If you have to think about whether or not you need a 2021 Chevrolet Suburban, you probably don’t.
After all, there are plenty of other vehicles on the market that can do the stuff this behemoth can, and for less money. But few can do everything this SUV is capable of all at once, with plenty of usefulness and utility stuffed into this outsized package. And perhaps most crucially, fewer still do it with the same sensibility as this big Chevy.
First, something of a contentious topic. Even when done up in this top High Country trim the Suburban isn’t quite as luxurious as other SUVs like it, namely its mechanical twin, the Cadillac Escalade, or the Navigator from rival Lincoln. That makes the asking price here – a shade less than $100,000 before tax with just about every option added – stand out for the wrong reasons. But just as a ski jacket from an outdoor brand like Arc’teryx can easily cost as much as a wool coat from designer label Ted Baker, it’s not the fashion you’re paying for here but the functionality.
There are a handful of cheaper trims to choose from starting at $61,398 with freight but before tax, though that’s for a rear-wheel-drive model; to add four-wheel traction bumps the price to $64,698. This High Country trim, meanwhile, has a pre-tax asking price of $85,798 including freight, though extras can easily push that fee into six-figure territory.
Unsurprisingly, the Suburban’s fraternal twin, the GMC Yukon XL, has a strikingly similar pricing and packaging structure. It starts at $62,828 before tax and climbs to $84,698 for the Denali version. And just like the Suburban, it can creep awfully close to $100,000 before tax with options and add-ons.
By comparison, the extended version of the Ford Expedition comes standard with four-wheel drive (plus a whole host of other features) and starts at a pre-tax price of $80,920, while Ford wants $87,625 for the top Platinum trim. There’s also the Navigator that starts at $101,900 with freight for the extended wheelbase version, or the Escalade ESV that ranges from $95,398 to $123,398 before tax but without any extras.
But again, it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. Yes, all are about the same size – especially the Yukon XL and Escalade ESV that share a platform and mechanical parts with the Suburban – and boast the same kind of interior accommodations. Yet this Chevy is distinctive for its mellow demeanour as both a humble family hauler and a capable workhorse.
While not exactly a joy to park due to its stretched dimensions, they provide all kinds of room inside for people and stuff. More so than its competitor from Ford, accessing the third row of seats is done with an ease that rivals – and perhaps even exceeds – the average minivan, the captain’s chairs positioned ahead of them in this tester tumbling out of the way with a couple quick pulls of a handle.
Those seats provide enough room for two adults (or three children) to occupy without complaint, while the second row is even more spacious in most ways except headroom. Riding on a new platform in its latest generation, Chevrolet stretched the Suburban’s wheelbase by some 105 mm (4.1 in). That means substantially more legroom for both rear rows of seats (and more maximum cargo-carrying ability) despite an overall length increase of just 33 mm (1.3 in).
Equipped with the optional panoramic sunroof, accommodations were just cramped enough that the top of your 6-foot-3 author’s head brushed against the ceiling in the second row. No such issues arose up front, however, the Suburban’s relationship with the Silverado pickup apparent from either seat.
Of course, the added benefit of this beast is that even with all three rows of seats in use the cargo hold is generous enough to be genuinely usable. Officially, there’s an astonishing 1,175 L behind the rearmost seats, while that number grows to 2,656 L with them folded, which is about 484 L more than the last one. Finally, stashing the second-row seats yields 4,097 L of cargo-carrying capability, an increase of 651 L over its predecessor, while a sheet of plywood can easily lay flat with all rear seats folded.
And then there’s towing. In this top High Country trim powered by its V8 engine, the Suburban is good to pull 3,583 kg (7,900 lb) when equipped with the Max Trailering package that includes an integrated trailer brake controller and some extra powertrain cooling. While any payload inside reduces how much it can tow, that truck-like capacity means all kinds of boat, camper, or utility trailers can be pulled safely.
All trims except the off-road-inspired Z71 come with the choice of gas-fired eight-cylinder or inline-six diesel engines under the hood, though the High Country trim is the only one offered with a 6.2L V8 that’s brimming with brute strength. It makes the same 460 lb-ft of torque as the hearty diesel that would be your humble author’s preferred power source (it’s a no-charge option at the top of the lineup but a $1,995 upgrade elsewhere) to go with a whopping 420 hp.
While the thumping V8 is enough to transform the Silverado into something of a sport truck, the extra weight of the Suburban – as speced, it tips the scales at more than 2,725 kg (6,008 lb) – makes the experience just a little more mellow when you roll on the throttle. The 10-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly as it runs through the gears, pausing only briefly between them, while it’s quick to drop a cog or two when it’s time to pass.
Fuel Economy: 5/10
The big engine’s peak output comes with the added expense of running premium-grade gas, of which the Suburban High Country burns at a rapid rate. Officially, it’s rated at 14.6 L/100 km combined – nearly a litre worse than the Silverado pickup powered by the same motor. Not many non-performance SUVs are expected to do worse – it’s only the Toyota Sequoia and Nissan Armada and their mechanical twins, the Lexus LX 570 and Infiniti QX80, respectively, that have more miserable ratings – and those with concerns about efficiency will find what they’re looking for with the diesel engine instead.
With its selectable four-wheel drive system disconnected to power the rear wheels only during an initial evaluation drive (there’s also an automatic setting that sends torque to the front wheels only when it’s needed), the Suburban managed 12.3 L/100 km – in line with its official highway rating, which makes sense given the majority of the 210 km covered were done on the highway. It didn’t take long for that figure to climb around town, however, and the final count clocked in at 15.2 L/100 km over 500 km.
Driving Feel: 9/10
The 6.2L-powered Suburban might not pin you back in your seat when prodded the same way the smaller Lincoln Aviator will with its twin-turbocharged V6, but there’s a similar serenity and surefootedness when it’s driven casually. In fact, with its optional adaptive air suspension the Suburban’s ride and handling might well be better than most proper premium SUVs of any size. Smooth and comfortable, it works with magneto-rheological dampers that come equipped on the top two trims to masterfully manage body roll as well as the unsprung weight of the massive 22-inch wheels this tester rides on (a gasp-inducing $4,165 option). While the steering lacks the resistance a vehicle this size should have, feeling deceptively light and lithe instead, there’s a surprising sense of ease to the operation considering the Suburban stretches 5,733 mm (225.7 in) from tip to tail.
The available air suspension also enhances the Suburban’s capability off the beaten path, with the option to add 50 mm (two inches) to the ride height for a maximum ground clearance of 254 mm (10 in) in just a few short seconds. The suspension also automatically drops a further 50 mm from its standard height of 204 mm (eight inches) to allow for easier ingress and egress.
User Friendliness: 8/10
The optional power-retractable side steps are supposed to do the same though they proved to be something of a nuisance during testing, never deploying quite quickly enough to be useful when climbing in or out. That’s the operative word here, too – climbing – because it does take some deliberate effort to access the cabin. The doors are quite large, however, providing ample entryways to both the front and rear quarters.
Outward visibility is impeded somewhat by the thick A-pillars that frame the windshield, as well as the chunky C-pillars behind the back doors that combine with the rear headrests to obstruct what can be seen at a glance. Otherwise, there’s a strong sense of command and control from behind the wheel, with a logical layout to the switchgear in the front third of the cabin. Functionality features like four-wheel drive, ride height, and trailer brakes are managed via buttons and dials near the driver’s knee, while HVAC and audio are handled through physical controls low on the centre stack.
High above them is a 10.2-inch touchscreen that’s responsive despite the graphics not presenting with much crispness, while phones can be connected wirelessly to both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, or via USB-A and USB-C ports. Otherwise, it’s only the buttons used for gear selection located next to the big infotainment screen that aren’t especially easy to use, leaving your author longing for the column shifter from the Silverado and GMC Sierra.
With six trims to choose from and various packages to add from there, plenty of time could be spent covering all the ways you can buy your Suburban. Instead, here are the highlights – and the lowlights.
That 10.2-inch touchscreen, as well as those wireless phone connections and a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot, is standard in every trim, as are three 120-volt outlets, tri-zone automatic climate control, a wireless phone charger, push-button start, and rear parking sensors, among other features. Left off the spec sheet for the least expensive LS trim, however, are heated front seats – somewhat shocking given the starting price.
Even the top trim has some bizarre omissions considering its nearly $90,000 asking price before tax. Make no mistake, there’s plenty of good stuff included, like heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats, leather upholstery, and a 10-speaker stereo, just to name a few; but those retractable side steps, the panoramic sunroof, and even adaptive cruise control all must be added after the fact.
The inclusion of advanced safety systems, too, is good but not great: forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking are standard, but lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot monitoring are kept out of the cheapest versions of this big Chevy.
When equipped all those features perform admirably, as did the extras fitted to the High Country tester seen here like its head-up display and optional adaptive cruise control. The latter does without the lane-centring functionality that’s becoming ever more prevalent but is better for it, working in conjunction with the lane-keep assist and modulating speed well when approaching slower traffic ahead.
Finished in Cherry Red paint, the slab-sided Suburban is a big machine to be sure but not necessarily a brooding one. Much like its Silverado sibling, the fascia has been subject to some scrutiny for its odd styling cues – the U-shaped LED running lights, for instance, or the cut-outs in the corners of the bumper – but it remains just about as straightforward as its predecessors overall.
It’s equally as simple inside, though the brown interior of this tester helps to set it apart from the pickup with which it shares so much. So, too, does the large touchscreen that sits atop the dash and the unique accent piping on the seats, stuff that isn’t available in the Silverado High Country trim.
The seats are quite comfortable and supportive, with wide cushions and deep enough bolstering to keep occupants up front firmly in place. Both rear rows feature far flatter seats, though they’re padded enough that they should keep squirming to a minimum during longer trips. The optional rear-seat entertainment system should help, too ($2,295), with twin 12.6-inch touchscreens in the back that offer HDMI connections and wireless Wi-Fi projection. It may not be a conventional comfort feature, but it should certainly bring some peace and quiet to the drive.
Notably absent from the list of comfort features are massage functionality for driver and passenger in this top trim. While such seats are included in the most expensive Ford Expedition, they’re kept out of the Suburban High Country – presumably to create some separation from its Cadillac sibling.
Which once again brings it all back to the Suburban’s disposition. It seems at least a little absurd to declare a sport utility such as this not quite luxurious, particularly given this tester’s price tag, but that’s the uniqueness of the Chevrolet Suburban. It’s both incredibly niche and brings with it a broad set of abilities.
More so than a pickup truck, or even a proper premium entry like the Escalade, the Suburban is for the discerning shopper that’s after capability and sensibility, and doesn’t mind paying for it. You’ll know whether or not you need one, and if you have to think it over at too much length then chances are you probably don’t. But if you do, this latest version delivers more space in the back for both people and stuff than before while remaining as sensible as ever.
|Peak Horsepower||420 hp @ 5,600 rpm|
|Peak Torque||460 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||16.8 / 12.4 / 14.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||1,175 / 2,656 / 4,097 L seats up/down|
|Model Tested||2021 Chevrolet Suburban High Country|
|Price as Tested||$99,433|
$13,535 – High Country Deluxe Package, $5,805; 22-inch Black Alloy Wheels, $4,165; Rear Seat Entertainment System, $2,295; Cherry Red Tintcoat Paint, $595; Power-Sliding Centre Console, $400; Black Bowtie Emblems, $275