A 130″ wheelbase, seating for 9, capable of towing 10,000 pounds, able to leap nothing in a single bound. Its definitely not superman, but it is the 1999 C/K 2500 Chevrolet Suburban. It’s still the largest sport utility on the planet. Some may say its getting a little long in the tooth, but no other manufacturer has stepped up and matched its size, towing ability and available interior space. The massive towing ability is made easy by the available Vortec 7400 V-8 with 290hp, and a whopping 410 lb-ft of torque. Our test unit was a C/K 2500 ¾ ton 4X4 with the optional Vortec 7400. To say this Suburban was plush would be an understatement. This thing does everything but drive itself. The optional dual climate system was a welcome bonus in the Arizona summer heat. Come to think of it, one air conditioner wouldn’t even come close to cooling this monster.
The exterior of the Suburban remains mostly unchanged for 1999. Minor cosmetic changes have improved the grille area, but the classic look still survives. The Suburban appears as one giant picture window from the exterior, with enormous tinted glass panels behind the rear doors. Our test vehicle had standard color matched fender flares the optional tailgate with lift glass. The tailgate is available as a no cost option in place of the older style panel doors. Our test vehicle was also equipped with a class IV towing package, available as a dealer installed option. There are a wide variety of colors available for the 1999 model year and our test vehicle arrived in an understated metallic Grey.
Interior fit and finish rated just shy of a perfect ten. Its spacious, no ample… no behemoth interior allows for not only the largest of people, but the largest number of people and provides more than ample leg, hip, shoulder and head room. Standard illuminated entry feature keeps the dome light on for 20 seconds (40 seconds for vehicles equipped with Remote Keyless Entry system) and turns on when the vehicle is unlocked with the remote keyless entry system. Two standard 12-volt auxiliary “cigarette” plugs are handy, along with the self-dimming inside rearview mirror. The mirror self-dims when headlight from behind, at nighttime shine on it.
The dash is extremely well laid out and all controls are well within reach. The stereo system has a clear and crisp sound, but lacks somewhat in bass and distorts at high volume. Additionally, the dash now sports the Driver’s Message Center which informs the driver with any of the 18 types of problems that may occur.
The 4L80-E 4-Speed automatic transmission sports new seals and internal components that are designed to reduce friction and provide a longer life expectancy. It also has a deep transmission oil pan and an electronically controlled converter clutch that allows for gradual engagement of the torque converter for smoother driveability and increased fuel economy. Even with the enhanced, computer controlled slush box we found no problems with it “hunting” for gears in a myriad of on and off road situations.
What can we say? The biggest sport ute should have the biggest engine. 454 cubic inches of pure torque. The Vortec 7400 (L29) big block V8 engine uses sophisticated technology to provide impressive horsepower and torque output, and long intervals between recommended service. The big block mill puts out some 290 horses at 4000 rpms and an impressive 410 lb.-ft. of torque.
Off the beaten path, the rig is typical Suburban… too big for anything more than a dirt road with some mole hills. The suspension provided little compression and droop and hung tires consistently. Additionally, the undercarriage hung on the smallest of mounds due to its considerable legnth.
Chevrolet also introduces the new Auto-Trac System. This system integrates two features allowing the driver to venture off-road without much thought. The first of these two features, which is available on just about any four-wheel drive, is the “Shift-on-the-fly” feature allowing the driver to put the vehicle into four-wheel drive while in motion. The second feature, optional on the LS model and standard on the LT model, makes the system capable of automatically engaging four-wheel drive for maximum traction. This system is not all-wheel drive, but more accurately termed a standby four-wheel-drive system. Autotrac provides 100 percent rear-wheel drive until road conditions warrant a change. When extra traction is needed, an electronic control module activates an electronic motor to transfer the torque between the front and rear wheels — all within a time frame that can be measured in fractions of a second. Once the speeds of the front and rear prop shafts are equalized (traction is regained), the transfer case returns to its standby mode until another speed differential occurs. If multiple, large slip events are detected for a sustained time, the system locks into the 4HI (four-wheel-drive high) mode to protect the system’s electric actuator motor. After a time, the system returns to the automatic 4WD standby mode. Autotrac also features a transfer case neutral position for easy towing behind a recreational vehicle.
The standard 2 front recovery hooks are placed well and allow for the largest of straps, although the large P265/75R-15 tires grip well in most conditions and the hooks shouldn’t be needed.
If you have never driven a Suburban it can be quite a shock. With an overall length of over 18 feet, it can be rather intimidating in a small parking lot. Making a U-turn in the Suburban takes up most of a city block. While city driving can be nerve racking, the highway is where the 1999 Suburban really shines. The Suburban’s length and weight make it the most comfortable, stable sport utility I have driven on the highway. Even with its size and weight the power-assisted front disc/rear drum brakes, with 4-wheel ABS do a great job bringing the Suburban to a halt. The braking is smooth and controllable and the ABS functions with only a slight hint of pedal vibration at full braking. The leather wrapped captains chairs and steering wheel bathe you in comfort. While the Delco Bose CD stereo is capable of drowning out everything but a bomb blast. Hook up your favorite towing amenity, load up the family and luggage and take off for your favorite destination. With the Suburban’s 150 cubic feet of cargo space you don’t have to worry about what to take with you, take it all! Heck, don’t go camping, relocate to the woods.
Overall Driving Impressions
While the 1999 Suburban is the ultimate utility vehicle it falls a little short on the sport side. With such immense length and a minimal ground clearance of 9.5 inches, cresting even small hills drags the underside. The size and weight also hurt the Suburban on loose hill climbs letting the tires just dig in and bring forward movement to a halt. The big Vortec motor that felt right at home on the street, left the big Suburban needing a little more oomph off road. The suspension duties under the Suburban are handled up front by upper and lower A-arms and torsion bars. While the independent front suspension is compliant and plush on road, off-road it has limited travel and is quiet jarring on large bumps. A live axle handles the rear suspension and has a bit more wheel travel than the front, but still falls short for a vehicle of this size. Due to the limited wheel travel the Suburban lost traction quickly on rutted hill climbs when the tires lost contact with the ground. What the Suburban gives up in off-road prowess, it more than makes up for with the ability to tow your Jeep, Land Cruiser or back woods blaster to the trial head with ease. Add a little more ground clearance and some more aggressive tires and the Suburban would be much improved off the beaten path.
So what do I think of the new Suburban? It is possibly the best towing sport utility on the market. It has more interior space than some cargo planes I have seen, and it is heaven on the highway. It is a four- wheel drive designed to get you down a dirt road to your favorite camping spot, or tow your boat up a slippery boat ramp. It is neither designed nor suited for tight twisty back woods trails. So if you are looking for a big strong roomy sport utility with a bit more utility than sport, than look no further than the 1999 Chevrolet Suburban.