I knew we needed something not just a little bit bigger than my wife’s beloved 2012 BMW X5 35d with the special order only three row seating, but rather a lot bigger, but what? Every man is allowed to own a big truck at least once in his life, and you don’t need permission by mere virtue of the fact that you’re a member of the male species. I’ve always wanted a truck, preferably something American, and preferably with a V8 before they go extinct, so here’s my new 2018 Chevy Suburban Premier 4x4!
This is a pretty far departure from my previous 2011 BMW 335i convertible, which we still own and my wife drives now, but we’re no longer the family of four that we once were. Now we’re a family of four, plus my wife’s adult brother who is disabled that we care for. That necessitated a bigger house that I commonly need to haul things for, and then came the dog, and my folks aren’t getting any younger and really need to be driven around when we go places together, rather than taking two cars and trying to follow. We’re always going somewhere and doing something and travel a lot, and we’re always piling into the airport at least a a few times a year also, possibly with an “extra”, so I think you get the idea…
Life has taught us to expect the unexpected and to be prepared for almost anything, and I don’t think there’s a more appropriate vehicle for that than a Chevy Suburban.
How Does It Drive?
Well, the Suburban doesn’t drive like my classic E9x BMW 335i, or even our traded E70 BMW X5, but damn if it isn’t too far from the latter. You don’t have to make excuses for this thing - it doesn’t just drive well “for such a large vehicle”, it drives well period, handles well, turns well, and is pretty quiet and has a comfortable ride despite the 22-inch “dubs”. Many of the reviews you’ll read about these GM behemoths (Yukon XL and Escalade ESV also) will commonly mention that they feel much smaller to drive than they really are. It’s true, and a lot of different things go into that.
The steering is just about perfect. It’s very accurate, there’s no slop or on center dead spot, and the variable weighting is on point. It’s easy to turn in parking lots, and stiffens up nicely when you’re taking turns at speed, all of which allows you to pilot this 6000lb hunk of steel down the road with confidence while keeping it pointed and tracking exactly where you want it to. If only the electric power steering in modern BMWs were this good, none of the BMW fanboys would have been complaining, myself included.
The Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension in the LTZ/Premier trim keeps body roll to an absolute minimum, automatically softens on rough roads and stiffens in corners, and overall really transforms the truck. This is the same suspension system used in the Corvette and a number of Ferrari’s and other high-end vehicles, and I can see why - it’s amazing and works extremely well! I have numerous family members that are prone to motion sickness which can be from body motion among other things, and there have been no issues even with the 22” wheels. Although the ride is a bit on the stiff side, we’re quite used to it coming from taut but compliant European suspensions. A test drive of a few rental Suburbans with the standard “Premium Ride” passive suspension was a no-go, however. They were much too floaty and had insufficient damping, and even I got a bit motion sick in them. The Magnetic Ride suspension comes as standard on the LTZ/Premier trim trucks, and unfortunately isn’t an option on any of the lower trims.
The Suburban is no screamer performance wise, but 0-60 mph in around 7.2s and a 15.5s quarter mile time with the optional 3.42 gears is no slouch and more than adequate, which was all I was looking for. I don’t need a three-ton SUV to be as fast as my 335i. Its overall powertrain calibration is clearly geared more towards comfort and smoothness which is fine, and the 6L80E 6-speed automatic transmission “granny shifts and doesn’t double-clutch like it should”, especially on 2-3 upshifts, but don’t let that fool you. The 355hp 5.3L V8 roars to life when you put your foot down, and this “Trump truck” will haul ass and move with authority when you need it to. When you need to stop, the brakes definitely aren’t as good as the effortless autobahn grade brakes on our Bimmers, but overall braking performance and feel all seem just fine to me, even if instrumented tests have shown braking distances to be a bit long.
Numerous reviews have really knocked the GM Hydramatic 6L80E transmission. I agree that it’s nothing special these days, but a 6-speed automatic is hardly “antiquated”. The laws of diminishing returns start to kick in once you get past 6 forward gears, so are they suddenly outdated just because there are other transmissions out there with more forward gears? Both of our Bimmers have had German ZF 6-speed automatics, which work brilliantly. I’ve sampled the gold standard ZF8HP 8-speed successor many times in BMW loaner vehicles, and for the most part it just seems like they have a bunch of unnecessarily extra overdrive gears. An extra gear or two might be helpful if you’re routinely towing or hauling heavy loads, but otherwise the 6-speed is fine, especially when paired with an engine with a very broad powerband. Be careful what you wish for, however. There have been widespread issues with lots of these 8-10 speed “super” transmissions as far as erratic shift mapping, “excessive shifting”, and rough shift quality or feel. The more complicated something becomes, the more difficult it is to make it work well. The 6L80E is probably about as close as you can get these days to a simple, drama free, and bulletproof transmission, which I think is a good and often overlooked “feature” to have.
Truth be told, most engines have more than enough power these days, and it ends up being the transmissions and their gearing that really make or break the driving experience. Auto manufacturers have pretty much tapped out horsepower marketing, so now they’re using number of gears in their transmissions as the next best marketing tools. An extra cog or two might feel a bit more luxurious to drive, but considering the issues GM has had with their half-baked clunking and jarring 8-speed automatic (and their new GM/Ford 10-speed hasn’t been problem free either), I’m more than happy with the lowly 6L80E and don’t feel like it detracts from the driving experience. Remember that it was 6-speed automatic transmissions that arguably finally leveled the playing field in terms of performance and efficiency versus manual transmission equipped vehicles. There’s nothing wrong with a 6-speed automatic, and sometimes less is more.
On the topic of transmissions and gearing, one thing you really need to get especially if you’re a former ‘ahole’ BMW driver with expectations like myself is the aforementioned optional 3.42 final drive ratio, which can be had in the Max Trailering Package for $500. The 3.08 gearing is fine in a thousand pound lighter Silverado pickup that isn’t going to do much towing or in a RWD Tahoe, but are just too long when it comes to the Suburban. I mean, 2nd gear will wind all the way out to nearly 80 mph with the 3.08 gearing, which is ridiculous. Low speed corner exit performance is also unacceptable with the 3.08 gears, leading to a lot of awkward 3-2 and totally annoying 2-1 kickdowns. What the hell? GM should have just made the 3.42 gearing standard, but I guess then they wouldn’t have been able to up-charge you for them. There’s no reason to not get the 3.42 gears and there’s not even a fuel economy penalty either. The 3.42 gears still only have the engine at 1800 rpm at a 75 mph cruise, so this is still pretty long gearing which is also right on the bottom edge of the engine’s torque band. The 3.08 gears are even longer and have the engine revving even slower on the highway, and there just isn’t enough rock bottom end torque to pull these way long gears well in such a beast. It leads to a lot more downshifts while going up highway grades and less cylinder cutoff V-4 operation as well. The 3.08 axle ratio just isn’t a good match for the 6000lb Burb, so unless you absolutely don’t care or live out in the plain states where there’s no hills to contend with, be sure to get one with the 3.42 gears.
Suburbans (and Tahoes and Yukon/XL’s) with the Max Trailering Package and the 3.42 gears are easy to identify, because they’ll have extra dash-mounted controls to the left of the steering wheel for the trailer brake controller, and will have both 4HI and 4LO options on the transfer case control since you get a 2-speed transfer case as part of the deal also. 6.2L V8 equipped trucks all have a 3.23 axle ratio, and enough extra oomph that you won’t care.
What’s It Like Inside?
It’s more like an apartment than a car. The amount of space inside is incredible of course, which is why you buy a Suburban. Some casual car shoppers seem to think that the Suburban actually has the same cramped 3rd row seats as the shorter wheelbase Tahoe and just more cargo space, but that’s not true at all. The Tahoe is on a 116” wheelbase and is 204” long overall, vs. the Suburban on a 130” wheelbase and being 224” long. That’s a lot of extra floorplan in the Suburban. First and second row legroom is identical between the two, but the Suburban has 34.5” of third row legroom vs 24.8” in the Tahoe, and 39.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row of the Suburban vs. 15.3 cubic feet in the Tahoe, both of which are huge differences if you’re routinely using three rows of passengers.
There’s tons of space up front obviously, and it’s plenty comfortable for long drives. The 2nd row captain’s chairs don’t adjust other than the pitch of the seatback, but there’s plenty of space and legroom there as well, and more than enough room for me to sit behind myself at 6’3” tall. You can also get a 2nd row bench seat if you want which gains you an extra seat, but this tends to make the cabin feel a bit claustrophobic for that many passengers. The 3rd row seats three full-sized adults, and while the outboard seats won’t be the first choice for super tall people, you can definitely fit three 6-foot tall adults back there, with unlimited legroom for the center-rear seat passenger with the space opened up from the 2nd row captain’s chairs. If you have a dog, the space opened up from the 2nd row captain’s chairs are the ideal place for them to hang out while on the road.
The seats are supportive and comfortable, and the interior materials are decent enough, but they’re not going to compare to the luxury brand SUV’s also in this price range. You’re paying for more metal and a much larger vehicle with your money, not for top-notch materials quality. And it’s a Chevy. That said, there’s nothing that I find offensive. There’s no options for 37-way adjustable massaging seats, although you do get heated and cooled seats. There’s also no option for fancy exotic leather that’s straight off a coddled European calf fed all organic meals. You have to step up to the Cadillac Escalade for that, but we’ve all been on hours long road trips in our “Canyonero” and nobody has had any complaints.
Driving position and overall visibility are also pretty darned good, and there’s just not a sense that you’re sitting up high or are in some massive vehicle. On some vehicles you can get completely lost in the hood lines, or lack of lines, and have no idea where you even are on the road. That isn’t the case with the Suburban, and it’s easy to keep visually aligned, including while parking. The side view mirrors seem a bit small, unbelievably to help with aerodynamics, but I’m used to smaller mirrors from my 335i and so it hasn’t been an issue for me. You’ll definitely want to get the optional blind spot warning system in the Burb, though.
I actually like the steering column shifter. It clears up so much space in the center console area, and unlike these small rotary knob shifters, and potentially dangerous “return to center” and ridiculous push button shifters they’re coming out with these days literally trying to reinvent the wheel (the shifter), the old school GM column shifter is easy to find and use by feel alone, and otherwise just says the hell out of your way. I think only GM could do this, and that for every other automaker it’s considered a faux pas or something. I like it and think it works well, but because it’s how GM does it, everybody else has to do it differently. I don’t care. :)
If there’s one thing I’m OCD about, it’s the instrument cluster. It needs to look “right” to me, and if it doesn’t I can’t buy the vehicle. The standard “midlevel” instrument cluster even on the Premier model just seemed about 10 years out of date to me, so the upgraded “Enhanced Driver Information Center” (Enhanced DIC, lol) cluster with the digital gauges that also comes with the heads-up display are nice, and the adaptive cruise control takes away a whole lot of the fatigue of long distance driving. Checking this option, which is the only one I wanted on the Premier trim, also gets you Forward Collision Alert with automatic braking, whose functionality works off of the adaptive cruise setup. This stuff really ought to be standard at this level, but I’m not going to complain. Chevy is nothing like how the Germans bend you over on the up-charges.
The infotainment setup is well-sorted and very easy to use, it’s not overly complicated or a long reach, the touch screen works well, and there are enough dedicated controls for commonly used functions that no one will have any complaints. Bonus, I’ve fallen in love with SiriusXM and have never had it in a vehicle before. You can enjoy the same stations no matter where you are, which is great on long trips.
The ride is generally quiet, but unfortunately you don’t get a German vault-like experience. This generation of Suburban is known for some odd cabin vibration and resonance (humming) issues that you can read all about on various Internet forums. It’s definitely worse with the 22” wheels, but is mostly due to the factory BridgeSTONE tires. This truck has a mild case of that, but fortunately it’s not bothersome enough to cause any complaints. The best fix is to replace the factory tires with Michelins, or go down to 20” wheels.
On my truck, you’ll notice some low speed shuddering over bumps, but it’s quickly damped and not a bother. There’s one “bad speed” where the resonance hits a peak at around 63 mph (and 66 when the tires are still cold). It almost sounds like the steady humming on an aircraft, but it’s easy enough to just avoid cruising steadily at that speed with the heads-up display, and otherwise nobody notices or cares. So I’ll save my money for now and just burn up the factory Bridgestone tires, but will eventually replace them with the Michelins.
If you’re shopping for one of these vehicles, be sure to take it for a very thorough test drive to check for this, including up to highway speeds, and especially if equipped with the 22” wheels! My truck is okay, but there have been a lot of complaints about this on the Internet and far worse examples and horror stories, especially in the 2015-2016 models. Most all of the production tweaks that were made to mitigate the vibration issues were done by the 2017 model year, which is also a reason why I always try to avoid the first few model years of a brand new vehicle. I’ve always preferred to buy mid-cycle refresh models that have all of the kinks worked out, optimizations made, and the extra features added in that should have been there in the first place, but before all of the cost-cutting that tends to occur in the last model years of a vehicle’s production cycle! Hey I’m just an engineer, what do I know? :)
I think it’s like a right of passage or something that as soon as you buy a Suburban, you have to go find a couch to shove in the thing, and that’s exactly what we ended up doing! :)
After Christmas, we sent our kids and dog packing up to Pennsylvania with their grandparents, and did a little furniture shopping while they were gone. No issues squeezing couches, bed frames, chairs, and other things inside. It paid for itself that month just in all of the delivery fees we saved. On the way up to PA to pickup our kids and dog, we swung by another furniture outlet and found a matching leather chair and ottoman we wanted. The Suburban swallowed them both, and still had plenty of space leftover for the kids luggage, the dogs crate, and a bunch of other stuff, and we all drove comfortably back home to Maryland with zero complaints from anybody. “We’ll never need anything this big”, she said! Bwahahahah! Glorious! I love my truck. :)
But What About Parking?
You would be shocked at how tightly this thing can turn, and how maneuverable it is in parking lots. That said, you’re still definitely going to want to back in most of the time, as you’ll have a lot more maneuverability that way. The standard backup camera and auto-tilt down feature on both side view mirrors makes it easy to get lined up and dead nuts on in your space, which is important because the Suburban will take up ALL of most parking spaces, but not a square foot more. There’s no 360-degree parking camera available on the Suburban (or Yukon XL), but the combination of the backup camera and auto-tilt down mirrors work well enough together that it’s a non-issue. If you really want a 360-degree camera, you can get one on the Escalade.
Parking a Suburban is more a matter of trust. There’s no reason you can’t get it into most any spot you want, but if you see cars in adjacent spaces that are all crooked, or especially Toyota’s with bashed in bumpers and long scrapes down their sides, which is every other Toyota where I live, maybe you should move on. Just because you have the skill to park a behemoth like this doesn’t mean that others have the skill to maneuver around you while reversing out. How do you think they got those long scrapes down the sides of their cars and bashed in bumpers in the first place?
Do yourself and everybody else a favor and just park out of most people’s way if you can, and back in if possible not just for your own maneuverability, but so that they only have to peer over your hood while backing out and won’t have all of their side vision blocked with the massive trunk area, too. You can also let the Suburban’s long tail hang out over the grass, which will make it even easier for people around you to get out.
The one situation where you’ll have trouble parking is when the parking lanes are narrow enough that two cars can barely get by. Pulling in front first here will be impossible, and even backing in can be challenging if other long cars are parked nearby and hampering your maneuverability even further. This is rarely the case, and most parking lots have more than enough space, but it does have its limits.
JUST REMEMBER It’s Nearly 20 Feet Long
Most cars at most wheelbases and lengths are proportioned such that as soon as you clear an obstacle from the driver’s seat, like a concrete pillar in a parking deck or another parked car, you can start turning and you’ll be okay. The Suburban is NOT like that! You need to be aware that this is a long vehicle at nearly 20 feet long, and to pull out a little more, turn a little bit later and more sharply, and to “square off” your turns while in tight quarters. Just because you’ve cleared the concrete pillar of the parking deck or the car parked next to you from your driver’s seat, doesn’t mean that the rest of a Suburban will if you immediately start turning!
If you have a brain that can naturally process three-dimensional space awareness then you’ll get this, but if you have no idea what the hell I just said, maybe you shouldn’t drive one of these things. Isn’t it funny how every other Toyota I see has bashed in bumpers and long scrapes down the sides of their cars, but almost every Suburban I see is pristine? Funny how that works. Some people shouldn’t be driving period.
But Why not the…
We ended up buying a bigger house before we bought a bigger vehicle, which then punted the new car down the road another year. Then we finally got a dog to go with the bigger house, which increased the amount of space we’d need and had to rethink a bit. All of that left lots of time to consider options in a nearly 2 year long car shopping process. We take our time and try to get exactly what we want the first time, because buying the wrong car and having to trade in the near term can be a pretty costly affair. Literally every larger vehicle on the market was considered.
So first up, the obvious question…
Why Not A Minivan?
I’m sorry, a what?
Listen, we’re just not minivan people, okay? I just can’t. I’d rather slit my wrists than drive one, and Debbie has similar thoughts on that front. Yeah, they’re a ton cheaper, more fuel efficient, can haul lots of people and bulky cargo, and the sliding doors make a ton of sense and are super convenient, so it’s a shame that we’ll never own one of these. I even rented one on a road trip once upon a time and thought it was great! I almost could have bought a Chrysler Pacifica, but only if we traded both cars and got a Dodge Challenger R/T at the same time going full MOPAR. Debbie was horrified of being seen in either vehicle however, so that was that.
And let’s be honest, going from a BMW 335i “sex machine” convertible to a freaking minivan is just plain cruel and inhumane, but a full-sized SUV with a V8 is doable. :) Minivans make a ton of sense for most people, but not everything in life needs to make sense, and we’re not “most people”. So there. Enjoy your minivans. I’d rather get run over by one than drive one myself.
Why Not A Larger Crossover SUV?
No matter what large crossover SUV you’re looking at, they all have one thing in common. While many can haul 6-7 adults in relative comfort, they tend to have almost no cargo space when the 3rd row of seats are in use. That’s nice if you’re taking you and your friends into the city for a nice swanky dinner, but we’re an active family that goes places and does things. We need to have room for people and cargo at the same time.
The Mercedes-Benz GLS class is considered by many to be the top large SUV, but it has a totally inadequate 16.0 cubic feet of cargo space with the 3rd row in use, versus the Suburban’s cavernous 39.3 cubic feet. The brand spanking new BMW X7 is even more pathetic with only 11.5 cubic feet with the 3rd row up, which is barely enough to go to the grocery store. The Honda Pilot matches the GLS with 16.5 cubic feet, but has a terrible 3rd row seat that’s literally on the floor and results in your knees being in your face. It’s just awful. The new Volkswagen Atlas is packaged much better than the Pilot and has a far superior 3rd row seat, but still only has around 20 cubic feet of cargo space. It’s more reasonable and I can see why a lot of people are buying them, but just isn’t going to cut it for us. The Toyota Highlander? 13.8. Meh.
The Chevy Traverse Near Miss
The recently redesigned Chevy Traverse and its long wheelbase platform twin, the Buick Enclave, came pretty darned close and are almost in a class of their own. The Traverse is what I had actually intended to buy for awhile, and it has a much more useful and respectable 23.0 cubic feet of space behind its third row, not including a useful sub-trunk area where you could shove another duffel bag or two. I’d still have needed an external cargo carrier of some sort for many of our road and beach trips, or have needed to fold down one side of the third row seats, but a couple of things turned me off.
First, and not that I’m even really a stickler for color combinations, but the interior and exterior color options on the Traverse were a complete mess. I couldn’t find even a single interior and exterior color combination that I liked or that my wife would accept, and the two-tone gray and tan interior is an abomination. Next, how does the standard AWD system not have an “auto” mode? It’s either FWD or AWD, but you have to switch it yourself with a hidden knob, which just seems backwards. There were also some extremely cheap bits in the vehicle that just seemed out of place, but the final nail in the coffin for the Traverse was the realization that the 3rd row seating is really only two and a half seats wide and not three. While we could have gotten away with it for now, our kids aren’t getting any smaller, and we’d once again be crammed for space sooner rather than later which took it out of the running. I wanted whatever I bought to be a 10+ year drive it into the ground type of vehicle, and not something we’d ever grow out of. Suburbans are pricey, but if you can get 10+ years of use out of them as many people do, they become a good investment.
I like the Traverse and think it’s a really nice option for many, but just felt like we’d either outgrow it, or our lives would change once again and I’d have been kicking myself for not just buying the Suburban. After hauling furniture AND people at the same time in our Suburban over the holidays, the Traverse would have already proven to be too small for us, so the point has already been made and I’m glad I didn’t get the Traverse. The Traverse is big enough for what you can plan for, but we’ve learned to expect the unexpected in our lives, and I like having a more vehicle.
Why Not The Ford Expedition Max?
The Suburban’s most natural and only true competitor is the Ford Expedition Max, (previously the Expedition EL), but it had an immediate deal-breaking issue that prevented it from from even being considered. Somebody is lying out their you know what’s about cargo space, and I personally think it’s Ford.
Ford claims a practically identical 36.0 cubic feet of cargo space behind its third row of seats to the Suburban’s 39.3 cubic feet, but I can’t get over just how little cargo space the brand spanking new Ford Expedition “Max” has, and it ended up being a non-starter because of that. Go look at them yourself back to back at an auto show, or bring all of your luggage to dealerships and there’s just no comparison. I think maybe Ford meant 26.0 cubic feet and made a very convenient typo, but either way the Suburban has way freaking more cargo space!
I rented a “Chevy Suburban or equivalent” one weekend which ended up being a new Ford Expedition Max, so I’ll just let the pictures do the talking. Here’s the Expedition Max with our 5 large medium to large sized rigid bags for our international travels. Normally there’d be another small duffel bag or two, a few backpacks, and my camera bag also, but I stuck to just the large items to avoid the clutter and having to find them all.
That’s it! There was no more space to squeeze the extras in after our main travel bags! I could have squeezed the small duffel in, but what about the backpacks and my camera bag? It just wasn’t going to fit, and then I’d have had to fold down one of the third row seats which I might have needed for passengers on some of our trips.
Below are the exact same bags in our 2012 BMW X5, and unlike the Expedition Max, I have plenty of room to squeeze in our small duffel, the couple of backpacks, and then my camera bag. Unbelievable. There’s no optical illusions or tricks of different angles going on here, the Expedition Max just has totally inferior cargo space.
The lack of cargo space in the Expedition Max ruled it out completely, so when I finally had my new Suburban in my driveway I did the same test. The Suburban has so much more space than the Expedition Max that I could fit my son in there along with the little extras! Just 3 cubic feet difference, my ass! Either Chevy is understating their cargo space or being extremely conservative with it, or Ford is overstating. You know what I think.
I really don’t know what to say, but I think there’s reasons why Ford went out of their way to conveniently crop out or try to obscure the cargo space of the Expedition Max in press and brochure photos, and why they’re visually marketing external cargo carriers for the Expedition as well, because they know the cargo space is lacking. How it is that a vehicle that has practically the same overall length and wheelbase as a Suburban is lacking in cargo space is beyond me, so Ford really screwed this up in my view. The Expedition Max might have a bit more passenger space with its sliding 2nd row seats, but none of us felt like the Burb is lacking for passenger space and accommodations while also having far superior cargo space, so that sealed the deal for us.
The rest of the Expedition was nice enough. It definitely needs their optional suspension system, because the body roll with the standard suspension was excessive, and my wife said it felt like it was going to tip over. I wasn’t nearly as much of a fan of the 3.5L EcoBoost V6 as I thought I’d be, which sounded and felt like a combination of a vacuum sweeper and a blender, and actually felt quite rough at times. It had nowhere near the sound, character, or overall refinement and smoothness of our beloved turbocharged and turbodiesel Bavarian Inline-6 engines, which Mercedes-Benz has started making again now too. Power wise the Expedition is definitely faster, but really didn’t feel all that much better than the 5.3L V8 in the Chevy. Apparently if you brake-torque the Expedition to get the twin-turbochargers on boost before launch, you can get a high-5 second 0-60 time, but who the hell is going to do that in a freaking Expedition? With a normal street start from idle it felt about the same, and matting it on the highway felt about the same, too. And let’s face it, who the hell cares? Nobody buys these things to race.
The 10-speed automatic mostly skipped gears, but at times it went through them sequentially one-by-one, almost like shifting a multi-speed bicycle while jerking you in your seat a little bit on each shift, much of which just felt totally pointless and annoying. When you’re to the point that you end up skipping gears most of the time, you have to realize that a 10-speed automatic is really just for bragging rights and marketing, and that there’s not really much of a point to one while also making things far more complicated than they need to be. GM uses this same transmission design, as it’s a jointly developed transmission between the two. I haven’t driven it in a GM vehicle yet, but from what I’ve read it’s supposed to be a little more transparent, but not without “issues”, either. See what I mean about transmissions?
If you buy based on paper specs, the Ford Expedition Max should be the obvious choice because it has more horsepower, more torque, more gears in its transmission, it’s faster, can tow more, and and has more “sophistication” in its design, but it just didn’t add up for me. It felt much more clumsy than even a standard suspension Suburban, felt much bigger to drive either way, and the more flexible interior somehow led to totally insufficient cargo space despite similar specs and dimensions.
Numbers do lie because humans manipulate them and have different ways of measuring them, and you really just have to go test drive these things and try them out for yourself. You can hardly shop based on specs that manufacturers bend or stretch the truth about, and while I’m not going to say that a 6-speed transmission is “better” than the new 10-speed, the 6-speed sure is less annoying to drive and doesn’t have any of the annoying issues that tend to find their way into many of these 8, 9, and 10 speed transmissions. Don’t even get me started on CVTs. The best place to drive a vehicle with a CVT transmission is off a cliff!
Why Not A Yukon Denali XL, Suburban RST, or Cadillac Escalade ESV?
You’d think a former ‘ahole’ BMW 335i driver would want max power. You can get the Corvette derived 6.2L V8 with 420hp in the 2019 Suburban RST, or the GMC Yukon XL Denali, which is a pretty big upgrade over the standard 355hp 5.3L V8 in the Suburban. Why not?
Two words: Running Costs.
The Suburban gets a “respectable” 15 mpg city, 22 mpg highway, and 18 mpg overall on regular grade fuel, all of which I can vouch for in my own driving. The 31.5 gallon tank is massive, and the 27 gallon fill-ups from when the low fuel warning light comes on ends up being around $60 based on current fuel prices. That’s not too bad. As appealing as that 6.2L V8 might sound, fuel mileage drops to 14 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, and 16 mpg overall, but on premium grade fuel, and now your cost to fill the tank goes all the way to around $90, and you’ll be filling it more often. Ouch. So how badly do you need your 6000lb SUV to be as fast as your BMW 335i? For me, not nearly enough.
Technically you don’t have to put premium grade fuel in the bigger engine, which also runs a slightly higher compression ratio of 11.5:1 than the 11.0:1 in the 5.3L V8. It says right in the book that you can put regular 87 octane fuel in the 6.2, but that it will detune itself. If you’re going to do that, then why get the 6.2? Listen, I’m an engineer. If something is designed for higher octane fuel, there’s reasons for it and that’s what I’m going to put in it. I’d never feel right putting regular grade fuel in the bigger 6.2L V8 with 11.5:1 compression, and had absolutely no interest in paying thousands more for a truck and then thousands more in fuel costs, all for performance that I didn’t really need or have much of an interest in. If I really want to go fast I can still take the 335i for a spin, which unlike these land yachts, actually has true sports car like cornering ability, and the overall handling and braking ability to back up the straight line performance. If I had something heavy to tow regularly that would be one thing, but otherwise it’s just looks and one-upsmanship in my opinion. :)
Focus On Running Costs, Not Just Fuel Mileage
In the grand scheme of things, the overall running costs of something like a Suburban are actually not that bad. No, it won’t beat a Chevy Traverse or a minivan, but it actually compares favorably to most any mid-sized or larger “luxury” SUV. What do the BMW X5 40i, BMW X7 40i, Mercedes GLS450, and the Volvo XC90 T6 (non-hybrid) all have in common? They actually have higher running costs than a Chevy Suburban! They might all have slightly better EPA fuel mileage ratings than the Suburban, but when you factor in that they all require premium grade fuel, any advantage in running costs just went away. The Volvo XC90 PHEV Hybrid will beat out the Suburban in running costs, but it’s as expensive as one too, and still not nearly big enough for us. Boo!
It’s a shame that diesel never really caught on in the U.S., and that the VW/Audi diesel emissions scandal broke all of the momentum right when diesel finally seemed to be getting there. Our traded 2012 BMW X5 was the turbodiesel model, and it was fantastic. Gobs of torque helped it feel very zippy around town, and the superior efficiency of diesel engines kept both fuel consumption and running costs lower, despite the wide price range through which diesel fuel can vary. A lot of these large SUVs are absolutely screaming for diesel engines, but between strict emissions requirements, the overall tax structure here in the U.S. including fuel taxes, and the VW/Audi diesel emissions scandal, there have just been too many headwinds in the U.S. for true mass market diesel acceptance here.
GM had actually developed a “baby” 4.5L Duramax V8 turbodiesel engine with 310hp and 510 ft-lbs of torque, which would have been ideal for their full-sized trucks including the Suburban, but scrapped production when the financial crisis hit in the late 2000’s. In a parallel universe I’d be driving a Suburban with one of those, but oh well.
Overall I love my new truck and have no regrets after 3 months and nearly 4000 miles, which is good because we’re broke after buying this thing! :) It’s definitely a luxury to be able to haul whomever and whatever I want, whenever I want, and not having to constantly ask Debbie to borrow her SUV, and then getting the riot act about not scratching it up or getting it dirty. It’s not a “chore” for me to drive or park, and it’s very easy for me to see why tons of people drive these, both male and female. I’ve never felt like I should have gotten the 6.2L V8 either, as the 5.3L and 6-speed automatic have both proven themselves without a doubt after some country two-lane passing maneuvers with a loaded truck. The Trump truck moves!
You can tell that GM has really done their homework with these trucks, and engineered out as many reasons as possible that somebody might have for not buying one. You’d think it might have rough “trucky” ride or be uncomfortable, but it actually rides very smoothly and quietly. You’d think you’d never be able to drive something this big, but it actually feels much smaller to drive than it is. You’d think you’ll never be able to maneuver it or park in tight parking lots, but it actually turns quite sharply and is easy to maneuver and reverse into a space with very little practice. You’d think it’s going to be a dog to drive, but it’s actually reasonably zippy (with those 3.42 gears), and you can upgrade to the 6.2L V8 if you really want more power. You’d think it’s going to cost you a fortune in fuel to keep running. Well, that it might, but it actually has lower running costs than many luxury SUVs thanks to it’s lower stressed naturally aspirated V8 engine and only needing regular grade fuel. A lot of vehicles these days are ridiculously overcomplicated as well, with dozens of different driving modes, transmission modes, and AWD system modes to adjust just about everything. The Suburban has none of that and just goes, and yet everything feels just about right to me. The Suburban also has engineered simplicity, and I like that as well. Things don’t need to be so complicated.
Although I didn’t factor in or even foresee work hauling needs in buying a Suburban, I’ve recently needed to haul a bunch of test rigging and gear for work. The Suburban has come in extremely handy for that and really saved our butts as well, and whatever I can’t fit inside I can tow.
This might sound crazy, but I don’t actually miss driving my convertible at all. I loved it and enjoyed it and drove the hell out of it for 7 years after my cancer fight as a young adult. It was the right car for me to have at the time, but the painful truth is that the D.C. area is home to some of the worst drivers in the entire country, and the car might as well be invisible. Everybody is looking for a big SUV or a minivan and just don’t see small cars like these, especially with the top down. I could hardly go a day or two without having somebody nearly run me off the road, and it just got old after awhile, and made it difficult to enjoy such an amazing car when you had to be constantly on the lookout for the next moron that was going to try to run you off the road. The people here are absolutely terrifying to drive around, and it’s even more terrifying when you’re in a smaller vehicle.
There’s also a lot of passive aggressive types who are either jealous of a nice vehicle or otherwise mental in some way, assume the person driving it probably has money that they can sue for and have nothing to lose themselves, and then intentionally try to cause an accident with totally reckless maneuvers. Don’t think it doesn’t happen because it does, and that’s exactly why I put dash cameras in both of our vehicles! Debbie and I have both been “targeted” on the road numerous times in our Bimmers, and in ways that never happened when we were driving our Toyota’s.
On that note, I love that the rate of accident avoidance type BS has gone way down in the Suburban. Most people are smart enough to just stay the f*ck out of your way in this thing and not do anything stupid around you, which is exactly what I wanted and another reason why I just got the ‘Burb. I can always count on totally idiotic and oblivious Toyota drivers to pull completely boneheaded maneuvers around me, but other than them I can finally drive in peace for the most part. I like that.
I left it up to my wife on which one we traded, and she elected to keep the convertible and trade her X5, so for now she’s enjoying it and not having nearly as many issues. For whatever reason, I’m just a magnet for total sh*thead drivers, which also went into the decision matrix in buying my “Trump truck” Suburban. It was a sad day to turn over our keys and paperwork and leave the X5 at the dealership. It was a great vehicle that served us very well, but life has moved on for us and it was long past the time for a change.
I hope you enjoyed this review and that buyers of the 11th generation 2015-2019 Suburban find this helpful!