DETROIT – America’s oldest vehicle nameplate, the Chevrolet Suburban, advanced to its twelfth generation Tuesday night with significant changes. Switching to an independent rear suspension (IRS – no, not the tax people) lowers the rear floor for more cargo and legroom. More driver/safety assists were added, technology was enhanced, and the cockpit gets up to five big displays. As Chevy adds more sensors that create more data, GM upped compute power so the vehicle is capable of processing 4.5 terabytes of sensor and infotainment data per hour, a 5X improvement. For those who want an improvement in mpg, a diesel will be offered along with two gasoline V8s.
Chevy also rolled out the Suburban’s regular-large-size sibling, the Chevrolet Tahoe that is the better seller. The Tahoe is now 211 inches long where the extra-large Suburban is 226 inches. The same features set applies to Tahoe. These are 2021 models that ship mid-year 2020. Expect to see the same changes applied to the GMC variants, the Yukon and Yukon XL, in the near future.
30 Safety Features on Tap
Chevrolet cites 30 safety and driver convenience features standard or available. It cites a restraint system with driver inboard seat-mounted side-impact airbag, an HD rear vision camera, automatic emergency braking, automatic emergency braking, forward collision alert, following distance indicator, front pedestrian braking, rear parking sonar, automatic headlamp control, and hitch guidance for trailering. Optional are an HD surround camera system, rear pedestrian alert, lane change alert with slide blind zone alert (including trailer), lane departure warning/lane keep assist, and a head-up display (HUD) with a huge 15-inch perceived size.
The safety features spill over to convenience features for trailering enthusiasts: nine camera views, stored trailer towing profiles for a big trailer/small boat trailer/work trailer, trailer tire pressure monitoring, and blind-spot detection that includes the trailer’s length. Chevrolet did not mention a cool camera feature in the General Motors stable of technologies, the transparent trailer rear camera view, which mounts a rear camera on the back of the trailer, then stitches the view inside the vehicle’s rear camera and puts it the center stack display as if the vehicle camera had X-ray vision.
Six Trim Lines: Choices, Choices
The Suburban and Tahoe allow the buyer to have a near-infinite set of model variants (trim lines), engines, paint colors, and options. The lineup runs, from around $50K to $70K, plus options and packages, this way: LS, LT, RST, Z71 (off-roading), Premier, and High Country. The Premier focuses on safety and technology, Chevy says:
Premier adds features such as Magnetic Ride Control, navigation, an eight-inch-diagonal reconfigurable instrument cluster, premium Bose 10-speaker audio system, 12-way power vented and perforated front bucket seats, power releases for both rows of rear seats, heated steering wheel, Safety Alert Seat (vibrating seat warnings from the vehicle sensors), Lane Change Alert with Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning, Front and Rear Park Assist and 20-inch wheels.
Some of the safety features are offered on lower trim lines. It will be interesting to see if Chevy makes more of them standard to keep up with higher levels of standard driver assists on less costly vehicles not in the Suburban/Tahoe competitive set. For example, the 2020 Hyundai Sonata sedan – the polar opposite of the Suburban – makes every imaginable driver assist feature standard on all but the entry trim line, which lacks only blind spot detection. On the flip side, the near-universal presence of onboard telematics and mayday calling (OnStar) on GM cars for two decades may have convinced makers such as Hyundai to do the same.
Upscale models can have magnetic ride shock absorbers and air springs. On a comparison ride at GM’s Milford, Michigan test track, prototype Suburbans felt more composed on bumps and expansion strips than its nearest competitor, the Ford Expedition with its uplevel suspension, which didn’t have air springs.
Five Big Displays Including Rear Infotainment
Big SUVs are meant for long-distance cruising, and passengers want to be entertained along the way. The Suburban/Tahoe can have up to five big displays. The standard 10-inch center stack display “is the largest in its segment,” Chevy notes, although on a car this roomy, a 12-incher will be needed to match the competition shortly. An 8-inch instrument cluster LCD (multi-information display) is optional. So, too, are optional dual 12.6-inch rear-seat infotainment displays that have HDMI connectors to accept or cast media. Rear seat passengers can use the infotainment system to look up destinations and send them to the navigation system.
The fifth display is the big HUD that is truly useful for providing lots of information – lane departure, following distance, speed, speed limit – without getting in the driver’s sight. The 15-inch diagonal refers to the perceived size of the display as if it were a physical display at the end of the hood.
Chevy, GM Own the Big SUV Business
The market for big SUVs was about 400,000 units last year, 2.3 percent of the 17.3 million vehicles sold. It would be higher but for the price. A lot of people would love something that roomy inside, were it not for the price that can push $80,000, or even more for the Cadillac Escalade or Lincoln Navigator.
The stretched Suburban (15 inches longer than Tahoe) is the one to get if you plan to haul the luggage a family of up to eight would want to stow on long trips. Although Chevrolet notes that the independent rear suspension is a big deal for cabin comfort. The seats in the third row no longer sit just a few inches off the floor, and there’s more luggage room as well. It’s just that 226 inches is a lot to get into a perpendicular or parallel parking spot or fit into a garage.
In conjunction with a slightly longer wheelbase (116 to 121 inches on the Tahoe) and length (204 to 211 inches on Tahoe), rear legroom jumps from 39 to 42 inches (a lot), third-row legroom increases from 25 to 35 inches, and cargo room behind the third row goes from 15 to 26 cubic feet. On the Suburban, wheelbase climbs from 130 to 134 inches, length from 224 to 226 inches, legroom increases 39 to 42 and 35 to 37 inches, and cargo capacity goes from 39 to 41 cubic feet or, with all seats folded, from 122 to 145 cubic feet. That’s also a lot.
The Suburban/Tahoe duo are both based on the Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck introduced in summer 2018. The Silverado sold 586,000 vehicles last year, second only to Ford F-Series among the 280 vehicle models on the market last year. The full-size pickups and SUVs are Chevy’s most profitable vehicles, so a lot of attention goes into keeping them up to date.
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