Pandemic Restrictions and Shifting Gears in a Chevrolet Suburban

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The new 2021 Chevrolet Suburban is, arguably, one of the country’s ultimate road trip machines. Newly refurbished with extra length, wheelbase, and an interior whose space is best measured in acres, loading up this truck and hitting the road ranks high on its mission statement. As Road Test Editor Dan Ilika noted in his full review, “few can do everything this SUV is capable of all at once, with plenty of usefulness and utility stuffed into this outsized package.”

But as for a Maritime road trip, the ongoing pandemic had other plans. Within minutes of palming the keys to GM’s newest full-size SUV, an explosion of Covid-19 cases forced Nova Scotia into quarantine and with community spread roaring into view, Bluenosers were again asked to stay the blazes home. Or, at the very least, stay local and stick to one’s own community. It’s an understandable (and proven) solution to stemming Covid’s wave – at least in our neck of the woods – that firmly put the clamps on our Atlantic-themed road trip idea.

So, what to do? Fold down the Suburban’s seats to open up a shocking 4,016 litres of space for a rousing Maritime card game of Forty-Fives? Perhaps measure the surface area of its panoramic sunroof to see if a scale-model schooner can pass through its yawning vista? How about a test to see how many Prince Edward Island No.1 potatoes can fit in the myriad of storage cubbies found in the new Suburban?

The answer to the latter – as it is to life, the universe, and everything – is 42, by the way. But only medium-sized spuds; your mileage will vary if you prefer those honkers used for baking.

In the spirit of community service – of the type that’s not court-ordered, for once – we decided to stick close to home. These days, it generally means choosing a couple of essential shops and socially distancing from the neighbours. It would be no trouble to distance inside the new Suburban, given Chevy decided to add 33 mm of overall length to the thing while also stretching the wheelbase by a considerable 104 mm. The latter, when combined with the new independent rear suspension that replaces the old live-axle log dating to horse-and-buggy days, provides nearly 60 mm more legroom in both the second and third rows.

Our tester was #blessed with an optional three-across bench in that second row, a rarity in a segment populated by so-called captain’s chairs. This meant there was ample room for eight full-grown adults plus 1,164 L of cargo space for Digby scallops. Its interior is so large that upending a bottle of water might just be considered fracking.

Speaking of energy sources, this Suburban was equipped with GM’s latest kick at the diesel can. A 3.0L inline-six turbo-diesel engine makes 277 horsepower and a strong 460 lb-ft of torque. Your author strongly suspects it could make more if not for encroaching on the top-dog 6.2L V8, which makes an equal amount of grunt but a lot more horsepower. The diesel never felt wanting, aided by a 10-speed automatic that always seems to be in the right gear. Diesel-powered engines have a trademark rumble at idle and when pressed, though this mill always sounded as if it were idling in the next room under a blanket. Credit a bevy of sound insulation and the inline-six-cylinder configuration acting as a natural balancer. GM is hoping for a diesel take rate in the 12 per cent ballpark, a bit less than its projections for the Silverado and Sierra.

It must be said that despite the Suburban’s XXL sizing, its fuel economy was shockingly good. Between masked runs to the store and a couple of solitary highway sojourns within our own county to shake off mid-week cobwebs, we burned just 41 L of diesel over the span of 465 kilometres. That’s an astonishing 8.8 L/100 km average in a machine longer than just about any other non-commercial vehicle on the road today. In fact, after refuelling, the Suburban estimated a bladder-busting range of 1,220 km.

Which posed a lockdown-driven question: once travel restrictions are lifted, where could we point the Suburban for a 1,220-km Scotian-themed road trip?

Ironically, running the alphabet from Aalder Island to Zwicker Brook is a mere 50-km jaunt, permitting the Suburban merely a sip from its vast fuel tank. Visiting beaches is great in theory until the North Atlantic’s icy tentacles begin nipping at your toes and send you scrambling back to shore with blue feet.

Perhaps a food journey, then – taking us from the donair-sodden streets of Halifax, though the lobster and scallop communities of Lunenburg and Digby, up to the apple farms near Wolfville and onto a feed of Northumberland shore fish ’n chips. Carrying on, we’d wind up on the Cabot Trail where we would find the Red Shoe Pub owned by Juno-winning Rankin Sisters. Making the stretch to Louisbourg and Beggar’s Banquet, a lively dining experience in a setting reminiscent of an 18th-century tavern, would bring the trip to just under 1,200 km and probably cause waistlines to expand to Suburban-like proportions. With seismic shifts in demographics and local business plans, your author dearly hopes a multi-day trip of this type remains possible post-pandemic.

When the time comes, a diesel-powered Suburban High Country will be just the machine for it. In 2021, GM has taken the best bits of its Suburban people-mover and improved upon them by making better use of interior space, upping comfort and convenience levels, then wrapping it all in styling equally at home in front of Paddy’s Brewpub as being valeted at the Lord Nelson.

To a casual eye, the 2021 Chevrolet Suburban and its outsized dimensions might appear as in tune with the times as a smoldering Philip Morris factory. That would be grossly unfair, since there is a market for a machine that can haul an octet of people and their gear. Plus, as we discovered, it can easily crack off fuel economy befitting a much smaller vehicle.

When we can once again gather safely in close quarters, we’ll be hitting the road in search of tasty Nova Scotia eats. Let’s add food critic to the Suburban’s mission statement as well.