The Chevy Suburban is a classic. It has been around since 1935 and in some ways pioneered the way to the SUV’s we know today. Granted, back then there wasn’t much “sport” but there was lots of “utility”. Today, the name Suburban resonates with the large vehicle that it is. It’s often the preference of families who are disgusted by the idea of hauling around in a minivan and have the money to afford buying in.
I’ve always loved the idea of having a Suburban, but until recently, I didn’t have the family to put into it (and still don’t have the budget). Now, as a family of four putzing around town, we fit pretty well into our mid-size SUV and with a box on the roof, travel is tight but not uncomfortable. The chance to try out the 2017 Suburban on our last trip was luxurious. We were also hauling the new Airstream Basecamp trailer as we toured up and down the Southern California coast. Since the Airstream doesn’t really have much in the way of closet space to organize clothing, the spaciousness of the Suburban served very well at holding our luggage and we just needed to take a few items into the Airstream for overnight each time we stopped to camp.
For our 16-day trip we flew from Denver to Los Angeles and picked up the 2017 Suburban 4WD 1/2 Ton LT with the Luxury Package and Midnight Edition colorway which priced out at $66,020. We covered around 1,000 miles heading up to San Luis Obispo to camp on the beach and down to San Diego to visit family. All this driving added up to 41 hours in the vehicle with a 3 year old and a 4 month old—#familytravel.
This is a large vehicle—80 inches (6’ 8”) wide and 224 inches (18’ 8”) long. And it feels that way when you first get in and start driving it. You’re high off of the ground, the hood stretches out before you, and the spaciousness on the interior keeps reminding you how big the Suburban really is. But it is smooth. The electronic power steering glides along and the standard leaf-spring suspension holds the vehicle well, even while supporting the 400-pound tongue weight of the Airstream Basecamp. Chevy offers their Magnetic Ride Control suspension in the Premium model which probably takes smooth to a new level. On the freeway and on winding highways all of this came together to make for an incredibly comfortable ride. Once on the open road, it’s easy to forget about the size of the Suburban as you tick off the miles. In town, it’s much more difficult to forget about the size, but the power steering makes it easy to get around the sharp corners and to maneuver into parking spots.
Seeing out of a vehicle this size is always a challenge and it does take some time to develop your spacial awareness. There’s pretty good vision to see out of the windows all around the vehicle but like many modern vehicles these days, the Suburban is equipped with a host of proximity sensors. These do a great job with audible prompts, visual cues on the 8” video display and the buzzing of the driver’s seat to indicate when you’re getting some corner or side of the vehicle really close to an external obstacle. I opted to turn off the buzzing drivers seat and turned down the audible alarms and mostly just used the visual indicator showing on the screen for any tight maneuvers we encountered.
Unfortunately, we never really put the 4WD option to use. We did have a short stint on a dirt road to visit Lions, Tigers & Bears—a big cat and exotic animal rescue center in Alpine, just east of San Diego. That road never even presented a challenge to the moderate 8 inches of ground clearance. But having it available probably does make it possible to take on some pretty gnarly roads for getting way out into the middle of nowhere.
The Suburban is no slouch in the hauling department. It took on our little Airstream Basecamp (base weight: 2,580 pounds; max 3,500 pounds) without a problem—hardly noticeable (except in the mileage). The 4WD version we were driving is rated to tow up to 8,000 pounds with the 5.3L EcoTec3 V8 engine producing 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. That meant with our little home in tow, we still had lots of pickup and good acceleration for getting onto the freeway or even to power up to pass others going as fast as 50 miles per hour on the two lane highways we traveled.
Internal hauling was also impressive. In full human mode (with all the seats available) ours hauled eight adults in three comfortable rows of seating. In our case, we had two car seats in the second row with plenty of room for a third person to share the bench. At one point while visiting some friends, we were able to all fit in to go out to dinner in LA (without the Basecamp). This is important because it was hard enough to find one parking spot where we went. Without that extra row of seats, we would have needed to take two cars.
Even with all the seats up, there’s 39.3 square feet of cargo space behind the third row—that’s bigger than a laid out 5×7 tarp. Fold the third row down for 76.7 sq. ft. And for just hauling two people in the front and collapsing all of the rear rows the cargo space jumps to 121.7 square feet (bigger than a 10×12 foot tarp). We never needed all the cargo space—just having the third row folded down made it so we didn’t have to stack any luggage and we could fit our Joovy Caboose sit-n-stand double stroller (which was particularly helpful in getting around both airports). The model we had also included roof racks for additional storage.
Here’s where your perception of the Suburban may change. Back in 2000, the Suburban 1500 4WD 5.3 L, 8 cyl, Automatic 4-spd averaged only 13 mpg. Totally intolerable by today’s standards (and gas prices). That has improved over the years to the point where the listed combined EPA gas mileage of the 4WD Suburban we were driving is 18 mpg (15 city/22 hwy). That’s the same as my 2000 4Runner (and Toyota hasn’t improved on that for the 2018 model). So, considering that, for hauling a much larger vehicle around, that’s pretty efficient. Sure, you can get better mileage with smaller SUV’s like the new Jeep Compass (which we reviewed earlier this year), but you won’t have nearly the cargo space. Granted, once you start adding a bunch of cargo and weight and/or hitch up a trailer of some sort that mileage is going to sink some—we averaged 13 mpg hauling the Basecamp. But at least you have the option of doing those things. Also, its 31 gallon tank puts the driving range well past 500 miles when not hauling a trailer. Yes, it’s going to sting a bit at the pump when buying a full tank, but ideally the fill-ups are a little less frequent.
Considering we had the luxury package included on this model, there were a bunch of goodies built in. Things like the heated second row was a bit lost on us what with traveling coastal California and the kids were in their car seats. One of the standard features available in all three trim options is the 4G LTE WiFi Hotspot (true for many of the new Chevys). This was something I was a little skeptical about because I’m able to tether my phone to my laptop if I need a hotspot. But it was just a little more convenient to set it up once and just be able to open my laptop and start working once it automatically connected. And, considering these sorts of trips are actually work trips for my wife and me, it wasn’t uncommon for whoever wasn’t driving to be working (if we weren’t trying to keep the kids entertained). Along with that is the 110 volt plug to keep laptops or whatever juiced while on the go. I just wish there was a way (and maybe there is) to run the WiFi without running the engine.
We made full use of the XM Radio service available and it’s always a nice piece of mind to have the OnStar assistance available at the touch of a button. The other feature we really liked (though, again, being in California didn’t make it as big of a deal as it does in Colorado) is the remote start via the app. We also used the in-dash navigation system which could be programmed via the app instead of trying to navigate through it all via the touch screen.
With all the room available to us and the great seats, the trip was extremely comfortable. The premium ride suspension was smooth, the soundproofing kept all the road noise at bay while traveling busy interstate roads and through noisy cities, and the zone climate control and the Bose Premium Audio system made our time on the road simply luxurious.
The Chevy Suburban is the ultimate family vehicle. For small families, with one or two kids, it may feel overly spacious when toodling around town, but it’s perfect for when your kids start to bring friends along (yes, to soccer practice or to get ice cream) and they can all pile in. For larger families, it’s pretty self explanatory. Also, for families with up to even five or six kids, if traveling is part of the family agenda, the Suburban will have no problem taking everybody and all kinds of gear. For hours on end on the road, there is an entertainment package option. Being on the tall side it’s not great for smaller kids to be able to get in on their own as they would be able to in a low riding mini-van. But then, it’s not a mini-van.