What's New for 2013
The Suburban's transmission features a new braking mode to help reduce brake wear on long, steep downhill grades.
The 2013 Chevrolet Suburban is a serious family-hauling machine. Its robust powertrain and truck-based structure provide enough burly muscle to tow sizable trailers. The cabin provides upwards of nine seats plus a large cargo area to carry those passengers' luggage. Whether you're going across town or across the country, no other type of vehicle can boast this jack-of-all-trades ability to simultaneously transport lots of people and their toys.
The only problem with all this potential is that very few people truly need these extreme capabilities often enough to justify owning a massive vehicle like this. For hauling people and stuff, a minivan like the Honda Odyssey or a large car-based crossover vehicle like the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse or its Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia clones will be more sensible choices. They can haul almost as many people (eight maximum versus nine) in a more comfortable cabin, return much better fuel economy and are easier to drive and maneuver.
Yet those other vehicles can't tow heavy boats or campers. For that extra muscle, you really will need a Chevy Suburban or its GMC Yukon XL twin or maybe one of their worthy competitors, which include the Ford Expedition EL and Toyota Sequoia. Both the Ford and Toyota also offer a more practical fold-flat third-row seat.
Ultimately it comes down to honestly assessing whether you really need a big truck's passenger, cargo and towing capacities enough to cancel out the negatives -- mainly poor fuel economy and ponderous handling -- that come with driving such a traditional large SUV. If the answer is yes, the 2013 Chevy Suburban is definitely worthy of your consideration.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Chevrolet Suburban is a full-size SUV that's offered in 1500 and heavy-duty 2500 models. There are also three trim levels; the base LS and midlevel LT are offered in both 1500 and 2500 models, while the LTZ is available as a 1500 only. The Suburban comes standard with an eight-passenger interior, but an available 40/20/40 front bench seat bumps that capacity up to nine.
The LS comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, rear privacy glass, heated mirrors, roof rails, cruise control, tri-zone manual climate control, six-way power front bucket seats, a leather-wrapped tilt-only steering wheel, full power accessories, OnStar emergency communications, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a six-speaker stereo with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack, an iPod/USB interface, rear headphone jacks and rear controls.
The LT adds foglights, roof rack crossbars, a locking rear differential, heated mirrors, rear parking sensors, remote ignition, tri-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, leather upholstery, power-adjustable pedals and a nine-speaker Bose audio system with a six-CD changer.
The top-of-the-line LTZ gets 20-inch polished alloy wheels, a rear air suspension with automatic load leveling, automatic wipers, a power liftgate, power-folding and driver-side auto-dimming mirrors, a rearview camera, a blind-spot warning system, heated and ventilated front seats with four-way lumbar adjustment and driver memory functions, a heated steering wheel, heated and power-folding second-row captain's chairs (which drop seating capacity to seven), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a navigation system, real-time traffic, a touchscreen, voice controls and a premium 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio 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-extending running boards, a heavy-duty towing package (with an integrated trailer brake controller, trailer sway control and hill start assist), an off-road package (LT 1500 only) and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with a single second-row screen. A third-row screen can be added.
Powertrains and Performance
Powertrain choices for the 2013 Chevy Suburban start with the 1500 model's 5.3-liter V8 that makes 320 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. A 6.0-liter V8 that puts out 352 hp and 382 lb-ft of torque is standard on the 2500. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that features a new powertrain grade-braking capability in the normal mode (previously available in the Tow/Haul mode only). Rear-wheel drive is standard, while there are two different four-wheel-drive systems available. One of the 4WD systems has a traditional two-range transfer case and the other is a single-speed unit without low-speed gearing (not available on LTZ).
In Edmunds testing, a Suburban with the smaller V8 accelerated from zero to 60 in 9 seconds, which is on par with the Expedition EL but slower than the Sequoia. Properly equipped, the Suburban 2500 can tow up to 9,600 pounds, which is best in class.
EPA-estimated fuel economy for the 2013 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 2013 Chevrolet Suburban's list of standard safety features includes four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Also standard is GM's OnStar emergency communications system, which includes automatic crash notification, an emergency assistance button, remote door unlock and stolen vehicle assistance. A blind-spot warning system and rearview camera are available.
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
While the Chevy Suburban's interior isn't quite as handsome as some recent efforts by other manufacturers, it's still attractive enough and has a quality feel to it. Gauges and controls, while lacking many of the latest gee-whiz features on the market, are easy to read and intuitive to operate.
When it comes to the ability to haul people, the Suburban's cabin is hard to beat, at least among full-size SUVs. With the available 40/20/40-split front bench seat, there's room for up to nine passengers, a number that's only bettered by some full-size vans. Unfortunately, accessing the third row requires a bit of a climb (the Chevy Traverse and Ford Flex crossovers are much better in this regard) and its 50/50-split design means that the center passenger will be stuck straddling the division between the two halves.
Another downside to the third-row seat is that it has to be removed entirely in order to make full use of the cavernous cargo hold. You don't have to worry about this herculean task in the Expedition EL or Toyota Sequoia, which feature fold-flat third rows. Yet when all the Suburban's seats are removed, however, the resulting 137 cubic feet of maximum cargo space is greater than both those rivals.
From behind the wheel, the 2013 Chevrolet Suburban feels surprisingly civilized for a truck that tips the scales at 3 tons. The 5.3-liter V8 delivers good acceleration with a light load, though performance with a full complement of passengers and cargo or towing a large trailer is just adequate. The 2500 model is obviously the more robust choice, and if you're looking for the Suburban to make good on its massive family-hauler potential, the bigger engine is definitely the way to go.
Yet we'd be remiss if we didn't state what could be obvious. The Suburban's hefty curb weight makes its handling ponderous, and its plus-size dimensions can make it a handful when maneuvering in tight quarters like downtown parking garages. On the upside, the suspension delivers a relatively smooth ride -- especially with the LTZ's air suspension -- that nicely complements the generally quiet interior.