Walkaround and Interior

By March 28, 2011

Walkaround

Suburban's profile is elegant in its simplicity, no lines drawing the eye up or down, just a smooth clean surface from one end to the other like an aircraft. Big boxes are best carried in big boxes, not sloping hatchbacks.

The Suburban has a square-jawed face that's smooth and rugged at the same time, a twin to the shorter Tahoe. The mesh grille is split by a gold Chevy bowtie, and the daytime running lights use separate lamps and can be switched off for after-dark campground arrivals. The bumper fascia reveals a low license-plate holder sandwiched by openings for tow hooks, with small round fog lamps at the corners like single teardrops falling from the headlamp eyes. The seam between the fascia and fenders is very tight, and a good indication of GM's solid body quality on the current generation of trucks.

The hood has two long bulges at its sides, reaching almost from windshield to grille; Chevy calls these twin bulges the power dome; we call them a good way to keep such a large expanse of otherwise-flat steel from fluttering, just as long-cab pickups have grooves on the roof. For aesthetics we would prefer if the roof-mounted antenna were centered but long, flat cargo on the roof might present a problem.

The rear liftgate is vertical, and the rear window opens independently, with both the manual and power liftgate, which is aluminum, reducing the weight and thus the effort to raise and lower it. Rear wiper coverage is average at best. The barn-door side-swinging rear doors of the predecessor model are no longer offered.

Although the lines remain the same, the Suburban's ultimate appeal depends on which trim level and wheel style and size you choose. Some are nearly void of chrome while the Z71 adds machismo with sizable fender flares and side steps so short drivers can get in and tall ones can mess up their pant legs.

The standard wheels are five-spoke, 17-inch aluminum. Polished wheels are available. Also available are 20-inch wheels that look good, but we think they are too big for grown-ups. Taller tire sidewalls yield a better ride and in most consumer-magazine testing those large-diameter wheels don't go, stop or handle any better, they just ride harder so we prefer the 17-inch wheels. The Z71 package comes with 18-inch wheels.

Interior Features

The Chevy Suburban can seat six to nine passengers, and even with all seats filled still has more than 40 cubic feet of cargo area.

Cargo space is plentiful, with 137.4 cubic feet of storage behind the front seats (second row folded, third row removed); if you aren't interested in cargo space you don't need a Suburban. With all the seats in place and set for passengers, 45.8 cubic feet of cargo space is available, with 90 behind the second row with the third row removed. You'll need to lift stuff about two-and-a-half feet off the ground to load the cargo area, and rear side doors without wheel cutouts make entry and loading much easier.

Given the lift-over height at the rear bumper, it's not easy to climb up in through the back to reach things, especially since there are no grab handles; nor are there standard hooks or nets in the back. But there is a nice compartment over the left wheel well, for tools, flashlights, snow chains or the like.

Smart storage space abounds. The huge console has deep storage and a tray on top. There are two cup holders in a removable tray forward of the console, and one in each wide door pocket. There's a slot in the dash just to the left of the turn signal, perfect for coins or tickets.

The driver's seat offers a good view over the low dash, perhaps the best visibility in truck-dom. The seats are designed for American comfort rather than European firmness, and can be ordered with heat and cooling. The front seats are bucket seats on most models, but a bench seat can be specified to allow three passengers in the front.

The second row can be outfitted with a bench seat or a pair of buckets. The bench seat is split, so the right third of the seat folds independently of the left to allow curb-side entry to the third row; it also allows skis or boards on the right with two passengers on the left. With bucket seats in the second row, you can climb into the third row from either side; the second-row buckets can be released at the touch of a button, and are heated if you option right. Only full-size utilities and crossovers, minivans, and Ford's Flex offer the kind of room you find in the first two rows of the Suburban.

The third row seat has three belts but just two headrests, and it splits 50/50 right down the middle where a center passenger would go. It's really only good for two people. The third-row seats do not fold flat with the floor, so if you want a long flat load deck to camp, carry building materials or dog boxes, you have to unbolt the third-row seats and leave them at home (our recommendation if you don't need them).

Third-seat room is good compared to most three-row SUV and crossover vehicles which aren't as long, as wide or both.

Cabin materials and style show a pleasant feel and appearance more car-like than utility appliance; with woodgrain trim, and leather in the upper models, the only reason to upgrade to an Escalade ESV would be more power, but you'd lose 4WD trail ability in the process.

Analog instruments are more responsive than in any other (non-GM) big SUV, clearly labeled and nicely lit, as easily read at night as in daylight; gauges include a voltmeter, oil pressure and transmission fluid temperature. Steering wheel buttons handle audio and cruise chores, plus the message display panel on most models and the interface is fairly intuitive. Upper trims have adjustable pedals and the steering wheel tilts but it is offset and angled slightly to the right of the driver seat centerline.

The navigation and audio system is easy to operate. It includes a touch-screen monitor. We set the programs we liked, and could switch from an XM to AM to FM to digital file with one finger push. OnStar has been further refined, XM real-time traffic data is available.

With the navigation system, the rearview camera displays a large image of what's behind you onto the display screen whenever you shift into reverse. It can help you spot a child or shopper when backing up. It also makes parallel parking quicker and easier, and it makes hooking up a trailer much easier. Without navigation, the image is displayed one the rearview mirror, which is small and hard to see.