2003 Chevrolet Suburban Reviews and Ratings

Utility K2500 LT 4WD

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2003 Chevrolet Suburban
Mitch McCullough

Introduction
Chevrolet Suburban boasts more than 40 major enhancements for 2003. The 'burb was completely redesigned for 2000, and this year's model benefits from major mid-cycle revisions.

Some of the changes can be seen, including the climate controls and a new family of radios, both of which are easier to use yet more powerful and more sophisticated than last year's. XM Satellite Radio is available, along with a new Panasonic DVD system for back-seat monkeys.

Other changes are harder to discern, but are more important. Dual-stage front airbags provide improved safety in an accident, while the availability of the StabiliTrak electronic stability control system lessens the chance of losing control. Adjustable pedals are available for an improved driving position. And an all-new electrical architecture promises improved reliability.

In spite of all these changes, the Suburban's mission has not wavered. It remains the first choice for anyone who needs to haul six or more people plus their cargo. Chevrolet Suburban offers a cavernous interior with seats that fold down for monster cargo loads. It's based on an excellent full-size truck frame and its V8 engines deliver strong torque for towing heavy loads. The Suburban provides a stable, comfortable ride for long-distance travel. And it's capable of going off road.

Suburban 2500-series models can be ordered with Quadrasteer electronic four-wheel steering for dramatically increased maneuverability in tight spaces and improved control when towing a trailer.

Model Lineup
Chevrolet Suburban comes with a choice of two- or four-wheel drive and is available in two load ranges, 1500 and 2500. Most people find the 1500 models meet their needs.

Suburban 1500 models come equipped with a 5.3-liter V8. The 2500 models are available with a choice of 6.0-liter or 8.1-liter V8s.

Two trim levels are available: LS and LT. In two-wheel drive, the LS starts at $36,305 and the LT at $39,615. In four-wheel drive, the prices are $39,105 and $42,415 respectively.

LS models come standard with three-zone air conditioning, heated outside mirrors, with a self-dimming mirror on the driver's side, six-way power front seats, side-step assist steps, a rear window defogger, fog lights and a HomeLink Universal transmitter.

LT models add luxury equipment, including automatic climate control, leather seat inserts, power folding mirrors, and a Bose premium stereo with nine speakers and a six-disc CD changer.

Z71 off-road package ($5167) includes heavy-duty springs and gas-pressure shocks, plus special appearance items outside and LT-grade comfort and convenience items inside.

A new rear-seat Panasonic DVD player ($1485 on LS, $1295 on LT) is available for 2003. XM Satellite Radio ($325) is available and receives 100 coast-to-coast channels, many of them commercial-free. An electric tilt-and-slide sunroof is available ($988-$1285) on LS and LT.

Walkaround

Chevrolet Suburban looks like an old friend. It was completely redesigned for 2000, which gave it a smoother and more aerodynamic look. Sharp edges were rounded. New headlights gave it a more contemporary appearance. But there is no mistaking the 'burb.

Two tailgate configurations are available. The one-piece rear hatch ($250) works best for most families. It's lightweight and can be opened with one hand. Also available are side-by-side cargo doors, which we like because they open wide and allow a closer working position to the cargo area. Cargo doors are also useful when pulling trailers because they will usually clear the trailer tongue jack. We also like them because it's easier to control a dog when opening them. The hinges have been re-engineered to let the doors open wide without having to disconnect the hinges manually.

A puddle lamp mounted below the side mirrors shines down to light up the perimeter of the Suburban. It can be turned on using the keyless remote. That makes it a nice feature when approaching the Suburban in a dark parking garage, as it illuminates underneath the vehicle. It can also be used in the backwoods to illuminate mud puddles.

Suburban is about 17 inches longer than the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, and nearly identical to the GMC Yukon XL (which was called the GMC Suburban until recently).

Walkaround
Chevrolet Suburban looks like an old friend. It was completely redesigned for 2000, which gave it a smoother and more aerodynamic look. Sharp edges were rounded. New headlights gave it a more contemporary appearance. But there is no mistaking the 'burb.

Two tailgate configurations are available. The one-piece rear hatch ($250) works best for most families. It's lightweight and can be opened with one hand. Also available are side-by-side cargo doors, which we like because they open wide and allow a closer working position to the cargo area. Cargo doors are also useful when pulling trailers because they will usually clear the trailer tongue jack. We also like them because it's easier to control a dog when opening them. The hinges have been re-engineered to let the doors open wide without having to disconnect the hinges manually.

A puddle lamp mounted below the side mirrors shines down to light up the perimeter of the Suburban. It can be turned on using the keyless remote. That makes it a nice feature when approaching the Suburban in a dark parking garage, as it illuminates underneath the vehicle. It can also be used in the backwoods to illuminate mud puddles.

Suburban is about 17 inches longer than the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, and nearly identical to the GMC Yukon XL (which was called the GMC Suburban until recently).

Interior
Cleverly designed seating maximizes the hauling potential of the Chevrolet Suburban. The third-row seatback folds down without having to remove the headrests, then the whole thing flips forward to substantially increase cargo capacity. A short prop rod locks it into place. This bench seat can be removed and is mounted on wheels, but it weighs 75 pounds, easiest as a two-person job. After removing the third-row seat, flip the seat bottom of the second row forward, fold the seatback down (no need to remove the headrests), flip the floor extension down and you've got a huge, flat cargo space behind the driver's seat. Loading cargo is easy because there's plenty of space for it. The spare tire has been moved underneath the vehicle to free up rear cargo space.

Optional cloth bucket seats ($1035) in our LS were okay, but didn't offer as much support as we would have liked. LT's leather seats seem more supportive, but there's still room for improvement.

The second row is quite comfortable. Headphone jacks (standard on LT, optional on LS) allow rear-seat passengers to listen to CDs while those up front turn on the radio. Sitting in the third row is surprisingly comfortable for an adult; slide your feet under the seat in front of you, and you can ride back there for fairly long distances. Getting back there requires folding and flipping the second-row seat out of the way.

Climbing into a Suburban is a challenge for some and running boards make getting in easier. Younger, taller people find it easy. Step-in height is actually lower than before because of the fully boxed frame introduced with the 2000 models.

The optional power-adjustable pedals can taxi in 3 inches closer, allowing shorter drivers to sit farther back from the steering wheel and farther away from the airbag, a good thing should it ever deploy. Also new for 2003 are dual-level airbags, which inflate with less force in less forceful collisions. Sensors in the front passenger seat and seat belts also measure the weight and size of the front-seat passenger and, if that passenger is child-size, shut the airbag down completely.

Driving Impressions
Ride quality in the Chevy Suburban 1500 is smooth, greatly improved over the previous-generation. The now-standard Premium Smooth Ride suspension features a hydraulically controlled rear self-leveling system to keep the Suburban at normal ride height, even when carrying heavy loads. We've found this system offers a good ride quality.

The more sophisticated optional Autoride suspension ($1120) uses computer-controlled shock damping for improved ride quality over uneven pavement. Whether towing a horse trailer or picking up a soccer team, Autoride continually adjusts the suspension for optimum ride and handling. This technology also helps reduce dive when braking (so that the nose of the vehicle doesn't dip down unduly), and body roll (or lean) during cornering.

Chevrolet Suburban offers excellent handling for a big, heavy truck. The steering is responsive and doesn't isolate the driver from the road. The Suburban grips the road surprisingly well for such a large vehicle. Driving quickly over wet pavement on mountain roads, we never lost traction. We drove into wet turns as quickly as we'd ever want to go in a Suburban and never lost grip. We were impressed. The entire front part of the frame is hydro-formed from one piece of metal, a setup that's much more rigid than a bunch of pieces of frame welded together.

Optional StabiliTrak electronic stability control ($750) offers improved control on uncertain surfaces. StabiliTrak measures where the driver is steering against where the truck is actually heading and, when necessary, reduces engine torque or selectively applies one or more wheel brakes to correct the Suburban's path. StabiliTrak is now offered on all Suburban 1500's, with two or four-wheel drive.

The 2500 models, often referred to as 3/4-ton versions, are only needed for towing heavy trailers. They are rated to tow up to 12,000 pounds, which tops even the Ford Excursion by half a ton. Suburban 2500 rides a bit harsher than the 1500 because its rear suspension uses leaf springs instead of the 1500's coil springs. But the 2500 rides surprisingly well, given its load range. It represents a big improvement over the previous-generation (pre-2000) 2500 models.

Quadrasteer electronic four-wheel steering ($4495) dramatically increases maneuverability by turning the rear wheels in the opposite direction from the front wheels. The turning diameter of Suburban is reduced from 44.5 feet to 35.2 feet with Quadrasteer. In practical terms, Quadrasteer can negotiate a U-turn where a standard Suburban would have to stop and back up. Quadrasteer makes it much easier to park in tight spaces, such as underground garages and crowded parking lots. Add a trailer and the benefits increase. Backing a trailer into a parking space at a 90 degree angle is much easier with Quadrasteer and backing up with a trailer is more intuitive. At high speeds, the system turns the wheels slightly in the same direction as the front wheels for smoother lane changes and enhanced stability. We have been noticing that vehicles equipped with Quadrasteer tend to have a rougher ride, probably due to the heavy-duty rear axle that comes with the system.

Brakes on all Suburbans work smoothly and progressively, providing stopping power without drama. A Dynamic Rear Proportioning system modulates the pressure applied to the rear brakes for more effective braking. The Suburban's braking system was completely redesigned for model-year 2000 and has been further refined for 2003 for better performance, improved pedal feel and quieter operation.

Cost is the main consideration on whether to get four-wheel drive. Those in the Sunbelt may not see justification for it. But even if you don't plan to go off road, four-wheel drive can keep you going through snow or over sandy, unpaved roads, or it can help pull a boat up a slippery boat ramp. If you don't get a 4WD model, consider ordering StabiliTrak for its traction-control feature.

Four-wheel-drive models offer several modes and shifting among them is as easy as changing stations on the radio. Press 2WD Hi for dry pavement. If it rains or snows or you turn onto an unpaved road, hit the Auto 4WD button. The Autotrac all-wheel-drive system automatically transfers power from a slipping wheel to the wheels with the best traction, providing improved control in inconsistent conditions. For serious off-road travel or deep snow, pressing 4WD Hi operates the system like a traditional part-time four-wheel-drive. Shifting into 4WD Lo switches to a low-range set of granny gears for slow, sure-footed traction over rugged terrain.

The standard Vortec 5300 delivers responsive performance. It offers 285 horsepower with 325 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Torque is that force that pushes you from intersections and pulls trailers up steep grades. The Vortec 6000 that comes on the 2500 series is a 6.0-liter V8 rated at 320 horsepower with 360 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Like the 5.3-liter engine, it uses cast-aluminum heads. The optional Vortec 8000 is an 8.1-liter V8, a big-block cast-iron engine rated at 455 pounds-feet of torque at 3200 rpm.

Suburban's automatic transmission features a Tow/Haul mode that improves life when pulling a trailer through hilly terrain. Pressing the switch on the end of the column shifter turns on Tow/Haul, which reduces the tendency of the transmission to hunt back and forth between third and fourth gears. When the transmission does shift, it shifts more quickly, reducing heat buildup in the transmission for improved durability and reliability. Even when not towing, we sometimes like to use it when driving on mountainous roads.

Summary
Chevrolet Suburban is a great vehicle for moving cargo, towing trailers, or hauling people. It's best when employed for all three of those things. The seats fold down for big cargo capacity. Get sleepy on a long trip and you can simply pull over and stretch out in back.

Model as tested
Chevrolet Suburban 1500 4WD LS ($39,105)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Janesville, Wisconsin; Silao, Mexico
Destination charge
790
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
36305
Price as tested
41785
Options as tested
Trailer Package ($285) includes trailer hitch platform, wire harness connector, transmission oil cooler; reclining bucket seats ($1035) includes six-way power adjustment and center console; locking rear differential ($295); off-road skid plate package ($275)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
1500 LS 2WD ($36,305); 1500 LT 2WD ($39,615); 1500 LS 4WD ($39,105); 1500 LT 4WD ($42,415); 2500 LS 2WD ($37,905); 2500 LT 2WD ($41,215); 2500 LS 4WD ($40,805); 2500 LT 4WD ($44,115)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front air bags with dual-level inflation, ABS with Electronic Brake Controller, LATCH child-seat anchors
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
5.3-liter ohv V8
Transmissions
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
three-zone manual air conditioning, automatic headlamps, automatic door locks, child security rear doors locks, tilt steering wheel, three power outlets, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD stereo with eight speakers, cruise control with telltale, remote keyless entry with alarm, mirror with electronic compass and temperature readout, rear air conditioning and heater, leather-wrapped steering wheel, enhanced sunshades, power windows, machined cast aluminum wheels, dual power heated mirrors with ground illumination, six-way power front seats, side-assist steps, fog lamps, rear window defogger, HomeLink Universal remote

Engine & Transmission
Engine
5.3-liter ohv V8
Drivetrain type
four-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
285 @ 5,200
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
13/17
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
independent
Tires
P265/70R16
Suspension, rear
live axle

Accomodations
Seating capacity
8
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
40.7/61.4/41.3
Head/hip/leg room, rear
39.0/61.6/39.1

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
131.6
Wheelbase
130.0 in.
Length/width/height
219.3/78.9/75.4
Turning circle
43.0
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
8,100
Track, front/rear
65.0/66.0
Ground clearance
8.4
Curb weight
5,219


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