Having started the full-size utility segment back in 1935 (before the term "sport" was added), you can bet that Chevrolet knows a thing or three about building large people movers. Since that first Suburban debuted 65 years ago (called the "Carryall" back then), Chevy has maintained leadership in this market despite increasing competition from both foreign and domestic automakers. Sales of the Suburban hovered around 65,000 in 1996; this year the company will sell close to 140,000 units. If you happen to be a Camaro or Firebird fan lamenting the F-body's possible demise, here's your answer: When one segment experiences 100 percent growth in three years while another segment's sales numbers continue to lag, a resource redistribution is imminent.
While performance-car fans may lament the current situation, SUV buyers have never had it so good. Each year they're treated to larger, more powerful, and more capable sport-utes. The latest Suburban and Tahoe continue this pattern, boasting additional features and increased refinement. Thankfully, Chevrolet decided to forego the "bigger is better" dementia that certain manufacturers have fallen into. Instead, they decided that just making the vehicles better was better, and so the new Suburban and Tahoe are improved in almost every way.
Available models include the Tahoe in either two- or four-wheel drive and in three trim levels: base, LS and LT. The larger Suburban comes in 1500- and 2500-series configurations and in base, LS and LT trim as well; both Suburban1500- and 2500-series are offered in two- or four-wheel drive. Regardless of model and trim level, all Tahoes and Suburbans receive numerous design, safety, and standard equipment upgrades.
Starting with a new, modular frame that is stronger and more rigid than previous versions, Chevrolet engineers were able to tune the suspension precisely for improved ride and handling traits. The hydroformed front frame rails and the use of larger body sections and stiffened joints result in a 400 percent increase in body mount stiffness. Even the door hinges and exterior sheetmetal have been upgraded for increased durability and corrosion resistance. Much of this technology comes via the Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra trucks that were completely redesigned last year and that share platforms with the Tahoe/Suburban.
All this improved structural work rides on a redesigned suspension system. The revised torsion bar front suspension is used on all models except the two-wheel-drive Suburban 2500-series, which carries over with a coil-spring front suspension. Out back is a new, five-link coil-spring rear suspension for the Tahoe and Suburban 1500-series. According to company research, these models spend more time hauling families than cargo, and the improved ride quality afforded by the five-link system makes more sense. As with previous models, the new Tahoe can be ordered with the Z71 package that improves off-road performance with specially tuned springs, shock absorbers and stabilizer bars. Suburban 2500-series retain their two-stage leaf-spring setup for its proven ability to support heavy loads, but the system has been widened for enhanced stability, especially under heavy trailering or when hauling cumbersome loads. Non four-wheel-drive versions of both Tahoe and Suburban can be ordered with Chevy's new Electronic Traction Assist system which incorporates a locking rear differential for more controlled acceleration on slippery surfaces.
Additional benefits of this new suspension design include a more precise front-end alignment for reduced front tire wear and superior on-center steering feel. A reduction in turning diameters for the Tahoe (1.5 feet) and Suburban (2.4 feet) further adds to user friendliness and maneuverability. Our recent time spent behind the wheel of both models verified that Chevy has done a stellar job of improving its SUVs' ride and drive quality. Steering feel approaches that of the far more expensive Land Cruiser/LX 470 twins, while overall ride characteristics impart a sense of comfort, confidence and stability.
Buyers looking for the ultimate in ride quality can opt for the Autoride real-time suspension system. Through a combination of sensors and computer-controlled shock valving, the Autoride system offers continuously variable shock dampening to provide increased ride comfort and control over a variety of road conditions. This system not only maintains passenger comfort levels but, when used in combination with towing or cargo needs, keeps the vehicle stable while hauling heavy loads.
We appreciated the steering and suspension improvements during our drive through the Grand Tetons near Jackson Hole, Wyo., but it was the new brake system that garnered "most improved status" on the 2000 Suburban and Tahoe. In our Full-Size SUV Comparison Test last year, we generally liked everything about GM's large SUVs...except their questionable and sometimes panic-inducing brake systems. Not surprisingly, the redesigned brake system that earned high praise on last year's new Silverado and Sierra trucks transfers over to this year's Suburban and Tahoe (as well as the 2000 Yukon and Yukon XL). The first-time use of twin-piston cast-iron calipers, along with four-wheel antilock disc brakes on every model, insures powerful and confident stopping force. A Dynamic Rear Proportioning (DRP) system is also standard on every Suburban and Tahoe model. DRP monitors wheel speed and modulates rear brake pressure as needed, further contributing to braking ability. Initial 60-to-zero brake tests have shown a 20-foot reduction in stopping distances compared to previous-generation Suburbans and Tahoes.
Only one thing is better than improved stopping power, and that's improved going power. GM's recently introduced Vortec line of V8 engines combine pushrod simplicity with the latest technology to increase horsepower and fuel economy while cutting emissions. Standard in the base Tahoe is the Vortec 4800 V8 that makes 275 horsepower (20 more than the 5700 it replaces) and 290 foot-pounds of torque. This engine is rated to tow up to 7,800 pounds, 800 pounds more than its predecessor. Stepping up to LS or LT Tahoes and Suburban1500-series, the standard engine is a new Vortec 5300 V8 with 285 horsepower, 325 foot-pounds of torque, and a 9,000-pound towing capacity. Those interested in ultimate utility will want the Vortec 6000 V8 found in the Suburban 2500-series. This powerhouse makes 300 horsepower and 355 foot-pounds of torque while offering a 10,500-pound towing capacity (500 pounds more than that "other" large SUV, even with its V10 powerplant).
Thus far all we've discussed are the areas that most of us will never see and, if they're working properly, most of us should never have to think about. What about the world inside the new Tahoe and Suburban, where owners will spend most of their time? Like the structural and technical aspects, passenger accommodations were also addressed for the 2000 redesign and the changes are no less sweeping. While height is the only external dimension to increase (slightly) compared to previous models, interior space has been added to the Suburban and Tahoe in areas like headroom, hip room and legroom. Moving the spare from inside the cargo area to underneath the body, a la Jeep Grand Cherokee, has also added to cargo space. Finally, cargo loading has been simplified with a new liftgate/liftglass option that allows smaller items, such as grocery bags, to be loaded without opening the main rear hatch.
The big news for Tahoe this year is the introduction of a third-row seating option, allowing it to carry up to nine passengers. This seat utilizes a 50/50 split fold design for maximum people- and cargo-carrying flexibility. Additionally, both Suburban and Tahoe third-row seats have integrated, self-contained seatbelts for easier seat removal when cargo hauling takes precedence over people moving. Also debuting in 2000 are optional second-row bucket seats for Suburban buyers who want more luxury than capacity. These seats offer inboard armrests and full reclining. Finally, for people who've sworn off SUVs for their lack of coddling, Chevy is introducing premium front seats as standard equipment on LT trim Suburbans and Tahoes (optional on lower line models). These seats have leather trim, six-way power adjustments, heated seatbacks, power lumbar inflators and two-position driver's seat memory.
Seating is just one of many aspects that came under the product planners' knives during the redesign. A new nine-speaker audio system, an improved HVAC system, up to five auxiliary power outlets and a one-touch sliding sunroof are available for sport-ute buyers who want to live it up while roughin' it. Rear audio and climate controls can help take full advantage of the Suburban and Tahoe's people-oriented mission, but perhaps the most functional upgrade is the Driver Message Center that relays the status of up to 19 vital areas to the driver, including oil life, coolant temperature, transmission temperature and the four-wheel-drive system.
Safety has become a major issue with today's consumers, and Chevy addressed it in the new Suburban and Tahoe with an enhanced occupant cage to increase passenger protection. Floor strength has been improved with larger pillar/rocker sections and side door beams offer added side-impact protection. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags protect the driver and front passenger and energy-absorbing foam is used throughout the vehicle to provide improved head protection. In Tahoe and Suburban 1500, "crush caps" are incorporated on the front frame sections to absorb energy during a front-end collision. The caps can be easily removed and replaced following a moderate speed front-end collision, reducing the need to replace entire frame rails.
As with any worthwhile redesign, Chevrolet took a close look at its own products' weaknesses (as well as what the market was asking for) when it created the 2000 Suburban and Tahoe. By doing so, the company has managed to create a superior product that offers an unbeatable combination of drivability, functionality and safety. With prices ranging from $25,000 for a base two-wheel-drive Tahoe to $40,000 for a Suburban LT, it's hard to imagine a modern SUV buyer who can't find what they want at their local Chevy dealer. 2000 Suburbans should be available as you read this with 2000 Tahoes arriving in March. If you are currently considering a utility vehicle, don't make a move without first driving one of these models.