Our Suburban's poor fuel economy can be blamed partly on its specification. We equipped our LTZ with a 4.10:1 rear gear to aid in towing thrust (3.73:1 is standard), a choice that no doubt contributed to the truck's greater-than-expected thirst. (A 6000-pound curb weight probably didn't help either.) Fuel mileage remained disappointingly low throughout the year; we averaged just 14 mpg overall.
The installation of shorter final-drive gearing clearly helped acceleration when compared with Suburbans equipped with the base ratio, but our Chevy's passing power and towing ability were hampered by its four-speed automatic. The transmission's widely spaced ratios put a noticeable wet blanket on towing ability and seemed primitively at odds with the rest of the truck. The presence of two more cogs--as in the Silverado HD pickup--would no doubt help both grunt and fuel economy. (Unfortunately, toward the end of its stay with us, the Suburban's shift quality greatly worsened; it was accompanied by an increase in driveline noise. At press time, the local dealer had yet to determine the cause.)
That's not to say that things were all negative. On the contrary, the Suburban's looks and imposing presence were largely a hit. "Other than one dude in downtown Detroit who told me to `go give your mom her car back,' " said one intern, "everyone looks at the Suburban like it's a Bentley. I don't know why people bother throwing down the cash for an Escalade; this is enough of a status symbol right here." And although the Chevy's optional twenty-inch chrome-plated wheels and 275/55 Bridgestones contributed greatly to its fidgety ride quality, they certainly looked great.
When all is said and done, you may be surprised to hear our final verdict: in spite of all the Suburban's flaws, we really liked it. Few other SUVs are as capable, as comfortable, or as versatile.
By the end of its stay, the Chevy had even grown on the notoriously critical Noordeloos: "It has its own charm, and I like that it's classless. It fits in equally well at a black-tie event or a county fair."
Best vehicle in the world? No, not quite. But regardless, the Suburban still satisfies. It's a true-truck leftover in a world of ever-more-carlike SUVs, and what it loses in the details, it makes up for with sheer world-hauling capability. As one staff member put it, "The Suburban isn't perfect, but it serves its purpose pretty well. It was around long before the SUV craze, and it's probably going to be around long after. All the soccer moms and stereotypes aside, it's just an honest truck."