Review: 2006 Chevrolet Suburban

The Chevrolet Suburban's loyal following is largely composed of well-heeled owners who have specialized pursuits and recognize a good value. For them, the Suburban has always been about capability, like a great pair of boots that can be muddied without worry. Other than the Ford Excursion and Cadillac Escalade ESV (which is based on the Suburban), nothing else on the road is like the Suburban.

In light of the rising cost of fuel, however, sales of this full-scale SUV have plunged. General Motors contends this is due more to the product's age than to high gas prices, and it's staking a fair amount of its future corporate well-being on a full-size truck range to supplant the Suburban, Tahoe, and Silverado in 2006. These all-new sport/utes and truck are expected to provide better fuel economy, a smoother ride, more amenities, and a more stylish and better-crafted interior. Until then, the Suburban enters its final production year for this generation with minor tweaks--and all the robust capability that has made the model name legendary for half a century.

The Suburban shares the Yukon XL's good-looking proportions, but from front to back, they're both relatively slab-sided and plain. Borrowing a car-trim name, a special LTZ edition is added to the range with an enhanced interior and exterior featuring 20-inch wheels and chrome accents. Recent aerodynamic refinements to the monstrous Suburban have improved fuel-economy figures. The Suburban's face has been smoothed, and when not fitted with the optional tow hooks and foglights, those respective openings are sealed for additional slipperiness. Specially designed running boards also cheat the wind. For an extra measure of convenience, the rear liftgate now has lift-up glass. New details include the combining of the OnStar and XM satellite radio antennas into a single unit and the availability of extended trailering mirrors.

Seating for six, seven, eight, or nine gives Suburban owners the ultimate in SUV passenger-carrying flexibility. Having a vehicle that is 219.3 inches long pays off when you open the tailgate to find an astonishing 45.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row of seats. That's about as much space as the average midsize SUV has with its third row folded.

The Suburban interior--largely shared with every full-size pickup and SUV GM offers--is neither stylish nor well wrought. Panel gaps are large and inconsistent, and hard plastic with visible lines from the molding process abounds. Recent trim updates in LS and LT models improve the look and feel slightly, but utilitarianism is still the byword here. This is fine if you plan to haul cords of firewood, but as a neighborhood carryall, the Suburban's cabin trails those of its competitors. Bringing a bit of high-tech to the otherwise outdated ambiance, a touch-screen navigation system is available, and the latest generation of OnStar is standard.

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