Who needs a Chevy Suburban?

Yesterday, Chevrolet was kind enough to drop a 2021 Suburban at my house. I had the new truck for around eight hours. Chevy came back and picked it up, and my time with the yet-to-be-released land yacht was over. I cannot yet tell you my impressions of the thing, but I do have a question for you. Who needs a Chevy Suburban?

That question isn’t written dismissively, mind you. I’m not posing it as no one needs a Suburban. There has to be a market for a vehicle wearing the longest-running continuous nameplate in automotive history. I’m just curious about who exists in that market. People with large families, perhaps. Those who haul many things and don’t want to do so in a pickup truck could be another. Lovers of large dogs and with a need to tow small to moderate size trailers might want a Suburban.

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My review of the Suburban will arrive post embargo on August 10th. For now, let’s see who needs and wants ones.

31 Comments

  1. I grew up with the things as a ubiquitous part of my childhood as a small “s” suburban Texan, as did Mrs. Neight, so I think I am qualified to answer here. If you are living in a place with lots of space (sprawl, y’all), you have a family with 3 or more kids (or two and a dog), and you want to travel together, you can’t beat it. Especially if you have (or imagine to possibly have) an RV camper or a boat as a material part of your recreation plans.

    If you do carpool duty or serious road trip, you may get close with a more practical van option, but people that don’t think about cars that much often loathe minivans, so you have to get over that stigma, irrational though it may be. The marginal downsides between daily driving a Tahoe/Suburban versus the next step down SUV class (Telluride, Pilot, Pathfinder, etc.) isn’t much, but when the upsides of the bigger vehicle are being utilized, you’re saving yourself hours of hassle and lots of delivery charges. You can haul nearly anything in your house in a secure and weatherproof cabin and stock up for three consecutive pandemics at Costco, and if you’re towing more than a Suburban (or Expedition) will tow, you’re well out of “moderate” range.

    I’ve nearly talked myself into one on multiple occasions. Had I bought one instead of my ’16 F150 (which was 6″ longer and the most common daily driver in Texas), I’d probably still be driving it.

  2. I have three kids so even if they each bring a bag, it’s nice to have a larger vehicle. We had a 2011 Yukon XL and loved it, well until it threw a rod.

    The Suburban is basically for the “never minivan” crowd. I married one. It’s fairly capable when the weather is bad, it has a ton of space, and it’s comfy. I get it.

    That said, we get by with my wife’s GL and my JKU these days.

  3. My department has used them for geology field trips, rocket launches, and weather balloon launches for the last several years ever since we’ve no longer been allowed to use full-sized vans. They’re good for hauling a reasonable mix of people, camping gear, and equipment to and from remote-ish, off-road-ish locations, even though officially we’ve never taken them too deeply off road. Officially.

  4. I’m sure it’s a cliche for those who aren’t directly involved, but they are the absolute ideal vehicle for hockey mom’s (and dad’s). When winter hits full swing, it’s hockey tourneys every single weekend. You get one or two home tourneys, but otherwise you’re on the road (and for us, the closest games are still 2 hours away). Most families will pool together and take turns so you’ll have a couple of parents and 4 kids, and their gear. Weather is always a very real issue – and there is a VERY big difference between an AWD minivan and a true 4 wheel drive truck. Now add in the towing capabilities, and the big SUV makes a lot of sense.

  5. I’m sure it’s a cliche for those who aren’t directly involved, but they are the absolute ideal vehicle for hockey mom’s (and dad’s). When winter hits full swing, it’s hockey tourneys every single weekend. You get one or two home tourneys, but otherwise you’re on the road (and for us, the closest games are still 2 hours away). Most families will pool together and take turns so you’ll have a couple of parents and 4 kids, and their gear. Weather is always a very real issue – and there is a VERY big difference between an AWD minivan and a true 4 wheel drive truck. Now add in the towing capabilities, and the big SUV makes a lot of sense.

  6. I grew up with the things as a ubiquitous part of my childhood as a small “s” suburban Texan, as did Mrs. Neight, so I think I am qualified to answer here. If you are living in a place with lots of space (sprawl, y’all), you have a family with 3 or more kids (or two and a dog), and you want to travel together, you can’t beat it. Especially if you have (or imagine to possibly have) an RV camper or a boat as a material part of your recreation plans.

    If you do carpool duty or serious road trip, you may get close with a more practical van option, but people that don’t think about cars that much often loathe minivans, so you have to get over that stigma, irrational though it may be. The marginal downsides between daily driving a Tahoe/Suburban versus the next step down SUV class (Telluride, Pilot, Pathfinder, etc.) isn’t much, but when the upsides of the bigger vehicle are being utilized, you’re saving yourself hours of hassle and lots of delivery charges. You can haul nearly anything in your house in a secure and weatherproof cabin and stock up for three consecutive pandemics at Costco, and if you’re towing more than a Suburban (or Expedition) will tow, you’re well out of “moderate” range.

    I’ve nearly talked myself into one on multiple occasions. Had I bought one instead of my ’16 F150 (which was 6″ longer and the most common daily driver in Texas), I’d probably still be driving it.

  7. What I like with it from afar is that it is so unique to the American market. Nobody else makes a hooded personal vehicle with the size and fuel consumption of a bus. It’s bizarre, strangely beautiful and unique in its recognizable shape. Drive something like that anywhere in Europe, and you’ll get a lot of attention – the kind you want, and the kind you don’t want.

    1. While the fuel mileage is indeed quite bad compared to what a normal automobile gets, they’re so much better than they used to be. My full sized 1994 Bronco would get ~17 mpg on a highway cruise, Suburbans of similar vintage did about the same. People that bought them as a move from full-sized American station wagons didn’t give up much mileage either. These probably do 20-25% better on mileage than the old ones that a lot of us are mentally calibrated to accept. Plus, our gasoline is so incredibly cheap, the difference for a middle class family between a minivan and a suburban is fairly negligible cost (though the up-front price is not, whole other subject).

      1. Yes, that is exactly it. The tolerance for fuel consumption is very different across continents; people here expect, say, a Volvo V60 wagon, a very typical family car, to get 50 mpg. Even my minivan got 33 mpg over the six or seven years I had it. That is way more than a 20-25% improvement over a 1994 Volvo 850. I am not here to point fingers at “big car much fuel”, just saying that the Suburban really is something that only works in the US and a few other places – and it’s fascinating.

      2. From Fueleconomy.gov

        City/Hwy/Combined

        Suburban 4×4 5.3

        15/19/17

        2wd 5.3

        16/20/18

        Expedition Max 4×4 3.5 EcoBoost
        16/21/18

        2wd
        17/23/19

        Grand Caravan 3.6

        17/25/20

        So yeah not that much more fuel use than a US spec minivan, at current gas prices in my area, ~ $20 month for the 2wd Sub.

    2. The way I’d sum it up is I need a Suburban like I need a bouncy castle, it’s silly and I’d feel daft being seen in it, but I’d still like a go.

  8. The parents of one of my childhood friends had one who where the perfect demographic. They lived on a farm several miles out of town, had three kids and a dog, were avid hunters, and spent much of their summers towing campers and pontoon boats. The Suburban fit their needs perfectly.

  9. *raises hand* 4 kids here, plus a MIL who lives with us. We NEED a Suburban, but settled for the Sequoia.

  10. My dad is the most edge use case for a Suburban I’ve ever seen, but his Quadrasteer unit really has been the perfect truck for him. He runs his own business that up until recently involved transporting basically a whole video production studio around (and a small production trailer with a satellite uplink on the roof until a few years ago) as well as a few employees. That necessitated seating for up to 5, plus lockable weatherproof storage for upwards of $100,000 in video and computer gear, and a few thousand pounds of trailer behind it. Now that you can pretty much produce a TV show off a Macbook Pro, he uses a Mini Cooper S for most events.

  11. They rock for carpooling on camping trips. Two adults, three tall teens, a couple small teens, a week’s worth of gear, and a trailer load of kayaks make a 4 hour drive not seem like something ten times longer. And they rank pretty highly on lists of vehicles likely to have 200,000 miles, yet if you happen to lose a radiator hose or serpentine belt on the Sunday night you are returning home, any convenience store in Nowheresville, BFE is likely to stock the part.

  12. My son describes his 96 Suburban as a crewcab with permanent Gem Top. Since there is 6′ behind the second row he’s not kidding. Aside from security details the Suburban is useful for hauling 6 or so people either off road or with a substantial trailer. In my son’s case he got to fool around in the woods since his LeSabre kept getting stuck (yes his 2003 Buick has seen more offroad miles than the average Subaru Crosstrek) and to move stuff.

  13. I probably could have used one about 3 years ago, well before my oldest of three was driving himself around. He’s a year away from college now, though, so I intend to just drive the wheels off of our paid-for minivan… and then buy a Bronco.

    I still like the niche the Suburban fills, but I don’t think I could tolerate that ugly mug in my driveway. To say I’m not a fan of the current Chevy truck design language is a huge understatement. I was mildly put off by the 2014 redesign, but the adoption of the Silverado’s front-end design cues (and the awkward C pillar) for 2021 puts it firmly in the “no thank you” category. I’m aggravated that the Expedition doesn’t offer a V8, but at least it’s easier on the eyes. I’d go with the Blue Oval, even if it forces me to a V6.

    I do, however, need this Suburban (I just can’t justify it to my wife):

    http://momentcar.com/images/gmc-suburban-1968-8.jpg

      1. They used the same model name until probably the late 90’s body style change. There was Jimmy/Yukon switch in there too, then they merged with an XL for the big one.

    1. Agreed on the new styling, it’s not attractive, and the GMC’s and Cadillacs aren’t much better.

  14. Back in the 90s, the Chevy dealer in Menlo Park, CA had two options: Corvettes and Suburbans. Suburbans were THE prestige mom vehicle for the horsey people in Woodside and Portola Valley. Their kids got them as hand me downs once they hit high school.

  15. Back in the 90s, the Chevy dealer in Menlo Park, CA had two options: Corvettes and Suburbans. Suburbans were THE prestige mom vehicle for the horsey people in Woodside and Portola Valley. Their kids got them as hand me downs once they hit high school.

  16. Holden sold them here for about 5 minutes, roughly 20 years ago. Somehow they made a rhd Trailblazer dashboard fit, I’m not sure where the conversion was done.

    I gather they will be back soon piggybacking on the Silverado conversions, presumably with a price tag well over $150k.

  17. I rented one in Denver for a skiing trip. The Suburban easily fits six people plus all the skiing gear and luggage. A minivan will fit the people (skis on top) but would be cramped with luggage behind the third row. Those that tow horse trailers or go to dog shows with their participants in tow. There is a niche for this.

  18. My older brother, Bus_Plunge, and his wife have been utilizing Suburbans as the tow vehicle of choice for over 30 years. Exemplary towing ability, lockable storage capability and creature comforts rank high on their list when traveling the countryside towing their huge Airstream trailer of the day. Bus tried a Savana full size van for about one minute and quickly as he could, replacing it with yet another Suburban. His son has one as well to transport his two 6’3″ + sons and two growing daughters. The blue one attached is one of his old ones and check out the hitch on his current ride. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/966d16359e166735b366afa277890d8325cd590de4d0086ed62e53f0660c86de.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/88fae9171657464b2534bd281d913571bd0629d8cc95bd8c37390fc186fc4758.jpg

  19. My sister has 5 kids, mostly adults now. While they all fit in their 2001 Odyssey, they opted to add a 2009 9 passenger Suburban for the extra space. They’ve had all 9 seats full many times.

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