Chevrolet Suburban…in the city

The Chevrolet Suburban is a car that I have been in love with for a seriously long time. It’s the car which seems to appear in most Hollywood blockbusters as some sort of chase scene, or as part of a convoy — usually  black with tinted windows, they definitely have attitude.

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As a young boy who loved 4x4s, this beast proved to be pretty exotic for me as it has never officially been on sale in the UK. I have admittedly seen some American imports, and a few Cadillac Escalades (which are based on a similar platform), but the big Chevy has always been a bit of a rare creature for me.

On my recent trip to New York, I found that besides the archetypal yellow cabs, the most common type of vehicle was indeed the Suburban, and of course its many variants. I was lucky enough to take one from the hotel to the airport on our return, so here are my first impressions…

Exterior

If there’s one thing that has attracted me to the Suburban over the past two decades, it’s the thing’s looks. OK so maybe the traditional 2-box design isn’t especially sophisticated, but they have a raw appeal that’s been lost on many other modern SUVs.

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We saw plenty of the current generation Suburbans/Tahoes/Yukons/Escalades on our visit, but even these more modern variants seem to have become a little too polished at the edges, or at least have fussy detailing around the lights and grilles.

I personally prefer the looks of the previous (2007-2013) generation, as these had a much more squared off look, that still managed to look contemporary and upscale. Of course the blacked out windows and black paint helped, but I felt like a bit of a celebrity once we were in on our way to JFK.

Interior

Most UK journalists don’t seem to have a problem with the exterior of the Suburban (just its 5m+ size), but interior quality of American vehicles has always taken a serious beating. The current generation of cars has apparently improved tenfold, but I can’t really pass judgement seeing as though I was only able to peer through windows of parked cars.

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The previous generation Suburban though, was something of a stepping stone for General Motors. This was still a $50,000+ vehicle, but based on the platform (and interior) of a $20,000 pick-up — admittedly the Cadillac and GMC versions had a spruced up version, but the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban still made do with cheaper plastics and switchgear.

Obviously the interior wasn’t up to the standards of European competitors, but to be honest it wasn’t all that bad, and I sat in the front too. I didn’t see any evidence of broken trim on this example, which was obviously used a lot and only by a taxi firm. A central screen would have been nice (and climate control), but this was likely a base version…I could have lived with the plastics and design, and that’s me coming from a BMW.

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Given exterior dimensions, interior space was also huge. Plenty of room in the front 2 rows, the 3rd was also fine (despite seats being mounted close to the floor), and luggage space behind them was more than in my X5. This is a massive car, and it’s hard to imagine anyone who regularly carries 7 plus luggage being able to manage with anything else this side of a van.

Driving

Of course I only rode shotgun in the Suburban, but I got a semi-decent feel for how it drove…at least better than me simply reading reviews! Although it was obviously massive, the driver was able to wind it in and out of dense New York traffic with relative easy. Visibility was surprisingly good, and on the whole handling seemed OK for a car that is never going to go down windy back roads.

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The Chevrolet’s ride was very comfortable, despite the potholed streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn highways. However, there did seem to be a worrying noise every time we went over a harsh bump — I expect that to be down to this particular example rather than the car in general.

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Performance was a bit of a mixed bag, and given the rush hour traffic it’s not like the driver could really stretch the ‘burban’s legs that much. The 6.2-litre V8 petrol engine seemed to cope well enough, but neither did it exactly surprise me with pace. It really felt like a diesel, with a good amount of low-down torque and reasonable turn of pace, just much quieter…almost eerily so. It’d be interesting to see how a 3.0-litre diesel would cope with the bulk here.

Costs

The only cost I was able to get a grip on was the $72 fee to the airport…$20  more than a standard yellow cab, but a bargain for me personally considering it fulfilled a bit of a childhood dream. I do suspect though, that the 6.2-lite V8, heavy weight and rubbish traffic would have meant fuel consumption was closer to 10mpg than 20mpg! As I said, would be interesting to see how a diesel copes.

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The Suburban isn’t a cheap car, and new they start at around $50,000. In the UK they are so rare that they hold their value reasonably well, but in the US I suspect that an example like ours would have been worth around $20,000 max. That’s a pretty reasonable sum, and I’d be very tempted if I ever lived in the USA.

Verdict

The common judgement of many British journalists is that cars like the Chevrolet Suburban are just too big for UK roads and guzzle too much petrol to make any sort of economical sense. However cars such as the current Range Rover and Mercedes GLS are at least as big as the Suburban’s (slightly) smaller relatives, and it wouldn’t stretch the imagination too much for something the size of the Chevy to be sold over here.

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That said there are plenty of other obstacles, such as the fact that Chevrolet no longer sells cars in the UK, and the lack of a viable diesel option. I think the Suburban is best left as a holiday romance for the moment, but one I’d not hesitate in picking up again next time I’m Stateside.

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