Believe it or not, but Chevrolet’s Suburban turns 80 next year, and to celebrate—and because the outgoing model is getting old—the bow-tie brand is marching out the twelfth generation of the breed for 2015. The Suburban started out way back in 1935 as a sort of bare-bones pickup truck/station-wagon hybrid, but effectively laid down the formula for what we today consider an SUV. Per the original Suburban’s blueprint, the new one rides on essentially the same platform as GM’s full-size trucks, the Silverado and Sierra. It likewise inherits a lot of the same improvements that hit those pickups when they were redesigned last year, including an all-new small-block V-8 engine, a stiffer ladder frame chassis, and a bunch of carlike safety and convenience technologies.
Hey There, Bright Unique Eyes
Sitting on top of a stiffened, fully boxed ladder chassis, the 2015 Suburban’s body generally looks the same as before, with the exception of the front end. The truck’s face is smoother and more modern-looking than today’s Suburban. The headlights are new, and feature prong-like extensions that wrap around into the fenders, as well as projector-beam main lighting elements. Combined with the horizontally split grille, the 2015 Suburban clearly is a Chevy, but consider the jury out on the unique headlight shape. An argument could be made for the tabs harking back to the split headlight design utilized by the Suburban—and every other full-size GM truck and SUV—from the 1980s to the early 2000s, but it’s worth noting that no other Chevrolet product wears a similar treatment.
Moving past the front end look, we do dig the neatly tailored creases that break up the Suburban’s vast expanses of relatively flat body panels. Part of that smoothness can be attributed to the SUV’s doors, which now are inset into the body, resulting in better door sealing (the doors no longer wrap all the way to the roof rail, and their bottom edges also no longer do double duty as the bottom edge of the body sheetmetal) and reduced noise. This same door design was first deployed on GM’s full-size trucks with the latest Silverado and GMC Sierra, and both those rigs are quieter than before. Chevy also attempted to reduce the Suburban’s mass, even going so far as to utilize aluminum for the hood and liftgate, but according to the automaker’s scales, it still weighs between 5500 and 5800 pounds.
|2014 Chevrolet Suburban LTZ|
Small Block V-8, Big Horsepower
The Suburban debuts with the same 5.3-liter, small-block V-8 engine offered as the mid-level powerplant for the 2014 Silverado. It’s part of the same EcoTec 3 engine family based on the fifth-generation GM small-block engine, and gets the same variable valve timing, direct injection, and Active Fuel Management cylinder-deactivation feature as the Silverado’s mill. Output stands at a prodigious 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque—increases of 35 horsepower and 57 lb-ft over the outgoing Suburban’s 5.3-liter V-8. Power is again routed to either the rear wheels or all four through a six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel-economy figures for the latest Suburban aren’t yet available, but don’t be surprised if the new truck improves on the old one’s 15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway EPA ratings.
The steering is now electrically assisted, and top-spec LTZ models now offer GM’s Magnetic Ride Control adaptive dampers. Chevy also widened the rear track, tweaked the brake feel for more feedback, and upped the standard wheel size to 18-inchers. This results in a claimed improvement in handling and braking; if the chassis setup is at all similar to that of the sweet-driving Silverado, the 2015 Suburban’s close sibling, we’d be hard-pressed to disagree with Chevy’s hyperbole.
As for the Suburban’s other capabilities, namely hauling people, cargo, and trailers, well, Chevy improved its chops in those areas, too. Two-wheel-drive Suburbans can lug 200 more pounds of trailer than last year, for a total of 8300 pounds; four-wheel-drive models maintain their still-strong 8000-pound pulling ability. The rear seats offer two more inches of legroom, and the second and third-row seats fold flat to open up a palatial 121.1 cubic feet of cargo space. For hauling occupants in style, the interior is vastly improved over the old Suburban’s rather plain cabin trappings. A new, carlike dashboard can be had covered in stitched vinyl, wood, and metallic accents, and houses an eight-inch touch screen running Chevy’s latest MyLink infotainment system. Buyers can spec a cornucopia of connectivity-friendly conduits, including up to six USB ports, six power outlets (including a household 110-volt outlet), as well as a rear-seat DVD entertainment system capable of playing Blue-ray movies.
|2013 Chevrolet Suburban LTZ|
A gaggle of new safety technologies hit the Suburban for the first time, while a few others carry over, to keep occupants safe while they’re plugging things into outlets and watching movies. The list includes forward collision alert, lane-departure warning, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, a front-seat center airbag, and Chevy’s vibrating driver’s seat that alerts pilots to dangers picked up by several of the aforementioned safety nets.
The market for gigantic, non-luxury, V-8–powered, body-on-frame three-row SUVs might be dwindling, but the fact that Chevy’s still in the game shows there’s money to be made. Like its full-size pickups, GM’s full-size people-movers—this Suburban, the smaller Tahoe, and both rigs’ GMC and Cadillac equivalents—mint a nice profit. Competitors for the Suburban are few and far between, and the list is much the same as it is for the smaller Tahoe: Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia, and the Nissan Armada. Should some competitors decide to drop out of the segment, the Suburban might just be in for another 80 years of workhorsing.