Friday, September 15, 2006

Chevy Suburban lives up to its big reputation

Saturday, August 26, 2006
Chevy Suburban lives up to its big reputation
2007 model maintains first-class status among sport utility vehicles.
Richard Williamson / Scripps Howard News Service

It's a shame about those high gas prices.

If not for $3-per-gallon gasoline, the redesigned 2007 Chevrolet Suburban might have found a growing line of eager buyers. Given current conditions, however, the beautiful behemoth could be a tough sell. Through July, sales of Suburbans were down nearly 28 percent.

For those who really need a full-size sport utility vehicle that seats nine and can tow 8,200 pounds, the venerable Suburban remains the class act in the category.

Chevrolet even found a way to improve efficiency through an Active Fuel Management system and variable valve timing. Expecting to blanch upon reading the EPA ratings on the review vehicle, I was somewhat surprised to see that the nearly three-ton SUV could travel 15 miles per gallon in the city and 21 on the highway. For now, estimated annual fuel cost is less than $2,000.

Another surprise was the performance and handling of the big brute. Powered by a 320-horsepower Vortec V8, the Suburban responded with alacrity to pressure on the accelerator. Measuring more than 18 feet in length and 6.5 feet in width, the Suburban is not exactly a toe dancer. However, I found maneuvers in a crowded parking garage quite manageable. One tremendously helpful option is the rear camera system that automatically projects on a video screen in the center dash a remarkably sharp color view behind the vehicle. For only $195, the rear camera system is highly recommended.

On city streets, I continually wondered whether I was filling more than my lane of traffic. Fortunately, the huge side mirrors confirmed that I was driving inside the lines.

New safety features include optional head curtain side air bags and standard StabiliTrak stability control system that also reduces the chances of a rollover.

Like the Silverado pickup whose platform it shares, Suburban is offered in a wide array of permutations. LS, LT and LTZ trim can be obtained in rear-drive or 4-wheel-drive formats in 1500 or heavy-duty 2500 series.

Base prices range from $36,290 for the rear-drive 1500 LS to $41,025 for the 2500 LT.

With a 130-inch wheelbase, the Suburban's base is 14 inches longer than that of its sibling Tahoe's. If you are loyal to the GMC brand, you can get a Yukon XL that differs from the Suburban only cosmetically.

The trucks are built at GM plants in Arlington, Texas, Janesville, Wis., and Silao, Mexico.

Suburban 1500 models are powered by the 5.3-liter V8. An all-aluminum 6-liter V8 with Active Fuel Management and variable valve timing will be available later in the production cycle. A 6-liter engine with an iron cylinder block is sold on 2500 models. Several engines run on E85, a renewable fuel made of 85 percent ethyl alcohol and 15 percent gasoline.

While the Suburban 1500 can tow up to 8,200 pounds the 2500 series can tow up to 9,700 pounds.

The Z71 Off Road appearance package features more prominent fog lamps and specific grille texture, platinum chrome grille trim and 18-inch wheels with off-road tires.

While General Motors has recently broken out of its stuffy styling mode in recent years, the designers showed appropriate restraint in redoing the Suburban. Generally speaking, the slightly more rounded corners make the SUV seem less barge-like in appearance.

A large Chevy gold bowtie on a twin-port horizontal grille broadcasts the Suburban's parentage. Fog lamps and headlamps bejewel the front end. Wheel options range from 17-inchers to 20-inchers. The paint palette includes Greystone Metallic, Dark Blue Metallic, Sport Red Metallic, Bermuda Blue Metallic, Black, Summit White, Gold Mist Metallic, Amber Bronze Metallic and Silver Birch Metallic.

Thanks to an attractive side running board, access to the Suburban's passenger compartment is quite agreeable. The large cargo compartment is accessible through a liftgate that can be opened automatically if you add the $350 power option. You can also open only the glass portion of the rear gate.

If you love roomy interiors, the Suburban is definitely the SUV for you. Passenger space has grown, with more shoulder space for rear passengers. Behind the first-row seats, Suburban offers 137.4 cubic feet of cargo room. One knock on the current design is the lack of a fold-flat rear seat.

Ergonomically, the Suburban gets an A-plus. Chevy designers did not play games with the instrumentation but stuck to their successful formula of providing large, visible knobs for sound and ventilation systems, sturdy cup holders and well-placed arm support from the padded center console.

As a vehicle that has been around since 1936, Suburban hauls a huge heritage for Chevrolet. The newest version certainly maintains the image. Given the current dicey economic conditions and falling demand for super-sized vehicles, buyers who really need this kind of capacity should get a heck of a deal from their local dealer.

What's new: Redesigned exterior, improved seating comfort, stronger chassis, Gen IV small-block V-8 engines.

Pluses: Power, capacity, comfort, ergonomics, utility.

Minuses: Fuel economy, maneuverability.

Bottom line: Best of the full-size sport utility vehicles.

Richard Williamson writes about automobiles for Scripps Howard News Service.

2007 Chevrolet Suburban LT

TYPE: Rear-drive, half-ton, nine-passenger, five-door, full-size sport utility vehicle.

PRICE: $36,865 base, ($33,910 invoice) $47,240 as tested.
WHERE BUILT: Silao, Mexico.

KEY COMPETITORS: Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator.

POWER: 5.3-liter, 320-horsepower, Vortec V8; four-speed auto transmission with tow/haul mode.

FUEL ECONOMY: 15 city, 21 highway mpg, estimated annual fuel cost $1,940.

CHASSIS: Independent front suspension, coil over shock, optional Autoride real-time damping; five-link rear with coil springs; all-speed traction control; power rack-and-pinion steering; power disc brakes with ABS; 17-inch cast aluminum wheels.

LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT: 222.4 x 79.1 x 76.8 inches.

WHEELBASE X TRACK: 130 x 68.2/67 inches.


CURB WEIGHT: 5,613 pounds.

TOWING CAPACITY: 8,200 pounds.

STANDARD: Front air bags, power accessories, remote keyless entry, driver-lockout prevention, tire pressure monitor, driver information center, six-way power adjustable driver bucket seat, power adjustable front-passenger seat, tilt steering, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with rear-seat audio controls, cruise control, automatic climate control, running boards, underbody-mounted spare tire, luggage rack side rails, fog lamps, auto headlamps.

OPTIONS: LT3 equipment group includes leather upholstery, 12-way power adjustable driver's seat with heat and memory, power adjustable pedals, remote vehicle starter, six-disc CD changer, side head-curtain air bags, Bose premium speaker system, XM Satellite radio, rear parking assist, universal home remote, tri-zone air conditioner ($4,050); rear-seat entertainment system ($1,295); power liftgate with lift glass ($350).

© Copyright 2006 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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