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GM's full-size SUVs boast improvements

by: JOHN M. VINCENT - Chevy's Suburban is the longest continuously serving nameplate in the American auto industry, with the first model hitting the roads in 1935. For 2015, the biggest Chevy is new inside and out, featuring GM's new 5.3-liter EcoTec3 V-8 engine.In 1935, Chevrolet introduced its first Suburban. For 2015, the longest continuously serving model in the industry is all-new. It shares its platform with redesigned versions of Chevy’s Tahoe, and GMC’s Yukon, Yukon XL, Yukon Denali and Yukon Denali XL.

Chevy and GMC’s full-size lineup of SUVs have a commanding presence on the road, and they also have a commanding presence in the market, accounting for 74 percent of the full-size SUV sold in America. While many SUVs have moved to more car-like platforms, GMs big utes have remained on truck chassis, sharing many components with light-duty Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups. Short wheelbase models include the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Yukon Denali. Longer wheelbase models — about 20 inches longer — include the Chevy Suburban, GMC Yukon XL and Yukon XL Denali.

Coming shortly will the most luxurious GM sport utility, a redesigned Cadillac Escalade.

For the new generation, designers looked to three areas for improvement: efficiency, refinement, and safety. A recent test of the vehicles demonstrated that they’ve made huge gains in all three areas, while greatly increasing the level of luxury equipment available on the trucks.

The trucks use a balance of more efficient powertrains and lighter weight materials to improve the mileage to as much as 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the highway for two-wheel-drive models. Engines come from GM’s stable of EcoTec3 engines first introduced in their light-duty pickups last year. Suburbans, Tahoes, and Yukons receive the 5.3-liter V-8, while the Yukon Denalis employ the 6.2-liter model.

Both engines feature a suite of efficiency technologies including variable valve timing, gasoline direct injection and cylinder deactivation. In the past, vehicles with active fuel management (sometimes called displacement on demand, variable displacement or cylinder deactivation) suffered from rough transitions from V-8 to V-4 mode. That’s not the case in the new GMs, with changes so imperceptible that your only indication comes from a dashboard symbol.

GM engineers have tuned the engines along with their six-speed automatic transmissions to operate in the extra-efficient V-4 mode more of the time than other variable displacement powertrains. Even in high-altitude mountain driving, both the 5.3 and 6.2-liters performed smoothly with more than sufficient power on demand, and efficiency while cruising.

Despite the addition of quite a lot of technology and safety equipment, the trucks weigh nearly the same as the outgoing versions. Their hoods and many suspension components are aluminum, as are the rear hatches.

Each brand has its own exterior personality, but all of the vehicles are sleeker and more aerodynamic. All feature projector beam headlamps, with GMC Yukon models displaying C-shaped LED accent lights in their complex headlight modules. Uplevel Suburban and Tahoe LTZ and Yukon Denali models feature HID headlights.

The doors are now inlaid into the side and below the roof of the trucks creating less drag, and much less wind noise. The rear wiper has been tucked up under the rear spoiler, creating cleaner-looking tailgates, although it gives up a bit in clearing effectiveness.

Given their truck-based roots, refinement has always been a challenge for full-size SUVs. Through the use of advanced manufacturing and suspension technology, GM seems to have overcome many of the issues. Available Magnetic Ride Control, perfected on Corvettes and Cadillacs, constantly adjusts to the surface of the road by electronically changing the viscosity of the fluid inside the shock absorbers. Exceptional tuning of the electric power steering units makes each vehicle drive like a smaller truck.

by: JOHN M. VINCENT - Both the second and third row of seats in the 2015 Suburban fold flat for the first time. You no longer have to remove the third row to have a flat load floor.
The interiors have taken a huge leap forward in material quality, design, and comfort. They have to be, as many manufacturers have stepped up their game in this area. The Chevys and Yukons are now nearly on par with the best, with the Yukon Denali a bit better than the rest. The available sharp and clear 8-inch central display screen with advanced telematics leads the class of large SUVs. The Denali’s customizable LCD dash display is the best of the pack, and features a special display selection for trailer towing. Also available is Apple’s Siri Eyes Free communications interface.

The big utes now tout up to 12 charging locations (USB, accessory sockets, and 110 outlets) spread throughout the cabin, including in a secure charging garage located behind the navigation screen. As anyone who has ever owned a big SUV can attest, removing the rear seat took teamwork and strong backs. Not anymore, as the second and third row of seats can now be folded completely flat, with an electric assist on some models. With an available bench front seat, the Suburban and Yukon XL can seat up to nine passengers.

by: JOHN M. VINCENT - All of GM's 2015 full-size SUVs feature greatly improved materials and interior design, with multiple charging ports located throughout the vehicles.Beyond the perceived safety that a full-size truck-based SUV provides, GM has added a multitude of advanced safety systems to the new SUVs. From a front-center airbag that prevents front seat passengers from colliding with one another in a severe accident to blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and forward collision warning with crash imminent braking, the trucks now feature the equipment that is expected in luxury vehicles.

Vehicles equipped with blind-spot monitoring and forward collision alert can either alert the driver with audible cues or by vibrating the appropriate segment of the driver’s seat.

To protect the vehicle and your belongings, there’s a new security package that includes glass-break detection, interior motion sensors, and a vertical movement sensor to activate the alarm in the case of an unauthorized towing attempt.

by: JOHN M. VINCENT - One thing the GMC Denali hasn't given up as it has become more luxurious is its driving confidence -- rain or shine.Pricing for the 2015 Chevy Tahoe starts at $45,890, while the Suburban starts at $48,590. GMC Yukons start at $46,335, with Yukon XLs starting at $49,035. Top of the line Yukon Denali and Denali XLs start at $62,680 and $65,380 respectively. Add $3,000 for 4 wheel-drive models.

2015 GM Sport Utilities

Models: Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon, GMC Yukon XL, GMC Yukon Denali, GMC Yukon Denali XL

Base price: Range from $45,890 to $68,380

Type: Up to 9-passenger full-size body-on-frame SUV

Length: 204 or 224.4 inches

EPA Estimated Mileage: 2wd 16/23 (15/21 Denali). 4wd 16/22 (14/20 Denali)

Final Assembly: Arlington, Texas