A weekend on the road with GMC's Suburban gave me a better understanding of why people love these things so much. It is the quintessential cruiser, capable of reeling off 400 miles without a hiccup, or a stop for gas. And, it did so with all of
the comfort and convenience of a full-on luxury sedan. I've always found the Suburban's size to be a bit daunting around town. I mean, how many people really need seating for nine? Yet, here we were, just my wife and I, with all of this unused space,
ready to log nearly 800 miles in two days. Even though this baby is bigger'n Dallas, it rolls down the highway effortlessly and never really feels cumbersome, despite its long, 131.5-inch wheelbase, truck chassis and curb weight of more than 5,200 pounds.
The long wheelbase is a major contributor to its comfort level. We hammered down the interstate at a brisk pace and even though the ride was plush, it did not have that loose and mushy feeling of land yachts from the previous decades. About the
only things I wished for were better seats and greater gas mileage. We averaged just over 14.4 mpg on our trip (the EPA rating is 16 on the highway, but that is not calculated for 70 mph). The 42-gallon gas tank costs a fortune to fill up, but it allows a
cruising range of 630 miles, which means you can get to Denver without having to stop for gas, a great benefit when time is of the essence. Our test car was a four-wheel drive, 1500 series, and it sat pretty high. Getting in was a bit of a stretch,
but the driving position was excellent because I had a panoramic view of traffic and could see over the top of many smaller cars. Electronic, speed-sensitive power steering was added this year for enhanced feel, but I thought it was overboosted at low
speeds. The turning radius is tighter this year too. The engine in our test unit was the 5.7-liter, Vortec V8 with 255 horsepower. While that might sound like a lot of power, the Suburban weighs a lot and that eats up much of it. This engine puts out
lots of torque, or pulling power, at 2,800 rpm, which means you don't have to wring its neck to get up to cruising speed or to blend into the freeway. It can tow 6,000 pounds. There are two other optional engines: a 6.5-liter, turbo-diesel V8 and a
7.4-liter gasoline V8. The seats, swathed in leather, were pretty good, but after four hours I longed for more support, particularly in the lumbar area. Between the front seats is a huge console that looks like a small cooler. It has a
notepadholder on top which is handy for keeping route notes, plus storage for CDs, maps, etc. A dual cupholder pulls out from the center of the dash, or you can replace the CD holder in the console with an additional cupholder. I would like to see
GMC borrow Pontiac's steering-wheel controls for the radio because it was a pretty far reach for changing stations and adjusting volume. There are two back seats,
which is how you can fit eight or nine people inside. The third seat has limited legroom, but would be good for kids, dogs, etc. The second-row seat is a split-folding bench, but you have to tumble the seat bottom forward and remove the headrest from the
seat back in order to fold it down. Folding both seats down reveals 149 cubic feet of cargo space, which is huge. Other amenities, such as rear-seat air conditioning and dual airbags, add safety as well as comfort. Access to the luggage
compartment of our test unit was through two side-hinged panel doors, and they were easy to use. Their only drawback is that they cannot be equipped with a rear wiper. A switch enables all doors to be locked or unlocked from the back, a nice touch.
Price The base price for our test unit was $27,313. The option list was long: tinted windows, power mirrors, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, power locks, power mirrors, power seat, keyless entry, 16-inch aluminum
wheels, 3.73 axle ratio, trailer towing package, running boards, locking rear differential and electronic shifting transfer case. The sticker price was $38,563. Warranty The basic warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles. Point:The
Suburban is right at home cruising the highways. With a 630-mile range and seating for nine it has an immense following among big families and outdoor types. Counterpoint: This is a thirsty beast. I averaged 14.4 mpg with only two people aboard.
It is pricey, too, but then so are most other full-size SUVs. SPECIFICATIONS ENGINE: 5.7-liter, V8 TRANSMISSION: automatic WHEELBASE: 131.5 inches CURB WEIGHT: 5,235 lbs. BASE PRICE: $27,313 PRICE AS DRIVEN:
$38,563 MPG RATING: 12 city, 16 hwy.