Most automakers would kill to have a full-size SUV that sells in huge numbers. General Motors is blessed with four: the Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, and the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL. It's no stretch to say that these trucks are amongst the most important showroom fillers in the GM portfolio, which means that the 2015 redesign has to walk a tricky line between improving the breed while not straying too far from the 'big capable box' strategy that has worked so well for so long.
For those who jump right to the end of mystery novels and read the last page first: it works. Both the Chevrolet and GMC editions of the next-generation SUV platform are fully-realized efforts that shine where they have always shone, but more importantly, correct several oversights that had become increasingly glaring on last year's models.
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With the demise of the Crown Victoria the 2015 Chevrolet Suburban becomes the longest-running active nameplate in the business. It's not a stretch to call the latest edition of the Suburban (and by extension, its short-wheelbase Tahoe twin) the most comfortable version of the nine-passenger hauler to have ever hit the streets. The top-tier LTZ trim level editions of each that I drove featured re-imagined interiors that made ample use of leather and high-quality materials everywhere that humans hands might touch, as well as the latest Chevrolet MyLink touchscreen interface, all while preserving the ample second and third-row room that has long been a hallmark of the two vehicles.
In fact, from a seating perspective both the Chevrolet and GMC SUVs have been given a substantial upgrade for 2015. No longer will owners have to struggle with a heavy third row of accommodations that must be completely removed and then stored elsewhere in order to take advantage of the Suburban/Tahoe/Yukon's copious amounts of interior storage. There's now a fully-foldable rear seat at the very back of the truck, and it also comes with a power option for those loading up with their hands full.
Gutsier Standard V8
While its displacement might be the same as the engine found in the 2014 Tahoe/Suburban, the 5.3-liter, eight-cylinder mill found under the hood of the 2015 model has been gifted with the same direct fuel inject and cylinder deactivation technology that also recently graced GM's full-size pickup line. This means power is up, with 355 ponies and 383 lb-ft of twist on tap and channelled through a six-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels. Acceleration is adequate for a vehicle of its size, but I noticed frequent downshifts when pushing the truck through the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe, which provided a challenge to both drivetrain and suspension. Four-wheel drive can be added as an option, but there's no word on whether a Z71 off-road package will be made available with the new SUV.
Towing capacity remains outstanding with the Suburban/Tahoe, topping out at around 3870 kilograms, but more impressive still is the attention that has been paid to the truck's driving dynamics. The LTZ trim features a magnetically-controlled adaptive suspension system that reacts instantaneously to changing road conditions in order to improve handling as well as transmit less harshness through the vehicle's full frame design into the cabin. It works exceptionally well, and may in fact be the strongest argument for selecting the most expensive edition of the Suburban/Tahoe at ordering time.
More Than Skin Deep
Much has been made about GMC's desire to further distance its vehicles from their Chevrolet platform-mates, and the 2015 GMC Yukon and Yukon XL are the boldest statements so far on the way to this goal. While the Suburban and Tahoe both feature a smiling grille that is upturned at the edges to burrow into the front fenders, the Yukon instead embraces a squared-off, blockier design that is more fitting to its box-like proportions and hulking menace.
Further evidence of the widening gap between Chevrolet and GMC can be found in the Denali line, a luxury sub-brand that has been carefully nurtured for the past two decades until it has come to make up the majority of Yukon and Yukon XL purchases. Not only does opting for the Denali edition of either of these SUVs give you a mesh front grille and a higher standard of interior amenities, but it also transplants a monstrous 6.2-liter V8 into the GMC's engine bay in place of the standard 5.3-liter. Capable of producing 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, this motor felt much better suited to dealing with the not-insubstantial bulk of the full-size truck, making for a smoother ride with much greater punch when pulling out to pass. Magnetic ride control is also included free of charge with the Denali package.
Go Big Or Go Home
The 2015 Chevrolet Suburban/Tahoe and the 2015 GMC Yukon/Yukon XL are undoubtedly the most advanced truck-based SUVs in their class. Yes, there's still a live rear axle calling the shots under the full-frame chassis employed by each of these vehicles, but the use of direct fuel injection, magnetically-adaptive suspension, and high tensile steel serves to smooth over the rougher edges of the GM platform in a way that no competitor can match. The GMC Yukon Denali is an especially potent achievement with its fierce 6.2-liter motor and opulent interior trappings, and it's important to point out that both the Chevrolet and GMC SUVs have each been given access to a full suite of active safety features that were missing last year.
In a segment where few of its rivals have elected to go any farther than basic housekeeping in the engine compartment, and completely ignored improving ride quality and handling, General Motors could have easily rested on its laurels, neglected this redesign, and continued to make big bank off of the sales of what was still a very popular SUV. Instead, the Suburban, Tahoe, and Yukon plunge a dagger deep into the heart of its sleeping competition and stand triumphant at the top of the class. Before buying a full-size SUV, you owe it to yourself to drive at least one of these excellent examples.