The Chevrolet Suburban 4WD Z71 is redesigned for 2015 with numerous improvements inside and out. Among the highlights are a vastly improved interior, a more powerful and fuel-efficient V8 and a host of new advanced safety and convenience features. If you need eight-passenger capacity and the ability to tow a substantial amount of weight, the Suburban is still one of the top contenders in the full-size SUV class.
What Is It?
The 12th-generation Chevrolet Suburban turns 80 this year and continues to be Chevrolet's solution for shoppers looking for a vehicle that can accommodate up to nine people along with the ability to tow a sizable trailer. It comes in three trim levels, all of them available with either rear- or four-wheel drive. The sole engine is a 5.3-liter V8 that comes mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
The entry-level two-wheel-drive LS trim begins at $50,195, with the heavily optioned premium LTZ trim bumping that figure to $64,980. Our midlevel LT trim with four-wheel drive splits the difference in both price and standard content at $58,400, before options. It'll hold up to eight occupants, tow up to 8,000 pounds, and does so with much of the modern comfort and convenience expected in today's SUV offerings. The base LS model can be ordered with a front bench seat for nine-passenger capacity, while all two-wheel-drive models have a maximum tow rating of 8,300 pounds.
What's Included in the Z71 Off-Road Package?
Our test vehicle has the Z71 Off-Road package ($1,695) which is available on LT trim vehicles only and paradoxically requires opting into the $2,940 Luxury package. The main off-road supporting hardware includes a Z71-specific suspension, shorter 3.42 axle ratio and a two-speed transfer case. Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires take the place of standard all-seasons and are wrapped around larger 18-inch, Z71-exclusive aluminum wheels. Completing the treatment are a protective front skid plate, black tow hooks, foglamps, a parking assist system and oval side-step rails.
The requisite Luxury package includes passive entry and remote keyless start, power-folding second- and third-row seats, a power-adjustable heated steering wheel, wireless inductive phone charging, hands-free liftgate operation and the latest suite of GM's active safety technologies (see Safety section below).
All in, the grand total of our Suburban LT test vehicle comes to $63,035.
What's New Under the Hood?
Chevy replaced the previous pair of available V8s with a single EcoTec3 5.3-liter V8, the latest generation of GM's long-running V8 engines. Its most notable new feature is the addition of direct fuel injection, which helps it deliver more power while also increasing efficiency. Total engine output jumps to 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque, up from 320 hp and 335 lb-ft.
Chevy also does away with the E85 Flex Fuel option, but retains its Active Fuel Management (AFM) feature that allows the engine to selectively deactivate cylinders and operate as a V4 engine under light load conditions. A vacuum-controlled exhaust valve, improved engine mounts and electronic throttle control collectively mitigate noise and vibration to allow more frequent operation in fuel-saving V4 mode.
Longer periods spent in four-cylinder mode coupled with improved aerodynamics translate directly into improved EPA fuel economy ratings. The Suburban is now rated at 18 mpg in combined driving (15 city/22 highway) versus 17 mpg combined (15 city/21 highway) for the previous year's model. Two-wheel-drive models get the same 18 mpg rating despite slightly higher individual ratings for city/highway (16/23) driving.
What Else Is New?
Aside from a more powerful and efficient engine, the Suburban receives a much-needed interior revamping. The exterior also sports a more sophisticated design with bolder style elements, like new headlights that help break up the blockier styling of the previous generation.
Viewed in profile, the 2015 Suburban appears much longer than its predecessor. It gains a couple inches of length, but stands 2.5 inches shorter, and features larger rear door openings that ease access to the back cabin. With these new proportions, the elongating effect is more visually pronounced than its physical dimensions indicate.
Another feature added this year is a hands-free liftgate. Extending a leg underneath the center of the rear bumper signals the liftgate to open or close — a saving grace for those who've overestimated their ability to multitask with arms full of groceries. We did unwittingly manage to activate the closing function once, in the middle of unloading some items — a little unpleasant but not enough to outweigh the benefits.
The Suburban now features non-removable second- and third-row fold-flat seats: power-operated in our Luxury package-equipped example. Having a flat cargo loading area has many benefits beyond being a great place for napping. But it also comes at the expense of a higher lift-over height and a significant loss in cargo volume — 16.3 cubic feet less.
And though not equipped on our midlevel LT trim model, premium trim LTZ Suburbans receive new magnetic ride suspension. This third-generation system provides even quicker response to changing road conditions, improving both ride comfort and handling characteristics.
What's the Interior Like?
The interior of our midlevel LT trim test vehicle shows vast improvements over the previous generation, and delivers more of the look and quality you'd expect from a vehicle at this price point.
The center console and switchgear are much more attractive and thoughtfully integrated, freeing up an abundance of storage space, some of which you may struggle to find use for — like the hidden compartment behind the motorized 8-inch color touchscreen.
Also included with the LT trim's infotainment system is a 3GB/three-month WiFi hotspot data trial. This provides 4G LTE Internet access to any passenger with a WiFi-enabled device. With no fewer than five USB ports, five 12-volt plugs, a 110-volt AC outlet and a wireless induction phone charger, the Suburban is a virtual trough of energy, providing nourishment to any mobile device that needs it. Surprisingly, a navigation system is still optional at this level.
With the extended wheelbase of the Suburban, the second row of seats is comfortable enough for the average-size adult. Third-row occupants also gain livable legroom compared to Chevy's Tahoe, mostly due to the relief section ahead of the solid rear axle suspension.
How Does It Drive?
The Suburban is sized for wide-open spaces, so it feels a little unwieldy within city limits — like navigating a hallway with a king-size mattress. However, with the new variable-assist electric power steering, steering effort is light, easy and stable at any speed, which helps temper the Suburban's size and mass.
The Z71-specific suspension feels well planted on the road, trading some cushy ride compliance for better motion control. The ride may feel a little on the stiff side with an empty cabin, but the all-terrain tires remain surprisingly quiet and composed.
Chevrolet says overall structure strength has been improved through the use of more high-strength steel in the construction and new mounts that attach the SUV body to the frame. Though this may be the case, we still experienced some low-frequency vibration, which makes the cabin sound boomy at times.
Power from the new EcoTec V8 is more than sufficient, as evidenced by our track performance numbers. Zero-to-60-mph sprints are delivered in 7.2 seconds, and the shifts along the way are firm and quick. Considering the Suburban weighs more than 3 tons with a full fuel load and driver, these are solid acceleration times.
We are, however, let down by the engine's response to anything short of full throttle. The throttle pedal feels artificially heavy and conservative, from initial tip-in through the first 30 percent of its travel. We imagine this benefits fuel economy, but it makes for a very sluggish driving experience. A fully loaded cabin and a trailer in tow would likely make the issue even more annoying.
Could You Take It Off-Road?
On paper, the Z71-package equipped Suburban appears ready to blaze new trails. The reality is a little different. Its combination of a very long wheelbase, sidestep rails that hang below the rockers and limited ground clearance mean this SUV is ill suited to serious off-road duty. Its four-wheel-drive system and two-speed transfer case are likely to be more helpful when launching a boat on a slick launch ramp or navigating a steep, snow-covered driveway.
What About Safety?
Active safety features can even prevent accidents from occurring, and the LT Suburban comes standard with a good number of them.
Forward Collison Alert uses a forward-facing camera behind the rearview mirror to detect a possible head-on impact, warning the driver visually while also sending pulses through the seat cushion. This same camera can also detect if you're drifting out of your lane without signaling, and will alert the driver in a similar fashion (Lane Departure Warning).
Three additional active safety features included with the Luxury package utilize short-range radar sensors in the rear-quarter panels. These features warn you if a vehicle is in your blind spot (Side Blind Spot Alert) or if someone is approaching quickly while you're initiating a lane change (Lane Change Alert). It will even detect approaching cross traffic when you're backing out from a parking stall (Rear Cross-Traffic Alert).
All Suburbans receive comprehensive airbag protection, with side and curtain airbags for all rows. A new inboard side airbag protects against collisions between the driver and front passenger in addition to the traditional frontal airbags.
What Competing Models Should You Also Consider?
The number of full-size SUVs with serious towing capability has dwindled in the last decade, but there are still a few competitors for the Suburban. The Ford Expedition EL is similar in size, and like the Suburban the Expedition was updated for the 2015 model year with a new engine, revised styling and additional features.
Although slightly smaller and more expensive, the Mercedes-Benz GL offers three rows of seating and a 7,500-pound towing capacity. The Infiniti QX80 is sized and priced like the Mercedes-Benz and it offers an 8,500-pound towing capacity.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
You want maximum passenger capacity, coupled with the ability to tow a sizable trailer. Or maybe you like the idea of having more space and capability than you'll ever need.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
It's not easy to park, doesn't get great mileage and has limited off-road prowess due to its size. There are also several slightly smaller and less expensive SUVs that are more comfortable for daily driving while still offering some measure of towing capacity.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.