COAL: 2019 Chevrolet Suburban Premier – Big GM Wagons Never Went Away

And now for something completely different! After a few months of research and some minor marital discord (that thing is a bus, have you lost your mind, etc.), I traded the 2016 Lexus ES350 COAL and the family 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee on this.

I wrote up the Lexus when I bought it just over two years ago, as a slightly used off lease car. I have never written up the Jeep yet, need to do that. There was nothing wrong with the Lexus or the Jeep, we just had too many cars and our needs as a family had changed.

The Jeep was primarily my older son’s ride, and he is in his second year at college in an urban area 13 or more hours away by car. His plan was to take it to college about two hours from home, but he got in a “reach” school further away and his plans changed at the last minute. He hasn’t taken it to school, and doesn’t want to. He finds cheap flights home for breaks, and uses ZipCar when he needs a car at school.

The Jeep was also used to pull the boat to the lake a dozen times a year, and haul trailers and ladders for our rental property needs (clean outs, painting, hauling mulch, trips to the landfill, etc.). We used it three times now to move him to and from school, but it was not enough room for four of us and his stuff (waist high dorm fridges seem small until you try to pack the car). We have some snow where we live, we make poor attempts at going skiing, and have about 200 acres of family land and tree farms, so it was the 4WD for when we need one.

With the addition of the View RV I wrote up, we needed a car to tow behind the RV. The Jeep cannot be flat towed (all four wheels on the ground) or dolly towed either, per the owner’s manual. It is 4WD with a neutral transfer case setting, but Jeep and the online sources I could find all say don’t do it.

There are workarounds to this, such as disconnecting the drive shaft or having a lube pump added to keep the transmission fluid pumping as you pull it down the road. But, I have no experience with either set up and for every person I could find who liked one or the other, another person said they had ruined a tow vehicle doing so. If anyone can talk about experience with either setup in the comments, I’d love to hear about it!

The Lexus was primarily my car and it had gone from 13,000 miles to right at 80,000 in my two years with it. Though I loved it for myself, it was cramped for us as a family (my sons are both 6′ 4″, quite a bit taller than me). It also did not work well as a tow vehicle behind the RV. As a FWD car, it can be pulled endlessly on a tow dolly, which I have. It can’t be flat towed without the added transmission pump.

However, it is so low to the ground that the chin of the front bumper won’t clear the dolly. I have to use concrete pavers to ramp it up onto the metal ramps of the dolly, if that makes sense. Doable, but something of a chore in the dark or rain (both of which seemed to present every time I tried this). Despite my attempts to avoid tight turns, the plastic dolly fenders rubbed and damaged the side sill cladding on the Lexus. The damage was down low and hard to see with the dark color of the Lexus, but we picked up quite a bit of damage in just a few trips.

In short, it was a great commuter car but could do nothing else for me. I had about decided to trade them both on a new Grand Cherokee, but that’s when I discovered the “no tow” problem. I looked at the FWD Jeep Cherokee, Honda Pilot and Lexus RX. They could be towed in their FWD versions, but we still needed a 4wD vehicle, and they couldn’t pull the boat. And so on it went.

I kept trying to find one vehicle that would be a nice/luxury car during the week for me, pull the boat and trailer (6000 pounds altogether), pull the work trailers and carry ladders on the roof, be able to be towed behind an RV, be 4WD with off road capability for the acreage and tree farms (where 4Low is needed in some mucky areas, what my father-law-in calls the “bog”)…

I keep the keys hidden from our 16 year old, though I’m sure he could handle it better than I can

…be able to carry 675 pounds of my new scooter and scooter rack (that’s another story for another time) and have more cargo room to move kids to and from college and apartments.

So this is what I came up with. A 2019 Suburban, available in base (fleet only), LS, LT, and Premier (called the LTZ in prior years). Yes, it’s big for significant commuting miles. But, with the advances in technology it is pretty easy to drive. Of course, visibility forward and to the sides is great.

Blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, rear cross path detection, rear camera, front and rear park sensors that vibrate the driver seat when danger arises, radar cruise control, and passive emergency braking (such as when traffic stops and you are too slow to react) are all present. In 4500 miles now, they have all saved me more than once. I think all this tech has made me a much worse/lazier driver.

People knock the old timey column shift, but it frees up space in the center console, and is more intuitive to me than new rotary knobs or “static” shifters

It’s the closest thing we have in 2019 to a traditional, full size, body on frame American luxury car. It fulfills that role well. It’s quiet and oozes around town like an old school GM sedan.

Perforated leather seating, three zone climate control, heated power seats front and rear, cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, Bose Centerpoint stereo, heads up display, sunroof, power hands free liftgate, laminated windshield and door glass for noise control, keyless entry and keyless start, power tilt/telescope wheel, rain sensing wipers, remote start, auto high beams, HID headlights, seat/mirror/radio/climate setting memory linked to each remote, power folding on the second and third row seats, AT&T 4G LTE data ($15 per month for unlimited data, and it’s faster than my home or office wifi) and a dual screen BluRay DVD system are present.

It is the latest generation of GM B-Body wagon, if you think about it. A 2019 Custom Cruiser. It’s a mere two inches wider and a few inches longer than the revered 1977-onwards B-Body wagons…

…and a couple of inches NARROWER and SHORTER than the 1971-1976 B-Body wagons, which American parents flung around for years without cameras or parking sensors or any such nonsense.

I have no use for the DVD system whatsoever, but every Tahoe and Suburban I touched had it. It is bundled into a package with the Bose Centerpoint and the sunroof, both of which I did want. With a $500 package discount, the package is the same price as the Centerpoint and the sunroof a la carte, so I guess it’s there for free for the next owner.

The yellow tape measure illustrates the 20 inches you would lose in a Tahoe

About the Tahoe: well, I thought about it a lot. They have always looked a little stubby to me, like the proportions are just a wee bit off. But it would be easier to live with day to day, and it would do everything on my list just as well (except maybe the moving task). I found three Tahoes and three Suburbans at two different dealers, that I negotiated a trade difference price on. In all situations, the Tahoe was about $1000 less.

I decided for no more price difference than that, the Suburban’s extra 20 inches of load floor behind the third row was worth it. No one ever says “geez I wish my car could carry less cargo”, but as with the Jeep you can find yourself in a jam when you need more. And with the second row buckets in a Premier, we may find ourselves needing the third row more often that if we had a second row bench.

This is a quintessentially American arrangement: remove seats from the second row, necessitating a third row, necessitating a longer vehicle so you can carry your stuff.

The latest small block 5.3 liter V8 is present with the time tested 6 speed auto. Now called an “EcoTec 3” instead of a Vortec, it’s an odd mashup (to me) of old and new. Pushrods, two valves per cylinder, direct injection, variable valve timing, and fuel management (to make it run as a V4) all peacefully coexist. In a typical 70 mile commute of mostly highway, I am averaging 26 mpg, well above the EPA 14/21 rating. Since my purchase, I have averaged 20.6 overall, so I am getting the EPA highway rating in my 4500 miles of mixed city, country and interstate use. It runs in V4 mode quite often, if you pull up that screen on the dash. The switching back and forth is imperceptible to me.

This isn’t stellar, of course, but pretty amazing considering that it has the ability to satisfy all the other tasks I need it to. And for the size and heft of the vehicle (5,791 pounds out the factory door according to the build card I found under the seat, or 2200 pounds more than the Lexus) I really don’t see how it does that well. The Lexus averaged about 30mpg per tank in the same driving.

With the bargain priced $400 Max Tow Package, I get an integrated brake controller, Class 4 hitch, oil cooler, transmission cooler, full size spare tire, lower axle ratio, higher tow rating of 840 pounds tongue weight/8400 pounds trailer weight, and a two speed transfer case with 4Low and Neutral.

The optional case means Suburban CAN be towed on a dolly or all four wheels on the ground. The Neutral setting disconnects the front and rear drivelines from the transmission. It is too heavy to tow much with the View, of course. I think flat towing the Suburban at 55 mph down to the beach (a flat, half-day trip each way for us) would be fine with the right braking equipment, but going over the Rockies is out of the question.

The 6.2 liter and 10 speed Ford/GM auto from the Denali and Escalade are optional on the Premier Suburban, but I didn’t see the point. It has a little more power and the same EPA ratings, but the tow rating for the larger engine in a Premier is the same or 100 pounds lower than the 5.3, depending on the wheels. And, all the 6.2 versions I came across, anyway, had the $11,000 “Premier Plus” package which not only adds a whole lot to the bottom line, but some things I didn’t want like 22 inch wheels and power deployed running boards.

Discounting is pretty heavy on these, of course. I paid about 18% under sticker. It’s still a lot (too much, my wife helpfully volunteered), but it’s covering all my needs better than anything else I could come up with. ALL vehicles are more than they should be to me now, I guess that’s part of aging. In a world where loaded Pilots and minivans are close to $50,000, the Suburban makes the case for a lot more capability for a modestly higher price.

And, at over 6000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating, my S-Corp small business can expense (write off) the first $25,000.00 and one-half of the balance of the purchase price for tax year 2019. So in round numbers, I can expense $40,000.00. Assuming a 40% combined state and federal tax rate, that’s another $16,000.00 off the price I paid, effectively. If I didn’t expense it, that $16,000.00 would be going to Washington, so the money is gone from my hands either way. Might as well put it towards a vehicle, which brings this rig firmly below Pilot and RX350 prices (they are not heavy enough to expense in this manner).

EDIT: This is still generally true, but more nuanced and complicated than I thought under the 2018 tax law changes. Just didn’t want to spread misinformation. It actually, though, looks like I can expense 100% of the purchase price for this tax year, which I did not know, which is quite a rebate to myself.

Here’s an explanation of the IRS rule for anyone interested:

I’ll write some updates when there is anything to report. I did have the front doors and windshield tinted to help keep down the heat, and after a few hot days parked in the sun, I can report that really worked. The windshield film is clear, of course, but claims to block 50% of the heat. The front doors have a tint to them, but are legal and not as dark as the rest of the glass. I think this will work well enough to avoid needing a windshield sun shade or “vent visors”.

We just need to work on a name……suggestions (be nice) are welcome!