2004 Chevrolet Suburban 2500
When it comes to hauling a big load and carrying throngs of people, Chevy’s time-tested Suburban is tough to beat.
The day before we returned the 2500 Suburban to Chevrolet public relations, a guy in a Chevy 2500 Express van pulls alongside at a stop light and asks, “When is GM going to put the Duramax (diesel) in those things?”
It was a fair question, since buyers have not had the option of a diesel engine in a Suburban since the 80s. It was also a relevant question, especially since our test model had delivered an average of 11.5 mpg during our week of testing—less while towing.
Compared with the four-wheel drive 2003 three-quarter-ton Yukon XL we tested last December, which was fitted with a 4.10:1 rear axle ratio, the 2500 Suburban 4x4 didn’t fare much better in fuel economy, despite a reduced rear-axle ratio of 3.73:1. It was a little better, but not much. With today’s fuel prices, that will become increasingly important to the full-size SUV-buying public.
That’s typically been the only complaint we’ve had about the Suburbans, in half- or three-quarter-ton versions: abysmal fuel mileage. The Vortec gasoline engines are world-class power plants, but you would think GM would be losing numerous Suburban sales to Ford’s outgoing Excursion, which has since introduction offered a fine diesel engine that nets about 16 mpg.
Fuel mileage notwithstanding, the Suburban 2500 with the optional Quadrasteer package is a very rewarding truck, if a big SUV is what it takes to pull your trailer and haul your family. The best part is that the price of the Quadrasteer package has been slashed dramatically.
For example, in the 2003 three-quarter-ton Yukon XL we tested last December, the Quadrasteer package priced out at $4,495. That may have prevented a lot of buyers from checking the box on the options sheet. But this year’s model 2500 Suburban, the four-wheel steering option rang in at a paltry $1,995. We recommended it at the previous price. For the money it takes to get it now, you’d be foolish to get a Suburban without it. Why?
It makes the truck so much easier to drive. In two-wheel-drive models, the turning circle decreases from 44.5 feet to 35.2 feet. In four-wheel-drive models, such as our test model, the radius measures 35 feet, compared with 44.3 feet in models without the option. Bummer that it’s only available in Chevy and GMC’s three-quarter-ton models.
The system is so well suited for towing, especially in a couple of situations. For instance, when backing, the tongue of the trailer moves to one side or another much more quickly than with conventional steering. It makes it easy to back trailers into garages from a 90-degree angle. It also makes it easier to correct errors in judgment.
The other situation in which Quadrasteer is a huge plus is rounding tight corners with a long trailer. Because the rear wheels turn the opposite direction of the front wheels at low speeds, the trailer turns on a wider radius than it would were it being towed by an SUV with conventional steering. In real-world terms, that means you avoid scuffing the sidewalls of your trailer tires, or scaring pedestrians standing on the corner.
We preferred to switch the system off during trips on open freeway, but around town, we liked it so much we never turned it off.
We also liked the tip-in acceleration while towing. The drive-by-wire throttle made the first few feet of acceleration smooth enough that it was easy to release the surge brakes on the trailer without any undue clunking or clanking.
Traveling up our usual acid-test, a 3-mile-long, 7 percent grade, the truck had to down shift and rev well over 4,000 rpm to maintain speed, but the tachometer was the only gauge that budged.
The 2500 series has had hydraulic power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes for a few years. The system now comes on the half-ton models, which is a good thing. The “hydroboost” braking system works splendidly. It provides great response to pedal effort, prodigious power and ample feedback before the antilock system
Other new-for-2004 items include a front passenger seatbelt warning system, available traction assist, which includes a locking differential, new colors and a seven-to-four-pin brake-wiring adapter in the trailering package.
The interior hasn’t changed much, but it didn’t need to. Front seats offer ample thigh support—could use a tad more—a good range of adjustment and class-leading lateral support.
The second-row seat realistically could accommodate four adults—but there are only enough seatbelts for three—and the third row is roomy enough for two to ride in comfort.
If your family trips involve child seats, you’ll be relieved to know the anchors are located in plain sight. No hunting between the cushion and the backrest, hoping to hook an anchor by pure chance. They’re also galvanized so they won’t scratch like a painted piece.
Though they’re not much use for regular ingress and egress, we appreciated the running boards when loading cargo and the aforementioned car seat. And they’re tucked in just enough to keep you from dirtying your pant leg every time you get out of the truck. Theoretically, the wheel flares that come on a 2500 are supposed to deflect the splash the inevitably lands on the running boards, but they’re largely for show. We’d probably ask to delete them if possible. The truck is equally handsome without them.
More than likely, it’s equally utilitarian without them. Now, if we can only get them to offer it with a diesel.
EPA Fuel Economy Estimates
City... NA mpg
Highway... NA mpg
0-60 towing... 23.76 seconds
40-60 towing... 12.04 seconds
0-60 non-towing... 9.87 seconds
40-60 non-towing... 5.75 seconds
Engine... 6.0-liter Vortec V-8
Horsepower... 325 @ 4,000 rpm
Torque... 369 pound-feet @ 4,000 rpm
Compression ratio... 9.4:1
Transmission... four-speed electronic automatic
Axle ratio... 3.73:1
Fuel capacity... 37.5 gal.
Tire size... LT 245-75-R16
Brakes... four-wheel disc with antilock
Suspension... Front: independent with torsion bars; Rear: Two-stage, five-leaf, with auto-leveling
Tow rating (as tested)... 9,600 lbs.
Max tow rating... 12,000 lbs.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating... 8,600 lbs.
Gross Combined Weight Rating... 20,636 lbs.
Overall length... 219.3”
Maximum width... 79.8"
Curb weight... 5,796 lbs.
Price as tested... $51,035
2003 Formula 271 FAS3Tech
Customer service... 800-222-1020Web site... www.chevrolet.com