2019 Chevrolet Suburban RST Review: A Camaro SS Heart Makes This Full-Size SUV a Hoot

Chevy's top-tier Suburban can be most things to most people...albeit at a price most of those people might balk at.

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Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2019 Chevrolet Suburban RST.

The 2019 Chevrolet Suburban RST, By the Numbers:

Base Price (Price as Tested): $75,120 ($81,495)

Powertrain: 6.2-liter V-8, 420 horsepower, 460 pound-feet; 10-speed automatic; full-time four-wheel-drive 

EPA Fuel Economy: 14 mpg city, 20 mpg highway

0-60 MPH: approx. 5.7 seconds (Estimate based on Car and Driver data for Suburban, Tahoe, Tahoe RST)

Specs on the optional front brake upgrade: Brembo six-piston calipers, 16.1x1.3-inch rotors

Quick Take: The "sporty" RST package for the Suburban would be ridiculous, were it not for the 6.2-liter V-8 and 10-speed automatic also found in the Escalade, the Yukon Denali—and, more to the point for Chevy fans, the unfortunately-facelifted 2019 Camaro SS—which gives it unexpected verve and reinvigorates the aging SUV's driving experience.

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2019 Chevrolet Suburban RST: The Pros

  • The fact that you have to pay up for the RST (or the more-expensive Premier Plus) to snare a Suburban with this powertrain combo is something of a crime. Every Suburban should come with this 6.2-liter, as it makes this three-ton beast actually fun to drive...at least, for something with the weight, size, and tropospheric center-of-gravity of this beast. Plenty of credit goes to the bigger smallblock, which has enough pep to sling the 'Burban through most gaps in traffic with near-hot hatch verve, but it's the way the 10-speed automatic makes the most of that power that really distinguishes this three-row body-on-frame SUV. Unlike the sloppy eight-speed found in lesser Suburbans, it clicks crisply from cog to cog, sliding the engine into the ideal rev range for light-throttle cruising, hammer-footed acceleration, or anything in-between in the blink of any eye. 
  • The Magnetic Ride Control—a staple of all Suburban Premiers—does a delightful job insulating the occupants from the road's harshness without leaving the car flopping around like it's on a water bed someone snuck Jell-O powder into. In an era where it seems even the humblest Hyundai comes with different driving modes, it's refreshing that the magnetorheological dampers don't ask for your input—they know what's best, so just let them do their job and drive the way you want.
  • The six-piston front Brembos are worth every penny—as any brake upgrade would be for a vehicle brushing three tons before you load even a single soul aboard, let alone one you pack up with seven people and luggage or strap an 8,100-pound trailer to the stern of. Lightly laden with one grown man, one nine-pound cat, and a Thanksgiving road trip's worth of dirty laundry, the Brembos grabbed firmly and confidently, giving the impression that the 'Burban weighed half as much as it did. 
  • As Cait Knoll noted in her recent review of the GMC Terrain, the blacked-out SUV trend is certainly popping off these days; much like GMC's Black Editions, the RST leans into it with dark trim replacing chrome bits across the body. Slather on a coat of black paint like my test truck had, and you're left with an intimidating beast that'd look right at home running point for the president's Beast. 
  • Even in a world where crossovers are popping up under every rock, few cars can equal the breadth of capability of a well-equipped Suburban. Six full-sized adults can fit with ease—though for long trips, the third row is better served for that sweet spot between out of car seats and the depths of puberty. Drop it, though, and you’ve got room for four, plus enough luggage space to sell grazing rights. (76.7 cubic feet, if you want to get technical.) Take the second row of seats out of commission, and the Suburban can swallow 121.7 cubes of crap. Add in the full-time four-wheel-drive with low range and the warm-looking brown-and-black trim of my car, and you have a vehicle3 capable of being almost anything: Town car, school bus, detective's special, family road tripper, off-roader, even hot rod.
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2019 Chevrolet Suburban RST: The Cons

  • The interior doesn't come close to what the price tag might imply. Sure, there's leather on plenty of interior surfaces, but it's the sort of grade Mercedes or Audi wouldn't use in even the cheapest A-Class or A3. (That's no slight to the seats beneath the trim, though, which are nicely padded and supportive; it's just the skin on top that's lacking.) Plastic trim lies everywhere—some of it rubberized and soft to the touch, much of it not. The interior design, which functional, lacks any semblance of modern-day charm; the touchscreen infotainment display is a bit laggy; and the driver info display between the speedometer and (redline-free) tach looks like it was jammed into a carve-out, not organically integrated into the dash the way the best are nowadays.
  • Also, while Chevrolet claims the Suburban offers in-car wi-fi and Apple CarPlay, I couldn't get either to work with my iPhone X. Neither the CarPlay screen nor the wi-fi network ever showed up on my phone, though a check of the car's settings suggested the latter was on.
  • I want a little more edge for a Rally Sport Truck. The $1,249 Borla catback side exit exhaust—which wasn't on my tester, sadly—ought to be standard.
  • Pricey, pricey, pricey. While the Suburban itself starts around $55,000, the only way to get the RST setup with the bigger engine and better transmission is to opt for the top-trim Suburban Premier, which bases at $69,595, then tack on the "RST 6.2L Performance Edition" option, which adds $5,525 to the bottom line. Slap on the rest of the options my test vehicle had—$295 for the cocoa-and-mahogany leather trim, the broadly-named $2,535 Sun, Entertainment and Destinations Package that adds a sunroof, rear seat entertainment, and navigation, the $295 floor mats, and the $2,795 front brake upgrade, and you're left staring at a $81,495 Chevy. 
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2019 Chevrolet Suburban RST: Value

Remarkably, that's not even the pinnacle of Suburban pricing; a fully-loaded version can ring up the register at $87,380, according to my time spent fiddling on the Chevrolet configurator. (And that doesn't include any of the official GM accessories you can add, either.) Most of the bougie features on the RST aren't really worth it—if you're looking for a luxury truck with this kind of room, you're better served saving or stretching for an Escalade or Navigator. However, the 6.2-liter and 10-speed pairing are certainly good enough to be worth the cash...assuming, of course, you're already springing for the top trim, as that's the only way you can even have the chance to order the big motor. 

Then again, once you're at Suburban Premier RST Performance pack payment levels...there's the GMC Yukon Denali XL, which offers the same combination of engine, transmission, and magnetorheological suspension for two grand less than the RST. And it's far easier on the eyes.

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2019 Chevrolet Suburban RST: The Bottom Line

There are plenty of car nerds young and old who bemoan GM's lack of cars like the Impala SS and the Nomad—mighty, eight-cylinder hunks of Detroit iron ideal for long road trips, summertime boulevard cruises, and burnouts akimbo. Truth is, Chevy still does make cars like that—they're just seven feet tall and have four-wheel-drive. The Tahoe and Suburban are every bit the descendants of those iconic cars that captured the imaginations of an entire generation of Baby Boomers.

But while GM's 2018-era family haulers are, in spite of their truck roots and height, superior to those old cars in almost every way—not just safety and technology, obviously, but even ride, handling, and performance—the modern-day ones still fall behind in at least one area: customization. Back in those halcyon post-war days, buyers had almost free reign to spec out their cars as they like—to pick giant engines for stripped-down cars, or pick garish paint jobs that had no business being with clashing interior. Nowadays, GM, like most automakers, seems to see consumers as unable to handle so many choices, so they bundle options into packages and align them in various trim levels to simplfy both the ordering and assembly processes. Most of the time, that strategy works fine...but every now and again, it winds up producing an unfortunate situation like the one here, where only folks willing to shell out $40,000 more than the average new car price can score the best options on the list.

The saddest part of the RST package is that Chevy reserves it for the top trim, refusing to give buyers of more humble 'Burbans a chance to enjoy the sweet, sweet pleasures of this engine and transmission combo. The Suburban RST is capable, capacious, and surprisingly fun for such a big machine...but it'd still be all those things and more if you could grab one in cloth-seat LS trim for $60K.