Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: Tito F. Hermoso | posted November 15, 2010 17:34
'Burban, America's folk hero
Beyond the TV and Hollywood images ingrained in local pop psyche, the Chevrolet Suburban is, believe it or not, an irrelevant flippancy in this country. In any free society, there is no substitute for this class of vehicle for transporting busy, powerful and security conscious people along with their staff. No free society should begrudge their movers and shakers with a Suburban's degree of security. What a Suburban and Ford Expedition can do, is beyond the capability of a micro-bus or even a gentrified commercial van. Besides, to raise the level of refinement, power and security in a converted truck will cost more. That's saying a lot for a vehicle that started life as a multi-purpose carry-all for the National Guard in 1933.
Family over prestige
But it doesn't mean ordinary mortals can't enjoy it the way most Americans do. Which is to travel with the family and belongings to cruise the wide open prairie, the great outdoors. Like a cruise ship or large yacht or a private jet, in great comfort, with the freedom to follow the schedule that you like.
Love it or loathe it, Chevrolet's Suburban loyal fans, mostly in North America, were the folksy kind who knew how to take the good with the bad, look at the glass half full and just got on with life to enjoy it. Just like the wide open prairie where feed for wagon train horses were virtually free, the price of gasoline USA is virtually free compared to what the rest of the world pays for, taxes included.
Context; simple and genuine
The philosophy was simple. If you wanted space, comfort and security, you need a big vehicle. With size comes weight. With weight, you'll need more power. For such a simple formula, the North American car industry continued improving and selling more and more of these things, making them the dominant motor vehicle sold for the past twenty years. Even with heavy discounts, the margins were healthy enough. After several Oil Crises, Americans just drove less but like the "resume" cruise control button, went back their merry way when incomes rose, assets increased in value and gas prices fell. Its just the downside of a business cycle. 9/11? Detroit launched its "lets roll" sales campaign and SUV sales reached a historical peak in the ensuing years.
Incremental improvements on tradition
Unlike Ford, GM did not go the Crossover route by adopting fully independent alloy rear suspension. The latest Chevrolet Suburban is based on the GMT900 platform, a platform former GM CEO Rick Wagoner put plenty of faith in, even during the height of the '08 financial crisis. You can see GM's commitment to a longer time frame for this platform as it even improved the column shifter wand by incorporating a +/- gear selector and a push button for trailer towing. Longer for more space and wider of track for better handling over its predecessor, GM focused on aerodynamic refinements like a 57 degree windshield angle and tighter panel gaps to improve highway fuel consumption.
Technology for safety
At 3.3 tons GVW, the 2-wheel drive LT has a 331PS 5.3 liter V-8 engine linked to a GM Hydramatic 6-speed. Active fuel management shuts down 4 cylinders when all that power isn't needed. The changeover from 4 to V-8 is imperceptible and our highway consumption of 9.17km/liters, urban traffic of 5.52 to 7.24kms/liter proves it. Slinging this exceptional Vortec engine feels like a European V-8 as it eagerly sings to 5,300rpm.
Electronic aids for adaptive damping [Chevrolet Autoride], monitoring tire pressure and preventing roll overs and skids [Stabilitrak] combine to bequeath the Suburban with a secure and better ride in the back than in the front. Close to a dozen air bags protect the 2x2x3 occupants from all collision angles.
Heightened quality feel
GM enhanced the interior luxury experience a notch higher through soft-touch low gloss surfaces, concealed fasteners, lower noise levels and more sculptured trim. The rakish exterior benefits from having lower door halves that overlap the rocker panels which matches the more chiseled look. As befitting a high seat SUV, the windows provide panoramic vision. A rear view camera assists the parking sonar for those tight moments. Almost anything for convenience and comfort is powered: 10-way power seats, armchair 2nd row, power adjustable gas and brake pedals, power rear tailgate glass, etc.
Main street vs. Wall street
It took a disaster on Wall Street, not Main Street to threaten the very existence of the makers of the Suburban. Until then, sales held on against the onslaught from competing crossovers and premium SAVs. The steady profits of 20 years was not enough to counter the erosion of consumer income, consumer financing and the failing balance sheet of the car makers.
The cost of freedom?
Which doesn't mean the end of the Suburban as we know it. GM's rival, Ford, continues to make and sell Ford Expeditions, proving that there is still a market out there, even in the Philippines, for the no compromise package of space, safety, power and comfort a big SUV gives. The Big SUV was the folk hero, keeping America going, during troubled times. Wall Street is a distant irrelevance. Resolved to live free, the SUV was their own honest and practical tool for their kind of country. The Suburban symbolized the American way of Freedom, all for the price of putting gas into the 117 liter tank.