Does anyone truly need a Chevy Suburban? No, but that’s not the point

Earlier, our beloved [Editor’s Note: hmm…] Jeff Glucker posed a question: who needs a Chevy Suburban? This question was not intended to rhetorically imply that the answer is “nobody,” but rather to start an honest discussion about the necessity of a vehicle the size of, well, a suburb. Here, I will provide my take on Jeff’s question, which is simple: nobody. Nobody needs a Suburban. But that’s not the point.

The Chevrolet Suburban bears the longest-running nameplate in automotive history. Born in 1935, the Suburban has become symbolic of the American way of life. With that connotation has come accusations of excess, especially from our neighbors across the pond. Many have argued it is far too wasteful and brash, and that something like a minivan or a crossover does the same job better.

However, the Suburban was not designed with space constraints in mind. It does not care about efficiency, packaging, or driving dynamics. It’s big, spacious, and brawny. Based on a truck, it offers a king-of-the-road driving feel — something a minivan cannot replicate. It can also tow quite a lot. Will most Suburbans ever tow anything? No. But it can. 

The Suburban is quite literally a family vehicle for the American suburbs, where space is aplenty. Space to park, space to build large roads, space to develop widespread master-planned communities. Fuel is also relatively affordable. All of this means that the compromises you make to step up from a crossover to a Suburban — mostly size and fuel economy — are pretty insignificant.

So the drawbacks of a Suburban versus a minivan or crossover are fairly minimal, but it doesn’t end there — there are benefits to a ‘Burb as well. The Suburban is a large, boxy, truck-ish vehicle — it’s simply cooler than some wimpy crossover. GM’s full-size SUVs are also some of the most durable vehicles on the market, frequently reaching 300,000 miles and beyond of family duty before needing significant repairs. Finally, the Suburban is a do-it-all vehicle — maybe you’re thinking of getting a toy hauler or a boat. If you do, you can’t tow it with a Highlander.

Finally, the general concept of necessity as it pertains to vehicle purchasing is often a point of contention among car enthusiasts. Many gearheads dislike full-sized pickup trucks because they are “too big” and “most buyers don’t need a truck.” The problem with this argument is cars — especially as a hobby — inherently transcend the realm of necessity. Is a 1,000 horsepower Supra necessary? No, but it’s awesome, so you want one nonetheless.

The question of “need” when discussing the Suburban is an interesting one, but in my view, it’s misdirected. When shopping for a family hauler like this, don’t ask yourself whether you need something as large as a Suburban. Instead, start with a Suburban, and ask yourself whether you need something smaller.

20 Comments

  1. Feels a bit like you’re ranting to an empty room. I don’t think anyone here says “all everyone needs is a Trabant, let’s scrap this wasteful capitalist choice”. Even though “need” might be individual, it is quite easy to do with less than you have, and certainly less than you want. After all, I helped people move from apartment to apartment with a bycicle when I was a student, and it worked just fine. Choice is good, and the Suburban is a fascinating extreme on that sliding scale of need and want.

  2. Feels a bit like you’re ranting to an empty room. I don’t think anyone here says “all everyone needs is a Trabant, let’s scrap this wasteful capitalist choice”. Even though “need” might be individual, it is quite easy to do with less than you have, and certainly less than you want. After all, I helped people move from apartment to apartment with a bycicle when I was a student, and it worked just fine. Choice is good, and the Suburban is a fascinating extreme on that sliding scale of need and want.

    1. The Trabant isn’t a good starting point through. I mean I can keep myself warm in a cut up asbestos blanket but that doesn’t make it a good idea. I think this might be a good place for what “The perfect vehicle is”. I mean besides Miata that is. You know because that will always be the perfect vehicle.
      I still contend that that the standard box minivan is the answer to your “Lets scrap this wasteful capitalist choice”. If the Soviets had given that to their people then they might have been far more productive. I am not talking about a Honda or Toyota. Those are too expensive and lazy. So i mean the entry level Dodge Grand Caravan that has run from 2008 until dying for no damned good reason in 2020. It’s a fine daily commuter. It works as a family car. It has plenty of power for those times that you need to merge. It can hold a large TV or appliance. When needed it can even tow 3500 pounds. It is the Joe Average of vehicles from Idiocracy. Right down the middle perfect vehicle.

        1. Why are you denying a working woman four kids? I mean I like the Soul. After all I own one but I am also not a working woman with four kids. A good Communist woman, outside of China, would be helping to populate the farms and factories with more workers for the cause!

          1. Haha, this escalated quickly. I chose the Trabant because it epitomizes what happens when others define “need”. There are so many ways to build a society, and I am happy we have choice.

          2. Look don’t get in the way of what wagon we are choosing for our Animal Farm there Stalin. Get into the discussion or be useful and grab an ice pick and take a flight to Mexico.
            Yes it did escalate because I found it a fun mental exercise to play with. Honestly the part that got me was thinking about the dangerous cloth that they make the Trabants shells out of. That was what i ran with. This is what happens when you work second shift and are avoid doing something that you don’t want to do.

    2. The world will continue to need greater automotive variety for at least as long as Jay Lamm refuses to let Trabants compete in the 24 Hours of Lemons.

        1. He’s convinced it would be unwise, even by Lemons standards, to test the structural integrity of Duroplast (especially decades-old Duroplast) by slamming, say, a 1970 Chevy Biscayne into one under racing conditions and watching what happens as it and its driver slide, tumble, and bounce to a halt.

        2. He’s convinced it would be unwise, even by Lemons standards, to test the structural integrity of Duroplast (especially decades-old Duroplast) by slamming, say, a 1970 Chevy Biscayne into one under racing conditions and watching what happens as it and its driver slide, tumble, and bounce to a halt.

          1. That’s what I figured, but I wonder how much less safe a properly caged Trabrant would be than a midwest rot box

          2. That’s what I figured, but I wonder how much less safe a properly caged Trabrant would be than a midwest rot box

          3. The rules forbid a level of rust that would compromise the cage attachment points and/or the OE crush structure and Jay is presumably sufficiently confident that his inspectors know how to recognize a more-than-cosmetically rusty car, most likely just by reflecting back upon their own poor life choices. In contrast, from what I understand his fear is that even “good” Duroplast will shatter like thin Formica and, even worse, there’s no way of knowing how “good” a body of antique Duroplast is just by looking at it.

            More than one team has tried to persuade him to come around on this point, as several of us (ahem, I mean “them”) would love to run a Trabant. Nope.

  3. I will admit a certain distaste for anything that large for a few reasons. Most direct is, preferring to drive cars, Suburbans (and full-size trucks, and anything else of similar size) are a hassle to see around. Next is that lots of people just aren’t great drivers. They can barely keep moderately sized vehicles in a lane or parking spot, and can’t be bothered to see that as a problem. We don’t need to encourage them to drive something even bigger. Lastly, I hate (*HAAAAAATE* with the wrath of a thousand Khaaaaan-ing Kirks) sprawling, planned suburban communities. They’re not built to human scale (and are terrible for walking around), but still within visual distance of unbearable neighbours. I also don’t care to encourage more of those (or people wanting more space to accommodate oversized vehicles).

    Ranting aside, I don’t doubt there are people who genuinely need Suburbans, and as they’re reasonably tasteful, useful, and pleasant to drive in the right circumstances, I’m glad if they exist in small numbers.

  4. Start with a Suburban and consider whether you need something smaller? No offense, but that might be the most obnoxiously American sentiment I’ve heard in ages. I certainly hope it was tongue-in-cheek.

    I personally start with a minimalist perspective, but I don’t have any agenda against big vehicles. I do, however, think buyers of Suburbans should be required to repeat their physical drivers exams IN their new vehicle. Most people I see driving them hog lanes, double park, and can’t reverse worth a damn.

  5. I look at Suburbans and I think, sweet land o’ subsidy. Being trucks, they don’t have to meet the regs as passenger cars. And, being trucks, they’re popular as “work vehicles” and many get sweeeeet tax write-offs for those eligible. Even though many see about as much truck action as your Grandpa’s old Coupe de Ville did driving to the country club. Blend in cheap fuel and all of the Joneses and the envious lacrosse moms, and you have a 5,000 pound cash cow of epic proportions, literally and figuratively.

    I knew a family of seven who kept a Suburban in their stable back in the ’70’s, along with two or three cars. The ‘burb was always the last to go, unless they needed to haul stuff for the garden. Why would you want to wrestle a pig like that around town unless you had to?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The maximum upload file size: 64 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here