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2012 Chevrolet Suburban

(Base MSRP: $41,995 to $57,890)
Reviewed
April 2012
by ConsumerSearch
2012 Chevrolet Suburban

For when the Chevy Tahoe is deemed too small

Pros
  • High towing capacity on all trim levels
  • Cavernous cargo space
  • Strong V8
  • Attractive interior
  • Seating for up to nine passengers
  • Good crash-test results
Cons
  • Not nimble
  • Third-row comfort
  • Third row must be removed for max cargo space
  • No telescoping steering wheel
  • Slow acceleration when fully laden

The 2012 Chevrolet Suburban (Base MSRP: $41,995 to $57,890) carries on unchanged from previous years, but reviewers don't consider that to be an issue. They say that if you need to tow and carry the maximum amount of cargo, the Chevrolet Suburban is an excellent choice. It's also one of the largest SUVs around, at more than 18 feet in length. That gigantic size is paired with a pleasing V8 and surprisingly good ride quality, making it a favorite for overall utility. The Suburban is essentially a lengthened 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe ((Base MSRP: $38,530 to $55,850)), so unless the additional interior space is warranted, the smaller Tahoe or its twin, the 2012 GMC Yukon (Base MSRP: $39,860 to $57,780) will likely be more than enough size for most shoppers. The 2012 GMC Yukon XL is essentially identical to the Suburban.

Basically, just a longer Chevy Tahoe

Like the well-reviewed 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe, the regular Suburban is available with one engine option, a 5.3-liter V8 that cranks out 320 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. This V8 is described as smooth and powerful, but the extra weight and cargo capacity of the Suburban take a toll on performance. "Acceleration is decent without passengers or cargo. Load it up, however, and the 5.3-liter V8 produces acceleration that's best described as adequate," Edmunds.com says. The Suburban 2500 (not covered in this report) is a more expensive heavy-duty variant of the Suburban that has more powerful engine options available.

Lousy gas mileage, but towing is a strong point

Fuel economy is lackluster when compared to the average vehicle, but it is about as good as one could ask for from an oversized SUV. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the Suburban will achieve 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway/17 mpg combined, whether equipped with two- or four-wheel drive. The four-wheel drive comes in two flavors: one version with a dual-speed transfer case (allowing for high or low settings), while the other is a single speed. There is only one transmission option, but the experts don't complain about that as the six-speed automatic is smooth and performs well in towing scenarios. A transmission oil cooler is available as an option, which would be attractive for anyone pulling heavy loads for long distances.

Towing capacity is good in any configuration. Two-wheel drive models are ready to tow 8,100 pounds without any special options, and four-wheel drive models can pull a similar 8,000 pounds. The slightly lighter GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe have higher towing capacities at 8,300 pounds when optioned appropriately.

Nice to drive, given jumbo dimensions

Critics say that the Suburban's ride and handling are surprisingly good for a truck this large. About.com reviewer Jason Fogelson states his "favorite aspect of the GMT900 platform that underlies the Suburban is the suspension and steering package, which results in very nimble handling for a big SUV." (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)

Other reviewers agree. ConsumerGuide.com ranks the ride quality as "among the best of any SUV." Some reviewers say that steering feel is lacking, particularly on the highway. A ground clearance of 9.1 inches helps with light off-road situations, though the Suburban's size precludes it from any real off-roading.

The Suburban's interior appeals to reviewers when it comes to material quality and amenities. AutoWeek.com is surprised by the cabin, calling it "well trimmed and very comfortable." Reviewers also enjoy the strong seat heaters and good stereo. The base LT trim level comes with conveniences like keyless entry, Bluetooth phone connectivity and dual-zone climate control. More expensive trim levels are available with niceties such as DVD entertainment systems, second-row captain's chairs, GPS navigation and a rear parking-assist system.

Cargo-space king

Few vehicles accommodate more cargo and people than the Suburban, which can seat up to nine passengers, depending on configuration. Maximum cargo capacity is 137 cubic feet with the second row folded and third-row seats stowed. That's about 17 cubic feet more than the next biggest competitor, the best-reviewed 2012 Toyota Sequoia (Base MSRP: $40,930 to $61,805). As with the Chevy Tahoe, the Suburban requires you to physically remove the third-row seats from the vehicle to achieve the maximum cargo capacity, a significantly more difficult task than the flat-folding seats found in the competition.

Furthermore, those third-row seats are still cramped for passengers despite the Suburban's jumbo size, and access to those seats isn't as good as in most minivans and crossovers according to the experts. Reviewers acknowledge that the immense cargo capacity is likely overkill for most people, and that crossovers and minivans can provide almost as much storage in far more fuel-efficient packages. Automobile Magazine performed a long-term test of the Suburban in 2007 and griped about poor interior packaging in which "rear cargo and passenger space are consumed by the rear axle."

Solid crash-test performance

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has tested the 2012 Chevrolet Suburban, and it fares well in their tests. Front and side impact tests both result in a full 5 stars out of a possible 5 rating. The overall score is 4 stars, as the rollover resistance rating of 3 stars brings it down. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not tested the Chevrolet Suburban. The Suburban does include standard safety equipment like front and side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags with a rollover sensor, antilock brakes, GM's OnStar telematics system, electronic stability control and traction control.

The Suburban comes with a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty similar to other large SUVs. A leading publication expects reliability to be average. An Automobile Magazine long-term test experienced body creaks and driveline vibration in its test vehicle that required repairs to rectify.

If you need the added space and capability, it's excellent

The consensus is that for the combination of maximum towing and passenger seating, the Suburban is a good performer. That said, nearly every review of the SUV points out that for most people, typical use won't involve hauling nine people inside and more than 8,000 pounds on trailers. A crossover or even a shorter large SUV is a smarter choice for the majority of people.

Where To Buy

Our Sources

1. Edmunds.com

Edmunds.com concludes that the Suburban is good at its intended purpose of towing and carrying many passengers, but editors question how many shoppers actually need a car this large.

Review: 2012 Chevrolet Suburban SUV, Editors of Edmunds.com, Oct. 25, 2011

2. ConsumerReports.org

Editors of ConsumerReports.org have road tested the Chevrolet Suburban in LT V8 trim. The editors give a thorough overview of the vehicle, paying particular attention to how it handles on the road and what it's like inside. They perform a trailer test as well. To access reviews and reliability information at ConsumerReports.org, you must be a paid subscriber.

Review: Chevrolet Suburban, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not Dated

3. ConsumerGuide.com

ConsumerGuide.com has road tested the 2012 Chevrolet Suburban and gives the SUV a Best Buy recommendation. Editors like the power from the engine, the amount of utility it offers and call it "surprisingly refined."

Review: 2012 Chevrolet Suburban: Road Test, Editors of ConsumerGuide.com, Not Dated

4. FuelEconomy.gov

The EPA estimates that the Chevrolet Suburban will achieve 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway/17 mpg combined with either two- or four-wheel drive, not bad among large SUVs, especially considering it's the largest.

Review: 2012 Sport Utility Vehicles, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy

5. SaferCar.gov

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has tested the 2012 Chevrolet Suburban, and it gets the same crash-test results as the similar 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe and 2012 GMC Yukon. It gets an overall rating of 4 stars out of 5 with 5-star ratings for both front and side crash protection. It gets a 3-star rating for rollover resistance.

Review: 5-Star Safety Ratings, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Not Dated

6. CarGurus.com

CarGurus.com concludes that despite its old design and platform, the Chevrolet Suburban is still an attractive car for those who need its special skills: class-leading cargo room, serious towing and a comfortable cabin.

Review: 2012 Chevrolet Suburban, Eric Tallberg, Not Dated

7. AutoWeek

AutoWeek.com Review Notes pieces have contributions from individual editors who give their takes on the car in question. Editors here say the Suburban is a good car, especially if you need to haul a lot of people and cargo. The 2011 model is essentially identical to the 2012 model.

Review: 2011 Chevrolet Suburban LTZ: Review Notes, Editors of AutoWeek.com, Nov. 4, 2011

8. About.com

This About.com reviewer likes the Suburban, and like other reviewers, reiterates that it has a surprisingly good ride considering it's such a big truck. He notes that the large, truck-based SUV is on the way out, but if you need one for the towing, the Suburban is a good choice. The reviewer notes that "sometimes only a big SUV will do." (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)

Review: 2011 Chevrolet Suburban, Jason Fogelson, Not Dated

9. Automobile Magazine

Long-term tests offer a valuable perspective on a particular model, specializing in describing how it is to live with a car on a day-to-day basis. While this is a long-term test of the 2007 model, the Suburban is still largely the same. The biggest difference is that now the Suburban has a much improved six-speed automatic transmission, whereas the 2007 model had an older four-speed. Otherwise, the review provides useful insights on the Suburban that continue to hold true.

Review: 2007 Chevrolet Suburban -- Four Seasons Wrap-up, Editors of Automobile Magazine, Aug. 2010

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