It's called Suburban for a good reason. Those of you living in rural areas would probably rather buy pickups for hauling bigger, dirtier loads. People in urban areas will probably rather have a small crossover SUV for better maneuverability. But this rig is built (and named) for everyone else in between. It's the everyman's do-it-all and has been for 75 years. Although the Suburban is a bit too large (and expensive) for crawling tight off-road trails, it does excel at hauling people and gear, while also towing your 4x4, to the trailhead.
If you are in the market for a new Suburban, you basically have two choices to make: Go for the decent mileage and economy of the 1/2-ton (with up to 8,100 pounds of towing capacity), or go for the heavy-duty hauling and towing capabilities of the 3/4-ton (with up to 9,600 pounds of towing capacity). The 1/2-ton comes with the 5.3L Vortec V-8 with Active Fuel Management (cylinder deactivation) and Flex-Fuel capability (can use E-85 Ethanol) putting out 320 hp and 335 lb-ft of torque along with a six-speed automatic transmission. The 3/4-ton gets you the standard 6.0L Vortec V-8 with variable valve timing rated at 352 hp and 383 lb-ft of twist, also with a heavy-duty six-speed tranny. Both rigs can be outfitted with seating for up to nine people or over 137 cubic feet of cargo space.
Our test vehicle was the 1/2-ton model with the high-end LTZ trim package (LS and LT are also available), which includes seating for seven (the second-row seats become buckets with this trim), a Bose 10-speaker surround-sound system, leather upholstery, a power liftgate, 20-inch aluminum wheels, tri-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth wireless, touch-screen navigation, a USB port, OnStar, Autoride suspension (active), an automatic locking rear differential, and a rearview camera, among many other modern amenities. Unfortunately our tester was only equipped with the single-speed Autotrac transfer case, although a two-speed case is available as an option ($100). Surprisingly our test truck's only option other than the LTZ trim level was the Black Granite Metallic paint at $195, giving it that "CIA operative" look. So the grand total for all of this came to $56,770 after the $950 destination charge.
Now you'd think for that much coinage you'd get a sunroof or rear-seat video screen, but those items must be ordered as options. Other options are mainly confined to different wheel designs (22-inch, anyone?), a trailer brake controller ($200), a heavy-duty trailering package ($230), and chrome recovery hooks ($154). If you want the Z71 off-road suspension package (with skidplates!) you'll need to drop down to the LT trim level.
Enough of the damages. How does it drive? The Suburban is all about loading up your family and friends (and all their luggage and what-the-heck-is-that?) and hitting the road for a long American-style tour/trip. You'll be amazed at the amount of junk that can be swallowed up by the Sub. Even with all this size and room, the 1/2-ton can still get up to 21 mpg with its high-tech fuel management and 3.08:1 axle gearing, but there is a point of diminishing returns: If you load too much and maybe hook up a trailer, the normally excellent 5.3L screams for mercy and you start using every one of those six gears in the transmission ... a lot! You can't check an option box for lower gears in the 1/2-ton; only the 3/4-ton model will get you more torque and lower gears (3.73:1). So if you travel often with large or heavy loads, get the 3/4-ton and bite the gasoline bullet.