PERCE, QC – Full-size utility vehicles once defined the SUV market but their status as rulers of the segment has been usurped by smaller versions. Crossovers and compact SUVs are the hot ticket today as consumers shift away from the truck-based utes.
Still, there are some buyers who require vehicles capable of carrying lots of people and their stuff, while also delivering a capacity to tow boats, trailers or whatever.
Chevrolet hasn’t turned its back on those customers and their latest versions of the Suburban and its slightly smaller sibling, the Tahoe, prove the point.
Chevy is introducing all-new versions of its full-size duo and, while initial glances suggest not much has changed, these 2015 models are indeed a leap forward from their predecessors.
Their styling changes are more evolutionary than revolutionary, with the Suburban and Tahoe sharing many of the exterior cues introduced in the recent Silverado makeover. None of the exterior panels or light assemblies are shared with the full-size pickup, however.The familiar dual-port grille has been tweaked with a chrome finish featured on all trim levels and the brand’s signature bow-tie badge is still front and centre. There are subtle new features as well, such as standard projector-beam headlamps that sweep into the fenders – the upscale LTZ gets HID lamps and LED running lights.
There’s now an extended spoiler over the rear window, which not only improves aerodynamics, but also houses the rear-window wiper in a recessed compartment that protects it from the elements.
Borrowing from the pickup design, both new SUVs are fitted with inlaid doors that fit into the openings, rather than extending into the roof. Combined with triple door seals, the result is not just sleeker and more aerodynamic, it helps make the cabin as quiet as a library.
Quiet and smooth
During an extended drive through the spectacular Gaspe peninsula, the quietness within the vehicles continually impressed. In fact, both vehicles cruised along with barely a whisper of road or engine noise – so much so I found myself sailing along at ticket-attracting speeds without a hint from outside that I was well beyond the posted limit.The ride, too, was so smooth and stable it contributed to the deception.
Chevy has stiffened the frame by 50% and widened the rear track for 2015, contributing to a well-planted feel during cornering, while the standard 18-inch wheels are now half an inch wider, helping reduce tire flex. Optional rim sizes are 20-inch aluminum and polished 22-inch alloys.
Opting for the LTZ trim not only includes a wheel upgrade, but also adds Chevy’s third-generation magnetic ride control, a real-time damping system borrowed from the Corvette that reads the road surface every millisecond and can change the amount of damping in five milliseconds to deliver more precise motion control.Other changes include a new electric variable-assist power steering system that adjusts the amount of assistance to coincide with the vehicle’s speed. Although I expect the systems are the same in the Tahoe and Suburban, I did find the smaller SUV didn’t have the same degree of feedback – it felt a bit more vague than the Suburban’s steering system and tended to need a bit more attention while highway cruising.
Both SUVs get a new four-wheel brake system that features GM’s Duralife rotors, which are touted to deliver up to double the service life of conventional rotors. I had no issue with the brakes in either model – the pedal feel was strong and the system hauled these hefty beasts to a halt with ease.
There are no powertrain choices in either model. Both get GM’s 5.3-litre EcoTec3 V-8 engine coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission.The engine, which pumps out 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque, is fitted with a suite of fuel-saving technologies, including cylinder deactivation, continuously variable valve timing and direct injection.
This combination delivers its output smoothly and certainly in more than adequate portions. It had no issues coping with steep grades and its response when required for passing and merging moves was immediate.
In addition to improved power, it also delivers better fuel consumption (14.9L/100 city, 10.1 highway), making the 2015 Tahoe and Suburban the most fuel-efficient large SUVs on the market.
First class interior
Perhaps the most noticeable improvement over previous generations is the interior. The Suburban started the large SUV segment 80 years ago and this 12th generation version has pushed the bar to a new level.The materials, fit and finish in both models I drove were first class. Attention to detail was obvious, with such premium touches as contrasting french stitching making the cabin feel more like a luxury sedan.
The interior roominess – an obvious priority for buyers in this segment – was impressive. I had plenty of headroom and legroom, while the newly designed seats provided wonderful support during hours on the road.
Both models have three rows of seating, with increased roominess for the second and third rows.Chevy engineers used a few subtle little tricks to make it easier for passengers to get in and out of those rows, including narrowing the base of the B-pillar and moving the C-pillar rearward. The seat corners were rounded and there’s now more room to swing your feet.
There’s also more space under the seats to tuck your feet. Second-row legroom has increased 50 millimetres.The power-assisted second- and third-row seatbacks fold flat – and raise up – at the push of a button just inside the rear hatch. I can only imagine how convenient owners will find this available feature when loading the cavernous cargo area.
It should be noted, however, that the Suburban has a definite advantage in cargo carrying capacity when the third-row seats are upright. My driving partner and I were just able to fit a couple of overnight bags behind the Tahoe's seatback, while the added length of the Suburban created all kinds of space for the stuff a family would take along on a typical trip.
New connectivity features
Of course, consumers today demand connectivity features and Chevrolet has responded with the addition of new technologies in both models.There’s an available eight-inch colur touch screen audio system with next-generation MyLink connectivity (which this technically-challenged user was actually able to master) and an available rear-seat entertainment system with dual screens (only on the Suburban) and Blu-ray DVD player. There are up to six USB ports and six power outlets, including a 110-volt three-prong receptacle, scattered throughout the cabin.
If your transportation needs require a spacious vehicle with three rows of seating and the capacity to tow, these new full-size Chevy SUVs definitely fit the bill. They’re capable of hauling a lot of people – and their stuff – long distances in complete comfort and safety, yet they drive and maneuver like a smaller SUV. It’s an ideal package.