Classic CARmentary: 1999 Chevrolet Suburban 1500 4WD

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

The Suburban was my first mishap with a press car.  At the time, my day job was located in an office building in Arlington, VA, with a cramped underground parking garage.  I actually convinced the magazine to pay for it in order to “keep the cars safe.”  As it was a relatively narrow building, the main ramp was a corkscrew design, with big concrete support columns on either side.  On the first day, I slowly, carefully, and successfully navigated to an open parking space.  The next day, I figured, “I’ve got this.”  Going down the corkscrew at a slightly faster clip, I glanced to my right and thought, “Wow, that support beam seems really clo-” [crunch]. 

I’d put a large dent into the passenger-side rear door.  I called the Maryland company that handles GM’s press cars, and they told me not to worry about it, but don’t do anymore damage until they picked it up the following Monday.

Other than that, it felt no different from the Yukon I’d reviewed several months prior.  Just bigger.

Here it is: The Big Cheese, the Texas Limo, the Granddaddy of ‘em all — the Chevrolet Suburban. It’s the largest SUV you can buy. Would you believe 47.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row of seats and a mammoth 149.5 cu.ft with the seats removed?

Chevy’s hallmark truck, along with its GMC twin, is entering its eighth model year, but the straight-lined, smooth-edged, flushed-glass styling doesn’t look dated. Available in two and four-wheel drive, half and three-quarter ton configurations, the Suburban has no real domestic or foreign competition. It shares many pieces with its smaller siblings: the Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon/Denali and upcoming Cadillac Escalade. If you must have the newest model on the block, an all-new Suburban is due for the 2000 model year. But don’t count this one out yet.

Our model was packed full of goodies, including: front and rear air conditioning, rear heater, remote keyless entry and other power accessories. The dash is the same that is used in all of GM’s large trucks. It’s not exciting, but all of the controls are in reasonable reach. The GM/Delco stereo is still one of the best sounding and easiest to use in the business. Furthermore, the 255-horsepower, 5.7-liter V8 engine is among the most powerful in an SUV and moves the behemoth with authority. An even more powerful 290-horsepower, 7.4-liter V8 is optional in three-quarter-ton Suburbans. The standard four-speed automatic generally shifts smoothly.

The Suburban’s four-wheel drive system is for off-road and foul-weather only. However, an automatic setting will engage the front wheels automatically if either of the rear wheels begin to slip. Although much better than previous generation Suburbans, the ride is still more truck-like than car-like, with constant activity on less-than-smooth surfaces. Turns must be taken wide, slowly, and carefully, or you’re likely to whack the side of the Suburban on a corner pole (or support column of a parking garage in my case…oops). Handling? Fuggedaboudit.

But Suburban buyers don’t care about this stuff. They want to be able to haul themselves, eight passengers and a week’s worth of their luggage to their place in the mountains. And that the Suburban does admirably.

For more information contact 1-800-950-2438


Type: 4-Door Sport-Utility Vehicle
Engine: 255-horsepower, 5.7 liter V8
Transmission: 4-speed Automatic
EPA Mileage: 13 city/18 highway
Tested Price: $38,173

After “Fuggedaboudit,” my editor left a note to the copy editor: “<Olive, I am inclined to change this to For get[sic] about it. What do you think. jm>”  The funny part is that I wrote that a year before The Sopranos premiered.  Since then, the Suburban twins (or Suburban/Yukon XL with regard to the later generations) have been forever linked to the NJ mafia.