It’s not what you think. At first glance, you might assume Chevrolet’s Suburban is a go-anywhere off-roader. In fact, the long wheelbase and standard RWD mean it’s pretty much restricted to the tarmac. The AWD-only Z71 model should be able to get you across a lumpy field at least, courtesy of grippy tires, a transfer case, and a limited-slip rear diff. AWD is available on other models but as a cost option.

The Suburban might resemble a minivan rival since some configurations offer seating for nine. However, it costs over $20,000 more than dedicated vans like Kia’s Carnival, which also has far superior access to its third row of seats. Nor is the Suburban an optimized load-lugger – there’s a cavernous 145 cubic feet of space once all the seats are dropped, but a high floor makes loading heavier items tricky.

Plenty of power. If you can overlook the Suburban’s intimidating proportions, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how it moves. The base engine produces 355 hp while a three-liter turbodiesel spins up 460 lb-ft of torque. A 6.2-liter V8 engine matches that torque figure while offering superior performance, and the ten-speed automatic transmission is as smooth as the Suburban’s ride – especially when specified with available adaptive suspension. Handling is unremarkable, though the car seems to shrink the faster you go.

The downside to decent performance in a very large SUV is a prodigious thirst. The bigger V8 returns 16 mpg combined, and even the smaller 5.3-liter unit can only match this in AWD guise. The turbodiesel can manage the upper twenties on the highway, making it the engine of choice for regular long-distance commutes.

A pleasant place to sit. The Suburban’s cabin is huge, with the gap between its front bucket seats a case in point. There are 42 inches of legroom for second-row passengers and almost 37 inches even in the back, once you’ve squeezed past the rather unyielding middle bench. Drop the third-row seats and you have around 94 cubic feet of cargo space. Keep them up, and you can shuttle as many as eight passengers around, though most Suburbans are sold in a seven-seat configuration.

We’d bypass the base model and move up to the trims which offer a 10.2-inch touchscreen plus a digital instrumentation display and Google-powered navigation. Every model has plenty of USB charging ports, wireless smartphone mirroring, and power-adjustable front seats. LT is our pick of the range, offering heated leather seats, a power tailgate, and a Bose audio system. We certainly wouldn’t splash out over $80,000 on a flagship High Country model, especially when features like adaptive cruise and a power sunroof remain cost options.

2023 Chevrolet Suburban Interior

Safe as houses? A historic argument for buying a bigger vehicle than anyone else was that in a crash, they were bound to be worse off than you. However, that ignores the top-heavy nature of SUVs like the Suburban. Indeed, its low rollover rating from the NHTSA is a particular concern. We’d also suggest a surround-view camera system is an essential option, as it’s hard to judge the extremities of the vehicle from the driver’s seat. Otherwise, visibility is good.

Standard safety is also underwhelming, with adaptive cruise control optional across the range when it should be standard. At least you get automatic braking with pedestrian detection, active lane control, automatic lights, and high beams.

Final thoughts. In truth, it’s hard to think of a question to which the best answer is ‘buy a Suburban’. Minivans transport large numbers of passengers more effectively, smaller SUVs are much more fuel efficient, dedicated off-roaders would run rings around the big Chevy on rough terrain, and a sedan is far easier to drive and park. Nor does the argument about being a paragon of safety stand up to scrutiny – a four-star NHTSA rating is underwhelming, and key safety equipment is optional on every model.

Upsides? The cabin is spacious and fairly well-assembled, with excellent passenger visibility and masses of legroom. There’s lusty power from the available engines, and this is a brilliant vehicle for towing. The Suburban’s sheer bulk ensures a comfortable ride while the transmission is equally smooth, and Chevy has done their best to soften that slabby exterior with attractive detailing and some seriously grammable wheels.

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