2021 Chevy Suburban review: The incredible bulk
If bigger truly is better, then the 2021 Chevrolet Suburban is one of the best SUVs ever made. From width to wheelbase, length to height, this new model is larger than its already-husky predecessor. Thanks to those outsized dimensions, this machine has an enormous appetite for passengers and cargo, making it ideal for large families or folks that regularly transport bulky freight. Fortunately, though, size isn't everything. There's plenty to like about the new Suburban that has nothing to do with its enormous dimensions.
The Suburban's new and much-needed independent rear suspension provides numerous benefits, not the least of which is greater comfort in the aft-rows of seats. In my Premier test model, which is one step down from the range-topping High Country trim, the front chairs are supportive and nicely contoured. The second row is plenty spacious, and the seats adjust easily, even folding down and tipping up in one smooth motion to give you a broad path to access the third row, which can now comfortably accommodate adult passengers. Legroom and headroom are ample in the way-back, and the lower cushion is nicely elevated from the floor. Thanks to its extra passenger space, the new Suburban would be a great road-trip vehicle.
Climbing aboard, you feel almost tiny in this SUV because its dashboard is high and the interior wide enough that leaning over to touch the opposite door panel is a struggle. Intimidating dimensions aside, this Chevy's cabin is pleasant. None of its materials or controls are luxury-car upscale, but nothing is flagrantly cheap, either. Everything is tightly assembled and handsomely laid out. The climate controls, which reside at the bottom of the center stack, are dead-simple to use and the new toggle-switch electronic shifter is easy to reach and immediately intuitive, though that didn't stop me from pawing the air in search of a traditional column-mounted shifter. If you've got a lot of junk to stash, the Suburban's center-console bin is huge and there's an array of other pockets and nooks, including a nifty little cubby with a sliding lid right on the dashboard.
Popping up from the Suburban's center stack is a 10.2-inch display, which is standard on every model. The viewing angles could be a touch better as there's a slight color shift when you're not looking squarely at the screen, but this is a minor complaint. The Suburban's infotainment system is superb, snappy and intuitive. Also, thanks to the display's generous proportions, all of the icons and menu buttons are large and finger friendly. Upping the ante, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard, though an integrated navigation system costs extra.
Forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, rear parking assist and a high-definition reversing camera are all standard fare for 2021. But setting my Premier-trim Suburban apart from lesser models is plenty of useful equipment. It features blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, frontal parking sensors and lane-keeping assist, which isn't quite as effective as I'd like. Additionally, this vehicle is fitted with the $4,485 premium package, which includes goodies like a panoramic sunroof, a multicolor head-up display and even a super-useful 360-degree camera system, which gives you a range of different views to help make parking and low-speed maneuvering easier. This options group also includes adaptive cruise control. Chevy's implementation of this technology isn't the smoothest I've experienced, but it works well enough in most situations.
Predictably, the Suburban feels huge, almost like it takes up two-and-a-half lanes. The steering is appropriate for a vehicle of this size, moderately sharp and about as responsive as you could hope. Like GM's other redesigned body-on-frame SUVs, three suspension setups are offered in this Chevy. Coil springs with regular shock absorbers are standard, you can also get coil springs with magnetic dampers, and then there's a four-corner air suspension with magnetic dampers, which is only offered on Z71 and High Country models. My tester is fitted with the middle offering, which provides a beautiful ride, one that's superior to the Yukon Denali I recently evaluated. I suspect that's because the Chevy's 20-inch aluminum wheels are significantly lighter than the GMC's gargantuan 22s. It certainly wouldn't be due to curb weight; there's only a 3-pound difference between these two vehicles. Overall, this Chevy feels smooth and planted, its independently sprung rear never shimmies from side to side or bucks while going over large road imperfections.
Under its chest-high hood, the Suburban's standard, 5.3-liter V8 is a bit overmatched. Unladen, its 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque provide decent acceleration, though it can feel a touch asthmatic climbing hills, fighting against gravity and this Suburban's 5,824 pounds. Load it up and you will almost certainly pine for the 420-hp, 6.2-liter V8 which, unfortunately, is only offered in the High Country model. Oh well, at least the base engine is smooth and throaty sounding, plus the standard 10-speed automatic transmission, which was codeveloped with Ford, is a jewel. Responsive and refined, this gearbox's tuning is far better than the Blue Oval's, which often feels clunky.
Another reason to opt for that larger engine is efficiency. With four-wheel drive, a Suburban with the 5.3-liter V8 is rated at 15 miles per gallon city and 19 mpg highway. In my hands, this vehicle is returning about 17 mpg in mixed driving, precisely its combined fuel-economy score. Stepping up to the 6.2-liter engine comes with scarcely any penalty. A comparable Suburban fitted with that powerplant is rated at 14 mpg city, 19 highway and 16 mpg combined. Too bad that bigger V8 isn't offered across the range. Before the year is out, a 3.0-liter diesel engine will also be available.
As for capability, my tester is rated to tow up to 8,100 pounds. Maximum payload clocks in at 1,657 pounds. Cargo volume behind the third-row measures 41.2 cubic feet, an impressive amount. Fold the aft-most bench down, and that number grows to 93.8 cubes. Drop my tester's second-row buckets and it offers 144.7 cubic feet of hauling volume, 23.2 more than you get in a comparable Ford Expedition Max.
Matching its voluminous body, the Suburban seen here checks out for an astonishing $74,080, including $1,295 for destination. That is a lot of greenbacks for what should be a mass-market vehicle. As always, if you can make do with less -- fewer features, a more workaday cabin and reduced capability -- an entry-level, rear-wheel-drive LS model can be had for 53 grand, a much more approachable price.
The 2021 Chevrolet Suburban is a big deal, and not just because of its increased size. A far nicer interior, improved dynamics and loads of available high-tech goodies make this three-row SUV an excellent choice if you need a larger vehicle or just like intimidating other drivers.