First Drive: The 2021 Chevrolet Suburban Is the Best Suburban Ever
For all of its gains, however, the new model could use a few further improvements.
LOS ANGELES—Rather than fly us for a press preview—no way any of us were getting on an airliner—Chevrolet pursued Plan B, which was a day-long loan of the all-new 2021 Chevrolet Suburban. The Suburban is the culmination of nearly 90 years of development, the longest-running nameplate in autodom, and a profitable slice of Chevrolet's marketing pie. Chevrolet wanted to show us everything the new Suburban has to offer for our review, so I was supplied with a top-of-the-line High Country model with four-wheel drive and a trailering and technology package—a gleaming $85,000 vacation machine.
And I had one day to figure out if it was any good.
2021 Chevrolet Suburban: New Independent Rear Suspension
The 2021 Chevrolet Suburban, and its smaller Tahoe sibling, are based on the latest version of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup, with one key change: An independent rear suspension, something its archrival, Ford's Expedition, has had for nearly 20 years. From what our sister publication MotorTrend was told, it was a real battle to get the corporation to approve it. IRS has advantages in ride, handling, and safety, but it's an expensive upgrade when you're trying to share parts with a pickup truck. Like, really expensive.
Was the upgrade worth it? Honestly, the Suburban's ride and handling were not quite what I expected heading into this review, especially given my test car's optional air suspension. I set off from my suburban (heh) apartment, avoiding the freeway and taking surface streets toward downtown Los Angeles. The new Suburban's ride is super-soft, gentle and floaty, and yet it feels steadier than the previous-gen model.
But there was also an odd jittering over nearly every bump—a strange quiver in the structure that reminded me of badly designed convertibles. The last all-new Chevy I reviewed, the 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer, had its own issues with bad behavior on bad pavement. I began to wonder what's brewing within Chevy's ride-quality test protocols.
2021 Chevrolet Suburban in the Urban
Maneuvering a boat like this in a busy city can be distinctly un-fun, but the 2021 Chevrolet Suburban made it an easy thing to do. The steering is light and direct, the turning circle is respectably tight (especially considering the new Suburban's 4.1-inch wheelbase increase), and the brake pedal is firm if a bit spongy in the lower half of its travel. Once big annoyance: The diagonal cut on the lower-inside corner of the side mirrors, which cuts off the view of the Suburban's flanks. A squared-off mirror would have made the going that much easier on Hollywood's narrow streets.
I had an errand to run in downtown L.A., and as I cruised down Hill Street, a parking spot miraculously opened ahead of me. I pulled up, popped the push-button shifter into reverse (push-button is really a misnomer; you push on P, N, and L, but you pull on R and D), and the new Suburban's big center screen offered me a host of useful camera views. I zipped back into the spot, shifted to Drive, and the camera switched to nose view. One pass and I was in! Docking a ship this big doesn't get any easier unless the car does it for you—a feature the Suburban doesn't offer, but the Ford Expedition does.
Open Road: Where the 2021 Chevrolet Suburban is Happiest
With my errand done, I made a beeline for the freeway, where the new 2021 Suburban feels most at home, at least during my relatively brief review time. High Country models get the biggest engine, a 6.2-liter V-8 offering 420 horsepower. Other choices include a 355-hp, 5.3 liter V-8 and a new 277-hp, 3.0 liter turbodiesel. All three use a new 10-speed automatic transmission, a smooth-shifting silent servant developed, surprisingly, in conjunction with Ford.
With the big V-8, acceleration to freeway speeds was not a problem; keeping my speed from drifting too far above the legal limit was. I engaged the adaptive cruise system, which struck me as surprisingly primitive—as traffic bunched up, it would brake suddenly, then accelerate rapidly to catch up, then brake hard again. I've driven several other GM cars with adaptive cruise and they all worked better than this.
As traffic eased up and the 2021 Chevrolet Suburban assumed a steady pace, I had time to admire the High Country's interior, a leather-lined oasis with contrast-color stitching and decent-looking wood trim. I turned on the stereo, which sounds great and has an intuitive interface; why can't the rest of the industry get this right? I also liked the big color head-up display. I think a HUD makes driving safer, and I'm glad GM continues to develop and improve it; it's only a matter of time before the instrument panel is a relic of the past.
Investigating the 2021 Chevrolet Suburban's Infotainment
It was time for lunch, and just for fun, I tried out a feature I read about in the press pack prior to climbing aboard for this review: The rear screens are wired into the navigation system, so kids can track down their favorite places and send the destination up front to their parents. I hopped in the backseat and used the screen to find the nearest Fatburger, then jumped back into the driver's seat, accepted the request, and told myself that if I didn't behave, I'd turn this car around and go straight home, so help me God.
I used my burger-munching interval to see more of what the rear-seat entertainment system could do. I plugged my Amazon Fire TV Stick into one of the HDMI ports, connected it to the Suburban's built-in 4G WiFi, and sure enough, I was able to stream What We Do in the Shadows (the TV show, not the movie) from the comfort of the Suburban's plush second row, thinking how this beat the daylights out of playing I Spy (the game, not the TV show) for 500 miles. I could have spent the rest of the day reviewing the 2021 Suburban from back there, but time was moving and I needed to do the same. First, though, I popped into the third row for a quick test-sit. The IRS allows a lower cargo floor, which translates to a more humane seating position in the way-back.
Next stop: Curves. I didn't expect a three-ton SUV to be much of a hustler, but I was still curious. I engaged Sport mode, which I found by sheer accident; it's unmarked and uses the same dial as the ride-height control. It did iron out the floatiness, but the Suburban still felt big and clumsy, as I expected. But it also behaved well, holding a steady line and refusing to allow mid-corner bumps to unsettle it. That's the independent rear suspension doing its job, with GM's magnetic shocks playing a supporting role.
Towing With the 2021 Chevrolet Suburban
Back on the freeway, I zipped up to Granada Hills to see how the new Suburban would handle my horse trailer. The trailer-hitch camera view doesn't zoom in far enough, and it actually took me two tries to hook up—the first time that's ever happened to me in a vehicle with a hitch camera. But I liked the trailer light-test function, which I was able to initiate from my phone using the MyChevrolet app. It even tests the trailer's backup lights. (Note to self: The right one is burned out.)
My test Suburban's 7,900-pound towing capacity (Suburbans can tow up to 8,300 pounds, depending on configuration) would allow me to take both horses for a joy ride, but Aiden was sidelined with a sore leg, so Rugby rode solo. He's the lighter of the two, bringing the trailer weight up to around 4,500 pounds, but he's also more of a challenge—he hates being alone in the trailer and was determined to let me know. One difference between towing a horse and towing a boat: boats don't demonstrate their impatience. Rugby was disco-dancing back there, rocking and rolling the 2021 Chevrolet Suburban at stoplights, but once on the move the rear end felt nicely planted despite his antics.
My towing-test route goes through the Santa Susana Pass in Simi Valley, and includes a ridiculously steep on-ramp. You can't just stomp the accelerator with a loaded horse trailer; you have to drive gently so the animals can maintain their balance. I fed-in power gradually and was able to accelerate smoothly to 60 mph without flooring the pedal. For downward grades, cruise control did a great job of managing speed, and the built-in trailer-brake controller worked beautifully. But fuel economy was lousy—less than 10 mpg while towing. Most full-size pickups can crack 11 or 12 mpg on this route.
Back at the ranch, my wife unloaded a grateful Rugby, and I threaded the trailer back into its narrow slip. Chevy's multi-camera system is a big help for trailer backing, though it's still no substitute for Ford's slick trailer-steering system. I hustled home. My one-day test-drive-review time was over.
Is the 2021 Chevrolet Suburban the Best Yet?
The new 2021 Chevrolet Suburban is definitely a big improvement over the outgoing model. It's roomier, more comfortable, and has more and more-useful technology. The independent rear suspension is long overdue, and it pays dividends, though Chevrolet still has work to do on ride comfort.
In terms of the battle with Ford, it's not a slam dunk for the big Chevy. I preferred the Expedition Max over the old Suburban, and while Chevrolet has caught up, it hasn't overtaken that vehicle. Chevy will argue better value and more engine choices, and I think the Suburban has a nicer cabin. But the Expedition rides better, its EcoBoost engine is a gem, and for those of us who tow, the Expedition has more useful accessories.
No question, this is the best Suburban I've ever driven, by far—but it could use a little more work.
2021 Chevrolet Suburban Highlights
- Independent rear suspension
- 1-inch longer wheelbase
- Tows up to 8,400 pounds
2021 Chevrolet Suburban Pros:
- Independent rear suspension improves handling
- Comprehensive rearseat entertainment system
- Well-finished interior
- Lots and lots and lots of cameras
2021 Chevrolet Suburban Cons:
- Ride quivers and jitters over bumps
- Thirsty engines
- Nothing to rival Ford's self-parking and self-steering systems
|2021 Chevrolet Suburban 4WD High Country Specifications|
|PRICE||$76,595/$84,595 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||6.2L OHV 16-valve V-8/410 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 460 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||14/19 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||225.7 x 81.1 x 75.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.0 sec (est)|