As familiar as the family dog, the Chevrolet Suburban cruises into 2005 with the same maximum-size virtues that have kept it a best-seller for so many years. Since the 'burb first appeared, it has never wavered from its mission. It remains the first choice for anyone who needs to haul six or more people plus their cargo. Suburban offers a cavernous interior with seats that fold down for monster loads.
Suburban is based on GM's superbly engineered full-size truck frame. Its V8 engines deliver strong torque for towing heavy loads, and it's supremely stable when pulling heavy trailers through nasty, windy weather. Suburban provides a stable, comfortable ride for long-distance travel. Last but not least, it's fully capable of slogging down muddy two-tracks, whether in pursuit of the great outdoors or to get some work done.
The 2005 model year brings some minor improvements. Fuel economy is improved. A revised tire-pressure monitor is now standard, alerting drivers when a tire needs air. New options include stand-alone traction control and 17-inch all-weather tires. The Z71 off-road package is available for 2WD models. A touch-screen navigation radio is available. The OnStar telematics system is upgraded with enhanced hands-free operation. Interior trim has been revised. Running boards are more aerodynamic. There's also a new 7-to-4-pin wiring adapter for the trailer package.
Completely redesigned for model year 2000, the Suburban then received a substantial update for 2003, with more than 40 major changes designed to enhance safety and improve reliability. The StabiliTrak electronic stability program became available for improved control on slippery surfaces. New airbag systems were designed to better protect children and adults of various sizes. Adjustable pedals became available for the comfort and safety for drivers of smaller stature. Brakes were refined, and an all-new electrical architecture promised improved reliability. XM Satellite Radio became available, along with a new Panasonic DVD system for back-seat monkeys. Changes for 2004 enhanced safety with Hydroboost brakes that provide power assist even if the engine stalls or is turned off.
Heavy-duty 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.
There's no mistaking the 'burb. The Chevrolet Suburban looks like an old friend. It hasn't been completely redesigned since 2000, and the 2005 model retains a family resemblance to Suburbans far older than that. The Suburban name dates back to the 1946 Suburban Carryall and its role then was similar to what it is for many people today.
2005 has brought a couple of exterior changes. Most people probably won't even notice that the running boards, or assist steps, have been redesigned for better aerodynamics and, says Chevrolet, better durability.
But we will miss the side-by-side cargo doors that are no longer available at the rear. GM says they didn't sell very well, but we found them useful when pulling trailers because they would usually clear the trailer tongue jack. They also made it easier to control a dog while opening them. Nonetheless, for 2005, all Suburbans come with the one-piece rear hatch with separately opening glass that most families prefer. The hatch is lightweight and can be opened with one hand. It comes with a window wiper/washer, and the one-piece window affords the driver a good view rearward. A puddle lamp mounted below the LT's side mirrors shines down to light up the perimeter. It can be turned on using the keyless remote. That's 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 spot mud puddles before you step in them or to find things that were dropped or placed around the vehicle. We found them useful one night when we dropped our keys while climbing out of the vehicle.
The Suburban is 22 inches longer than a Chevy Tahoe. In most respects, it is identical to the more luxurious GMC Yukon XL.
Climbing into a Suburban is a challenge for some. Younger, taller people find it easy. Running boards make it easier for others. The Suburban's step-in height is lower than it was with pre-2000 models, a benefit of the current model's fully boxed frame.
Once inside, the Suburban is roomy and friendly. The optional cloth bucket seats ($1,035) in our LS were okay, but didn't offer as much support as we would have liked. The LT's leather seats seem more supportive, but we think there's room for improvement here. Big and cushy, they are similar to the seats found in all of GM's full-size pickups and SUVs. Owners often disagree with our assessment.
Power-adjustable pedals allow shorter drivers to sit farther back from the steering wheel and farther away from the airbag, reducing the chance of injury should it deploy. Dual-level airbags inflate with less force in less forceful collisions. Sensors in the front passenger seat and seat belts measure the size and weight of the front-seat passenger and disable the airbag for child-size passengers.
The second row is quite comfortable and very roomy. Headphone jacks allow rear-seat passengers to listen to CDs while those up front tune in the radio. Even 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. But getting back there requires folding and flipping the second-row seat out of the way, easiest for younger people.
Part of the allure of the Suburban is its ability to haul vast quantities of cargo, and cleverly designed seating maximizes its potential. 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. The one-piece seat can be removed and is mounted on wheels, but it weighs 75 pounds, so removing it is a lot easier with a second person to help. After removing the third-row seat, flip the bottom of the second row forward, fold the seatback down (again, no need to remove the headrests), flip the floor extension down and you're looking at one of the biggest cargo spaces in the world of SUVs. It's nice and flat, so you could stretch out and go to sleep here. (We know. We've done it.) Loading cargo is easy because there's plenty of space for it. The spare tire lives underneath the vehicle, freeing up rear cargo space.
Ride quality in the 2005 Chevy Suburban 1500 is smooth, greatly improved over the previous-generation (pre-2000) models. The standard Premium Smooth Ride suspension features a hydraulically controlled rear self-leveling system to keep the Suburban at a normal ride height even when carrying heavy loads. We've found this system offers good ride quality.
The more sophisticated, Autoride suspension ($1,120-$1,170) uses computer-controlled shock damping to improve ride quality over uneven pavement. Whether towing a horse trailer or picking up the 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, both of which improve stability.
Handling is excellent 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. We never lost traction while pushing hard over wet mountain roads on a rainy day in Colorado. Two of us, both with racing experience, took turns driving into wet turns as quickly as we dared and the Suburban never lost grip. We were impressed. Part of this is due to its superbly engineered chassis. The entire front part of the frame is hydroformed from one piece of metal, a design that's much more rigid than a bunch of pieces of frame welded together.
Brakes on all Suburbans work smoothly and progressively, providing stopping power without drama. Four-wheel discs with dual-piston calipers ensure good stopping performance. A Dynamic Rear Proportioning system continuously balances the front and rear brakes for maximum braking without activating the ABS. Once it does activate, the ABS allows the driver to maintain control of the steering in an emergency braking maneuver. Hydroboost braking uses power-steering fluid pressure instead of engine vacuum to reduce braking effort. That provides added safety, with more reserve power assist for braking under specific conditions. The system will continue to provide sufficient power assist to stop the vehicle even if the engine stalls or is turned off.
StabiliTrak ($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 the brakes to individual wheels to correct the Suburban's path. StabiliTrak is offered on all Suburban 1500 models, except for those equipped with the Z71 package. We highly recommend opting for StabiliTrak.
The Suburban 2500, often referred to as the 3/4-ton or heavy-duty model, is only needed for towing heavy trailers. The 2500 is rated to tow up to 12,000 pounds, which is one big, heavy trailer. The 2500 rides harsher than the 1500 because its rear suspension uses leaf springs instead of the 1500's coil springs. But the 2500 rides well, given its load range, and it makes for an outstanding tow vehicle, capable of comfortably crossing the U.S. with a big trailer with Gibraltar stability and plenty of power for those long grades through the Rockies. The current 2500 represents a big improvement over previous-generation (pre-2000) 2500s.
Quadrasteer electronic four-wheel steering ($1,995) is available for 2500 models, which dramatically increases maneuverability in tight spaces by turning the rear wheels in the opposite direction from the front wheels. The turning diameter of a With Quadrasteer, the turning radius is reduced from the standard 44.3 feet to 35.2 feet. In practical terms, a Suburban with Quadrasteer can negotiate a U-turn that otherwise calls for stopping and backing up. Quadrasteer makes it much easier to park in tight spaces, such as underground garages and crowded parking lots. But it really comes into its own when towing a trailer. Backing a trailer into a parking sp
Chevrolet Suburban is a great vehicle for moving cargo, towing trailers, or hauling people. It's at its best when employed for all three tasks at the same time. 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.
New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough is based in Los Angeles and has towed race cars all over the U.S. with Suburbans and slept in them on fly fishing trips.
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