FREDRICKSBURG, Tex. -- A romp around the Texas Hill Country, following crooked ranch roads across a rugged landscape scored with limestone embankments and fuzzy evergreen cedars, shows off the muscular manners and comfortable appointments built into the redesigned 2015 Suburban, Chevrolet's super-size sport utility vehicle.
In effect, all about Suburban has been redesigned, remodeled, rethought and rebuilt -- as very little from previous editions carries forward to 2015 models, save for the revered Suburban nameplate which traces through Chevrolet history to the 1935 Suburban Carryall.
That original idea for the Carryall -- a boxy steel wagon built on the sturdy chassis of a truck with seats for eight, four doors for passengers and a rear gate for cargo -- endured through time, eventually spawning the modern concept of a sport utility wagon of gigantic dimensions with enough room to haul a troop of Scouts plus their tents and camping gear and still have enough spark below the hood to move the hefty package down the road at a respectable pace.
The Suburban of 2015 amounts to a grand wagon of super-size scale and measures even larger than its cousin the Chevy Tahoe. Overall body length of Suburban exceeds a full-size Tahoe by 20.4 inches, and there's about 14 inches of extra space applied lengthwise at the rear of the cavernous cabin which contributes more legroom for riders on third-row seats and almost three times the cargo space (at 39.3 cubic feet) behind the third seats.
Suburban 2015 in its tip-to-tail remake is based on a new platform from General Motors. The architecture starts with fully boxed frame rails stretching the length of the vehicle for a rock-solid and rigid foundation using high-strength steel and hydroforming to provide more strength and rigidity with less weight.
The revamped cab structure integrates high-strength steel in both A and B pillars as well as roof rails and rocker panels, while ultra-high-strength steel segments go into rocker panels to add protection for offset collisions.
Lightweight aluminum shows up in some suspension components to boost rigidity and pare pounds, while new lightweight alloy wheels wear low-rolling-resistance tires to suppress cabin noise and vibration.
Brakes include a disc at every wheel -- ventilated front and rear -- with Duralife rotors and linkage to a 4-wheel anti-lock brake system with electronic traction and skid controls with added trailer-sway control.
A rack and pinion steering system gets electric power assistance, which contributes to powertrain fuel efficiency.
The exterior design appears aero-sleek and, due to some aluminum body and engine parts, Suburban's weight is pared, which translates to less fuel consumption.
Suburban's redesigned passenger compartment is quieter, more comfortable and better-connected than previous editions, providing three rows of seats for up to nine riders. There's a pair of buckets or optional 40/20/40 3-person bench on the front row, a second tier with fold-down 60/40-split 3-person bench or two captain's chairs plus a third bench with 50/50-split that also folds flat -- and you may select the push-button power-folding feature.
Chevrolet offers three trims -- entry-issue Suburban LS, the well-equipped Suburban LT and top-tier Suburban LTZ.
Each totes GM's new direct-injected 5.3-liter EcoTec3 V8 engine and comes with rear-wheel 2-wheel-drive traction or optional 4-wheel-drive with low-range gearing.
The EcoTec3 engine with lightweight aluminum block and head includes a FlexFuel version which burns regular unleaded 87-octane gasoline or E85-ethanol. The powertrain features GM's Active Fuel Management (AFM) technology which cuts by half the number of cylinders engaged in the combustion process when boosted power is not needed in order to conserve fuel.
The V8 burning 87-octane gasoline makes 355 hp at 5600 rpm with 383 lb-ft of torque at 4100 rpm. It links to GM's 6L80 6-speed automatic transmission and brings EPA fuel scores of 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway for 2WD issues and 15/22 mpg (city/highway) for 4WD versions.
Chevy adds a clever new hands-free liftgate feature (standard on LTZ, optional on LT) which allows the user with a keyless entry fob to open and close the liftgate merely by waving a foot under the rear fascia.
Chevrolet's MSRP points start at $48,590 for a 2015 Suburban LS 2WD and $51,590 for 4WD.