2015 Chevrolet Suburban

17 Mar

Still the Boss Hauler.

When you run your mental list of American automotive icons, does it include this big boy? If it doesn’t, I score it as incomplete.

Sure, a Suburban doesn’t pack the kind of cachet that goes with, say, a Boss 302 Mustang, or a split window Corvette, or a ’57 Cadillac Seville Eldorado. But it predates all those post-War II glamour rides, and it’s been America’s pre-eminent pack mule for a long time.

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The saga began with the Suburban Carryall, in 1935. And this is chapter 12, in a continuing story that adds to the Suburban’s status as the oldest continuously sustained nameplate in the industry.

So just how new is the new Suburban? Let’s say selectively new. As with Chevy’s full-size Silverado pickup, the foundation is an updated version of the GM 900 chassis, a big wagon body on a truck-style sturdy ladder frame. It was solid goods going in, and didn’t need a major makeover, just some judicious stiffening.

Thus the chassis and body dimensions are unchanged from the 11th generation Suburban. But there is much that is new—skin, interior, and motivation, plus a small reduction in mass, about 100 pounds, depending on equipment.

Let’s start under the hood. Propulsion is supplied by a 5.3-liter V8, sending thrust to the rear wheels (or, optionally, all four) via a six-speed automatic transmission. At a glance, this engine looks very much like the previous 5.3-liter eight—same displacement, same bore centers (mandated as engineering gospel at GM ever since the small block Chevy V8 of 1955). But almost everything else—oil pan, cylinder block, crankshaft, pistons, rods, intake, exhaust—is new.

Including direct fuel injection. All that, and increased compression, add up to increased output—355 horsepower versus 320. Even better, improved engine efficiency plus a function that automatically shuts off half the cylinders at steady cruising speeds—adds up to improved EPA fuel economy ratings: 15 mpg city, 22 highway with 4-wheel drive. Towing capability: 8000 pounds

Muscle is always a plus in an 8-passenger family hauler, but so is refinement, and the latest Suburban raises the ante in this respect. Improved materials, sexier instrumentation, more sound insulation and of course the all-important connectivity, with a platoon of USB ports and the optional Chevy MyLink system. From a more practical point of view, the second- and third-row seatbacks fold flat for swallowing cargo (just over 121 cubic feet at max)—in previous Suburbans, you had to remove the rearmost seat. The seatbacks have an optional power folding feature. And there’s a power rear liftgate option. All very handy.

And safety features, as you’d expect, are contemporary and comprehensive, although Chevy would get higher marks in this scoring category if more of these features were standard—the blind spot, lane departure, and rear cross traffic warnings, for example.

Maneuverable Mass

Nimble is a word that’s never popped into my mind in connection with any Suburban, an experience log that dates to generation eight. But for a vehicle in this size/mass category, the latest Suburban comports itself with surprising agility. It’s not like anyone’s going to put this big hauler through its paces on a twisty back road or at an autocross, but what you want from any vehicle, especially one that’s likely to be packing a load of kids, is prompt and predictable responses in emergency maneuvers.

Within the constraints of its size, the latest Suburban delivers on that score. Body roll is minimal, and transient responses—the quick directional changes you’d make avoiding a hazardous situation—are brisk. Rapid maneuvers could be a bit more precise if the new electric power steering provided a little more tactile information, but that’s a trait an owner learns to live with.

Power will likely score as more than satisfactory for most, and the operation of the cylinder deactivation features is absolutely seamless. The only clue that it’s working is a little indicator light at the bottom of the instrument binnacle.

The Suburban’s comfort quotient measures up well with its enhanced dynamics. Ride quality is excellent—smooth without being squishy—and the investment GM made in controlling NVH (noise vibration harshness) pays dividends in terms of quiet operation. Chevy says “whisper quiet,” which may be overstating the case. But I can attest to a conversation in living room voice levels at a steady 75 mph. Which should be quiet enough for just about anyone.

Demerits? A few. In an era of 8-, 9-, and even 10-speed transmissions, GM’s 6-speed, though smooth, seems a little behind the times. One of the newer units would probably contribute to fuel efficiency.

And while the 5.3-liter V8 does a good job, GM has an equally new (and considerably more potent) 6.2-liter V8 in its inventory that’s not available to Suburban buyers. If you want that one, you have to shops at a GMC store, where it’s available in the more expensive Yukon XL Denali. GM doesn’t impose this distinction on its full-size pickup trucks, Silverado and GMC Sierra. Similarly, the fancy High Country trim package newly available in the Silverado doesn’t extend to the Suburban. You can get leather and other goodies, but if you want the really posh interior GM wants you to sign up for a Yukon Denali.

As you’d expect, the Denali treatment is expensive, but the Suburban is far from inexpensive, and not the sort of purchase that falls into impulse buy territory. The base price for my 4-wheel drive test truck was $65,695, including the $995 destination/delivery charge. There were also $6190 in options, including a $3305 package with sunroof, navigation, and Chevy MyLink and $1695 for adaptive cruise control.

Cruise controls from some carmakers now include a defeat feature for the adaptive element, which makes them infinitely more desirable in my view. This one, however, does not, and I’d stick with the basic cruise control, which is standard equipment.In any case, $71,385 is a sobering sum. Nevertheless, if the desire is ownership of a refined 9-passenger family wagon capable of pretty heavy duty towing, the new Suburban is better than ever—and still the gold standard in this class.

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