Seats up to nine people; class-leading cargo capacity; lots of standard and optional features; comfortable ride; smooth V8.
Third-row seat is bulky and doesn't fold into the floor; acceleration is somewhat sluggish under full load; portly curb weight hampers handling.
Here in the bigger-is-better U.S.A., a 32-ounce soft drink is considered a "regular" size. Some families of four somehow require a 4,000-square-foot McMansion. And large, thirsty, truck-based SUVs such as this 2011 Chevrolet Suburban LTZ 1500 have likewise become symbolic of our country's excessive ways. When was the last time you saw a Suburban carrying a full load of passengers or pulling something massive? Yep, a Suburban is blatant overkill for most folks. But for the few who have a genuine need for this gentle giant's impressive capabilities, it could make sense.
The Suburban shines (especially if it's the 2500 with the, umm, bigger V8) when it is put to work pulling really heavy things, like a horse trailer large enough for four of Secretariat's descendants. Plus it can also carry their handlers and their cargo in comfort. The Tahoe's bigger brother also excels at taking big families on road trips and serving as a beast of burden on Home Depot runs where (once you wrestle the seats out) you could probably transport enough materials to build a barn for those horses.
If you've got your sights set on a large, rugged SUV, you might also consider the Ford Expedition EL or Toyota Sequoia, the former having a more comfortable third-row seat that also easily folds into the floor and the latter boasting more refined handling and ride dynamics along with strong performance.
But for most people, a more fuel- and space-efficient minivan such as a Honda Odyssey or large crossover such as the Chevy Traverse is a better choice. The 2011 Chevrolet Suburban only holds an appreciable advantage if you plan on heavy towing. A minivan's maximum towing capacity is about 3,500 pounds and a large crossover's is 5,200. A Suburban 2500 can pull up to 9,600 pounds.
That said, we have to admit the big lug grew on us. Once you've acclimated to its size, the Suburban is actually pretty pleasant to drive with its comfy ride, precise steering and solid tracking on the highway. It's all good until you have to park on a crowded street or in a small parking lot. Yes, the park assist is a big help and greatly reduces stress, but you still have to find enough space to use it. Then there's the matter of the Suburban's feeding requirements — we averaged 13.6 mpg.
In other words, if you honestly need a Chevrolet Suburban, then you have our blessing. But if not, we'd suggest considering a less thirsty and more practical alternative.
Being a Suburban "1500" (as opposed to the 2500), our test truck came with the 5.3-liter V8 (the 2500 comes with the 6.2-liter V8). Output is certainly respectable at 320 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. At the track the big bruiser barreled to 60 mph in 9.0 seconds. That's not exactly quick — it's about what a midsize four-cylinder sedan runs — but in the real world it's more than adequate, as are merging and passing power. Shifts from the six-speed automatic are velvet-smooth and the transmission kicks down willingly whenever you need more thrust.
When we loaded the 2011 Chevrolet Suburban up with seven passengers, however, we noticed an impact on performance. Specifically, while running up a long freeway climb the Suburban felt somewhat labored. Obviously, had we been pulling a trailer as well it would've felt even more flat-footed. As such, should you plan on regularly towing very heavy loads, you may want to consider the 2500 with its more powerful engine.
At 145 feet, the Suburban's stopping distance from 60 mph is about 20 feet longer than what you'd see from a compact sedan, but about what we'd expect from a truck that weighs twice as much as a car. Notably, the pedal is reassuringly firm and consistent in feel.
When we threw some curves at the Suburban it handled them well. Of course you don't want to go whipping around canyon roads with this thing, but the relatively light and precise steering and lack of excess body roll make for a pleasant drive, once you get used to its plus-size dimensions.
Kings of the road. That's what we felt like while piloting the 2011 Chevrolet Suburban thanks to its big, comfy front seats, high center-console armrest and commanding view of the road ahead. Of course there's plenty of space for larger drivers to get comfortable behind the wheel, but even smaller folks are easily accommodated, thanks to generous adjustment range in the power seat, power-adjustable pedals and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel.
With a 130-inch wheelbase, you'd expect serious second-row seat room and it's there in ample supply, as even 6-footers can stretch out a bit. The third-row seats are fully usable by a pair of adults as well, though under-thigh support is skimpy due to the height of the floor back there. Three across would be tight, as the wheel housings limit the seat's width.
Despite its rugged, truck-based platform, the Suburban delivers a smooth ride, effectively isolating passengers from broken pavement without making the driver feel as if he's steering a waterbed on wheels. At higher freeway speeds the cabin remains relatively serene, another factor that makes the Suburban great on long road trips.
Getting in and out of this big truck is made easier by the standard running boards, which are large enough and ideally located to easily get a foot on. But as we've noted with other big trucks and SUVs, the Suburban has grab handles at all doors except the driver's to make entry and exit easier. Sure, drivers can just hoist themselves in by grabbing the steering wheel, but a handle on the A-pillar would make it easier.
The LTZ's handsome dash boasts easily read instruments and logical control placements. Oft-used functions such as the climate control and audio systems are intuitive to operate, as are the multitude of high-end luxury features (such as heated and cooled seats and the power-adjustable pedals). We wish we could say the same for the second- and third-seat removal process, which requires one to unlatch and pull the heavy buggers out. After doing so, your back will probably appreciate it if you plop down in one of those front seats and crank up its heater.
The 2011 Chevrolet Suburban features plenty of compartments and cubbies to easily accommodate daily commute and road trip necessities. And thanks to its abundance of interior space, tasks such as installing rear-facing child seats or transporting a foursome's golf clubs to the course are no sweat.
Design/Fit and Finish
Blocky and slab-sided, the Suburban looks imposing. Go with Jet Black paint and other drivers may show extra respect, figuring you're with the FBI or the Secret Service. The LTZ's split-mesh grille, chrome body-side molding and polished alloy wheels add just the right amount of flash without making the SUV look too blinged-out.
This being the top trim also means the interior is pretty nice. The dash wouldn't look out of place in a Caddy, with its elegant instrument fonts and fake but convincing wood trim, while the plump and handsomely stitched upholstery adds to the luxury vibe. Of course there are various hard plastic surfaces within, but they have tight panel gaps and uniform grain patterns.
Who should consider this vehicle
As mentioned before, the 2011 Chevrolet Suburban is ideal for those who plan on regularly carrying a full complement of passengers and/or towing heavy loads. Should the latter not be a requirement, a minivan or large crossover makes for a more sensible choice.