Bigger is better this year in Chevrolet's largest sport utility vehicle, the Suburban.
The expansive, 19-foot-long vehicle was refreshed for its 80th year on the market, with more engine power, best-in-class fuel economy, more features, a surprisingly quiet interior and more comfortable — and larger, of course— seats. It was restyled, too, with a decidedly formal look.
But some things remain the same, such as its rugged truck-based platform, making the Suburban stand out among today's three-row SUVs. It also is among the few SUVs to still offer up to nine seats.
The Suburban is a capable, if sizable, off-road vehicle, though drivers who stay on paved paths might be unaware because the Suburban's ride is better controlled than ever, at least on the top LTZ model. That's in part because the LTZ comes with the latest version of magnetic ride control as part of the suspension.
And no one needs to get bored in the new Suburban: There are up to six power outlets, six USB ports and a rear entertainment center with two sizable screens. Plus, it can become a Wi-Fi hotspot (data usage rates apply).
Starting price for the 2015 Suburban increased — more than $50,000 for the first time, with destination charge included. Specifically, the base, rear-wheel drive, 2015 Suburban LS starts at $50,195, $2,900 more than a base 2014 Suburban. All Suburbans come with the newly invigorated, 5.3-liter, overhead valve V8 that's direct-injected to produce 355 horsepower and 383 foot-pounds of torque at 4,100 rpm. It is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Competitors include other full-size SUVs with three rows of seats, such as the 2015 Ford Expedition, which has a starting retail price of $45,780. This is for an XLT two-wheel drive model with 365-horsepower, turbocharged V-6. Ford no longer offers a V8 on the Expedition.
The test Suburban was the top LTZ model with four-wheel drive, and its size, height and lengthy list of standard and optional features were impressive. Then again, the final sticker price was $72,530. The engine moved the Suburban in steady fashion, and maximum towing capacity is 8,300 pounds.
Front seats had ample cushions and provided good support on long drives, and the center console between the front seats was large enough to hold a laptop.
The Suburban's nearly 11-foot-long wheelbase provided for wide doorways, particularly for the second-row doors. Standard "assist steps," basically a long running board on each side, eased entry into the tall Suburban. And, because of the high seat position, everyone has good views out — so much so that passengers can look over some fences.
The Suburban's front seats have a segment-leading 45.3 inches of legroom, and second-row seats have nearly 40 inches of legroom; good luck finding that in other SUVs. Even the Suburban's third row was comfortable for smaller-statured adults, and there is more headroom in the third row — 38.5 inches — than in the back seat of a Toyota Camry.
The tester averaged 16.2 mpg in travel that was mostly on city streets. Because the gas tank is huge— 31 gallons — the travel range was just over 500 miles. Filling up, however, cost nearly $84.
For as large and heavy as it is, the Suburban received only four out of five stars for occupant protection in government crash tests. Also, there have been four safety recalls of the 2015 Suburban, ranging from a faulty electronic module that could cause the power steering to turn off to roof rail air bags that might not be adequately attached and therefore might not deploy properly.