What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Chevrolet Suburban receives updated versions of the optional navigation and rear-seat entertainment systems.
Having recently celebrated its 75th birthday, the 2012 Chevrolet Suburban has talents as large as its footprint. There's seating for up to nine people, massive cargo space and a towing capacity that's robust enough to handle a quartet of thoroughbreds or a boat bigger than some apartments. Equally impressive is the gentle giant's pleasant driving demeanor thanks to its comfortable ride and beefy V8 power. But the reality is that there's just a small, exclusive group that needs all this capability, and some other vehicles might work out better for the rest of us.
For driving around town or taking the kids to school, a gas-guzzling full-size SUV is complete overkill. In comparison, a large crossover like the Chevrolet Traverse or the somewhat fancier Buick Enclave and GMC Arcadia are all nearly as roomy yet are more nimble to drive and easier on gas.
Of course, the Suburban does have other full-size SUV competitors, the most direct being its own GM platform-mates, the Cadillac Escalade ESV and GMC Yukon XL. Both are more expensive but offer more upscale styling and furnishings. 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 V8 isn't as powerful. The eight-passenger Toyota Sequoia is more powerful than both but isn't as roomy inside.
Should you be in the majority of SUV shoppers that don't need the Suburban's simultaneous combination of heavy-duty skills, we would strongly recommend looking at a large crossover. But should you actually need maximum seating, cargo and towing capacity at the same time, it doesn't get much better than the iconic Chevy Suburban.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Chevrolet Suburban full-size SUV is offered in 1500 and heavy-duty 2500 models. Both are available in the base LS and midlevel LT trims, while the top-shelf LTZ model is available as a 1500 only. The Suburban comes standard with an eight-person seating capacity, but an available 40/20/40 front bench increases that to nine.
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 controls with headphone jacks, and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB interface. The LT adds foglights, roof rack crossbars, a locking rear differential, heated mirrors, rear parking sensors, leather upholstery, heated front seats, tri-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable pedals, remote vehicle starting and an upgraded Bose sound system with a six-CD changer.
The Suburban LTZ gets 20-inch polished alloy wheels, a power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, a rear air suspension, a blind-spot warning system, upgraded leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, driver seat memory settings, upgraded front seats with heating and ventilation, power-folding heated second-row seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a hard-drive-based navigation system, a rearview camera and a premium 10-speaker Bose surround-sound system with digital music storage.
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, trailer sway control and hill start assist), an off-road package and a twin-screen rear-seat entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
Chevrolet offers two engine choices for the 2012 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. The 4WD Suburban is offered with a choice of either a traditional two-speed transfer case or a single-speed unit without low-range gearing (not available on LTZ).
In Edmunds testing, a Suburban with the smaller V8 accelerated from zero to 60 in 9 seconds, an average time for this class. Properly equipped, the Suburban 2500 can tow up to 9,600 pounds.
EPA-estimated fuel economy for the 2012 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 2012 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.
In government crash tests, the Suburban received four out of five stars for overall crash protection, with five stars for both overall frontal and side protection. The lower overall total score is due to the Suburban's rollover rating. In Edmunds brake testing, a Suburban stopped from 60 mph in 145 feet, a long distance for an SUV.
Interior Design and Special Features
Though it may not be as stylish as some of Chevy's more recent models, the Suburban's passenger cabin is still handsome and well made. Furthermore, controls and gauges are both easy to see and simple to operate.
With the available 40/20/40-split front seat, the Suburban can fit 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. It should be noted, though, that the third row is a 50/50 split and the middle passenger will be sitting on the split between the seat pieces. Space in the third row is also no better than in Chevy's Traverse or the Ford Flex, which are both easier to climb into.
Cargo capacity is impressive, with 137 cubic feet of storage behind the front seats -- 17 more than the Toyota Sequoia and 40 more than the Nissan Armada. 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 2012 Chevrolet Suburban performs surprisingly well. Acceleration is decent without passengers or cargo. 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 impact its handling -- nimble it is 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.