Review: 2018 Chevrolet Suburban Premier RST

Looking through the comments on our Buick Regal Sportback review, it’s hard not to notice one in particular. That’s the one that calls the Regal, a car that is factually bigger inside than some good-sized SUVs, “not big enough to be more than a compact.” So what is big enough to be considered more than a compact? Well, this ought to do it. The Chevrolet Suburban.

It’s not going to come as a shock to anyone that the ‘Burb is big. Three rows of seats, 120 cubic feet of cargo space, and a footprint that’s likely capable of landing small aircraft. If you look up big in the dictionary, you’ll see a photo of the Chevy Suburban. Does bigger mean better? That’s the question.

The Suburban is, and has been for decades, the SUV for buyers who want more utility than sport. The sport is what the driver is headed to or what’s being towed behind it. With room for up to nine passengers and the ability to stuff just shy of 40 cubic feet of gear behind them, this is the vehicle that can transport a whole beer league baseball team. And their gear. And then tow the (8,300 lb when properly equipped) stadium behind them.

And if all that is somehow not enough, the center console seems large enough to hold a microwave. Or there’s the behind the radio stashbox. And there’s a compartment to stuff a few more items under the rear cargo floor. It’s even got a strut to hold it open, though on my test car the strut was not powerful enough to keep the cover open and too powerful to let the cargo floor stay flat. It was always slightly open, which looked a little strange.

This one is the Premier version. The luxury big hauler. That impacts some of the Suburban’s capability but trades it for amenities. The plush leather front buckets and the second-row captain’s chairs mean that this one only transports seven so your shortstop and left field will have to hitchhike. But it will transport the rest of the team more comfortably. Sort of. The front two rows have loads of headroom and acres to spread passenger’s legs. The third row manages just 34.5-inches of legroom. About five less than the middle row. That’s noticeable. And if you’re thinking “well, that’s about five inches more than the last aircraft I flew on” then you’re right. Except that airplane seat lets you slide your feet under them. This one doesn’t. The Suburban’s large size offers up just one inch more back there than a much smaller Traverse. And it feels tighter.


Since most owners probably won’t be hauling seven full-size adults all the time, that’s likely not an issue. If they’re hauling four adults and three smaller passengers in the back then they’ll all likely be happy. Especially when they turn on the DVD screens in the Premier.

My test car had screens in both rear rows letting passengers watch without craning their necks. Those passengers can also connect to the 4G LTE WiFi hotspot and watch whatever they please. What might be an issue is the effect of those captain’s chairs on cargo carrying. While the power flip/fold is pretty handy, the big gap between the two folded seats is not. If you want larger objects to fit near the front of the hold, you’ll need to bring some plywood or something similar to bridge the gap. Likewise, if you want to bring Rover along. Perched on one middle row seat is not a fun spot for anything bigger than a beagle and while you could buckle doggo in the back, you might get the same cry for “but snoots out!” that I heard. You see, you can’t put your nose out the window from the back row.

On the road, the Suburban doesn’t compare to any crossover, no matter their size. This is based on a full-size truck and Chevrolet hasn’t done anything to make you think otherwise. And they shouldn’t. The massive payload and towing figures this SUV achieves can’t be matched by anything car-based. That means that it drives like a Silverado. Sort of.

The two-piece nature of a pickup’s cab and bed mean that there is always a battle between the front and rear of the chassis to decide which one will rule the vehicle. The two parts of the body twist and wriggle to their own beats. The Suburban is one big chunk of bodywork perched atop the frame. That makes it feel stiffer than the pickups ever manage. Even though this is just a hair shy of 225-inches long, everything moves in harmony. It means fewer rattles and squeaks. Things that help the Suburban feel confidence-inspiringly solid on the road.

The Suburban’s steering is heavily boosted and feels somewhat detached from whatever is happening on the road. That’s not a surprise for anything this big and it’s not a drawback. You turn the wheel, though, and the wheels do what you ask. You just might not feel it right away. If you want direct and feel you buy a sports car. If you want to tow your sports car, you buy this. That’s straightforward enough. Ride, though, is a different story.

It’s still soft, but in a good way. The Suburban Premier gets GM’s Magneride magnetic suspension. It reads the road and adjusts to be firm in corners and soft on bumps. As firm and soft as you can expect for a big truck, that is. It definitely rides better than any pickup, though you probably won’t be mistaking it for the Traverse at any point.

Power comes from a 5.3L V8 that generates 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque. Combine that with a six-speed automatic that’s quick to grab gears and a limited slip rear differential and you have the potential to do seven-passenger burnouts. Not that we would, of course. While the engine makes good power and pulls hard, we’re happy to see increased availability of the 6.2L engine for 2019. Because with something this big, more power is better. The powertrain is rated for 15 mpg city, 22 highway. In my driving, I averaged right in the middle of that. It’s not a great figure, but it’s only about 3 mpg worse than I expect to get in any of the smaller crossovers that can’t come close to the capability.

Driving the Suburban makes you feel cool. Not in a “look at me I’m in a flashy sports car” kind of way, though. More like a “get out of the left lane, I’m transporting important politicians, or writing tickets, or I’m the Secret Service” kind of way. Drivers respect the Suburban’s bulk and popularity with law enforcement fleets. This one ramps that respect up immeasurably.

See, this is the RST Suburban. That stands for Rally Sport Truck but it really should mean Removes Slow Traffic. Because in my experience, that’s just what it did. Gone are the chrome trim and badges and wheels of the stock truck. In its place are black bowties, 22-inch black wheels, black mirrors, grille, and pretty much every other piece of exterior trim. This truck looks big and mean and like it will drive right through you. The only time I’ve experienced this rapid of a left-lane clearing was the time I was driving an actual police car. And even then, I’m not sure it was as effective.

The Suburban Premier is a nice place to be, though the leather-trimmed interior is unlikely to be mistaken for a similarly priced luxury sedan. The mahogany leather looks nice but still feels a little more midrange. That’s the trade-off for capability, though. After all, no E-Class Mercedes offers low-range gearing and the ability to tow a small home behind it. And the Merc’s interior probably won’t weather five years of hauling kids, dogs, and landscaping equipment like this can.

When it comes to the combination of capability and usability, though, the Suburban has little competition. It’s why it’s been such a successful nameplate for decades. It might not be the most refined SUV on the block, but it combines reasonable road manners, capability, and fuel economy per passenger in an impressive way. And the RST does it in a way that just looks mean. It’s the “Lord Vader, your car is ready” of 2018.

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