VMR Canada

The Big Ones

  Older Large SUVs Keep on Truckin'

Excessive? Sure, but try pulling a 25-foot boat with a Corolla.

(This article first appeared in the Winter 2000 issue of Used Cars)

Large SUVs are under attack. They drink gas like the gas guzzlers of yore, have sophisticated four-wheel-drive systems that most ownersrarely use and now are being treated as menacing battering rams preying on small fuel-efficient passenger cars.

The rhetoric has been ratcheted up in recent months, and now borders on the absurd. Common sense (as well as physics) will tell you that when a 3000lb car and a 5000lb truck collide, the truck isn't going to be the loser. That's hardly a reason to ban them or regulate them out of existence.

We'll be the first to admit that many Suburbans, Expeditions and Land Cruisers are not purchased for their off-road prowess, cargo-hauling or trailer towing capabilities. They're bought for simply to project an image. And based purely on logic, many SUV buyers would be better served with a minivan, especially an all-wheel-drive model. They certainly drive better.

Still, many of these beasts are used to haul or pull some big and heavy stuff around, and at those tasks they're tough to beat.

We asked in the last issue with our mid-size SUV roundup, why buy an SUV? A big reason is because SUVs are cool and in! They possess the outdoorsy, rugged look that Americans love. And the models here are the biggest, boldest, most powerful of the category.

Chevrolet Suburban - 1990-1999

Chevrolet has been building a utilitarian vehicle under the Suburban name since 1935. That makes it the longest running model name in the automobile industry.

There is nothing subtle about this vehicle. Next to Ford’s new Excursion, it is the largest SUV currently available: 18-1/2 feet long and over 2-1/2 tons. Suburbans are real trucks underneath and come only as 4-door wagons with seating for up to nine. Both 2-wheel and 4-wheel drive are available.

Perfect for big families who need space, cargo hauling capacity and towing capability, the Suburban is a worker.

Chevrolet Tahoe/Blazer 1990-1997

Big, but not quite as large as the Suburban, Tahoe is constructed on a shortened version of the same truck platform as the Suburban. It can be found in 2- and 4-door versions with 2-wheel drive or part-time 4-wheel drive. Power is supplied by Chevy's tried and true 5.7 liter V8 or a 6.5 liter eight-cylinder turbo-diesel. Interior seating packages dictate whether you'll fit five or six people inside.

Tahoe had its genesis from the long-running and always popular K-Blazer. This was not the smaller S-10 Blazer (which now carries the Blazer name), but an early SUV built off a truck platform. It was redesigned for 1992.

In any case, while the name is new, the engineering and reliability of this vehicle is time-tested and proven.

Dodge Ramcharger 1990-1993

Introduced way back in 1974, the Ramcharger was Chrysler's Blazer clone. When Dodge redesigned it's pickup truck for '94, the Ramcharger was dropped.

A 2-door SUV with 2- or 4-wheel drive and a 5.2 or 5.8 liter V8, the Ramcharger lacks sophistication, but can tow plenty and actually delivers a reasonable on-pavement ride.

Ford Bronco 1990-96

1996 marked the end of a 30 year run for this venerable 4X4 (Expedition replaced it for '97). All Broncos were constructed on Ford's full-size truck platform, and came only with 2-doors. Engine choices were the 5.0 and 5.8 liter V8s and a 4.9 liter straight six was available in earlier models. The six is a purpose-built truck motor and has proven extremely durable over the years.

Available in a myriad of trim and equipment levels, the Bronco of these year came only with 4-wheel drive. Like the F-Series pickups they are based on, their Achilles heal seems to be their transmissions.

Ford Expedition 1997-2001

The bigger is better philosophy was certainly borne out by the introduction of the Expedition. It sold like mad out of the gate, but supply has caught up with demand.

Available only as a 4-door with seating for up to nine, the Expedition is available in 2- and 4-wheel drive models with two V8s and lots of options.

A little more refined than the Tahoe or Suburban, it lacks their overall "do anything" work ethic.

GMC Suburban

The twin of the Chevy, but you'll pay a little more to put those three letters on your grill.

GMC Yukon

Sister to the Chevy K-Blazer and Tahoe and known as Jimmy through '91, once again you'll pay more for the GMC name.

Jeep Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer 1990-1991

A blast from the past if there ever was one, these vehicles were designed in the sixties. They still possessed the basic look of the first versions and carry a certain charm or aura that is refreshing in the SUV sea of look-alikes. Although updated over the years, they lag badly in terms of sophistication.

All are 4-doors and come with V8 power and Jeep's excellent part- or full-time 4-wheel drive systems.

Land Rover Range Rover 1990-2001

A 4-door wagon with a rear tailgate, a superb full-time 4-wheel drive system, V8 motivation, and luxury that embarrasses most luxury cars defines the pinnacle of SUVs.

Not just a pretty face, Land Rover has mastered the art of 4-wheel drive: surprisingly soft springs, long suspension travel and sophisticated traction control will get you most anywhere.

Updated in 1995, this is the official vehicle of the island of Nantucket.

Lexus LX 450 1996-1997

Cloned from the Toyota Land Cruiser, this SUV entry ups the luxury a bit and offers the "Lexus ownership experience". We'd stick with the superb Land Cruiser for less money.

Lincoln Navigator 1998-2001

Although really a '98 model, it was introduced early enough in '97 to warrant inclusion. A clone of the Expedition, you're getting a distinctive look and sumptuous surroundings for a lot more money. As with the Lexus, the original is the better bargain. Unlike the Lexus and the Toyota, at least the Lincoln looks different from the Expedition.

Toyota Land Cruiser 1990-1997

Over the years the Land Cruiser has moved from a stark utility-type vehicle to a luxurious wagon at home on the trail or at your favorite country club.

Despite its upscale presentation, Land Cruisers are a bit boomy on the highway and don't deliver the ride you might expect. Equipped with the optional locking differentials, the Land Cruiser is the equal of any SUV in the outback.

The '90 model was the last year for the older boxy body. For '93 a needed power boost came from a 4.5 liter straight six.

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