2004 Chevrolet Suburban Reviews and Ratings

Utility C2500 LS 2WD

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2004 Chevrolet Suburban
Mitch McCullough

Since the Chevrolet Suburban first appeared in the mid-1930s, its mission has not wavered. It remains the first choice for anyone who needs to haul six or more people plus their cargo. Suburban offers a cavernous interior with seats that fold down for monster cargo loads. It's based on a superbly engineered full-size truck frame. Its V8 engines deliver strong torque for towing heavy loads and it's supremely stable when pulling heavy trailers through nasty, windy weather. Suburban provides a stable, comfortable ride for long-distance travel. Last but not least, it's fully capable of slogging down muddy two-tracks, whether in pursuit of the great outdoors or to get some work done.

The Suburban received a substantial update for 2003, with more than 40 major changes designed to enhance safety and improve reliability. The StabiliTrak electronic stability program became available for improved control on slippery surfaces. New airbag systems were designed to better protect children and adults of various sizes. Adjustable pedals became available for the comfort and safety for drivers of smaller stature. The brakes were refined, and an all-new electrical architecture promised improved reliability. XM Satellite Radio became available, along with a new Panasonic DVD system for back-seat monkeys.

Changes for 2004 enhance safety further. New Hydroboost brakes provide power assist even if the engine stalls or is turned off. A tire-pressure monitor is now standard. New options include stand-alone traction control and 17-inch all-weather tires. There's also a new 7-to-4-pin wiring adapter for the trailer package.

Heavy-duty 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, called 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 ($37,050) and LS 4WD ($39,850), and LT ($41,920) and LT 4WD ($44,720).

LS models come standard with three-zone manual air conditioning, a 40/20/40 split bench front seat with six-way power for the driver, 60/40 split folding middle bench seat, fog lamps, assist steps, powered and heated outside mirrors, and a rear window defogger. A Preferred Equipment Group ($1,035) adds bucket seats with upgraded cloth upholstery, a floor console, and a Bose nine-speaker audio system with rear controls and headphone jacks.

LT models are more luxurious, adding automatic climate control, leather seat inserts, power folding mirrors with in-glass turn signals and electrochromic dimming on the driver's side, the Bose stereo, and many other features.

The Z71 off-road package ($5,215) includes heavy-duty springs and gas-pressure shocks, plus special appearance items outside and LT-grade comfort and convenience features inside.

Entertainment options include a Panasonic DVD player ($1485 on LS, $1295 on LT) with wireless headphones, auxiliary audio/video jacks and remote game plug-in. XM Satellite Radio (standard on LT, $325 on LS, plus a subscription fee) receives 100 coast-to-coast channels, many of them commercial-free. An electric tilt-and-slide sunroof is available LS and LT ($995-$1290). Walkaround
There's no mistaking the 'Burb. The Chevrolet Suburban looks like an old friend. It hasn't been completely redesigned since 2000, and the 2004 model retains a family resemblance to Suburbans far older than that.

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. It comes with a window wiper/washer, and the one-piece window affords the driver a good view rearward. Traditional side-by-side cargo doors are also available. Cargo doors are useful when pulling trailers because they will usually clear the trailer tongue jack. They can also make it easier to control a dog while opening them. In this latest version of the Suburban, the hinges are engineered to let the doors open wide without having to be manually disconnected.

A puddle lamp mounted below the LT's side mirrors shines down to light up the perimeter. It can be turned on using the keyless remote. That's 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 spot mud puddles before you step in them or to find things that were dropped or placed around the vehicle.

The Suburban is about 22 inches longer than a Chevy Tahoe. In most respects, it is identical to the more luxurious GMC Yukon XL, which was called Suburban until recent years. 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. The one-piece seat can be removed and is mounted on wheels, but it weighs 75 pounds, so removing it is a lot easier with a second person to help. After removing the third-row seat, flip the bottom of the second row forward, fold the seatback down (again, no need to remove the headrests), flip the floor extension down and you're looking at one of the biggest cargo spaces in the world of SUVs. It's nice and flat, so you could stretch out and go to sleep here. (We know. We've done it.) Loading cargo is easy because there's plenty of space for it. The spare tire lives underneath the vehicle, freeing up rear cargo space.

The optional cloth bucket seats ($1,035) in our LS were okay, but didn't offer as much support as we would have liked. The LT's leather seats seem more supportive, but there's still room for improvement. Big and cushy, they are similar to the seats found in all of GM's full-size pickups and SUVs.

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. Even 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. But getting back there requires folding and flipping the second-row seat out of the way, best for younger people.

Climbing into a Suburban is a challenge for some. Younger, taller people find it easy. Running boards make it easier for others. The Suburban's step-in height is lower than it was with pre-2000 models, because of the fully boxed frame.

Power-adjustable pedals allow shorter drivers to sit farther back from the steering wheel and farther away from the airbag, reducing the chance of injury should it deploy. Dual-level airbags, an important new feature introduced last year, inflate with less force in less forceful collisions. Sensors in the front passenger seat and seat belts measure the size and weight of the front-seat passenger and disable the airbag for child-size passengers. Driving Impressions
Ride quality in the Chevy Suburban 1500 is smooth, greatly improved over the previous-generation (pre-2000) models. The standard Premium Smooth Ride suspension features a hydraulically controlled rear self-leveling system to keep the Suburban at a normal ride height even when carrying heavy loads. We've found this system offers good ride quality.

The more sophisticated optional Autoride suspension ($1,120) 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, both of which improve stability.

Handling is excellent 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. We never lost traction while pushing hard over wet mountain roads. We drove into wet turns as quickly as we'd ever want to go in a big SUV and never lost grip. We were impressed. Part of this is due to the superbly engineered chassis. The entire front part of the frame is hydroformed from one piece of metal, a design that's much more rigid than a bunch of pieces of frame welded together.

Brakes on all Suburbans work smoothly and progressively, providing stopping power without drama. The Suburban's braking system was completely redesigned for model-year 2000 and further refined for 2003 for better performance, improved pedal feel and quieter operation. Four-wheel discs with dual-piston calipers ensure good stopping performance. A Dynamic Rear Proportioning system continuously balances the front and rear brakes for maximum braking without activating the ABS. Once it does activate, the ABS allows the driver to maintain control of the steering in an emergency braking maneuver. Hydroboost braking, introduced for 2004, uses power-steering fluid pressure instead of engine vacuum to reduce braking effort. That provides added safety, with more reserve power assist for braking under specific conditions. The system will continue to provide sufficient power assist to stop the vehicle even if the engine stalls or is turned off.

Optional StabiliTrak ($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 the brakes to individual wheels to correct the Suburban's path. StabiliTrak is offered on all Suburban 1500 models, except for those equipped with the Z71 package.

The Suburban 2500, often referred to as the 3/4-ton or heavy-duty model, is only needed for towing heavy trailers. The 2500 is rated to tow up to 12,000 pounds. Suburban 2500 rides a bit harsher than the 1500 because its rear suspension uses leaf springs instead of the 1500 model'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 ($1,995) dramatically increases maneuverability by turning the rear wheels in the opposite direction from the front wheels. The turning diameter of a Suburban is reduced from the standard 44.3 feet to 35.2 feet with Quadrasteer. In practical terms, a Quadrasteer Suburban can negotiate a U-turn that calls for stopping and backing up in a standard Suburban. 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. Backing a trailer is also more intuitive, turning a weekend warrior into a trailer-pulling pro; it reduces some of that trial-and-error technique that's embarrassing when there's an audience. At high speeds, Quadrasteer turns the wheels slightly in the same direction as the front wheels for smoother lane changes and enhanced stability. However, we have noticed that vehicles equipped with Quadrasteer tend to have a rougher ride, probably due to the heavy-duty rear axle that comes with the system.

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 help pull a boat up a slippery boat ramp. If you don't get a 4WD model, consider ordering electronic Traction Assist ($520), or even StabiliTrak ($750), which includes a traction-control feature.

Four-wheel-drive models offer several drive 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 like a traditional part-time four-wheel-drive system. Shifting into 4WD Lo switches to a low-range set of gears for slow, sure-footed chugging through steep, rugged terrain.

The standard Vortec 5300 V8 delivers responsive performance. It offers 295 horsepower at 5200 rpm, with 330 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. (Torque is that force that launches you from intersections and pulls trailers up steep grades.) The Vortec 6000 that's standard on the 2500 series is a 6.0-liter V8 rated 325 horsepower at 5000 rpm, with 365 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Like the 5.3-liter engine, it breathes through aluminum heads. The optional Vortec 8000 is an 8.1-liter V8, a big-block, all-cast-iron engine rated only 320 horsepower at 4200 rpm, but with 440 pounds-feet of torque at 3200 rpm for incredible trailer-towing power.

Suburban's automatic transmission features a Tow/Haul mode that reduces wear when pulling a trailer through hilly terrain. Pressing the switch on the end of the shifter 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 liked to use it when driving on mountainous roads. Switching back to the normal mode results in smoother, more responsive shifting for everyday driving. Summary
Chevrolet Suburban is a great vehicle for moving cargo, towing trailers, or hauling people. It's at its best when employed for all three tasks at the same time. 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 ($39,850)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Janesville, Wisconsin; Silao, Mexico
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Trailer Package ($305) includes trailer hitch platform, wire harness connector, transmission oil cooler; high-back reclining bucket seats ($1,035) includes six-way power adjustment and center console; locking rear differential ($295); off-road skid plate package ($95)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Suburban 1500 LS 2WD ($37,050); 1500 LT 2WD ($41,920); 1500 LS 4WD ($39,850); 1500 LT 4WD ($44,720); 2500 LS 2WD ($38,650); 2500 LT 2WD ($43,520); 2500 LS 4WD ($41,550); 2500 LT 4WD ($46,420)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front air bags with dual-level inflation, ABS with Dynamic Rear Proportioning, LATCH child-seat anchors
Safety equipment (optional)
5.3-liter ohv V8
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
three-zone manual air conditioning, automatic headlamps, automatic door locks, child security rear doors locks, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, three power outlets, AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo with eight speakers, cruise control with telltale, remote keyless entry with alarm, inside mirror with electronic compass and temperature readout, sunshades with extenders, power windows, cast aluminum wheels, dual power heated outside mirrors, six-way power driver's seat, side-assist steps, fog lamps, rear window defogger

Engine & Transmission
5.3-liter ohv V8
Drivetrain type
four-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
295 @ 5200
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS and Dynamic Rear Proportioning
Suspension, front
independent, upper and lower control arms, torsion bars
Suspension, rear
live axle, upper and lower trailing links, transverse Panhard link, coil springs

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

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