B. Grant Whitmore, Contributor
Over the last two years I've driven more of GM's full-size sport-utility vehicles than I can shake a stick at. I've driven Suburban, Tahoe and Yukon two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive models; some decked out in full LT or SLT regalia, others with minimal options. No matter what the configuration, the trucks have always been a hit with Edmund's staff members and their families. Their spacious interiors, powerful engines, stupefying cargo hauling and towing capabilities and strong good looks are just some of the attributes that Edmund's staffers have raved about when evaluating these trucks. Nevertheless, I wasn't thrilled to be taking delivery of another Suburban when it was dropped off late this spring. I mean, really, there's just so much praise you can pile on one truck!
I'm always surprised when a Suburban is delivered. Their sheer size and towering height seems to dwarf everything else in a parking lot. What surprised me about this model is that, even when parked next to another Suburban, it still looked huge. That's because this was not a regular Suburban, it was, in fact, a K2500, which is the Mac Daddy of the entire General Motors lineup.
The "K" in its name, along with all other GM full-size trucks, denotes that the model we tested was a four-wheel drive vehicle. (The "C" designation indicates a two-wheel drive product.) The "2500" indicated that our tester was the most heavy-duty version of the Suburban available.
What makes the K2500 so special? Well, there is the available Vortec 7400 V8 engine that makes 290 horsepower @ 4000 rpm and 410 foot-pounds of torque @ 3200 rpm. That's 30 more horsepower and 80 more foot-pounds of torque than a K1500 equipped with the Vortec 5700 is capable of making. This powerhouse enables the K2500 to tow 10,000 pounds, a full ton more than the vaunted Ford Expedition. There is also the size. The K2500 stands more than 1.5-inches taller than the K1500 and it weighs a healthy 400 pounds more.
Like GM's other full-size sport-utes, the K2500 is a pleasure to drive. Its towering height gives a commanding view of the road, and its big engines makes overtaking slower traffic on steep inclines a breeze. As we've noted before, the brake pedal feels mushy and the steering is a bit numb, but we think that this could be because GM engineers don't want a truck this size to handle too responsively. The big transmission in this truck shifts surprisingly smoothly under regular acceleration. I did, however, notice that the transmission shifts into reverse accompanied by an abrupt bump and shudder.
Despite its size, the interior of the big 'Burban is not as comfortable as it could be. The front seats are flat and mushy, secondary controls are a long stretch for the driver and the front seat cupholders are not placed strategically (The cupholders for the front seat passengers block the center air vents in the dash panel when in use). Thankfully, clambering aboard the K2500 is not as difficult as it appears. Despite it's impressive ground clearance, the K2500 was easier to enter than the last Ford Expedition that we tested, thanks to a lower step-in height. Second row passengers should be comfortable because of the huge amount of legroom and seats that seem to offer more support than the front chairs. Third row passengers, well, they may just have to lump it. Climbing into the third row seat of a Suburban, or any SUV, is a feat best left to gymnasts, contortionists or children with soft bones.
The K2500 Suburban is bigger and heavier than the K1500, and it can tow a little more. Nevertheless, I have to ask, "Who needs this thing?" It doesn't offer any more cargo area, comes with the same types of optional equipment, doesn't carry any more people, yet has a base cost of $1,584 more than the lesser model. Is $1,584 worth more horsepower, torque and a higher towing capacity? Not unless you're planning on dragging Rhode Island to the West Coast. The K1500 Suburban is more than up to the tasks that any normal family could throw at it.
Maybe that's the key, maybe the K2500 Suburban isn't for normal families. Maybe it is built for a race of giants who carry huge loads and tow entire mountains across the countryside. That must be it, because I can't think of another useful application for such a serious piece of machinery.
Chevrolet's Silverado pickup truck, the basis for the Suburban, has just been redesigned for 1999, and that means that the current Suburban day's are numbered. Furthermore, Ford is introducing an SUV based on their new Super Duty line of trucks that will be even bigger, God forbid, than the already huge K2500. So, if you are one of those mountain-hauling giants, you may want to wait awhile and see what your options are. You know, so the giants down the street don't show you up in a year.
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