjustable cloth seats, the LT gets leather, heat and power, and our LTZ tester added extra adjustment and seat cooling as well. Most seat warmers heat back and butt together, but the Suburban’s allow you to heat them separately, a real boon for those with back problems.
The ‘Burb we drove had optional bucket seats in the second row as well. Our reporter said he preferred the standard-fit three place bench, as a two-passenger second row seems a waste of space in such a big vehicle. But as the father of two boys, he could appreciate the role the broadly-spaced buckets play in separating warring siblings. The seats fold down flat and flip forward, which eases access to the third row.
Said third row is one of the big changes for 2015: While previous Suburbans had a removable seat, the new one folds down flat into the floor — and it does so electrically, with buttons conveniently located in the cargo bay. The seat itself is not terribly comfortable; we liked the height off the floor (most fold-flat seats are mounted too low), but we were surprised at the lack of legroom, owing to the non-adjustable second row seats.
A Convoy of One
What sets the Suburban apart from most full-size SUVs is that there is plenty of cargo room even with all three rows in place: 39.3 cubic feet behind the rear seats, which is more than most five-seat SUVs and crossovers. Folding the third row down opens up 76.7 cubic feet of space, while folding and flipping the second-row seats — which can also be done at the press of a button in the cargo bay — provides 121.1 cubic feet. The cargo floor is flat over the folded third row, with a slight rise when the second-row seats are folded down. Access is through a top-hinged tailgate, with glass that can be opened separately to drop in groceries. And speaking of the tailgate, the rear wiper is now concealed up top, behind the spoiler, which not only cleans up the styling, but keeps the wiper free of snow and ice.
So what’s it like to pilot this behemoth? It’s more pleasant than you might imagine. Chevy put strong emphasis on improving the Silverado pickup’s ride quality, and the Suburban reaps the benefits. It has a similar front-end setup, but the rear suspension, though still based around the pickup truck’s solid rear axle, uses coil springs in place of leafs, which gives a steadier ride. LTZ models get GM’s Magnetic Ride Control shock absorbers, which are filled with a high-tech fluid that stiffens when a magnetic field is applied, allowing near-instant changes to shock damping rates. Translated to English, that means that if you swerve suddenly to avoid a car pulling out of a driveway, the Suburban responds more like a small SUV than a three-ton truck.
It’s a 5.3L V8 or Nothing
The 2015 Suburban offers a single powertrain setup: Chevy’s 5.3 liter direct-injected V8 backed by a six-speed automatic transmission and a choice of rear- or four-wheel-drive. The engine puts out 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque on gasoline, but can stretch to 380 hp and 416 lb-ft when fed on E85 ethanol. It features a cylinder deactivation system that seamlessly switches between four- and eight-cylinder operation, which boosts fuel economy to an EPA-rated 16 MPG city/23 MPG highway with 2WD and 15/22 with 4WD. (Clearly this is no Prius, but those numbers aren’t bad considering the Suburban’s size and weight.) Acceleration is strong, accompanied by a reassuring V8 roar, though it’s unfortunate that there isn’t an option for a bigger engine — GM does have a 420 horsepower 6.2 liter V8 that fits, but it’s reserved for the pricier versions of the Suburban sold by GMC (Yukon XL Denali) and Cadillac (Escalade ESV).
What can you do with all that power? For starters, you can haul right around 1,650 lbs of stuff, more than enough for seven 170-lb adults, each with a 50-lb suitcase. And if you opt for the $500 Max Towing Package — which includes an integrated electric trailer brake controller (a rare find in an SUV) and an air-leveling suspension — you can tow 8,000 lbs with the 4WD Suburban and 8,300 lbs with the 2WD version. Those tow ratings are actually 200 lbs lower than the Tahoe, the short-length version of the ‘Burb, but the Suburban’s extra fourteen inches of wheelbase provides extra stability when towing long trailers.
Capability That Doesn’t Come Cheap
But all of this capability comes at a cost: The cheapest Suburban — the rear-drive LS — is priced at $48,295; four-wheel-drive adds $3,000 to the price. The mid-line leather-upholstered LT model starts at $56,695, and a 4WD LTZ with all the fixings — including navigation, a rear-seat BluRay player, an alarm with interior motion detectors, and retractable running boards — can run well over $75,000.
We urge potential buyers to think carefully about whether they need this much capability, because if they don’t, they can save themselves a lot of money. Chevy’s eight-passenger Traverse can’t tow like the Suburban, but it has plenty of interior space, costs less and gets better fuel economy. And if you only need five seats with an occaisional stretch to seven, the short-wheelbase Tahoe is smaller and sprightlier and easier to park. There are also higher-lux versions of the Suburban from other GM brands; the GMC Yukon XL offers few advantages apart from the top-of-the-line Denali trim, but the Cadillac Escalade ESV really is a step above.
In a changing world, we’re pleased to see that the Suburban is still doing what it does best. There’s no substitute for an American original, and that’s exactly what the Chevrolet Suburban is. If you really need a vehicle with this much towing and hauling capability, there’s nothing quite like the Suburban.