What's New for 1996
Improved engines generate more horsepower and torque. Four-wheel-drive models get an optional electronic shift transfer case. Daytime running lights, rear-seat heating ducts and two new paint colors summarize the changes.
Gaze down the side of a Suburban and all you see is steel and more steel, stretching rearward. Hike yourself aboard and you can't help but feel you're in a truck, ready for the long haul--which is exactly what pleases many owners of these biggies. Compact-vehicle fans have a hard time grasping the appeal, but full-size "truck wagons" have been luring more and more upscale motorists.
GMC claims this mammoth combines the comfort of a luxury sedan with the "tenacity and utility of a packhorse." Except for the nearly-identical Chevrolet model, also named Suburban and priced just slightly lower, there's nothing else quite like it on the market.
For 1996, GMC has reengineered its gasoline V8 engines. Standard is a Vortec 5700 V8, which has gained 50 horsepower and foot-pounds of torque over last year's 5.7-liter engine. The big Vortec 7400 benefits from similar power gains. Long-life engine coolant is installed in both engines, and doesn't need to be changed until the payment booklet is empty.
Inside is a driver airbag and a brake/transmission interlock, which prevents shifting out of "park" unless your foot is on the brake pedal. The modern instrument panel holds a selection of white-on-black analog gauges with zone markings and red-orange needles, but we wish it also held a passenger side airbag. Rear seat heat ducts are new, as is standard illuminated entry. Climate controls are easy to grasp and use, within easy reach of each occupant. Dual cupholders ease out of a compartment at the center of the dashboard, and three assist handles help entry/exit. Four-wheel drive models can be ordered with a new electronic shift mechanism that does away with the bulky shifter in the center of the floor. Passenger car tires make less rough-and-tumble Suburbans ride more smoothly and quietly.
Despite its pickup truck heritage, the Suburban produces a stable and reasonably comfortable, if not exactly cushiony, ride--at least until you stray away from smooth pavement. Gasoline engines tend to guzzle as expected, and if you're planning to carry heavy loads much of the time, or haul a trailer, give the big-block V8 a whirl before deciding to accept the base engine.
Currently, GM owns this niche in the SUV market. Until 1997, when Ford debuts the Expedition, the only way to get a big honking four-door rig like this one is to visit your GMC, or Chevrolet, dealer.