I've reviewed the Chevrolet Suburban several times since it received its last makeover for the 2007 model year. I recently had a chance to spend a week with a 2011 Chevrolet Suburban 4WD 1/2 Ton LTZ, and guess what? It hasn't changed at all. With a base price of $56,580 ($60,595 as tested), the 2011 Suburban carries a 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, a 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and EPA fuel economy estimates of 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway. Let's drive.
First Glance: Houses In Motion
Suburban has been around a long time, having celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2010. I can't think of another vehicle with that kind of lineage and history. Though Suburban has experienced ups and downs in popularity, it has always been a three-row people mover at heart.
The 2011 Suburban is still attractive, though its design emphasizes its mass. In an age when compact is all the rage, the full-size Suburban stands out from the crowd. My LTZ rode on standard 20" polished aluminum wheels, which look just right in the big wheel wells. LS and LT models come with 17" hoops, and the Z71 package includes 18" wheels.
In the Driver's Seat: This Must Be the Place
In the years since Suburban's dash was designed, we've grown a little more sophisticated about nav screen placement. Suburban's screen is too low in the center stack, forcing the driver's eyes off of the road for too long. That said, the operation of the system is straightforward and intuitive, with redundant controls on the steering wheel keeping the driver's hands in the right place. Acres of fake wood adorn the dash, along with at least four different finishes of plastic.
Seating is roomy and comfortable, though not terribly supportive. A massive center console storage space has a big, wide cover that doubles as a center armrest for both driver and front seat passenger. Keeping the gear selector on the steering column frees up plenty of cup holder and storage space in the center console.
The second row shares the first's roominess and comfort, but the third row is a perch for kids only. There's just not enough legroom, and adults wind up with their knees touching their chests.
On the Road: Take Me to the River
Suburban can be ordered up with a 5.3-liter V8 (320 hp/335 lb-ft of torque) or a 6.0-liter V8 (352 hp/382 lb-ft of torque), each of which can run on regular unleaded or E85 gasoline. My test vehicle got the 5.3-liter engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. I'm always a fan of more power, but the 5.3 is perfectly sufficient for the half-ton Suburban. If you're going to be hauling and towing, you might want to step up to the three-quarter-ton Suburban 4WD, which can carry up to 2,153 lbs and tow up to 9,400. That's a lot of towing and hauling.
My favorite aspect of the GMT900 platform that underlies Suburban is the suspension and steering package, which results in very nimble handling for a big SUV. There's very little body roll, and you can hustle Suburban through its paces with confidence. Parking lots are another matter. With its 130" wheelbase, 79.1" width and 222.4" total length, Suburban makes for a tough squeeze in most parking garages. I positively hate parking this vehicle, even with a rear view camera and rear parking sensor.
Journey's End: Road to Nowhere
The age of the full-size body-on-frame SUV is rapidly drawing to a close. It's very unlikely that we'll see the next generation of Suburban anytime soon, so it's likely that we'll be revisiting this one again in the future. I don't expect any of its flaws to be addressed, though I do expect powertrain updates that attempt to introduce more fuel efficiency to the package. For now, if you need a full-size body-on-frame SUV, Suburban is one of the few, and one of the best, choices on the market.
If you don't need all of the capacity Suburban brings to the table, you might consider the Chevrolet Tahoe, which can be ordered with a hybrid powertrain for greater fuel efficiency. You might also want to look at the Chevy Traverse, which has surprising interior space and even greater fuel efficiency due to a lighter unibody construction. Toyota's Sequoia, Nissan's Armada and Ford's Expedition are other big body-on-frame SUVs with three rows of passenger seating.
There's a reason why Suburban is still in production after 76 years and generations of incremental change: Because sometimes only a big SUV will do.