Driving the Chevrolet Suburban and Chevrolet Tahoe takes you back to a time when cars were cars and SUVs were, well, trucks. In this modern era of crossover wagons and car-based SUVs, these Chevy siblings are among the few SUVs that are still built on a trucklike, body-on-frame platform rather than the unibody design used for passenger cars.
Sure, car-based SUVs tend to ride more comfortably, handle better, and get better fuel economy. But the Suburban and Tahoe out-muscle those models with sheer utility. They offer true four-wheel drive with low-range capability, can tow 8,000 pounds or more, and, with their spacious interiors, can swallow a huge load of cargo, especially in the extra-long Suburban.
Twenty inches shorter, the Tahoe is essentially a sawed-off version of the Suburban. They are also almost twins of the GMC Yukon and longer Yukon XL. Either can hold up to seven, eight, or even nine people, depending on the configuration, plus haul a horse trailer. Moreover, the Suburban can handle that crowd along with a family vacation’s worth of luggage. We measured a voluminous 62.5 cubic feet of cargo volume in the Suburban and 47.5 in the Tahoe. For comparison, the cargo volume for the Toyota Highlander is 40.5,and it can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
The Suburban and Tahoe were redesigned for 2015, with plusher interiors, more modern electronic amenities, optional power-folding second- and third-row seats that now fold down on the floor, and a host of advanced driver safety and visibility aids.
Both models also have a revised 5.3-liter V8 engine that improves fuel economy by 14 percent over previous models, delivering a best-in-class 16 mpg overall. The trade-off is that both SUVs feel a lot more sluggish than before, although our Suburban, with the optional trailering package’s 3.42 rear-axle ratio, felt a little less so than the Tahoe. The GMC Yukon Denali offers a larger 420-hp V8, but it delivers 2 mpg less than the 5.3-liter, according to EPA estimates, and it doesn’t feel that much quicker.
Within this Chevy/GMC family, the Suburban LTZ is the most compelling package. That’s partly because LTZ versions have GM’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension, which improves the ride and handling significantly. But it’s also because of the rare combination of attributes provided by the Suburban (and Yukon XL), including a cavernous passenger- and cargo-friendly interior. If you need that kind of utility, there just aren’t that many other models to choose from.
The case is not as convincing for the Tahoe. A number of car-based SUVs provide similar functionality while being much more comfortable, responsive, fuel efficient, and less expensive. Some newer diesel-powered models can even match the Tahoe’s towing capacity.
Beyond their size, the first thing you notice about piloting these behemoths is how quiet they are, a lot like luxury cars.
Handling is decent, with minimal body lean, and the steering is relatively responsive and appropriately weighted. But with the base suspension our Tahoe LT had a tendency to hop and pitch in our emergency avoidance maneuver, which hurt its performance and reduced driver confidence. Despite its larger dimensions, the Suburban behaved better thanks to larger tires and the Magnetic Ride Control suspension, which anticipates body motions and adjusts the suspension to mitigate them. In our tests, that considerably reduced body lean, increased grip, and kept the Suburban much more settled and planted.