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The 2000 Chevrolet Suburban: reigning champion and a top big-SUV seller.
Now, the ones more likely to be striking it rich are automakers selling the world's two largest SUVs: the 2000 Ford Excursion and the new 2000 Chevrolet Suburban. The Suburban is a 65-year-old fixture in the world of American sport-utes, while the Excursion is a newcomer and represents the first time the Suburban has had a serious competitor.
So, when General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet division decided to introduce the new Suburban here, it seemed the perfect place to take a new Excursion for a back-to-back test.
The 2000 Ford Excursion: large and in charge of the super-SUV segment.
The Excursion we tried was a four-wheel-drive XLT, which comes standard with the 6.8-liter V-10 engine. It had a base price of $37,785, including destination and delivery. A slightly more luxurious model, the four-wheel-drive Limited, has a base price of $40,880 (all prices include destination and delivery).
The 2000 Suburban we tried was a 1500 LT model with the 5.3-liter V-8 and four-wheel drive. Other than looks, it is identical to the GMC Yukon XL. Our Suburban, with the highest trim level, had a base price of $40,721 and a trailering package ($285), which brought the total to $41,006. A slightly less luxurious four-wheel-drive model, the LS, has a base price of $36,760.
2000 Ford Excursion
In overall length, the new Suburban is virtually the same size as the model it replaces. That means the 226.7-inch long Excursion is 7.4 inches longer than the new Suburban, taking over the dubious title of "world's largest sport-utility vehicle." But GM engineers refuse to concede any kind of dimensional victory to Ford, insisting that Suburban customers told them they liked the size of the old Suburban and did not want it changed.
The new Suburban looks big — except when parked next to the towering Excursion. Not only is the Excursion longer, but the four-wheel-drive version we drove (with a standard roof rack) is 7.2 inches taller. It is also 1.2 inches wider.
2000 Suburban interior
The Suburban has a smaller interior package than Excursion, but can still haul 8800 lb.
The Excursion is also far heavier. The manufacturer's specifications show that the Excursion's 7190-lb curb weight is slightly more than 2000 pounds heftier than the Suburban.
One might guess that means the Excursion is stronger and can carry more, but that is not what the automaker's specifications show. Those specifications, prepared to auto industry standards, show that the Suburban 1500 with four-wheel drive can carry a maximum of 2077 lb in people and cargo, while the Excursion XLT can carry 1710 lb.
The Excursion wins the girth wars, but its twisty frame and huge thirst make it a mixed bag for soccer moms.
In towing, the Excursion wins one and loses one. The maximum towing capability of a four-wheel-drive Excursion with either the V-10 or 7.3-liter diesel is 10,000 lb. The maximum towing capacity of the Suburban 1500 with the 5.3-liter V-8 we tested was 8800 lb. But if you match up the ultimate Excursion against the ultimate Suburban, the picture changes. The maximum towing capacity of the four-wheel-drive Excursion is still 10,000 lb, while the heavier-duty Suburban 2500 with the 6.0-liter V-8 is rated for 10,500 lb.
2000 Ford Excursion
Room for 7 (or 8)
Both vehicles have three rows of seats. Chevrolet has increased second-row legroom on the new Suburban by 2.7 inches, but third-row passengers pay with 1.1 inches less. The Excursion's extra 7 inches means significantly more legroom in both the second and third rows for the Excursion's occupants. Access to the third row is easier in the Excursion, because the door is about 3 inches wider than on the Suburban.
The Excursion owner will also be able to carry more luggage. The Excursion is rated at 48 cubic feet of space behind the third row compared to 45.7 cubic feet in the Suburban.
However, the Excursion owner will probably become more physically fit because cargo must be lifted higher to load it than on the Suburban.
For more serious cargo duties, the third seats on each can be removed or simply folded forward.
The Last Dollar Road
Just before Sawpit, Colorado, we turn off Highway 145 onto Last Dollar Road, which was started as an early supply route to Telluride. At the first hairpin turn, we can tell a big difference between the Suburban and the Excursion. The Excursion's nose swings wide and almost touches the red-rock mountainside. The Suburban negotiates the turn more easily, which will give it an advantage in mall parking-lot maneuvers.
The automaker's specifications confirm our observation. The four-wheel-drive Excursion requires 50.4 feet to make a curb-to-curb U-turn, while the four-wheel-drive 1500 takes 8 feet less, a huge difference.
Climbing higher, we pass an abandoned mine. As the road becomes a mosaic of rocks imbedded in dirt, it quickly becomes clear which vehicle has the more rigid body. The Excursion's body quakes and wavers; the Suburban moves through calmly and solidly, providing credibility to GM's claim that it has made significant improvements in the strength of the body and frame.
Finally, we stop climbing as we reach the Hastings Mesa. The trail is smoother, but there are plenty of potholes to dodge. The steering on the Suburban is sharper and faster with more feeling, allowing the Suburban to be placed easily and confidently. The Excursion's steering has a vagueness that keeps it from being as easy and reassuring to drive.
By truck standards, the ride comfort is good on each vehicle, but the Suburban has an advantage due to its new "Autoride" feature, which is standard on some models and optional on others. It