One unsurprising consequence of children getting older is that family travel logistics get more and more difficult. By the time one or more are off to college – or launched into their lives – getting everyone together for even a short trip can be quite challenging. Then there’s the question of “with significant others?” or is it a family-only trip, which might have some family members appreciative while others sulk and spend all their time texting or chatting on the phone with their significant other. Fortunately, my family members are old pros at travel so when the opportunity to head up to Breckenridge, one of our favorite Colorado locations, arose, they were ready to join me!
Then we had to figure out our schedule around my daughter’s endlessly fluid volleyball season while also trying to avoid birthdays, Valentine’s day and more. Complicated! Finally, we settled on mid-April, and the Chevy team sponsoring our road trip arranged for our hotel stay and, of course, the vehicle they wanted us to try out. They dropped off a brand new 2021 Chevrolet Suburban 4WD High Country, a vehicle so big that I only barely had space for a second car in the driveway. Here it is, what we affectionately referred to as The Beast:
To get the obvious out of the way first, this is a big vehicle. It’s not easy to park either: Our hotel had underground parking which meant that every single time I went to leave the parking area, I had to make a 3-point exit to ensure I was straightened up before trying to squeeze through the opening. It wasn’t particularly narrow, the Suburban is just really wide. In fact, for comparison, my Mazda CX-5 is approximately 179″ L x 73″ W x 65″ H. The Suburban is 226″ L x 81″ W x 76″ H. That’s 47″ (about 4′) longer, 11″ higher and, surprisingly, only 8″ wider. It felt about 3 feet wider, however, and fitting neatly into a parking spot was a task that required finesse!
One saving grace is the amazing HD Surround Vision that not only gives you a bird’s eye view of your car and the surrounding area but stitches it together seamlessly, also correcting for any visual distortion. It’s so good that we wondered at first whether there was a tiny drone flying above us to offer that view!
NEED SPACE? THE SUBURBAN’S GOT IT
There are plenty of families that need lots of space in their vehicles and the Suburban has space to spare. My three kids and I loaded up the car with ski gear, food, suitcases, and lots more, as you can see:
No surprise, the vehicle includes three rows of seats, but what isn’t obvious is that there’s a lot of room behind the third row of seats, which is a rarity with other SUVs and larger family vehicles. Even mini-vans seem to have surprisingly little space behind their third row of seats.
Here’s that same cargo space, empty:
On the right is a third-row seat in the upright position, ready for a passenger. Look at all that glorious room behind the seat. You can see that even with the right side third-row seat folded up, the vehicle still has lots of cargo space along with seating space for five.
As you would expect from a vehicle that’s almost 19 feet long, there’s plenty of legroom for each row of passengers too:
Notice not only the legroom but the big headrest screens and center connectivity console. In fact, there are a 110V plug, HDMI connections, USB-3 and USB-C, and even individually paired wireless headphones for the second row passengers. If you’re tired of your kids whinging about not being at your destination yet, this is really cool, and it’s easy to connect a phone or tablet via Apple CarPlay/Android Auto or even hook up a gaming system like a Nintendo Switch for an individual passenger media adventure while en route.
THIS SUBURBAN, IT’S COMPLICATED
That’s really the entire philosophy of the Suburban design; everything, all the time. You name the feature and the Suburban probably has it available. It’s a complex vehicle, however, and new owners should be prepared to read the user guide a few times and even watch some videos to understand how to, for example, work the sunroof controls:
… or figure out all the different drive management controls to the left of the steering wheel:
To be fair, some of the controls on the dashboard are for towing and bad weather. The Suburban features 8,300 pounds towing capacity so whether you’re an Airstream fan, have a work trailer with heavy equipment, or want to pull your new speedboat to the lake, it’s got you covered. In fact, the Chevy Suburban has one of the highest towing capacities of any non-commercial truck in the market, and it’s certainly one of the most comfortable.
Let’s pull our focus back a bit and have a look at the dashboard layout:
There are a lot of buttons and controls, as I’ve said, but it is pretty logically organized so you can definitely jump into the vehicle and start driving. The more obscure features might involve a bit more work on your part to truly understand how it all fits together, however. I never did figure out how to work the panoramic sunroof, for example.
HOW WAS BRECKENRIDGE?
The mountain ski resort of Breckenridge (elevation 9,600 feet), was delightful, as always. We stayed at the Residence Inn by Marriott and it was interesting to be at a hotel during the tail end of our pandemic. We couldn’t, for example, manage to use the pool or hot tub because it was reservations only and by 7am it was fully booked up for the entire day. Maid service was unavailable during the stay – they prepped the room, then cleaned it once you left – and breakfast was a carnival of to-go containers and individually bagged bagels, danish, etc.
This didn’t slow us down and we were glad to find all the local restaurants had inside seating (it was a bit cool of an evening!). Here my kids are, sitting outside waiting for our table at Breckenridge Brewery:
We ate well, actually, including dinner at a family fave, Downstairs at Eric’s, and Breckenridge Brewery, a wonderful lunch at Cool River Coffee House, capped with pastries from La Française French Bakery as we headed out of town. Yes, we travel on our stomachs, as my Dad would say.
BACK TO THE VEHICLE
Okay, back to the Suburban. This vehicle is powered by a surprisingly fuel-efficient 3.0L Duramax diesel engine. Honestly, I was startled at the excellent fuel efficiency of the Suburban: It averaged mid-20’s and when we drove down from Breckenridge to Denver – a descent of over a mile in elevation (highest point on the drive is Loveland Pass at 11,991 feet, and Denver is at 5,280 feet), I saw average fuel efficiency creep up to just under 40mpg. That wasn’t the overall efficiency of the drive up and down, but still, you’d never think that The Beast could be so fuel efficient!
Go to put fuel into the vehicle, however, and you’ll bump into the DEF supplement too:
If you’re not a diesel driver, you won’t know this, but DEF is “Diesel Exhaust Fluid” and it cuts way down on those yechy diesel emissions. Interestingly, Diesel Exhaust Fluid is actually made of commercial-grade urea, synthetic ammonia and carbon. The DEF heats up, producing ammonia which then breaks down and neutralizes the NOx gases from the vehicle. Required by the EPA, you have to refill it about every 10,000 miles and it’s just a few dollars, from what I understand. Not onerous, but the Suburban includes additional manuals for owners new to diesel and the Duramax 3.0L Turbo Diesel engine that are both worth reading.
Let’s go back and talk again about that fuel efficiency because it was by far the biggest surprise with the 2021 Suburban 4WD. It’s easy to assume these huge vehicles get horrible mileage – and I definitely got more than a few glares from righteous Prius and EV drivers when I pulled into parking lots – but its average mid-20’s mileage was on par with a lot of smaller vehicles I’ve driven. But oh, the room. Do all of these XL SUVs get 20’s – 30’s mileage? Of course not. But Chevrolet really dropped a great engine into this vehicle, an engine that offered power to spare, support for that 8,300-pound towing capacity, and decent efficiency too. Impressive.
Indeed, one of the tests of any car engine is the drive up to Loveland Pass from Denver, an elevation rise of over 6,100 feet. There are stretches of five or more miles at a constant, aggressive upward slope and it’s quite common to see trucks and cars both pulled over with overheated engines, particularly in the heat of the summer. The Suburban just chewed up the hill, allowing me to keep a steady 70mph in the leftmost lane on even the steepest portions.
To wrap up this trip report and drive write-up, let’s step outside and look at the Suburban again. First off, the aggressive, dominating front grill design:
The Suburban is so high off the ground because it actually raises up once you start driving it. To compensate, there are power-assist retractable side steps to help you climb up and into the vehicle. I liked parking and seeing “Vehicle Lowering” on the dashboard.
One more, to show off the rear exterior and side:
Yup, we had California plates this time, marginally better than the Texas plates of the previous few car loaners I’ve had. Compare the size of the Suburban with the almost cliché Colorado Subaru with Yakima roof carrier parked in front. At times we felt like some of the smaller cars could actually park inside the cargo space of the Suburban, it’s so much bigger. But that size delivers great comfort and room for seven passengers and their cargo and gear. And that’s nothing to complain about if you need the space or just have a lot of your own equipment you want safely in a big, powerful vehicle that can also tow heavy loads up steep mountains too. If you need the space and power, the Suburban is definitely worth a close look. I remain impressed.
CONFIGURATION: 2021 Chevrolet Suburban 4WD High Country with Duramax 3.0L Turbo Diesel Engine and 10 Speed Automatic Transmission. MSRP: $75,300. OPTIONAL ADD-ONS: High Country Deluxe Package, Rear Seat Media System, Floor Console, Duramax Engine Upgrade. AS DRIVEN: $82,495.
Disclosure: Chevrolet loaned us the Suburban for a week and covered our hotel and travel expenses in return for this road trip adventure writeup. Thanks very much, Chevy, my family and I all quite enjoyed the entire adventure!