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The Chevrolet Suburban (2000), Still the King?

By Larry Weitzman

2000 marks the 65th year of production of the oldest produced SUV, the Chevy Suburban. In 1935 it was called the Suburban Carryall, but for the last 30 years or so, the name Suburban will suffice. In fact, it wasn't until 1973 that the first four door Suburban was produced. That model was in production for 19 years. 2000 also marked the beginning of a new generation of Suburbans (the eighth overall), based on the new Silverado pickups introduced a year earlier.

The prior generation of Suburbans came four years after the previous generation of trucks were introduced, so in reality, this new Suburban/Yukon XL has been quicker to market. With such stiff competition, the prior generation lasted "only" eight years. It's still a great vehicle and would continue to compete well in today's market. But look at the faster introduction as a bonus to the customer as the new generation of Chevy and GMC Suburbans are the best ever. The GMC version is now called the Yukon XL, but it is essentially the same vehicle with a different grille and some minor differences in seat design. But they ride and handle better than other products as does the GM full size trucks, which makes the 'Burb/Yukon XL the best full size SUV to market.

According to its customer base, Chevy/GMC customers didn't want to see big changes in the body design. The new shape is familiar, but it is softer and more rounded. Gone are the symmetrical windows which have given way to lines that bend slightly. The front end has what has become the trademark single bar that divides the headlamps and ancillary lighting with the Chevy bowtie dead centered.

Instead of a flat hood, soft ridge lines start at the "A" pillars and then disappear into the downward curving front of the hood. The shape of the body is less slab sided with fender blister and definition lines. The lower window lines get some shape and the belt line gets some definition from the aforementioned hood ridges.

Even though the new body looks smaller and tighter, it is almost identical in size with all exterior dimensions being within an inch of the prior generation. Wheelbase is 130 inches and overall length is 219.3 inches. Width is actually up by a couple of inches at 79.8 inches.

Under the hood are a series of new V-8's based on the LS1 Corvette motor. My test vehicle was unusual as it was a heavy duty series 2500 and two wheel drive. In the 1500 model, the standard and only engine choice is the LM7 5.3L which pumps out 285 hp and 325 pounds of torque at 5,200 rpm and 4,000 rpm. But step up to the 2500 and you are rewarded with a bored out version of the 5.3L V-8 (increased from 3.78 to 4.00 inches) coded as the LQ4.

With 300 hp at 4,800 rpm and 355 pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm, this new engine actually out horsepowers last years 7.4 "big block" which produced 290 hp. But the 7.4 did it at a much lower 4,000 rpm. It also produced a massive 410 pounds of torque, so it is no slouch. Performance of the 7.4 was nearly identical to the to the current 6.0L engine. For 2001 there will be some changes in the 2500 powerplants. The new LQ4 will produce 320 hp at 5,000 rpm with 365 pounds of torque at 4000 rpm. The improvement probably will not be noticeable, but there is more.

GM is bring back the big block. With 8.1L of displacement (495 cubic inches), it will pump out 340 of the biggest horses to come out of Detroit at a low 4,200 rpm and 455 massive pounds of torque at 3,200 rpm. This is some serious motor. Towing capacity for the 6.0L 4X4 will 10,000 pounds and for the 8.1L, try the Queen Mary or 12,000 pounds. No wonder Suburbans are so popular with the boating and hayburner set.

The 2500 also means not only a higher gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), up from 7,200 for the 1500 to 8,600 for the 2500, but it has a more robust suspension with heavier duty suspension components and leaf springs in the rear instead of coils, but the full ladder modular frame itself is beefier. Section modulus (in cubic inches) is up from 3.16 to 4.24 and the resistance to bending moment (in pound/inches) goes from 104,000 to 140,000. In other words the high tech hydroformed frame in a 2500 is about 30% stronger than a 1500.

Up front is fully independent short/long arm suspension with torsion bars (for springing), gas pressurized shocks and a huge antiroll bar. In the rear is a solid, live axle with variable rate semi-elliptic leaf springs with gas pressurized shocks. No antiroll bar for the 2500, only on the 1500 which uses coil springs instead of the leaf setup.

My test vehicle was a 4X2 with a 4.10 limited slip rear end. That means it's pulling a curb weight of about 5450 pounds. The 4X4 adds about 310 pounds to the mix, so don't expect quite the same performance (due to the extra tonnage and weight transfer issues). Zero to 60 required an average of 8.93 seconds with a best run of 8.43. In comparing that to a 5.3L 4X4 Tahoe, the Tahoe averaged 8.43 second to 60. That's moving pretty quick, but expect the a 4X4 to be about a half a second behind.

Passing on the level will require only 4.80 seconds and up a hill slows the big Suburban to only 7.10 seconds. These are the best times ever recorded for a giant economy size SUV. The Suburban has the best passing times, besting the 300 hp Navigator by a half second or better and beating the Excursion by more than two seconds on the uphill pass. But remember the Excursion is pulling over 1500 pounds more curb weight. The Navigator to its credit beats both the Tahoe and Suburban to 60 by a blink of the eye or two. And the Navigator is also pulling several hundred pounds more weight as well. For the 4X4 'Burb, add a couple of tenths to the 4X2 times.

I can't wait to get my right foot on the throttle of the 8.1L 2001. It will give new meaning to the eyeball flattening world of high powered SUV's. It could break the eight second mark to 60 while towing your every day 21 foot SeaRay while packing an 11 foot Alpenlite Camper. The 8.1L engine should also come attached to the Allison M74 five speed heavy duty automatic instead of the super smooth four speed heavy duty MT1 used with the 6.0L engine.

There is a downside and that's the mass quantities of fuel you can use while exploring the outer limits of the 6.0L 'Burb's performance envelope. In 350 miles of very hard driving, with only 30 percent on the freeway, it averaged just slightly better than 12 mpg. Without so much throttle pressures, 13-14 in El Dorado County should be doable, with 16-17 mpg on the highway at 65 mph. The good news is the large 39 gallon fuel tank should be good for about 600 miles on the highway, the bad news is the cost to fill it up.

Since weight has an effect on mileage, the 1500 model Suburbans weigh in between 530 (4X2) and 640 (4X4) pounds less than the comparable 2500 model. Since the bodies are essentially the same, most of that extra mass is located in the chassis and engine. The 2500 model is heavy duty.

Handling is something that has always made 'Burbs very popular and this new one is no exception. They just feel right. Cornering power is quite strong and the steering is accurate, with perfect feel and feedback. It has no numbness. It can be tossed around in the twisties aggressively. It handled the corners of Green Valley, Latrobe and Cold Springs at maximum legal speed with standard LT245/75R tires on polished 16 inch forged aluminum wheels. It tracks perfectly.

Ponderosa Road's washboard was smoothed nicely, if not a little firm. But when pushed in the two 90 degree bumpy corners, the 'Burb was incredible. You could even get a little throttle steer going. It's very easy and rewarding to drive.

On the highway, the Suburban becomes a true cowboy Cadillac. It is quiet and very smooth, absorbing every little imperfection with a firm, well controlled ride. The engine turns a moderate 2350-2400 rpm at 70 with the 4.10 axle. Unless you need to tow 10,500 pounds or heavy loads every weekend (like a loaded three or four horse trailer), opt for the 3.73 which is rated to tow 8,500 pounds but will slow the engine to about 2,100 rpm at 70 mph and improve mileage by about a mpg. I don't think you will notice any drop in performance except when towing.

Off road (ground clearance for the 4X2 and 4X4 are nearly identical with 9 inches or more) performance in the 4X2 proved strong in some pretty deep dirt ruts and soft dirt. Limited slip axle is a must, but with it, you would be surprised where you can go with a 4X2 'Burb as long as it isn't deep mud or deep snow.

Brakes are huge. Front rotors are ventilated 12.8 inch discs in front with dual piston calipers and 13 inch discs in the rear. ABS is standard. In several simulated panic stops from 40 mph, the big 'Burb came to a halt in about 50 feet.

Inside are some great seats starting with the front. The leather buckets are some of the best in the business and they equal or exceed the Blue Oval in comfort and quality. Support is found in all the right places. They are made for long, fatigue free periods in the saddle. Kudos Chevy for actually improving on seats that were already excellent in the prior generation Suburban.

The dash is familiar looking, but there are some changes. The instrument binnacle contains a large speedo with a tach just to the left. Further left is a message center which keeps track of 16 of the 'Burb's system. But the transmission temperature gauge below the message center is unique to the Suburban. The four ancillary gauges are group to the right of the speedo.

The sound system and AC controls are group further right and are slightly angled toward the driver. Ergonomically, its the best dash yet. The vertical part of the center console has a slot for a cassette tape, the single play CD is located in the radio.

The center console has cupholders and a very large armrest/storage console. If the 40/20/40 front seat is optioned for, the center section of the seat converts to an armrest/storage area as well.

Two bucket seats ($290 option) occupied the second row and were as comfortable as the front buckets. I prefer the bench seat option as it adds to the utility of the Suburban and it detracts little from the comfort. The third row seating is comfortable for three but leg room is not as generous as the second row. Shoulder room in all three rows at 65 inches, but hip room in the third row shrinks from near 62 inches to 49.2 inches because of the well wheels.

Cargo volume is huge with 138 cubic feet behind the first row of seats, 90 cubic feet behind the second row and 45 cubic feet behind the third row or about triple the capacity of a midsize car trunk.

Pricing is not overwhelming considering what you get for the money. Base price is $27,595 plus $710 for the shipper. My test vehicle came with only four options, the first being the LT package which costs $11,055 but includes leather, CD, heated power seats, rear air, keyless entry, power windows, running boards and a lot more. If leather is not your choice, the LS package for $7,423 gives you nearly everything in the LT package (it lacks power seats, which can be ordered separately for $480, and On Star and a few other items) for a lot less.

The other three items included limited slip axle and tow hooks for $290. Buy this item. The trailer package is $299. Buy this package as well and the last item is the second row buckets for $290. Unless the car is exactly the one you want, leave the second row buckets at the dealer. The Monroney totaled $40,239. These prices are for the Suburban, the Yukon XL pricing will be similar. A 4X4 in the same unit will cost $3,000 more.

There are two dealers which handle the Suburban, Family Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Cadillac and Thompson's Buick, Pontiac, GMC and Jeep for the Yukon XL. Both have decent inventories of this wonderful motor vehicle. It's nimbleness will surprise you.

Specifications

Price C2500             $28,330 to about $43,000

Engine
6.0L   OHV V-8          300 hp @ 4,800 rpm
                        355 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm

For 2001
8.1L OHV V-8            340 hp @ 4,200 rpm 
                        455 lb-ft of torque @ 3,200 rpm

Transmission
Four speed electronically 
controlled automatic

Transfer Case (4X4 only)
two speed

Configuration
Longitudinal Front Engine
Rear Wheel Drive, Four Wheel Drive

Dimensions
Wheelbase               130.0  inches
Length                  219.3  inches
Width                   79.8   inches
Height (4X2/4X4)        76.4/76.9 inches  
Weight (4X2/4X4)        5447/5760 pounds         
GVWR                    8,600   pounds
Track (f/r)             65.0/66.0 inches
Ground Clearance        9.0     inches
Fuel Capacity           39  gallons
Tow Capacity (4.10)     10,500  pounds
Tow Capacity (3.73)     8,500   pounds
Turning Circle          44.3    feet
Cargo Volume            138.4   cubic feet
Tire                    LT245/75X16 

Performance
0-60                    8.93   seconds
50-70                   4.80   seconds
50-70 uphill            7.10   seconds
Top Speed               Electronic intervention will occur at
                          about 97 mph
Fuel Economy            No EPA rating, expect 13-14 mpg in
                          moderate El Dorado County driving,
                          16-17 mpg on the highway at legal
                          speeds

 

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