Chevrolet Suburban boasts more than 40 major enhancements for 2003. The 'burb was completely redesigned for 2000, and this year's model benefits from major mid-cycle revisions.
Some of the changes can be seen, including the climate controls and a new family of radios, both of which are easier to use yet more powerful and more sophisticated than last year's. XM Satellite Radio is available, along with a new Panasonic DVD system for back-seat monkeys.
Other changes are harder to discern, but are more important. Dual-stage front airbags provide improved safety in an accident, while the availability of the StabiliTrak electronic stability control system lessens the chance of losing control. Adjustable pedals are available for an improved driving position. And an all-new electrical architecture promises improved reliability.
In spite of all these changes, the Suburban's mission has not wavered. It remains the first choice for anyone who needs to haul six or more people plus their cargo. Chevrolet Suburban offers a cavernous interior with seats that fold down for monster cargo loads. It's based on an excellent full-size truck frame and its V8 engines deliver strong torque for towing heavy loads. The Suburban provides a stable, comfortable ride for long-distance travel. And it's capable of going off road.
Suburban 2500-series models can be ordered with Quadrasteer electronic four-wheel steering for dramatically increased maneuverability in tight spaces and improved control when towing a trailer.
Chevrolet Suburban looks like an old friend. It was completely redesigned for 2000, which gave it a smoother and more aerodynamic look. Sharp edges were rounded. New headlights gave it a more contemporary appearance. But there is no mistaking the 'burb.
Two tailgate configurations are available. The one-piece rear hatch ($250) works best for most families. It's lightweight and can be opened with one hand. Also available are side-by-side cargo doors, which we like because they open wide and allow a closer working position to the cargo area. Cargo doors are also useful when pulling trailers because they will usually clear the trailer tongue jack. We also like them because it's easier to control a dog when opening them. The hinges have been re-engineered to let the doors open wide without having to disconnect the hinges manually.
A puddle lamp mounted below the side mirrors shines down to light up the perimeter of the Suburban. It can be turned on using the keyless remote. That makes it a nice feature when approaching the Suburban in a dark parking garage, as it illuminates underneath the vehicle. It can also be used in the backwoods to illuminate mud puddles.
Suburban is about 17 inches longer than the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, and nearly identical to the GMC Yukon XL (which was called the GMC Suburban until recently).
Cleverly designed seating maximizes the hauling potential of the Chevrolet Suburban. The third-row seatback folds down without having to remove the headrests, then the whole thing flips forward to substantially increase cargo capacity. A short prop rod locks it into place. This bench seat can be removed and is mounted on wheels, but it weighs 75 pounds, easiest as a two-person job. After removing the third-row seat, flip the seat bottom of the second row forward, fold the seatback down (no need to remove the headrests), flip the floor extension down and you've got a huge, flat cargo space behind the driver's seat. Loading cargo is easy because there's plenty of space for it. The spare tire has been moved underneath the vehicle to free up rear cargo space.
Optional cloth bucket seats ($1035) in our LS were okay, but didn't offer as much support as we would have liked. LT's leather seats seem more supportive, but there's still room for improvement.
The second row is quite comfortable. Headphone jacks (standard on LT, optional on LS) allow rear-seat passengers to listen to CDs while those up front turn on the radio. Sitting in the third row is surprisingly comfortable for an adult; slide your feet under the seat in front of you, and you can ride back there for fairly long distances. Getting back there requires folding and flipping the second-row seat out of the way.
Climbing into a Suburban is a challenge for some and running boards make getting in easier. Younger, taller people find it easy. Step-in height is actually lower than before because of the fully boxed frame introduced with the 2000 models.
The optional power-adjustable pedals can taxi in 3 inches closer, allowing shorter drivers to sit farther back from the steering wheel and farther away from the airbag, a good thing should it ever deploy. Also new for 2003 are dual-level airbags, which inflate with less force in less forceful collisions. Sensors in the front passenger seat and seat belts also measure the weight and size of the front-seat passenger and, if that passenger is child-size, shut the airbag down completely.
Ride quality in the Chevy Suburban 1500 is smooth, greatly improved over the previous-generation. The now-standard Premium Smooth Ride suspension features a hydraulically controlled rear self-leveling system to keep the Suburban at normal ride height, even when carrying heavy loads. We've found this system offers a good ride quality.
The more sophisticated optional Autoride suspension ($1120) uses computer-controlled shock damping for improved ride quality over uneven pavement. Whether towing a horse trailer or picking up a soccer team, Autoride continually adjusts the suspension for optimum ride and handling. This technology also helps reduce dive when braking (so that the nose of the vehicle doesn't dip down unduly), and body roll (or lean) during cornering.
Chevrolet Suburban offers excellent handling for a big, heavy truck. The steering is responsive and doesn't isolate the driver from the road. The Suburban grips the road surprisingly well for such a large vehicle. Driving quickly over wet pavement on mountain roads, we never lost traction. We drove into wet turns as quickly as we'd ever want to go in a Suburban and never lost grip. We were impressed. The entire front part of the frame is hydro-formed from one piece of metal, a setup that's much more rigid than a bunch of pieces of frame welded together.
Optional StabiliTrak electronic stability control ($750) offers improved control on uncertain surfaces. StabiliTrak measures where the driver is steering against where the truck is actually heading and, when necessary, reduces engine torque or selectively applies one or more wheel brakes to correct the Suburban's path. StabiliTrak is now offered on all Suburban 1500's, with two or four-wheel drive.
The 2500 models, often referred to as 3/4-ton versions, are only needed for towing heavy trailers. They are rated to tow up to 12,000 pounds, which tops even the Ford Excursion by half a ton. Suburban 2500 rides a bit harsher than the 1500 because its rear suspension uses leaf springs instead of the 1500's coil springs. But the 2500 rides surprisingly well, given its load range. It represents a big improvement over the previous-generation (pre-2000) 2500 models.
Quadrasteer electronic four-wheel steering ($4495) dramatically increases maneuverability by turning the rear wheels in the opposite direction from the front wheels. The turning diameter of Suburban is reduced from 44.5 feet to 35.2 feet with Quadrasteer. In practical terms, Quadrasteer can negotiate a U-turn where a standard Suburban would have to stop and back up. Quadrasteer makes it much easier to park in tight spaces, such as underground garages and crowded parking lots. Add a trailer and the benefits increase. Backing a trailer into a parking space at a 90 degree angle is much easier with Quadrasteer and backing up with a trailer is more intuitive. At high speeds, the system turns the wheels slightly in the same direction as the front wheels for smoother lane changes and enhanced stability. We have been noticing that vehicles equipped with Quadrasteer tend to have a rougher ride, probably due to the heavy-duty rear axle that comes with the system.
Brakes on all Suburbans work smoothly and progressively, providing stopping power without drama. A Dynamic Rear Proportioning system modulates the pressure applied to the rear brakes for more effective braking. The Suburban's braking system was completely redesigned for model-year 2000 and has been further refined for 2003 for better performance, improved pedal feel and quieter operation.
Cost is the main consideration on whether to get four-wheel drive. Those in the Sunbelt may not see justification for it. But even if you don't plan to go off road, four-wheel drive can keep you going through snow or over sandy, unpaved roads, or it can help pull a boat up a slippery boat ramp. If you don't get a 4WD model, consider ordering StabiliTrak for its traction-control feature.
Chevrolet Suburban is a great vehicle for moving cargo, towing trailers, or hauling people. It's best when employed for all three of those things. The seats fold down for big cargo capacity. Get sleepy on a long trip and you can simply pull over and stretch out in back.
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