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Class-topping cargo capacity, a pair of potent V8 engines, available 4-wheel-drive traction, tons of towing and payload capacity, a plush ride, plenty of standard amenities and seating for up to 9 people keep the 2012 Chevy Suburban rolling strong.The Bad
A crowded and inefficient third-row seat as well as a hefty thirst for fuel, tepid acceleration, some agility-sapping heft and tepid acceleration from the smaller V8 when under a load conspire to keep this conspicuously oversized SUV in its place.
The CarGurus View
Nearly an octogenarian now, Chevy’s Suburban represents all that’s right with the big, overbearing SUV. This king-size family hauler isn’t for everyone, but for those that need a reliable workhorse with a roomy cabin, acres of cargo space, plenty of performance and a handsome visage, it certainly deserves a test drive or two.
At a Glance
In an age of throwaway phones, fickle consumer tastes and Occupy (insert city), it’s kind of refreshing to know that the Chevrolet Suburban has been quietly doing its job since 1935. Back then, it was known as the Suburban Carryall and, except for having four wheels, looked nothing like the present configuration. The year 1973 marked this big Chevy’s emergence into the modern era. In 2012, with three rows of seating for up to 9 passengers, 137.4 cubic feet of passenger room with the rear seats folded, a choice of two ethanol-capable V8 engines, and available on-demand 4-wheel drive (4WD), this full-size Chevy SUV shows no signs of slowing down. A manly looking brute, the venerable Suburban is no lightweight, which can hamper agility, but it still manages to combine a surprising blend of ride comfort with just enough handling capability that winding back roads won’t end up a white-knuckled, sweat-stained battle for survival. In fact, its ride might be sort of fun – at least for one or two people with no trailer and an empty cargo bay.
Two trim levels, the half-ton 1500 and three-quarter-ton 2500, grace the 2012 Suburban lineup. Within those parameters, the base LS and midlevel LT trims are available in either configuration, while the flagship LTZ is offered only in the 1500 level. The only changes observed for the 2012 model year include some upgrades to the navigation and rear-seat entertainment systems. Now, the fact that few families in the U.S., or anywhere else, for that matter, need an adult-size heavy hauler, infers, of course, that some do. For those that do, the Suburban is a proven performer, though be advised that it doesn’t come cheap.
GM’s own Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon XL are in cahoots to steal some of the Suburban’s thunder. Both the Caddy and the Jimmy are more upscale than their Chevy brethren and, therefore, more expensive. Ford’s Expedition EL, roomier and with a more efficient third row, might be worth a look, but isn’t as powerful as Chevy’s battlewagon. Toyota’s vaunted Sequoia is also out for Suburban blood, but cramped quarters might make for some crabby trips. All in all, the Suburban legend has nothing to be ashamed of and ought to admirably fit the need for a large, versatile and powerful yet family-friendly sport ute.
Trims flattering the 2012 Suburban 1500 level are delivered with a standard 5.3-liter Flex Fuel (FFV) V8 and 6-speed shiftable automatic transmission with brake hill-holder. This combo generates 320 hp at 5,400 rpm and 335 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, good enough to tow up to 8,100 pounds, with payload capacity topped off at 1,528 pounds, all of which depends on having the proper equipment. Despite variable valve timing (VVT) and cylinder de-activation at highway speeds (Active Fuel Management), this penultimate V8 has a hearty appetite, and its mileage is in the range of 15 mpg city/21 highway in both the standard rear-wheel-drive and the available 4WD editions.
Standard at the 2500 level is a 6.0-liter V8 that again mates with the 6-speed shiftable automatic with brake hill-holder for 352 hp at 5,400 rpm and 382 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. Expect 9,600 pounds of towing capacity out of the 2500 trims, with payload maxed out at 2,450 pounds, again based on selecting the proper equipment. This big V8 once more boasts VVT and cylinder deactivation, but gas mileage still falls to a wallet-thumping 10/16 in RWD trims and 10/15 in 4WD versions. The 6.0-liter V8 also comes with standard auxiliary transmission fluid cooling.
The available part-time, on-demand 4WD system, meanwhile, is offered in both single and two-speed variations. The single-speed configuration is standard on the half-ton LS and LT trims, while the two-speed configuration is standard on the LTZ, as well as the three-quarter-ton LS and LT. Both 4WD variants sport auto-locking hubs and a mechanical locking center differential, with the two-speed boasting manual (LS) or electronic (LT, LTZ) hi-lo gear selection.
Reviewers are favorably inclined toward both V8s for better-than-adequate acceleration and highway merging and passing excellence. Reviewers are, however, quick to point out that the monster 6.0-liter V8 retains its potency far better than its smaller sibling under serious loads. One test of the 5.3-liter V8 had a presumably empty 1500 nail 0-60 in 9 seconds even, which is about the class average. The 6-speed shiftable automatic is described by most reviews as silky and alert, dropping down smartly when more power is needed. Both V8s, meantime, are praised by most reviewers as refined and subdued, barely audible in the cabin, even under heavy acceleration.
Ride & Handling
An Indy car it’s not, but the 2012 Suburban lineup does offer a fairly plush ride and some surprisingly adept handling. This body-on-frame ute boasts a short-and-long-arm front independent suspension, front and rear stabilizer bar and a solid live axle rear suspension. LT and LT trims in both 1500 and 2500 versions sport standard 17-inch alloy wheels, with 1500 variants boasting all-season tires and the 2500 trim level offering standard all-terrain tires. The top-shelf LTZ, meanwhile, rolls on 20-inch polished aluminum wheels and performance-oriented tires.
Most reviewers find this hefty brute to offer the most comfortable ride in its class. Bumps and imperfections are barely noticeable, for the most part, and very little road noise makes its way into the cabin. Additionally, the annoying float that often seems a part of the typical full-size SUV’s job description is conspicuously absent throughout the Suburban lineup. Though it won’t be mistaken for a Bentley, Chevy’s big progenitor of the breed behaves admirably on the highway, especially with the LTZ’s standard Autoride Suspension constantly monitoring system performance for maximum ride comfort.
Steering feel is better-than average as well, according to the majority of reviewers, though a few complain of a bit too much sensitivity in the steering wheel at cruising speeds. Despite a tall stance and tipping the scales at over 5,600 pounds, the Suburban has body lean well controlled in fast turns, though a wider-than-average turning radius means fewer parking options at the mall. Braking, meanwhile, is noted by most reviewers as strong and true, but several have noticed what they claim to be a lack of proper pedal modulation.
Cabin & Comfort
All 2012 Suburban trims come admirably well-equipped as far as creature comforts go. The base LS (1500 and 2500), for instance, sports a standard roof rack, heated power-adjustable mirrors, and step running boards outside, not to mention a Class III trailer hitch and wiring. Inside, look for premium cloth upholstery, 6-way power adjustable front seats, a leather steering wheel with mounted audio and cruise controls, and simulated alloy dash and door trim to add a little class to the joint. All this is complemented by tilt-wheel steering, tri-zone climate control, remote power door locks and power windows, with front and rear floor mats keeping things clean. Finally, an MP3-capable single-CD player and 6 speakers are bolstered by Sirius satellite radio and a USB connection, while standard Bluetooth technology and phone pre-wiring handle communications tasks.
To all that, the LT trim at each level adds multilevel heated front bucket seats, leather upholstery, rear parking sensors, upgraded cabin accents, including faux-wood dash and door inserts, remote engine start, adjustable pedals and Sun Sensor auto-adjusting climate control and cabin lighting. Listening pleasure in the LT is improved with 9 Bose premium speakers, as well as dedicated rear audio controls.
Finally, standard features in the top-shelf LTZ match those in the lower trims while adding a rear power liftgate, 8-way power-adjustable front seats, premium leather upholstery, reclining and heated second-row seats, reverse-tilting outside mirrors, a rear-view camera and memory for two drivers' settings. Oh, and the flagship trim also sports a standard universal remote garage door opener, along with an extra Bose speaker and hard-drive-based voice-activated navigation with real-time traffic information.
Options for the lower trims include many standard amenities found on the higher trims, while 20-inch chrome alloy wheels, a power sunroof, rear-seat DVD entertainment with twin monitors and, for half-ton 1500 trims, a Heavy-Duty Trailer Towing Package that stars an integrated trailer brake controller and hill start assist are available extras. Additionally, the popular Z71 Off-Road Suspension Package with skid plates, extra engine cooling and heavy-duty gas shocks can be delivered with the LT 1500. The LS 1500 and LT 1500 trims can also be delivered with available 60/40 split front bench seating for the maximum 9 occupants.
Reviewers find the cabin ambiance in the Suburban lineup to be upscale, if not luxurious. Seats are generally described by reviewers as long-haul comfortable, with cabin storage noted as adequate for most families. Padded surfaces are few and far between, according to reviews, but tastefully textured hard plastic takes some of the edge off. Gauges are noted by reviewers as large but in some cases indistinct, while controls are described nearly unanimously as simple and easy to locate. Alas, as is often the case with 3 rows of seating, dealer claims that adults can fit comfortably all the way aft are, in the minds of virtually all reviewers, greatly exaggerated when it comes to the Suburban.
Through sheer size and brute strength, the 2012 Suburban lineup can be considered one of the safer vehicles, at least for occupants, on U.S. roads today. Nevertheless, this hefty ute comes equipped with 4-wheel antilock disc brakes (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution as well as traction and stability control. Dual front side-mounted airbags and 3-row head airbags, not to mention OnStar Emergency Services, Airbag Deployment Notification and Stolen Vehicle Tracking are all standard as well. Rounding out the list of standard features, lineup-wide, are daytime running lights, a post-collision safety system and a remote antitheft alarm. The Suburban LTZ also boasts standard turn-signal-integrated mirrors, which are available to both the LS and LT trims.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a 3-star rollover rating for the 1500 trim level, and that’s about it as far as government safety testing goes on this big ute. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has no data at all on any of the Suburban trims. To be honest, there’s not much out there that threatens Chevy’s sizeable SUV.
What Owners Think
Downright deplorable gas mileage, though an obvious part of the deal, is nevertheless a bone of some contention among owners of the 2011/2012 Suburban. The bulky, heavy, difficult-to-remove third-row seats also draw criticism from owners, especially because they’re not at all adult-friendly and don’t fold all the way flat, making cargo handling a challenge. Many owners also find fault with this big SUV’s less-than-luxurious cabin materials, while others complain of squeaks and rattles that would indicate some minor quality and build issues. Finally, a number of owners are frustrated at attempts to squeeze this massive Chevy into the average-size garage, while a few others lament the lack of a diesel option.
Most owners, however, overlook the Suburban’s well-documented foibles simply because they need this large, utilitarian vehicle for its towing, payload and passenger-hauling prowess. Owners also laud this ultra-size ute for its supple ride, bearably adept handling, power and performance. Owners of the higher trims also praise the number of standard features included for their extra bucks, while virtually all owners are impressed with the Suburban’s rugged good looks.
Have Laptop. Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.
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