Despite an aging platform, still a segment leader.
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – The new family of GM’s full-size SUVs has already been revealed, with plenty of new updates including independent rear suspension, more interior volume and the addition of a diesel powertrain. Despite the current models’ age, having been around since 2014, we took advantage of an opportunity to reinforce just how relevant and good these vehicles still are. Even after new competition from the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator (reviewed here), we remain convinced that the GMs are still king of the body-on-frame world. We embarked on a long haul to Nashville, Tennessee to take in some country music and barbecue, with the 2020 Chevrolet Suburban Premier RST.
This outgoing platform, “K2XX” in GM-talk, underpins the current Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, and Cadillac’s Escalade and Escalade ESV. All three examples come in short and long wheelbase forms, with similar levels of equipment but very different skins more in tune with their respective brand images. The Suburban Premier isn’t necessarily any more downmarket than the Yukon Denali, though the Escalade Platinum does offer some more upscale interior trim. My personal preference is the Yukon Denali in short wheelbase form, with all of the gizmos without the added girth of the longer model tested here.
While most Suburbans get by with the 5.3-liter V8 shared with the Tahoe and Yukon, the RST Performance Edition package for $3,495 upgrades our tester to one of our favourite SUV powertrains out there. It now packs the 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8 and 10-speed automatic, with a 3.23 rear axle ratio. It also adds a high capacity air cleaner, sport calibration for the powertrain, an AutoTrac two-speed transfer case, and trailer brake controller. With 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft. of torque on tap, the Suburban makes its presence well known. Acceleration is urgent and the 6.2 doesn’t feel nearly as lazy as the 5.3, with a throaty exhaust note and enough power to tackle the interstate effortlessly.
Magnetic Ride Control is standard on all Premier trim models, and makes this body-on-frame truck feel much smoother and smaller than it is. Where the Ford Expedition feels sloppy over imperfections, the Suburban keeps occupants comfortable and virtually eliminates the jelly-effect that these things typically have. Also noteworthy is that the Suburban is more sorted in every way than the Toyota Sequoia (reviewed here), with tight reflexes and a buttoned-down feel in all situations.
US-spec Suburbans with the RST Performance Package also get Brembo brakes, while Canadian models get away with 22-inch wheels and blacked-out accenting just about everywhere. Regardless, the standard brake setup will bring the big kahuna to a stop without fail. Our test vehicle was equipped with meaty winter tires and had no issues tackling some inclement weather through our long trek down south. Most buyers will want to leave the transfer case in rear-drive (“2H”) mode most of the time for better fuel consumption, only flicking it into four-wheel-drive when needed.
The biggest challenge with these beasts is convincing the public that they really aren’t that bad on fuel, with ratings for this model at 17.2L/100km city and 11.4L/100km highway. Over the years, our team has regularly beaten the highway ratings, seeing numbers as frugal as 10.0L/100km. Our combined mileage for this trip was a very reasonable 11.5L/100km, with mostly highway driving, completely loaded with passengers and their cargo. The cylinder deactivation and 10-speed automatic work together to go a long way in ensuring the Suburban sips fuel. The massive 117-liter tank also makes for a substantial cruising range before needing to gas up.
The interior is perhaps the only real part of the Suburban that’s showing its age. While it’s highly functional with plenty of connectivity, the design is definitely aging when compared to the competition. The seats are still comfortable but could benefit from some additional support, and are heated and ventilated up front. Space is plentiful in all three rows, though more adjustability for the second row would be appreciated. Even with the third row in place, 1,112-liters of cargo will be swallowed. We opted to keep the third row flat, and expanded the available space to accommodate 2,171-liters of supplies for a weekend away.
There’s plastic just about everywhere, and while some leather trim is present, it’s not all that nice. A large clunky column shifter is still present, and this setup while functional has become pretty obsolete with newer vehicles offering rotary knob and push-button options. Connectivity is just fine, with a touchscreen housing Chevrolet’s infotainment system which supports Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and has a mobile hotspot with 4G-LTE. A $3,695 Sun, Entertainment and Destinations Package adds a power sunroof as well as a rear-seat entertainment system with screens, with DVD and Blu-Ray support.
Standard features on the Premier model also include Magnetic Ride Control, front and rear park assist, leather interior, Bose sound system, wireless charging, heated steering wheel, HID headlights, and more. While the K2XX trucks still lag behind the competition in active safety features, basic systems including park assist, forward collision alert, automatic high beam control, side blind zone alert, and rear cross-traffic alert are equipped. Those living in colder climates will also appreciate the factory remote start function.
While the base Suburban LS starts at $59,398 in 2WD form or $62,698 in 4WD, the top-trim Premier starts at $77,898. The only options on our test vehicle are the RST Edition Package for $3,095 that adds all of the visual bits, the RST Performance Edition package for $3,495 adding the bigger engine and performance goodies, and the aforementioned sunroof/entertainment package. Lastly, the menacing Shadow Grey Metallic paint is priced at $495, for an as-tested total of $87,983 before taxes and fees.
We had the opportunity to compare this Suburban directly with a brand new long-wheelbase Ford Expedition (reviewed here), on a two-hour highway haul, and the differences are staggering. The Suburban’s Magnetic Ride Control made all of the difference over some horrid potholes along the interstate in middle-America, where the Expedition was just all over the place leaving occupants in all three rows feeling relatively nauseous. The Suburban’s V8 is more urgent and smoother in operation than the Ford’s boosted V6, and feels more up to the task. The Ford’s interior is more modern, but the new Suburban on sale later this year will bring the GM’s dated cabin up to par and should bring it back to the top.
As it stands, the “old and dated” 2020 Chevrolet Suburban Premier RST still brings excellent driving dynamics to the table. While the current platform has experienced some reliability concerns throughout its tenure, the Suburban’s demeanour makes it the go-to pick for those consistently logging long highway miles. As it stands today, nothing can touch the roar of the 6.2-liter V8, and the RST package is worth every penny. Just don’t forget to check off the box for the optional Borla exhaust…