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For much of its 80-year lifespan, the Chevrolet Suburban was a blunt instrument. Heavy, inefficient and crude, it possessed a logging camp’s rustic charms.
But as it enters its twelfth generation, the plus-sized SUV has evolved into a well-rounded rig, with virtues that extend beyond its massive people- and load-carrying capacity.
Fully made over for 2015, the Suburban ($48,295, including destination) rides on a sturdy new platform it shares with the Silverado pickup. Its cavernous, three-row cabin is quiet and comfortable and upper trims are luxuriously outfitted. OnStar with 4G LTE makes every Suburban a rolling WiFi hot-spot.
Considering its heft and the ruggedness baked into its bones, ride and handling are better than what one might expect. We tested the top-grade LTZ trim ($62,695), whose adaptive suspension smoothed out rough road surfaces.
Twelfth-gen Interior upgrades include a new touchscreen, enhanced smartphone integration and a suite of electronic safety features that includes lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and a frontal collision warning and mitigation system.
The Suburban can be equipped with three rows of bench seats, yielding seating for nine adults. New this year is a third row that folds into a well beneath the cargo floor. It replaces a pair of heavy and awkward seats that had to be removed completely and stored when not in use.
The new setup reduces total cargo capacity by a few cubic feet and elevates the cargo floor, but adds flexibility to the cargo hold. The split-folding seatbacks — a total of four — are power operated and raised and lowered via a set of buttons mounted at the back of the cargo area.
Chevy targeted fuel efficiency as a priority for the 2015 Suburban and developed a new 5.3-liter V-8 engine that makes 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission manages power distribution.
Chevy powertrain engineers employed direct injection, cylinder deactivation, continuously variable valve timing and an advanced combustion system to achieve substantial efficiency gains over last year’s ratings.
The EPA estimates fuel economy at 18 mpg combined for both 2WD (16 city/23 highway) and 4WD (16/22).
All 4WD Suburbans are equipped with a locking rear differential that improves traction in deep snow or mud. A traditional 4WD system, with a two-speed transfer case and low-range gearing is available.
In two-wheel-drive form, the Suburban can tow up to 8,300 pounds and, with 4WD, 8,000.
The 2015 Suburban has a more subtle and sophisticated feel from the outside. Its lines are simple and bold. The windshield has a deeper rake and projector-beam headlamps flank the familiar dual-port grille, wrapping deeply into the front fenders. An aluminum hood and liftgate panels help control weight, while new inlaid doors reduce wind noise and improve aerodynamics.
The quality of interior materials, along with fit and finish, are vastly improved, especially in the upper trims. Useful cargo spaces are scattered throughout the cabin.
The Suburban weighs in at nearly 6,000 pounds and building a head of steam requires a heavy throttle foot. Underway, the ride is settled and the cabin quiet.
Its critics would assign the Suburban to the elephant burial ground, but the stubborn Suburban shows every sign of sailing past the century mark.
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2015 Chevrolet Suburban 4WD LTZ
Vehicle base price: $47,300
Trim level base price: $64,700
As tested: $71,880
Options included sunroof; MyLink audio system and navigation; adaptive cruise control; Max Trailering package.
Towing capacity: 8,300 pounds
EPA ratings: 15 city/22 highway/18 combined
Regular unleaded fuel specified