What's New for 2011
The 2011 Chevrolet Suburban receives only minor feature changes. The entry-level Suburban LS now gets standard Bluetooth connectivity and rear seat audio controls with headphone jacks. The optional towing package now includes a trailer brake controller. Twenty-inch chromed wheels are also now available.
At the risk of ticking some folks off, we'll come right out and say it: Most people don't really need a V8-powered full-size SUV. If you are one of the few who do, however, the 2011 Chevrolet Suburban should be at the top of your "must test-drive" list.
The Suburban -- which celebrated its 75th birthday last year -- does an awful lot of things well. That includes things you expect, like hauling lots of people and cargo and towing heavy trailers and boats. As far as traditional full-size SUVs go, the Suburban is actually surprisingly pleasant to drive thanks to a comfortable ride and beefy V8 power.
Of course the Suburban isn't the only full-size SUV game in town. Buyers interested in more upscale trappings may want to have a look at its fancier GMC Yukon XL and Cadillac Escalade ESV cousins. The Ford Expedition EL is similar in size and offers a slightly more versatile interior thanks to its fold-flat third-row seat, but its seating capacity maxes out at eight passengers. The eight-passenger Toyota Sequoia is more powerful than both, but not as roomy inside.
As long as heavy-duty towing isn't a priority (which goes back to our point about most people not needing a V8 SUV), you might also look at a large crossover like Chevy's own Traverse, which is still quite roomy yet more nimble and gets better fuel economy. But for maximum seating, cargo and towing capacity, you're not going to go wrong with the Chevy Suburban.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Chevrolet Suburban full-size SUV is offered in 1500 and heavy-duty 2500 models. Both are available in the base LS and midlevel LT, while the top-shelf LTZ model is available as a 1500 only. All Suburbans can be had in either two- or four-wheel drive.
The LS comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, side assist steps, roof rack side rails, power front bucket seats with a center console, a 50/50-split third-row seat, tri-zone manual climate control, full power accessories, Bluetooth, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, rear-seat audio control with headphone jacks, and an eight-speaker audio system with a CD player, auxiliary audio/USB jacks and satellite radio. The LT adds foglights, roof rack crossbars, a locking rear differential, heated outside mirrors, rear parking sensors, leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable pedals, remote vehicle starting and an upgraded Bose audio system with a six-CD changer.
The Suburban LTZ gets 20-inch polished alloy wheels, a power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, the Autoride rear air suspension, premium leather upholstery, driver seat memory settings, heated and ventilated front seats, power-folding heated second-row seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a premium 10-speaker Bose surround-sound system with satellite radio capability.
Many of the features that are standard on upper trim levels are available on the LS or LT via packages or individual options. Other major options for the Suburban include 22-inch wheels, a sunroof, power-retracting running boards, a heavy-duty towing package (with an integrated trailer brake controller), an off-road package, a navigation system, a rearview camera and a rear-seat entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
Chevrolet offers two engine choices for the 2011 Suburban. The 1500 model comes with a 5.3-liter V8 that makes 320 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. A 6.0-liter V8 that pumps out 352 hp and 382 lb-ft of torque is standard on the 2500. Both V8s are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. With either the 1500 or 2500 model, buyers have a choice of either rear- or four-wheel drive. Properly equipped, the Suburban 2500 can tow up to 9,600 pounds.
EPA-estimated fuel economy for the 2011 Chevrolet Suburban ranges from a high of 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway and 17 mpg in combined driving for two-wheel-drive 1500 models to a low of 10/15/12 mpg for the four-wheel-drive 2500.
The 2011 Chevrolet Suburban's list of standard safety features includes four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability control, GM's OnStar emergency communications system, front-seat side airbags and a three-row side curtain airbag system with a rollover sensor. A blind-spot warning system is also available on the LTZ trim.
The government's safety testing regimen has become more strenuous for 2011, but under the previous 2010 test the Chevy Suburban was awarded a top five-star rating for its protection of occupants in frontal collisions.
Interior Design and Special Features
Like many of the latest GM models, the Suburban's passenger cabin looks remarkably good. Both the design and the quality of materials have improved and controls and gauges are both easy to see and simple to operate.
With the available 40/20/40-split front seat, the Suburban can seat up to nine passengers, a total bested only by some full-size vans. Passenger capacity drops to eight with the standard front bucket seats and just seven on LTZ versions equipped with standard second-row buckets.
Cargo capacity is equally impressive, with 137 cubic feet of storage -- 17 more than the Toyota Sequoia and 40 more than the Nissan Armada -- behind the front seats. Making use of all this space can be a hassle, however, as the heavy 50/50-split third-row seats must be removed, an outdated process that's both strenuous and awkward.
For a vehicle that weighs roughly 3 tons, the 2011 Chevrolet Suburban performs surprisingly well. Without passengers or cargo, a 0-60-mph sprint takes just 9 seconds. Load it up, however, and the 5.3-liter V8 produces acceleration that's best described as adequate. The Suburban's size and weight also impacts its handling -- nimble it's not. The suspension does manage to provide a fairly smooth ride just the same, a quality enhanced by the relative quiet of the passenger cabin.