Chevrolet Suburban History
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As one of the biggest true SUVs available in the U.S., the Chevrolet Suburban packs a plus-size cabin over workhorse truck-based underpinnings. The Suburban is one of only a few large SUVs remaining that are built on a full frame; in this case, it's the one that underpins the range of GM full-size trucks and SUVs, everything from the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra (the 2013 models, at least) to the Yukon and Escalade.
The Suburban can seat up to nine passengers, has impressive towing capacity, and offers buyers a choice of four-wheel-drive systems and powertrains. The Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia, and Nissan Armada are all competitors to the Suburban, and as Chevy's biggest vehicle, it's a suitable substitute for the full-size van and a towing vehicle supreme--even if it's not the first vehicle the planet-friendly crowd thinks of when it shops for a new vehicle.
For more information on the current models, see our full review of the 2013 Chevy Suburban.
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.
Early Chevy Suburbans were framed in wood; from 1935, the bodies were made of metal. It's this generation of Suburban that indirectly inspired the look of the Chevrolet HHR compact wagon, introduced in 2006. No Suburbans were built in the 1943-1945 model years as GM turned its plants over to the war effort. From the 1948 edition through the 1970s, the Suburban maintained its utility with seating for up to eight passengers. Its V-8 engines were supplemented by V-6 engines; four-wheel drive arrived in 1957. In the 1960s the Suburban split into "C" rear-drive versions and "K" four-wheel-drive models. Panel-sided Suburbans, used as commercial vehicles, were built until the end of this long series of Suburbans.
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.
Over the past several model years GM has made very minor changes to its full-size SUVs. A few of them have been quite useful for those who tow; Trailer Sway Control, introduced for 2012, and Powertrain Grade Braking, new for 2013, both add security to the towing experience.
Today's Chevrolet Suburban may be selling more slowly, 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) and the Cadillac Escalade ESV, the Suburban is 20 inches longer than the smaller Chevrolet Tahoe. It's priced north of $40,000, but that sticker includes a 320-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.
A new Suburban arrives later this year as a 2014 model. It will be spun off the architecture making its debut in the 2014 Chevy Silverado and 2014 GMC Sierra, GM's new full-size pickups. Those trucks are introducing better gas mileage, quieter and more highly styled interiors, and new infotainment and connectivity features such as Bluetooth with audio streaming; we expect some of the same improvements for the Suburban.