You realize the size when trying to slip into the space at the mall and need two, maybe three attempts to snuggle within the lines.
You realize how tall this thing stands when you try to step in or out gracefully, but concede and reach for a ladder.
You realize how massive this thing is when you pull up to the pump, and the guy behind the register puts down the newspaper and calls his stockbroker.
For years, Suburban has been the biggest people hauler on the road without Greyhound written on its side.
Yet, come fall, the Chevrolet Suburban will have an even bigger rival–one that has a Ford logo floating in the grille and the Excursion name tacked onto the fender.
More on the Excursion later. For now, the focus is on the 1999 Suburban we tested, a vehicle that undergoes its own redesign this fall when, word has it, it gets new sheet metal, a power sunroof and a hatchlid to replace the swing-out twin doors in back.
The 2000 Suburban will be built off the new Silverado pickup truck platform; the ’99 is built off the old C/K truck. Like Silverado, Suburban probably will get a new higher-output, higher-mileage, but lower emissions V-8 engine, so owners can expect at least 1 more mile per gallon. Not that 1 m.p.g. is a lot, but it looks pretty good when the current rating is a mere 14 city/18 highway. The 2000 Suburban will be unveiled at the New York Auto Show this month.
What’s so enjoyable about the current Suburban is that, though it’s very long and tall, it doesn’t feel unmanageable or top heavy. No need to tiptoe around and fight the wheel to control the weight.
We drove Suburban on clear and snow-covered roads. The four-wheel-drive Suburban arrived shortly after the two-wheel-drive Ford Expedition left.
On snow-covered roads, a 4WD Suburban is the choice over a 2WD anything, including Expedition, but Suburban felt more stable on clear roads, too. Suburban has the more car-like suspension, Expedition the stiffer truck-like suspension. Suburban is more forgiving of bumps.
Suburban also has the more user-friendly steering so it responds quicker to driver input without making you feel the vehicle weight in the wheel.
Suburban fits between Expedition and Excursion. Expedition is built on a 119.1-inch wheelbase and is 204.6 inches long. Suburban is built on a 131.5- inch wheelbase and is 219.5 inches long. Excursion has a 137-inch wheelbase and is 226.7 inches long.
We haven’t driven Excursion, so there are no driving impressions, but we can compare dimensions and features.
Both can hold up to nine passengers. Excursion is 80 inches wide, Suburban 76.6 inches. Suburban’s cabin is expansive so 80 inches is mind-boggling.
Excursion is 77.4 inches high, Suburban 70.7 inches. Excursion will slip into a garage, the folks who build Suburban agree, adding “on its side.” Ford is not amused.
Excursion will come with a feature Suburban doesn’t offer, called BlockerBeam–a m etal tube under the front bumper to keep smaller vehicles from riding under it in a collision. BlockerBeam is in response to those who insist smaller vehicles get the worst of a collision with larger ones, as if those who didn’t sleep through Physics 101 didn’t know that.
In dissecting Suburban while designing Excursion, Ford engineers copied General Motors by offering a rear glass pop-open window and two swing-out doors below it. Ironic, because Suburban supposedly is going to switch to a hatchlid for 2000 because so many owners said the swing-out doors were a pain, especially when someone parks too close behind.
But give Ford engineers credit for a significant change. Excursion will hide the spare tire in the cargo compartment, not hang it outside or slide it under the chassis as is so common on Ford SUVs. The reason, said Ken Timmer, chief program engineer for Excursion, is simple; customers are tired of having the spare tire stolen and are willing to sacrifice some cargo r oom to keep it.
Suburban is powered by a 5.7-liter, 255-horsepower V-8 with very good off-the-line pep. Excursion will be powered by a choice of 5.4-liter, 260-h.p. V-8; 6.8-liter, 300-h.p. V-10; or 7.3-liter, 235-h.p., turbo-diesel V-8. The 5.4-liter V-8 will be standard when you go with 2WD, the 6.8-liter V-10 will be standard when you order optional 4WD. The 5.4 V-8 gas and 7.3 V-8 diesel will be optional with 4WD.
Suburban is rated at 14/18 with the 5.7. Excursion won’t be rated because the government doesn’t demand an estimate on vehicles more than 8,500 pounds gross vehicle weight. (Excursion weighs 8,600 to 9,200 pounds depending on engine and drivetrain.)
The only mileage Timmer will mention is a range of 10 m.p.g. city/18 m.p.g. highway depending on engine and load, with the 18 rating compliments of the turbo diesel. Excursion mileage ratings are the reason it will come with a 44-gallon fuel tank; Suburban’s tank holds 42 gallons.
Excursion’s mileage has the Sierra Club in a snit, as does the fuel consumption of any sport-utility. Battery-powered electric cars that consume no gasoline have basically gone down the toilet for lack of interest, so Sierra Club members obviously are so upset with SUVs that they haven’t had time to put their money on batteries. Don’t you think?
But we digress.
The Sierra Club has called Excursion a “suburban assault vehicle” (Excursion versus Suburban, get it? Cute.) and in a contest to name the Ford monster dubbed the winner: “The Ford Valdez. Have you driven a tanker lately?”
Odd that the Sierra Club is so upset over a vehicle that annually will recycle 180,000 pounds of bottle caps and cotton-bale wrappers to produce air conditioning components, air cleaner housings and glove boxes; 1 million discarded two-liter soda bottles to create the frames around its rear quarter windows; 12,000 scrap tires to produce air deflectors and wheelwell splash shields; and more than 100,000 scrap battery cases to produce fender shields, accelerator pedals and new battery cases.
Besides that, 1,000 pounds of recycled scrap metal, such as from junked cars, will be used in each Excursion and when the vehicle has driven its last mile, 85 percent of all materials used in building it can be recycled.
Maybe it’s hard for the Sierra Club to read the list of recyclables with the camera lights in its eyes. Don’t you think?
The 4WD Suburban we tested starts at $28,155, but the long list of options quickly runs the price to around $40,000, such as $1,250 for a comfort/security package with heated seats, heated mirrors and power passenger seat; and $9,168 for the LT equipment group with power driver’s seat, leather seat surfaces, power mirrors/windows and AM/FM stereo with cassette and CD. Running boards, which help entering and exiting, run $325. But snow tends to accumulate on running boards.
Excursion is expected to start at more than $30,000 and leave the showroom for $45,000 to $50,000. It will come in XLT and Limited versions and the list of options won’t be short.
Suburban is the king of mega-sport-utes, with sales of 108,000 in calendar ’98, up from 99,000 in ’97.
Timmer told us Ford initially is aiming for 50,000 Excursion sales worldwide, with the Mideast a market as well as the U.S.
We had to ask Timmer why the need for a bigger SUV when Ford has the Expedition.
Timmer’s reply was the same that many folks have voiced over the years–that the question shouldn’t be why, but rather what took Ford so long to bring out a bigger SUV. Suburban has had that market to itself forever.
“There’s been only one vehicle in that market,” he said, carefully avoiding the word “Suburban.”
“We feel the market has simply been constrained for this size vehicle,” Timmer said, meaning it’s more likely Excursion will add sales to the segment rather than rob them from Suburban.
GM hopes so, even if the Sierra Club doesn’t.
1999 Chevrolet Suburban 4WD
Wheelbase: 131.5 inches
Length: 219.5 inches
Engine: 5.7-liter, 255-h.p. V-8
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 14 m.p.g. city/18 m.p.g. highway
Pluses: AutoTrac 4WD with push button control. Spacious, roomy, with above average ride and handling for such a large vehicle.
Minuses: Swing-out rear doors a problem when there’s not enough room to swing them out. Need for really large parking spot. Fuel economy. Is anything standard and not an extra-cost option?