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2011 Chevy Suburban: 75 Years Of Suburbans

Posted in Project Vehicles on January 1, 2011 Comment (0)
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It's called Suburban for a good reason. Those of you living in rural areas would probably rather buy pickups for hauling bigger, dirtier loads. People in urban areas will probably rather have a small crossover SUV for better maneuverability. But this rig is built (and named) for everyone else in between. It's the everyman's do-it-all and has been for 75 years. Although the Suburban is a bit too large (and expensive) for crawling tight off-road trails, it does excel at hauling people and gear, while also towing your 4x4, to the trailhead.

If you are in the market for a new Suburban, you basically have two choices to make: Go for the decent mileage and economy of the 1/2-ton (with up to 8,100 pounds of towing capacity), or go for the heavy-duty hauling and towing capabilities of the 3/4-ton (with up to 9,600 pounds of towing capacity). The 1/2-ton comes with the 5.3L Vortec V-8 with Active Fuel Management (cylinder deactivation) and Flex-Fuel capability (can use E-85 Ethanol) putting out 320 hp and 335 lb-ft of torque along with a six-speed automatic transmission. The 3/4-ton gets you the standard 6.0L Vortec V-8 with variable valve timing rated at 352 hp and 383 lb-ft of twist, also with a heavy-duty six-speed tranny. Both rigs can be outfitted with seating for up to nine people or over 137 cubic feet of cargo space.

Our test vehicle was the 1/2-ton model with the high-end LTZ trim package (LS and LT are also available), which includes seating for seven (the second-row seats become buckets with this trim), a Bose 10-speaker surround-sound system, leather upholstery, a power liftgate, 20-inch aluminum wheels, tri-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth wireless, touch-screen navigation, a USB port, OnStar, Autoride suspension (active), an automatic locking rear differential, and a rearview camera, among many other modern amenities. Unfortunately our tester was only equipped with the single-speed Autotrac transfer case, although a two-speed case is available as an option ($100). Surprisingly our test truck's only option other than the LTZ trim level was the Black Granite Metallic paint at $195, giving it that "CIA operative" look. So the grand total for all of this came to $56,770 after the $950 destination charge.

Now you'd think for that much coinage you'd get a sunroof or rear-seat video screen, but those items must be ordered as options. Other options are mainly confined to different wheel designs (22-inch, anyone?), a trailer brake controller ($200), a heavy-duty trailering package ($230), and chrome recovery hooks ($154). If you want the Z71 off-road suspension package (with skidplates!) you'll need to drop down to the LT trim level.

Enough of the damages. How does it drive? The Suburban is all about loading up your family and friends (and all their luggage and what-the-heck-is-that?) and hitting the road for a long American-style tour/trip. You'll be amazed at the amount of junk that can be swallowed up by the Sub. Even with all this size and room, the 1/2-ton can still get up to 21 mpg with its high-tech fuel management and 3.08:1 axle gearing, but there is a point of diminishing returns: If you load too much and maybe hook up a trailer, the normally excellent 5.3L screams for mercy and you start using every one of those six gears in the transmission ... a lot! You can't check an option box for lower gears in the 1/2-ton; only the 3/4-ton model will get you more torque and lower gears (3.73:1). So if you travel often with large or heavy loads, get the 3/4-ton and bite the gasoline bullet.

With either the 1/2- or the 3/4-ton though, you'll be driving one of the most handsome SUVs on the planet, but the good looks aren't just skin deep. The interior of the Suburban is also attractive and supremely comfortable for long trips. Our LTZ had front 12-way power seats with both heat and cooling, but even the second-row buckets were also heated and all three rows had climate controls. All sorts of electronic paraphernalia abounded, such as Bluetooth, USB ports, auxiliary audio jacks, and navigation. Even so, the kids in the second-row complained that our test truck didn't have a DVD screen/player. Man, kids are spoiled, video junkies these days!

We were generally impressed with the Suburban's interior, but one minor gripe was that the steering wheel wrap seemed too slippery. Maybe a little more texturing or some perforations would help with the grip. And please add a few more cubby holes to hold road trip trinkets.

Still, you and all your passengers will ride in luxury-even in the third row seat. The LTZ's second-row bucket seats make it super-easy for people to get to that third row. The Suburban may also be the only SUV with third-row seating that can still take a full load of passengers and fit all their luggage without having to fold or remove the third-row seat.

Off-road the large Sub may be better at delivering people and gear to a ski lift over an icy road or getting to the family cabin over a muddy route than traversing twisty trails (especially with a single-speed transfer case like our tester). The Sub's body hangs a bit low and doesn't have a great deal of ground clearance or approach and departure angles, but even with these limitations it performs better off-road than many new, large SUVs due to its solid rear axle (getting rare these days) and locking rear differential. The rear locker works well, but you must first spin the tires up to an uncomfortable speed before it engages. You'll cringe, but it does eventually lock with a bang and move the truck forward.

To help with sticky situations the Sub's outside power mirrors can be angled down to help the driver see what the rear tires are doing, or folded in to clear trail obstacles. With the good mileage and large fuel tank of the 1/2-ton you'll be amazed at the range these trucks offer. Even at the low end of the mileage rating (15 mpg) a tank of gasoline can carry you over 400 miles.

All in all, the Suburban is as fantastic at 75 as it has ever been (no Betty White jokes; besides, she's 88!). Great looks, a super-comfortable cabin, and cargo-hauling capabilities beyond any other SUV make this one desirable American icon. Choose carefully between the high-mileage cruiser or the heavy-towing model, add a trim level and options to taste, then take the whole family on an American adventure. And whatever it is you think you'll need, throw it in. You'll surely have the room.

TECH SPECS
2010 CHEVROLET SUBURBAN
MODEL 1/2-TON 3/4-TON
Engine 5.3L V-8 6.0L V-8
Horsepower 320 @ 5,400 352 @ 5,400
Torque (lb-ft) 335 @ 4,000 382 @ 4,200
Transmission 6-spd auto 6-spd auto
Transfer Case 1-spd 2-spd
Axle Gearing 3.08:1 3.73:1
Fuel Capacity (gal) 31 39
Mileage (mpg) 15/21 N/A
Range (miles) 465/651 N/A
Length (in) 222.4 same
Width (in) 79.1 same
Height (in) 76.8 same
Wheelbase (in) 130.0 same
Weight (lb) 5,952 (LTZ) 6,412 (LT)
Cargo (cu-ft) 137.4 same
Towing Capacity (lb) 8,100 9,600

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