Chevy Suburban, historical excellence prevails

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

1936 was an insignificant year for most of us who weren’t there to witness it first hand and aren’t history buffs or avid watchers of the History Channel. But 1936 was notable for many things including the re-election of President Franklin Roosevelt and the first full year of Social Security.

It was in 1936 that William Powell and Myrna Loy followed up their movie hit “Thin Man” with a second installment of the adventures of detectives Nick and Nora Charles, and it was in 1936 that Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War epic “Gone with the Wind” became a best-selling novel.

It was in 1936 that the top income tax rate was hiked to 79 percent. And yes, it was in 1936 that Jesse Owens, a black athlete from the United States, dominated the Olympics in Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

It also marked the initial production of the Chevrolet Suburban.

Like Social Security and the income tax, the Suburban has endured through more than 70 years. And it soldiers on with the same intentions it had in 1936, as a large utility vehicle capable of moving seven or eight people and cargo in its spacious interior.

No other nameplate in the U.S. can replicate the Suburban’s longevity. And through the years no other nameplate has been able to successfully duplicate the Suburban template.

The Chevy began life as a two-door vehicle — three if you count the rear door — and on a smaller platform than the modern version. According to automotive historians, the 1936 Suburban was basically a modified Chevrolet pickup truck with a 113-inch wheelbase (today’s Suburban rides on a 130-inch wheelbase) propelled by an inline 6 developing between 75 and 90 horsepower (there’s dispute over engine size).

Four doors weren’t added to the package until 1967, but the two-door Suburban was a hit with families, businesses, funeral home operators and sportsmen for 30 years. We bring you this snippet of history because the Suburban is all new for the 2007 model year. And it represents a significant advancement in the brand.

The Suburban has been transformed inside and out.

There’s only so much that can be done with the exterior of what is basically a big box. But General Motors has smoothed out the lines and raked the windshield for a slimmer, classy look.

The unmistakable Chevy grille with the center bar adorned by a large Chevy bowtie has been restyled. It no longer extends through the headlights from one end of the truck to the other, but is neatly tucked between two elegant-looking triangular headlight enclosures.
The clean, unadorned rear is highlighted by tall taillights that wrap around into the side of the vehicle.

But the biggest improvement has been made to the interior layout.

The dashboard is stylish with good use of quality plastics and excellent faux wood trim. Gauges are easy to read and the wide range of read-outs and settings are easily assessable. This is an interior that would not be out of place in a BMW, Mercedes or Lexus sport utility.

A huge center bin will hold a purse, small laptop or a camera bag. And there are the requisite cupholders, power-points and cubbies.

The Suburban continues as a typical body-on-frame truck with a solid rear axle, but Chevrolet officials say body stiffness has been increased significantly. The front torsion-bar suspension has been replaced by a coil-over-shock layout and the old re-circulating ball steering has been replaced with a more precise rack-and-pinion setup.

One thing that has marked the Suburban over competitors in recent years is its feeling of nimbleness and its handling ability in tight spots Nothing has changed here, and, in fact, the big truck — which now stretches out 222 inches with the same 130-inch wheelbase as the previous iteration — feels even better.

New offerings from Ford — extended versions of the 2007 Expedition and Lincoln Navigator — come close to matching the Chevy in this regard based on some seat time in the Navigator. But we still marvel at how small the Suburban drives.

The standard engine in the Suburban 1500 (half ton) is the flexible fuel 5.3-liter V-8 with cylinder deactivation technology. It offers satisfying performance mated to a four-speed automatic transmission while yielding decent, for what it is, fuel mileage of 15 mpg city and 20 mpg on the highway in four-wheel drive models. The engine will burn ethanol (E85) as well as 87-octane regular gasoline.

The V-8 generates 320 horsepower in two-wheel drive and 310 horsepower in four-wheel drive. For comparison, the 0-to-60 number is around 8 seconds.

And for further comparison, the 5.3-liter-equipped Suburban can tow 8,200 pounds. An optional aluminum-block 6.0-liter V-8 generating 366 horsepower and mated to a six-speed automatic will be available in 1500 in the future.

The three-quarter-ton 2500 can now be ordered with the 6.0-liter iron block V-8.

Two of the big reasons people purchase a Suburban — a huge cargo area and adequate room for six-to-eight adult passengers — remain valid in the new model. Cargo capacity has been increased slightly from 132 to 137 cubic feet and luggage capacity behind the third seat remains an amazing 45.8 cubic feet.

The Suburban can be purchased with second row captain’s chairs that can be powered down and then up against the front seats with the push of a button. It’s a nice idea to clear the center load floor. But the third row does not fold flat into the floor as in some trucks including the Ford Expedition. It can be folded down and removed in two sections, each weighing about 65 pounds.

The Suburban 1500 comes in two trim levels — LS and LT — starting at $37,535 and $38,310. Four-wheel drive adds $2,800. A sporty LTZ package can be purchased for $8,110, and a myriad of other options can be obtained running the price of the Suburban to over $55,000.

Our four-wheel drive model came with the $4,050 LT3 equipment package, which added leather seating, power adjustable pedals, remote vehicle start, head-curtain airbags, premium audio, rear parking assist and tri-zone automatic climate control. Other extras included rear entertainment, navigation and power sunroof brought the bottom line to $50,040.

The Suburban has always been a favorite big passenger hauler, and the new vehicle does nothing to change that. It represents a solid advancement and we can easily envision future generations celebrating a century of Suburban in 2036.

Now, please GM, get the six-speed automatic transmission ready for the 2008 model year.


Base price: $37,535; as driven: $50,0420
Engine: 5.3-liter V-8
Horsepower: 310 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque: 335 pound-feet @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Drive: four-wheel
Seating: 2/2/3
Turning circle: 43 feet
Towing capacity: 8,200 pounds
Maximum payload: 1,657 pounds
Wheelbase: 130 inches
Length: 222.4 inches
Curb weight: 5,743 pounds
Fuel capacity: 31 gallons (regular or ethanol)
EPA mileage: 20 highway, 15 city
Also consider: Ford Expedition EL, GMC Yukon XL, Nissan Armada

The Good:
• Nimble handling for a big truck
• Classy interior rivals the competition
• Standard V-8 combines good performance with relative fuel efficiency

The Bad:
• No fold-in-the-floor rear seat

The Ugly:
• Any bets on when General Motors finally retires the four-speed automatic transmission?