Celebrating its 80th birthday, the 2015 Chevrolet Suburban has been around almost as long as suburbs themselves—at least in the modern sense.
That’s a bit of a stretch because the term has been used for about 700 years to describe towns and neighborhoods near big cities. But suburbs, as a widespread aspiration for American families, is a more recent phenomenon, and the big Chevy has been a longtime family retainer.
|STATS||Starting Retail Price||As Tested Price||HP / Lb-Ft|
|2015 Chevy Suburban LTZ||$65,695||$71,385||355 / 383|
|EPA MPG||As Tested MPG||Curb Weight LBS|
|15 / 22 / 18||N/A||5,896|
Though the Suburban name has been attached to other vehicles—De Soto and Plymouth from the 1940s forward—only Chevrolet has bragging rights. Its 80 years give it the distinction of being the longest continuous automotive model name in history.
The original, the 1935 Suburban Carryall, dropped a big station wagon body on a half-ton truck chassis. It had two doors, seated up to eight people, and was powered by an inline six-cylinder engine with a three-speed manual transmission.
The 2015 Chevy Suburban has four doors and enough space inside to nearly swallow its forbear. It is four inches shy of 19 feet long and has 218 cubic feet of interior space. Even with up to nine people on board, it still has 39 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third-row seat. You could call it an iron man minivan.
Instead of a chugging 1930s six-cylinder engine, the 2015 Chevy Suburban comes with a turbine-smooth 355-horsepower, 5.3-liter V8 with automatic cylinder deactivation that enables it to run on four cylinders for fuel economy, rated by the government at 15/22/18 mpg on its city/highway/combined cycles.
The Suburban is not alone. It has a smaller sibling, the Tahoe, that is nearly identical except it’s about 20 inches shorter with a smaller cargo space but can carry up to eight. There are fraternal twins over at the GMC division of General Motors—the Yukon XL (Suburban) and Yukon (Tahoe).
The only substantive differences between the twins is that they appeal to different customers. That has enabled General Motors to dominate the full-size SUV category with about 75% of the sales. In 2013, the company sold a total of 194,322 Tahoes, Suburbans, Yukons and Yukon XLs. Suburban accounted for 51,260 units.
Like the big pickup trucks on which they are based, the full-size SUVs are becoming increasingly luxurious—and expensive. Except for their daunting size—they overwhelm shopping center parking spaces—they have become increasingly pleasurable to drive.
To demonstrate that, the Chevrolet and GMC divisions showed off the top versions of all four vehicles at a press event that straddled the border between Nevada and California, on a variety of twisting mountain roads and interstate freeways.
The focus here is on the Chevrolet Suburban but impressions apply to the others as well. Three of the four SUVs use the 5.3-liter V8 engine. The Suburban’s twin, the Yukon XL, is distinguished by its 420-horsepower, 6.2-liter V8. Both engines are new.
Especially with the loaded upscale versions driven for this review, the shocker is the sticker price. Every one of the four had price tags that topped $70,000, hardly affordable territory for the many middle class families that might like to buy one. The Suburban featured here came in at $71,385.
Contributing to the price creep was the equipment, including such luxury car items as adaptive cruise control, rear seat entertainment (with separate screens for both the second and third row seats in the Suburban), navigation, four-wheel drive, power folding rear seats, motorized sunroof, and interior upholstery and trim that rival anything you’d find in almost any luxury car.
For example, the tested 2015 Chevy Suburban had a so-called “cloud print” interior ($295 extra) that featured cocoa/mahogany upholstery with contrasting stitching and faux wood grain accents.
On the road, the Suburban is a revelation. Who knew a big SUV like this could cruise as quietly and smoothly as any domestic, European or Asian luxury car? Or that, despite its size, it feels and handles like a smaller vehicle, validating the car biz axiom that small vehicles should drive big and big vehicles should drive small.
The six-speed automatic transmission shifts imperceptibly and the electric power steering obeys instantly, though it is short on road feel. Brakes stop the nearly three-ton vehicle with authority.
With the solidity and refinement built into this expensive modern conveyance, there’s little to criticize except for the price and fuel economy. And, of course, it’s just so doggone big.
Without skipping a week, Frank A. Aukofer has written a motor vehicle review column since 1975. It is distributed to newspapers and web sites around the country. He spent the bulk of his career as a mainstream newspaper reporter and Washington bureau chief for the Milwaukee Journal. The column started as a sideline at the Journal and over the years spread to other newspapers and web sites. He is a member of the judging panel for the North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year. Aukofer is the author of two books: “City with a Chance” (1968), a history of civil rights in Milwaukee, and “Never a Slow Day” (2009), an autobiography/memoir. With the late Vice Admiral William P. Lawrence, a decorated former Vietnam POW, Aukofer co-authored a Freedom Forum study of the military-media relationship called “America’s Team: the Odd Couple” (1995).