New & Used Chevrolet Suburban: In Depth
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The Chevrolet Suburban is a full-size truck-based SUV. In addition to being one of the largest SUVs on the market today, it’s also the oldest—the Suburban has been sold in one form or another since the 1930s. Today’s Suburban can seat an entire family, stow their gear, and still tow heavy loads with ease. The Suburban shares many of its components with other GM trucks and SUVs, including the GMC Yukon and Sierra, the Cadillac Escalade, and the Chevrolet Tahoe and Silverado.
For more information on the current models, see our full review of the 2015 Chevy Suburban. And check out The Car Connection's coverage of the 2014 Chevrolet Suburban for more on the previous-generation vehicle.
Chevy's suburban continues to be a true workhorse. It can handle up to nine passengers, lots of cargo, and heavy trailers, offering a choice of four-wheel-drive systems and V-8 engines. It competes most directly with the Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada, and Toyota Sequoia. As Chevy's largest vehicle, it also makes an acceptable surrogate for a full-size van. It even offers most of the creature comforts afforded by the pricier GMC Yukon XL and Cadillac Escalade.
The Suburban is an American icon, and a bit of automotive legend. Beginning in 1933, with only a few years skipped during World War II, the Chevy Suburban has been in production longer than any SUV on the market. It hasn't always been offered with four-wheel drive, but it's always married a wagon body with a truck chassis to meet the needs of big families and small businesses alike. Other car companies, like Chrysler, used to sell vehicles dubbed "Suburban," all with the same theme in mind; GM even sold the Suburban under its GMC and Holden brands over time, before consolidating the name under Chevrolet in the current generation. Only Chevrolet's version has endured.
The first Chevy Suburbans featured wood-paneled bodies, with full metal shells coming on line for 1935. The look of these early models was used as inspiration for the compact Chevy HHR, which was introduced for the 2006 model year. The Suburban took a hiatus from 1943 to 1945 while GM concentrated its manufacturing abilities on the war effort. Beginning in 1948, the Suburban offered seating for eight in a package that's similar to today's, with V-6 and V-8 engines available. Four-wheel drive became an option for 1957, with a split happening in the '60s that differentiated rear-drive "C" models from four-wheel-drive "K" models. Chevrolet built windowless, commercial-focused Suburbans through the early '70s.
The 1973-1999 Chevrolet Suburban was one of the longest-lived models in all of automotive history. During that era, Chevy won the right to trademark the Suburban name (in 1988) and continued to update the SUV gradually until a new version was ready. All were four-door wagons, though GM did add a heavy-duty version during this time. Diesel engines, four-wheel drive with automatic locking hubs, anti-lock brakes, fuel injection, and a nine-passenger version were the major milestones of this long era, with a newly styled version marking the modern era for the Suburban in 1994.
The Suburban hit its stride in the 2000-2006 model years, as Americans turned to big SUVs in the era of cheap gasoline. With a choice of V-8 engines, an automatic transmission, a more rigid body and more safety equipment, the Suburban spanned a wide spectrum of duties and owners. Sales boomed; light-duty versions were loaded with rear-seat entertainment and climate-control systems and leather interiors. Heavy-duty versions counted fewer seats but gained impressive towing capacity. GM moved forward a revamped Suburban after the 2006 model year, banking on a big hit--but it arrived just as sales of all big trucks began to plummet.
Few changes were made to the last generation of Suburbans, sold from 2007 to 2014. The model had updated styling, as well as some nifty tech updates for towing that you couldn't: Trailer Sway Control, new for 2012, and Powertrain Grade Braking, added for 2013, both do a lot to keep a trailer-towing vehicle safely under control.
Today's Chevrolet Suburban may be selling more slowly than at its peak, as fuel economy becomes a concern of more shoppers. But the newest Chevy full-size SUV is still appealing, even in its competitive set. With running gear shared by the GMC Yukon XL (formerly, the GMC Suburban), the Suburban is about 20 inches longer than the smaller Chevrolet Tahoe. It's priced north of $47,000, but that sticker includes a new direct-injected, 355-horsepower V-8 with a six-speed automatic transmission, anti-lock brakes and stability control, and eight-passenger seating. Among the full-size SUVs including the Ford Expedition EL, the GMC Yukon XL, the Nissan Armada and the Toyota Sequoia, it's right there with the most highly rated SUVs at TheCarConnection--as it is in most crash tests from the government and the insurance industry.
Like previous Suburbans, the latest model is spun off the architecture that made its debut in the 2014 Chevy Silverado and 2014 GMC Sierra, GM's new full-size pickups. Those trucks brought with them benefits that also find their way into the Suburban, including better gas mileage, quieter and more highly styled interiors, and new infotainment and connectivity features such as Bluetooth with audio streaming.