Not only is the Chevrolet Suburban the most pure niche vehicle in the sport utility/van/minivan spectrum, you might say it's the only one of its kind. (Please note that the GMC Suburban is the same vehicle marketed under a different name.) While essentially a people carrier, the Suburban has body-on-frame construction and other pickup characteristics that help distinguish it from the popular minivans or big traditional vans. Sure, this vehicle is meant to haul people and cargo, but it's also meant to pull with pep - boats, trailers campers, snowmobiles, trail bikes and just about anything else you can imagine.
Our Chevy Suburban K2500 (the K denotes 4WD; the 2500 means it's a 3/4-ton vehicle) had a base price of $22,417. We added the Silverado trim level and options including front/ rear air conditioning, tinted glass, power assists and more, and the price zoomed to $32,507. That's substantial. But keep in mind that completely equipped versions of the smaller Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Ford Explorer go for about 30 000. Then consider that the Suburban is an eight- or nine-passenger, off-road vehicle with serious towing potential, and the price doesn't seem so far out of line.
Our Chevy Suburban looked like an elongated sport utility vehicle that bore a strong resemblance to the full-size GMC Yukon and Chevy Blazer. Its truck heritage was unmistakable. While ground clearance was not exceptionally high (8 inches), we still had to step up to enter.
One feature that immediately distinguished this Suburban from its ancestors was a great deal of high-visibility glass, as well as more slender roof pillars. Also, the body lines were smoother, and the trim and moldings were more subdued.
Our Suburban K2500 Silverado was finished in a combination of Indigo Blue Metallic and Summit White; the top and bottom were blue, and a midriff stream of white split the two halves. If you like two-tones, you may like this-we didn't. The white stripe was an intrusion to a smooth-looking paint job. Fit-and-finish were good, however. While earlier Suburbans were notorious rust buckets, coated and treated steels, better weather resistance and an improved paint application have essentially licked this problem. The long rocker panels under the doors, though, still cry for protection from stone chips and road debris, and buyers will have to seek aftermarket accessories to resolve this.
In the rear, our Suburban had a platform bumper with holes on either side for carrying a center-mounted ball hitch. It also had the drop tailgate/liftgate combination, although panel doors that open to either side are standard. The doors may be more practical for loading, but we think the tailgate/liftgate combination would be nice for picnicking.
As we gazed down at surrounding traffic from our seats in the Chevy Suburban, we were thankful that this was such a high-riding truck. The grand use of glass allowed for outstanding visibility.
Our Suburban was equipped with high-back, leather-covered front bucket seats and second and third bench seats. That added up to seating for eight-nine if we would have ordered the front bench seat. Our Suburban had folding second and third seats that, when down, provided a flat loading area 97.7 inches long and a massive 152.9 cubic feet of volume.
The interior amenities were well done, with lights, cupholders and armrests for all outer-edge passenters. Our Suburban had an overhead console to complement the one in the center of the floor that held the transfer-case shift lever. Second-seat passengers had overhead-mounted controls for optional rear compartment heating and air conditioning. The driver's armrest contained electric window and outside mirror controls and the front seats had dual armrests that reminded us of captain's chairs found in many minivans and full-size vans. The instrument panel, with its analog gauges, controls and switches, was pure General Motors-no surprises and no dramatics.
At rest, all seats were comfortable and supportive. However, once on the road we found that the rear seats picked up on road bumps. That jarring could be attributed to the harsher 4WD suspension. We think work should be done on the rear seats and the suspension to isolate passengers from road shock. However, the front bucket seats were exceptionally comfortable, even on rugged terrain.
When driving the Suburban, we were in awe of this big vehicle with its long stature and wow turning diameter of 46.4 feet. On a wide street, we couldn't make an uninterrupted U-turn without driving over the curb.
Our vehicle had the standard tried-and-true 5.7-liter, 190-hp V8 engine. With the Chevy Suburban, there are two other power options: the 7.4-liter, 230-hp V8 or the 6.5-liter, 190-hp V8 turbo diesel. If you're looking for maxxed-out torque and pulling power, the 7.4-liter V8 puts out a mountain-moving 385 pound-feet of torque at 1,700 rpm.
The standard 190-hp V8 was fine for most of our applications, but it did seem to run out of steam at just above minimum freeway cruising speeds. If you're going to do a lot of driving with substantial loads, we recommend one of the optional engines.
The power steering performed well and provided good feedback, handling the turning requirements of this moose with ease. We gave our Suburban's standard anti-lock brakes high marks for their smooth, sure stopping ability.
As we would expect from a long vehicle-219.5 inches on a 131.5inch wheelbase-the ride was smooth and stable. An effective conventional suspension of front independent torsion bars and rear multi-leaf springs and shock absorbers was tuned for a great combination of performance and load-carrying capability.
The standard transmission on the Chevy Suburban is a four-speed automatic with overdrive and electronic shifting. It was a heavy-duty unit to handle the 4WD aspects, and we found it to be flawless.
If our needs required a people carrier with genuine towing capability, we would definitely consider the Chevy Suburban. After all, it's about the only vehicle in the field that qualifies, which helps account for why it's been around so long.
We liked the big V8 because of its power and 7,000-pound towing capability. We also like the security and flexibility of the 4WD. To appreciate the combination, imagine trying to pull a heavy boat on a trailer from the water and up a steep, slippery ramp. It's no chore for the faint-hearted.
Sure, for this kind of power you're going to sacrifice some fuel efficiency, but the Suburban's 42-gallon fuel tank should ease any anxiety. Besides, if mileage is a big concern, you could always forgo some power and opt for the turbo diesel.
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