2013 Chevy Suburban still impresses

For years I have asked my Chevy contacts to give me a Suburban for a week so I could do a full ride/drive review.  Alas, there was never one in the regional media fleet, and I suspected that GM wasn’t exactly looking for a green vehicle journalist writing in horror over fuel efficiency and big SUVs like the Silverado and Ford Expedition.  They are certainly not for everyone but when you are dealing with a large family or equipment or towing or hauling of moderate amounts and don’t want a pickup truck, these are among your best alternatives.

2013 Suburban LTZ 004 (2)So, my begging got a positive response and I had a week in the 2013 eleventh generation Suburban.  After 78 years worth of vehicles bearing that badge (although I certainly have not been in all (or even most of them) — it was a pleasure.

Trivial pursuit

1936 Chevy Suburban

1936 Chevy Suburban

Initially, in 1935, GM put a station wagon body with windows on on a truck frame.  In 1937, the GMC and Chevy versions had the term “Carryall” as part of their badging.  The configuration hasn’t changed much — truck frame, seating for up to eight in three rows and rear panel doors or rear tailgate/lift window options for cargo access.  Today, however, it seems more SUV than truck with comfort, function and convenience, and technological features.  Come to think of it, today’s pickup trucks have all of that, too.  You could play chicken-or-egg games all day to determine which was first, but either way, the consumer is the winner.

1966 Chevy Suburban

1966 Chevy Suburban

The Suburban is the leader in this “super-sized SUV market.  In addition to being a favorite of big families, especially in the Lone Star State, it is also used as a security limo (read that Secret Service) or official and emergency service vehicles.  About 100,000 vehicles of this size are sold annually with the Suburban accounting for just under half.

2013 Chevy Suburban LTZS

2013 Chevy Suburban LTZS

Where I had always thought of the Silverado as bulky rather than robust in appearance, the one that I drove looked contemporary and attractive, if more functional than sculptural.  I suspect the traditional Suburban owner is delighted with the appearance. Lines are clean, but I would love it if the team that designed the great new 2014 Silverado and Sierra trucks did their magic on the grille, lighting, exterior mirrors and trim.  Some new optional wheel styles would be excellent, too.  As it is, I would still be delighted to have it in my driveway, but imagine a surprise redo using the knowledge that GM already has.

The Suburban comes in both 1500 (half-ton) and 2500 (one-ton) versions; the 1500 is available in 2WD or 4WD (an additional $2,845).  There are three trim levels: the LS (MSRP $45,360), the LT(MSRP $49,120) and the LTZ (MSRP $58,225).  The power plant for all of these is a 5.3L SFI V-8 with 320hp and 335-lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a six-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission with tow/haul mode.The rear axle ration is 3.42, and there is an available heavy duty trailering package (a very well-priced $230) bringing tow limits up to 7,200 pounds.   Trailer brake controller is an added $200.

Our wheels

As driven, our fleet vehicle was a 1500 2WD with optional Crystal Red Tintcoat (well worth the $495 upcharge) and the Light/Dark Titanium interior.  It was a top-of-the-offering LTZ with the sun and entertainment package ($2,535 add on). This included a power sunroof, rear seat entertainment system, 3rd row DVD screen, navigation with audio,

2013 Suburban LTZ 013 (2)Standard equipment for this Suburban included special duty Autoride Suspesion, StabiliTrak with trailer sway control and hill start assist, 20-inchpiolished aluminum wheels, heated power mirrors with turn signals and curb tilt, side blind zone alert, power liftgate with liftglass, running board step assist and luggage rack side and center rails.  It priced out, as shown, at $60,195.

Interior would love a Silverado-style update

For years, GM has been criticized for its uninspired truck interiors; for lack-luster materials and mediocre quality, including fit and finish.  This Silverado has been refreshed, but it is still needs work on these issues.. There is, however, possible relief on the horizon.

2013 Suburban LTZ 011 (2)While the interior of the 2013 was adequate, it would be inspired to give it a major refresh with the styling of the just-introduced 2014 Silverado.  The traditional buyer, after all, is Chevy truck-like in many respects, and the updated interior is a highly-refined version.  I could also see a special edition featuring the Silverado High Country, designed to compete with the King Ranch and Laramie Longhorn (or Bighorn) luxury trucks.

2013 Suburban LTZ 009 (2)The interior of the vehicle I drove did have a luxury feel with leather and what appeared to be ersatz wood, but the linear dash board and instrument cluster were so much less attractive than the new Silverado for just about the same price.  This interior needs wood that looks authentic, top-stitching where appropriate, a good match where materials dovetail with each others, etc. etc.  That has all been done on the 2014 Silverado and (hey, GM) your Suburban loyalists deserve the same.

That said, this 2013 isn’t bad overall.  On the vehicle I drove, the seats are very comfortable and have perforated leather trimmed buckets in the front and center rows and a three-passenger 50/50 split bench seat for the third row.  The two up front has 12-way power lumbar to recline adjustment, as well as heating and cooling.  The leather-wrapped steering wheel 8is also heated, and features mounted audio and cruise control switches.  Gas and brake pedals are power adjustable.

easy access to third row of seating

easy access to third row of seating

Bucket seats in the second row are heate4d and have power release to make third row access easy.  All three rows have a Tri-Zone Auto Climate Control so there will be far less bitching in the third row.  A very welcome feature.

The upgraded audio on this vehicle is a Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound 10-speaker system with USB port and power outlet, rear controls with headphone jacks, AM/FM/Sirius Satellite and CD player.  There is a 7″ color interface display touch screen with voice recognition, MP3 playback and automatic speed-compensating volume control and Bluetooth capability.

And now a plug for OnStar — if you don’t recognize the importance of this standard equipment GM exclusive, just skip this paragraph.  As with all GM vehicles, the Suburban comes with a free trial package of services.  When it is time to subscribe, do so without even thinking about it.  Like your AAA or other road service card, it is insurance.  All it takes is one emergency or problem and it more than pays for itself.  And, if you opt out of an in-car navigation system, this also includes turn-by-turn and other features.  If you need to rationalize it, just say you are getting it for the less capable members of your household or anyone who may need an extra support.  No one will question your logic; they will think that you are exceptionally considerate and you will still have OnStar for yourself.

My conclusions

If you are ready for a trade in and are a Suburban loyalist or thinking of becoming one, you will not be disappointed by the 2013 vehicle.  It has all the available bells and whistles and is better looking that any previous model.  It gets fuel efficiency of 17-mpg combined (15 city and 21 highway), much like its 2013 Silverado sister, but less than the fuel efficient 2014 pickup model.

2013 Suburban LTZ 005 (2)So, this is the time to put all of that lobbying skill to good use: start a petition to encourage the powers-that-be at Chevy to bring all that design, engineering and technological prowess to the Suburban — soon rather than later.  Loyalists deserve to be rewarded.  And, while you’re at it, ask them for a diesel version, too.  .

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