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Last year, as gas topped $3 a gallon and more people expressed more concern over global climate change, Chevy introduced a thoroughly redesigned but unrepentantly monster-sized 2007 Suburban. The Suburban was demonized by SUV haters. The result: In the first quarter of 2007, Suburban sales surged 10 percent over the same period in 2006. Suburban sales may decline as it becomes a costly alternative to a car, but what was once true, remains true:
The Chevy Suburban excels at towing heavy trailers, hauling loads of people and gear, and enduring hard use and rugged terrain. Observers who judge them negatively don't always understand the abuse these vehicles are called upon to withstand. A lightweight, fuel-efficient car designed to look like an SUV simply won't cut it when it's time to tow a heavy trailer or bounce over boulders along a river bank on a regular basis.
For an icon approaching its 75th birthday, the Suburban has never looked better.
The Suburban was completely redesigned for 2007, and there are no significant changes for 2008. This latest-generation Suburban represents a major improvement over pre-2007 models. The windshield of this latest generation is raked for better aerodynamics, and the chrome has been swept off the side. Inside, the dashboard has been lowered and instrument panel finally made tidy. The seats have been raised, giving a commanding view of the road with that lowered dashboard. With optional adjustable pedals, a driver of any size can achieve a comfortable and confident driving position. The frame is strong, stiff and fully boxed, the suspension is thoroughly modern, and steering is via rack-and-pinion. The front track was widened by three inches, and the rear by one inch. This Suburban rides and handles much sweeter than any before it, with less undulation and more precision.
The Suburban can seat from six to nine passengers, depending on the seating configuration ordered. There is 137.4 cubic feet of storage space behind the front seats, with the second row folded and third row removed. Behind the raised third row there are still 45.8 cubic feet. The seats don't fold flat into the floor, but the Suburban will accept a lot of cargo including very long items.
Suburban comes in three trim levels, with two- or four-wheel drive. It's available with a light-duty 1500 or heavy-duty 2500 chassis. The latest generation of its 5.3-liter Vortec engine makes 320 horsepower and 340 pound-feet of torque in 2WD models, and 310 horsepower and 335 pound-feet with 4WD. A new 6.0-liter V8 is optional, with an aluminum block and heads and variable valve timing, making 366 horsepower and 380 pound-feet.
The 2500 models come with a different 6.0-liter engine, with an iron block. The 2500 uses Hydroboost brakes, a stiffer suspension with leaf springs in the rear, and 16-inch truck tires. It is a serious tow vehicle with an enclosed passenger/cargo compartment.
The base-level 5.3-liter (1500 2WD) is EPA-rated at 14 City and 20 Highway miles per gallon on regular unleaded. The same truck with the optional 6.0-liter engine is rated at 12/17 mpg. Both engines feature what GM calls Active Fuel Management, meaning they can shut down up to four cylinders to save gas. But your actual mileage will vary, and will probably be less.
Acceleration is strong, considering the Suburban weighs three tons (5,613-6,328 pounds). And the powerful sound of the engine under full throttle is satisfying, if expensive. The 1500 comes with a smooth four-speed automatic transmission.
For 2008, the 2500 has a six-speed automatic for better performance and efficiency.
The 2500 2WD is rated to tow 9700 pounds, while the 1500 can tow 8100.
The 6.0-liter engine ($1,095) is all-aluminum and features variable valve timing, making 366 horsepower and 380 pound-feet. Another 6.0-liter engine, this one with an iron block, comes with the 2500 models. The 2500 also has Hydroboost brakes, a heavier suspension with leaf springs, and 16-inch truck tires on eight-lug aluminum wheels. Newly available for the 2500 in 2008 are 17-inch aluminum wheels.
There are three transmissions, all of them automatics, but with two different numbers of gears and three levels of beefiness. The 5.3-liter and aluminum 6.0-liter engines come with four-speeds: the 4L60 and 4L70, respectively. The iron-block 6.0-liter in the 2500 is now matched with the new 6L90 six-speed automatic. They all have a Tow/Haul mode, which reduces shifting and makes the shifts quicker, so the transmission doesn't work so hard when pulling a big load. Transmission oil temperature is part of the instrumentation, along with a tire pressure monitor.
Standard equipment on the 1500 LS 2WD ($38,085) and 1500 LS 4WD ($40,930) includes cloth interior, power locks and windows, power steering, air conditioning, tinted windows behind the B pillar; roof rails (crossbars are $90 extra), folding heated mirrors, recovery hooks, a seven-wire trailer harness, 17-inch aluminum wheels, three power outlets, AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound system with eight speakers, XM Satellite Radio, center fold-down armrest with storage, overhead console, cruise control, 40/20/40 split front bench seat with six-way power adjustment for the driver, 60/40 second-row seat, and third row split bench seat. Also standard is basic OnStar with one-year Safe & Sound service plan.
The LT 2WD ($39,025) and 4WD ($41,870) come with front bucket seats and a floor console between them, rear audio controls, six-disc CD changer, and a cargo shade. OnStar is upgraded with Directions & Connections service, which includes Turn-by-Turn Navigation. Additionally, the already-long list of options available on the LS expands at the LT level to include the 6.0-liter engine; 20-inch wheels; and leather interior, this last as part of the comprehensive LT2 and LT3 equipment packages.
The LTZ 2WD ($47,560) and 4WD ($50,405) come standard with leather interior, a 10-way power memory driver's seat, 20-inch wheels, locking rear differential, power adjustable pedals, power liftgate, and the Autoride semi-active electronic suspension, which uses body and wheel motion sensors to adjust damping rates to road and driving conditions.
The heavy-duty Suburban 2500 comes in LS 2WD ($39,495) and 4WD ($42,335), and LT 2WD ($40,415) and 4WD ($43,260) trim only; there is no LTZ version.
The Z71 Off-road Appearance Package ($1830) is offered with 2WD or 4WD, but only on 1500's with LT trim. It includes a different grille and fascia, rectangular rather than round fog lamps, body-colored wheel flares, satin chrome mirrors and door handles, tubular assist steps, 18-inch wheels with on/off road tires, off-road suspension package, automatic locking differential, skid plate, higher-capacity air cleaner. and unique exterior badging. Inside are leather bucket seats in Ebony or a choice of two-tones, while brushed-metal-look trim replaces woodgrain
Options include a navigation system ($2250), rear-seat entertainment system ($1295), power retractable running boards ($1095), power sunroof ($995), second-row bucket seats ($590), heated second-row seats ($200), power release for those seats ($
Chevy Suburban was totally restyled for 2007, and is unchanged in appearance for 2008.
This latest 'Burb has a square-jawed face that's smooth and rugged at the same time. It's a twin to the shorter Tahoe. The mesh grille is split by a gold Chevy bowtie, and the headlights are all business, nothing fancy, just good-looking function: big near-rectangles at the corners. They're halogen and do an excellent job of lighting up the road. The bumper fascia reveals a low license-plate holder sandwiched by openings for tow hooks, with small round fog lamps at the corners like single teardrops falling from the headlamp eyes. The seam between the fascia and fenders is very tight, and an indication that GM is improving its build quality.
Rake was added to the windshield for 2007, improving aerodynamics and looks. The hood has two long bulges at its sides, extending from almost the windshield to almost the grille; Chevy calls these twin bulges the power dome.
The rear liftgate is still vertical, and the rear window opens independently, with both the manual and power liftgate, which is aluminum, reducing the weight and thus the effort to raise and lower it. Split doors are not available.
The Suburban LT looks clean and stylish from the side, without chrome trim.
The standard wheels are five-spoke, 17-inch aluminum. Polished wheels are available. Also available are 20-inch steamrollers, but we think they are too big for grown-ups and degrade the ride. Taller sidewalls yield a better ride, and we prefer the 17-inch wheels. The Z71 package comes with 18-inch wheels.
The Chevy Suburban can seat six to nine passengers.
Our test model with the LT3 equipment group was equipped to carry seven, with a 60/40 second-row seat for three, and a two-passenger third-row seat. Many other SUVs can carry seven passengers without taking up so much space on the road, but the passengers are cramped (and these SUVs can't ever carry nine). Our second row had the fold-and-tumble system with optional power (one button on the dash, another on the C pillar to be used by the third-row passengers upon entering, or for grabbing cargo through the rear doors), an option that saves a struggle. A motor drives the seatbacks down against the seats, and together they flip up against the back of the front seats.
Cargo space is plentiful, with 137.4 cubic feet of storage behind the front seats (with the second row folded and third row removed). With all the seats in place, set up for passengers, 45.8 cubic feet of cargo space is available.
The seats don't fold flat into the floor, however. This just does not seem right to us. GM says its customers don't care enough to justify the expense. We care, and would much prefer the seats fold perfectly flat; it's a feature we loved on older Suburbans. Outdoorsmen like to sleep back there, either when camping or when pulling over to nap on a long drive home after a long day in the field. Another benefit of a flat floor is when hauling dogs around.
There's good legroom in the second row, a slight increase over pre-2007 models to 39.5 inches, nearly as much as in the front. The seatbacks recline a bit more than before. In the base LS with the front bench seat, there's a fold-down armrest with cup holders; our LT was equipped with front bucket seats and a fixed, huge console having audio controls at the back for the second-row passengers. Wireless headphones go with the optional entertainment system with a DVD screen that drops down from the headliner.
There's good head room and relatively decent leg room (34.9 inches) in the third row, and a great view through the wraparound tinted glass. The third-row passengers have their own climate control vents, as do the second-row passengers. The HVAC system was also upgraded in the 2007 redesign.
Given the lift-over height at the rear bumper, it's not easy to climb up in through the back to reach things, especially since there are no grab handles; nor are there standard hooks or nets in the back. But there is a nice compartment over the left wheel well, for tools, flashlights, maps or the like.
Smart storage space abounds. The huge console has deep storage box and a tray on top. The glovebox is 25 percent larger than on pre-2007 models. There are two cup holders in a removable tray forward of the console, and one in each wide door pocket. There's a slot in the dash just left of the turn signal, perfect for coins or tickets.
The dashboard has been lowered by six inches, and the seats redesigned and raised, with a more secure seatbelt mounting on the B pillar. They are very comfortable, especially in leather, with firmer foam, more bolstering and less lumbar. The seats are still plenty soft, not nearly so firm as a Mercedes SUV or Range Rover. The driver sits way up high, which may appeal to shorter people, and the optional adjustable pedals work for either long or short legs.
Interior trim is softer and less glossy than before.
For 2008, Chevrolet has added woodgrain trim to the forward section of the console. The instruments and gauges are finally clean and stylish, with even brighter pointers for 2008, and the switchgear is simple.
The navigation system and audio system is easy to operate. It includes a touch-screen monitor. We set the programs we liked, and could switch from an XM to AM to FM with one finger push.
The rearview camera and monitor is an excellent unit, because the focus is good and the backup lights are bright. These cameras make turning around in tight area
This latest chassis is stronger, stiffer and fully boxed; many good things flow from there. If the last Suburban you drove (or owned, or still own) felt hinged in the middle and rode hummocks like a porpoise, the new and improved version will dazzle you. The ride is steady and comfortable, and the handling is tighter and more precise. We drove our Suburban hard, from New York City north on the rough I-95 to Providence and then back down over some twisty thruways that only a sports car, coupe or sedan could love, onto the tortuous Henry Hudson Parkway and finally into the depths of the potholes of the Big Apple. The Suburban was a dream.
Until it was time to park it. Then, in the city, it was simply a matter of finding an outside lot that could take all of its 18.5 feet. You can pretty much forget about parallel parking unless you find two spaces, even with the rearview monitor and backup beeper. On the other hand, New York is bad for parking anything bigger than a Smart car. Parallel parking in other areas is greatly aided by the rearview monitor and audible park-assist features. They make parking this truck easier, safer, and quicker, all of which make life better.
The new-for-2007 boxed frame is 49 percent stiffer and 35 percent more resistant to twisting. At the same time the front track was widened by three inches, and the rear by one inch. The suspension was been totally redesigned, using coil-over-shock absorbers in front and a beefed-up five-link rear suspension around a solid rear axle (better for towing) in the rear. A power rack-and-pinion steering system is used, for the first time. The upgraded suspension and steering have moved the Suburban into new territory: quality ride and handling. This results in safety through accident avoidance. The new frame also increases structural safety, as the forward section with hydroformed rails improves crushability.
Autoride is an optional suspension that electronically adjusts to the road, as read by sensors. It reduces body lean in corners and nose dive under hard braking. If you drive your Suburban harder than we drove ours, or if you tow a lot, Autoride might be considered.
The all-aluminum 5.3-liter Vortec V8 for 4WD models makes 310 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. The 2WD 5.3-liter, with an iron block and aluminum heads, makes 320 hp and 340 lb-ft. The 310-hp engine can run on regular unleaded fuel or cleaner-burning E85 (85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline); as can the 320-horse unit in some states.
If you need more power for towing, which is where the Suburban excels, you can get the all-aluminum 6.0-liter engine, making 360 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque; or for even more guts choose the 2500 (three-quarter ton) chassis with its standard iron-block 6.0-liter rated 352 horsepower and 383 pound-feet. With 4WD, the 2500 is rated to tow 9400 pounds, compared to the 1500's 8000 pounds. All run happily on unleaded regular, although GM doesn't even publish consumption estimates for the heavy-duty model.
For most towing needs, the standard 'Burb is plenty.
Our test vehicle had the 310-horsepower engine and four-wheel drive, EPA rated at 14 city and 19 highway miles per gallon. We averaged just over 15 miles per gallon on our lead-footed four-hour run on winding and rolling thruways.
We were pleased with the acceleration performance, especially considering our test vehicle weighed nearly three tons (5745 pounds); and we were happy with the powerful sound of the engine under full throttle. This is a V8 Chevy, after all. The four-speed automatic transmission is smooth, but we wonder how much fuel mileage might improve if there were a fifth gear that could be taller. Fourth gear is a fairly tall overdrive with a ratio of 0.70:1, but the final drive ratio is 3.73:1 (and 4.10:1 is optional with the 5.3, standard with the 6.0, for better acceleration and towing).
For 2008, however, the 2500 models get a six-speed automati
Chevy Suburban remains the benchmark for full-size SUVs that can haul people and gear and tow heavy trailers. Built on a modern, stiff chassis, the Suburban rides smoothly and quietly. It's stable when towing and the engines are powerful and efficient. It looks sleek and aerodynamic by Suburban standards. The cabin is comfortable, convenient and roomy, with a clean design.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses contributed to this report from the Columbia River Valley, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.