The 2019 Chevrolet Suburban is big. It’s about as long as a full-grown giraffe is tall. But the Suburban can haul a lotta people and a ton of their stuff. Ever see even one person with no stuff ride a giraffe? Not pretty. After you watch the latest Hooniverse review check out the giraffe fails on YouTube.
Anyway, the Suburban is the undisputed champion of hauling people, their stuff, and their off-road aspirations. This is tremendously convenient when you need it. But is it worth the trouble? Is the interior seating and cavernous cargo space worth the headache of navigating this ship around town? At almost 19 feet long, with a 43-foot turning circle, city driving requires planning… and multi-point turns.
To find out if the convenience is worth the trouble, I’m loading my family of five and our many, many things into a 2019 Suburban Premiere RST for a week-long road trip. We begin in the tight streets and alleys of Venice, CA, head to the bright lights and valet parking lines of Las Vegas, then to the open desert and bumpy trails of Death Valley. Eventually, we’ll swing farther north to snow and ice-covered roads of Mammoth Mountain in the Sierra Nevadas. So that’s cities, highways, deserts, mountains, dirt, rain, and snow. This ought to be interesting.
What exactly are we dealing with here?
This particular Suburban is gloss black. The RST package, with black bowtie, black badging, black grill and 22-inch, gloss black aluminum wheels gives this well-known body some edge and personality. Behind the front wheels are bright red Brembo six-piston calipers squeezing 16.1” rotors (Brake Upgrade System option, $2795). They look sporty, if not small for such a big rig. But without special red calipers in the back the sport vibe is a bit imbalanced and half ass. Overall, the black on black on black gives it a modern mobster vibe that suits the familiar shape, now five years into the current design. I like the looks.
Loading up this family truckster is blissfully fast and easy. I like it even more. There’s about 39 cubic feet alone hiding behind the third row. Fold down that row and you have almost 77 cubic feet. Massive. Drop the second row and now we’re at 122 cubic feet in total. That’s more volume than a 10-person hot tub. With five butts in seats, I only fold down the smaller side of the 60/40 third row bench seat, using the electric controls at the rear (included for both the second and third rows). Like magic, the truck is packed: Duffle bags, winter gear, food, booze, DVDs (more on that later), skis and a snowboard. In the truck. Within mere minutes, no less. Easy, fast, and far from the exhausting game of driveway Tetris I usually play before road trips, taking crap in and out of the car. I love the space in this thing.
Next, the family. They’re much louder than the luggage. The car seat easily snaps into the LATCH system in the second row – 3-year old sorted. Then the older boys fight over the third row. But with 34.5 inches of legroom (10-inches more than the Tahoe) and a dedicated ceiling mounted screen, who can blame them? They obsess over the entertainment system and removable, wireless remote for both the second and third row. Also included are four wireless headphones – absolutely genius – like a mute button for #parenting.
Up front, no surprise, there’s tons of space for stuff. A bottomless center console with compartments on the side, lots of room in the door, and a not so secret area behind the 8” infotainment system accessed by a switch that slides up the screen. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to use all this space, but it filled up and it was damn convenient. For the electronics, the GM rubberize wireless phone charger on top of the center console, at least 7 USB outlets (probably more) and AC power. Packing three phones, two iPads, one computer and other odds and ends we used most of these ports. Love it.
The interior is fine but a bit underwhelming and old-school. Maybe it’s the column shifter. With the black bowtie logos on the exterior, the traditional gold bowtie on the steering wheel is downright offensive, an unwanted reminder that the blacked-out badassery on the exterior is just decoration and the inside is a humble family hauler. The cocoa mahogany trim (a $295 option) with perforated heated/cooled seats in the first and second rows looks classy-ish and cleans easily. But overall, there’s lots of plastic and some touch points feel cheap. For around $82,000 I want a more refined interior.
Oh it’s big alright…
Pulling out of the driveway, about ten feet, size anxiety kicks in – in this case, a fear of being too big. Pulling out of our driveway into the 15-foot wide alley requires a 9-point turn. Yeah, there’s a backup camera and front sensors but they do little to relax the vibe. Around Venice isn’t much better. Narrow streets, tight corners, thick traffic and a dearth of street parking make stopping for coffee an unpleasant chore. This beast is an annoying companion around town.
On the road the 6.2 V8 packs a punch. I find the rig a bit sluggish to get going but our gross vehicle weight is topping three tons. Still, with 420 horses, a real-life power-to-weight ratio of about 16 pounds per horsepower isn’t bad. Once this ship is moving it can accelerate quick enough to make the kids smile and rocket into gaps on the highway. I love the power but remain stressed about misjudging the size of the gaps.
Pulling into Vegas, the size anxiety returns. Traffic on the strip, thick valet queues, and tight corners in parking garages – stressful. But I don’t care. Somehow, this blacked out monster perfectly fits sin city. It can kick the crap out of the (incredibly convenient) tourist minivans and is more sophisticated than the UberXL rigs lumbering about. Yeah, inside there’s three kids watching the Grinch and a wife on Instagram, but no one can see that. They just see a black on black on black monolith and they lift off and move over because we’re pulling in. And I love it.
The roads are smooth and absolutely empty during the night drive to the Death Valley. Hypothetically, this big girl can run at triple digits without breaking a sweat and still leap forward when requested. Again, that 420 horsepower, 6.2-liter, V8 – the same small block as the 2019 Camaro SS – doesn’t disappoint. I’d love to hear the growl from the optional Borla cat-back dual exit exhaust ($1249) but it’s one of the few upgrades not included here.
Let’s ditch the pavement for a bit.
On the dirt and rock side roads of Death Valley, the Rally Sport Truck (RST) feels smooth and, remarkably, smaller than in the city or on the highway. Throwing it around is exciting and (surprisingly?) it responds. I still wouldn’t call the RST a “rally” rig or “sporty”, but off the pavement it’s a fun “truck”. This is thanks to the third iteration of GM’s Magnetic Ride Control – basically, shocks containing a voodoo soup of iron particles and synthetic oil with adjustable viscosity controlled by electromagnets, a central electronic control unit (ECU), and sensors that GM says “analyze road surfaces up to 1000 times a second and adjusts 10 times faster than the blink of an eye to provide the best combination of ride quality and handling.” Translation: the truck’s making the shocks stiffer or softer as you drive it. The results of this wizardry? The kids are giggling go faster, my wife’s growling go slower, and our piles of gear aren’t rattling around that much. It’s fun as hell.
Parking was less fun – and made worse by the (ongoing as of this writing) government shutdown. Without staff in the national park, the lots are worse than Whole Foods on a Sunday afternoon. The girth of the Suburban results in more time looking for a place to land this blimp and less time in Badwater Basin. Climbing out, I feel like a baller from the big city in a sea of stickered Subarus, minivans, and tourist rental cars. Kinda fun?
The empty desert roads between Death Valley and Mammoth Mountain shoot by. The Suburban effortlessly climbs 9000 vertical feet at (ahem) highway speeds. As the roads narrow and the turns sharpen – the kids are watching the Grinch again – this black beast never flinches… but I do. The Magnetic Ride Control magically manages body roll but the Suburban is just too long for me to enjoy tight quarters with potential oncoming traffic. Same tune in the tight streets and awkward snow-filled parking lots. Multi-point turns play on repeat.
Let it snow?
On ski days the ‘Burban makes the dropoff/pickup line fast and easy. There’s enough room for the kids to wear ski boots in the rear seats and loading the gang and gear in and out is lightning fast. These little moments make a big difference to our overall enjoyment. In this ski town this rig is at home and we’re part of the club (even if we snuck in). It’s a sea of SUVs. Lots of Suburbans, a few Tahoes with the great looking RST package, but only one Suburban Premiere RST… us. There’s plenty of rides double the price, including a F450 based USSV Rhino GX, but we can hang with all of them.
A winter storm nails Mammoth on our last day and the Suburban rallies. The factory Bridgestones aren’t great snow tires but in 4-H with the diffs locked and a gross vehicle weight over three-tons creating a lot of vertical load the rig feels planted and there’s ample traction. A few icy brake checks to get a sense for the slide and I feel confident. The big girl slips around a bit but that’s a function of the shoes not the dancer.
Heading home, the snow becomes rain and we’re a black missile aimed at Venice, CA. Overall, the Suburban Premiere RST family roadtrip is a success story. As most parents know, these trips can be grueling, but the RST made it fun. The rig is crazy convenient, exciting to drive, and made me feel good. It can roll in any environment, even if tight spots are painful to negotiate. The combination of the 6.2-liter V8, 10-speed transmission and Brembo brake upgrade make this tank surprisingly fun to drive. The skinny pedal can shoot gaps with extraordinary deft and when hard on the brakes the beast will heel like an animal half its mass. Over the week, I loved it, my wife loved it, and the kids loved it.
But there are criticisms. I’ve read good reviews of the 10-speed automatic transmission and it did click through gears when pushed, but I found it clunky at low speeds and when getting the truck up and going. I should also mention gas mileage. Though when you’re buying a 6.2-liter V8 do you actually care? Anyway, she’s a thirsty girl. We drove about 1,000 miles and I spent just over $300 at the pumps. The interior is convenient but feels dated and poorly equipped for the price. And that damn gold bowtie badge on the steering wheel is criminal on the RST package. Another minor annoyance, the ceiling mounted fold down screens completely obscure rearview mirror visibility but that’s a small price to pay for silent children. The exterior design is getting long in the tooth as well. Fortunately, a major overall is anticipated for the 2020 model year. That’ll be the twelfth version in the 84-year history of the Suburban run, which is the longest running nameplate in production. Let’s hope for some bold, smart, and sophisticated design updates for this legend.
So, for me, the interior seating and cavernous cargo space made life easy and navigating this ship was totally worth the trouble – on this trip. But I wouldn’t want to own one. Not unless every seat or cubic foot of cargo space was near capacity every trip and I was towing my boat around every other day. Basically, not unless absolutely necessary. I just can’t imagine daily driving anything this long unless I lived in Texas or someplace else where parking spots are the size of semi-trailers. There’s always tradeoffs: A giraffe’s neck make it well equipped for eating leaves off a tree but terrible at drinking from a water hole. And then there’s the price: This Suburban Premiere RST, equipped with Brembo brakes, the entertainment package and few other bits is around $82,000. That’s a lot to ask. For that money you can have a decently equipped Mercedes GLS, a Tesla Model X, a Cadillac Escalade ESV… you get the point.
In the end, it was a helluva fun road trip and we loved rolling’ in the Death Star. But I wasn’t broken up after I gave it back.
[Disclaimer: Chevrolet tossed us the keys to the Suburban and included a tank of fuel. A lot more fuel was then consumed.]