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Once known as the Texas Cadillac, the Suburban has broadened its appeal far beyond the borders of the Lone Star State.
For many families who don't want minivans, the Suburban, sold by General Motors' Chevrolet and GMC Truck divisions, has become the status-symbol station wagon of the 90's. The Suburban is equally as popular with retirees who tow trailers to warm winter climates. And it is ideal for commercial use by contractors and utility companies.
Based on GM's full-size C/K pickup, the Suburban stands alone in its size class. Chevrolet and GMC count the Toyota Land Cruiser and full-size vans from Ford and Dodge as rivals, but the Suburban truly has no direct competitors in the full-size 4-door sport/utility niche it has carved for itself. The Suburban is high: more than 18 ft. long with seating for up to nine people and towing capacity up to 10,000 lb.
The Chevy and GMC Suburbans are virtually identical. The only differences are in their logos and the way their options are packaged. The Chevy version comes in three trim levels: base, LS and LT. The GMC Suburban comes in three trim levels as well: the base SL, the SLE and the top-of-the-line SLT.
The exterior of the Suburban, redesigned in 1992 when it shifted to the C/K truck platform, remains almost unchanged for 1995. There is one minor, but nonetheless refreshing, improvement: The Suburban is among the first of GM's vehicles to make the change to one key, rather than two, for the ignition and doors. Also, a remote keyless entry system has been added to the Suburban's list of optional features for the 1995 model year.
Many changes for '95 are on the interior - a redesigned instrument panel as well as extra safety and convenience features. Most notably, the Suburban now comes equipped with a standard driver's airbag.
The instrument panel has been updated and now features rounded shapes as opposed to the previous squares. Controls for climate control - located with the sound system controls in the center of the instrument panel - are large, round knobs. The ashtray, now with two 12-volt outlets for cellular phones and other electronic accessories, is mounted below. White-on-black analog gauges are accented with red-orange needles and critical zone markings. And four GM Delco audio systems now are available on the Suburban.
A center console (standard with bucket seats, optional with other seat configurations) sits conveniently between the two front seats. It contains a variety of storage nooks and crannies for items such as sunglasses.
Likewise, a variety of overhead compartments can store stuff such as a remote garage door opener. Opening the console top reveals a deep storage bin. For 1995, an optional center, which converts to a mobile work station with a pivoting writing surface, is available for commercial users.
Dual cupholders slide out from the dash for front-seat passengers. Two more cupholders pull out from the back of the console for rear-seat passengers. All accommodate pop cans, coffee mugs with handles or juice boxes.
It's an understatement to say the Suburban is spacious in its interior. With the rear seats removed, space is a cavernous 145.9 cu. Ft. The storage compartment behind the third seat is a whopping 47.5 cu. ft. Luggage and other gear can easily be stowed through the rear opening, which can be ordered as a traditional tailgate style opening, or open-sideways doors. We'd suggest the open-sideways doors for short drivers. We found it difficult to fully utilize the rear cargo space because the tailgate is so long.
The Suburban is available with a variety of seats and seating arrangements. The standard front seat is a 3-passenger bench. Optional is a reclining 60/40 split bench and reclining high-back bucket seats, which were firm and extremely comfortable on a 5-hour drive.
The Suburban is equipped with vents in all three rows of seats. Except on the base model, the second row of seats has its own climate controls. We were thankful to have this feature on a summer vacation. The sun blazing through the windshield prompted our front-seat passengers to crank up the air conditioner, but the rear-seat passengers were without benefit of the sun, wanted it less chilled.
The Suburban is available in half-ton (1500 Series) or three-quarter-ton (2500 series) versions with either 2- or 4-wheel drive. The 4WD system is GM's Insta-Trac, which allows on-the-fly shifting between 2WD to 4WD.
We tested a half-ton Chevrolet Suburban equipped with the base 5.7-liter V8 engine, 4-speed overdrive automatic transmission and 2WD, which is how most Suburbans hit the road. It was outfitted with leather seats, including a 6-way power seat for the driver.
The optional leather on our model accounted for more than $2000 worth of the $10,000 of options. (The vehicle listed for $30,039.)
Though the tested model had 2WD rather than 4WD, it coped handily with rugged dirt roads. At the same time, it provided a quiet and smooth highway ride on a long trip.
We'd suggest ordering the 4WD option, if only for improved resale value, which already is strong on all Suburbans. Every penny invested in 4WD generally is returned in resale value.
The standard 5.7-liter V8 engine produces 200 hp at 4000 rpm and 310 pound-feet of torque at 2400 rpm. The base engine has a federal mileage rating of 13 mpg in the city and 15 mpg on the highway. To avoid frequent gas station stops, the Suburban has a 30-gal. fuel tank.
A 6.5-liter V8 turbodiesel engine, rated at 190 hp at 3400 rpm and 385 lb.-ft. of torque at 1700 rpm, is available on the 2500 Series. Mileage ratings are not required on gross vehicle weights of more than 8500 lb., but the engine, depending on duty cycles, is designed for a 25 percent to 80 percent improvement in fuel economy over gasoline engines.
Also available on the 2500 Series is the optional 7.4-liter V8 engine rated at 230 hp at 3600 rpm and 385 lb.-ft. of torque at 1600 rpm.
New for '95 is Dexron III automatic transmission fluid, which never needs replacement under normal service. Also, an interlock mechanism that prevents shifting the automatic transmission out of the part position unless the driver's foot is depressing the brake pedal, now comes standard on all models. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes are also standard.
The Suburban is equipped with variable-ratio power-assisted steering as standard equipment to provide easier maneuvering at low speeds and greater control and stability at high speeds.
Still, the Suburban is by no means nimble in handling. In Texas, one may have wide-open spaces for such an enormous vehicle, but parking at the local grocery store can prove tricky for the novice.
The Suburban is not only well-suited to roaming the sweeping Texas range but also to hauling the Little League team or towing a trailer.
But it comes at a price. A fuel fill-up will cost as much as $50. And don't be fooled by the Suburban's seemingly low base sticker price of $21,587. You can't buy one for that.
The tested model was nearly $10,000 more than the base sticker price, and that was without 4WD. Still, based on its unrivaled size and ability to carry people and their things, it's worth it.
However, you'll be lucky if you can find one to buy at all. Production is limited, and demand is so strong that dealers can't keep them on the lots.