Big and bigger 

Suburban, F-350 much alike

Suburban, F-350 much alike

It had all the earmarks of the perfect showdown: In this corner sat Chevy; in the far corner, Ford. The Wife loved the Suburban. I was crazy about the F-350 one-ton pickup. Both vehicles offered shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive; featured wall-to-wall leather interiors; cost virtually the same hard money. (Chevy’s Suburban stickered at $40,536; the F-350 “dually” diesel with a Crew Cab and Lariat trim tallied to $39,415.) One problem, though. These twin Gargantuas are incomparable. No, it’s not that one is a sport/utility vehicle and the other is a pickup. It’s that one is just so big. The other is so much bigger.

Chevrolet K1500 Suburban 4WD

Not that Suburban’s 219.5-inch overall length is anything to be ashamed of. That’s 18-and-a-quarter-feet of road-dominating, people-hauling, cargo-toting sheet-metal, mind you. That’s what it takes these days to be the biggest, brawniest sonuva-SUV available anywhere. For your trouble, you get theater-like seating for nine adults and something like 36 cubic-feet of enclosed cargo space. Fold the second- and third-row bench seats, and stowage balloons to almost 150 cubic feet.

No wonder The Wife likes the thing so much. Any Mommy knows that nine full-sized adults are no match even for three kids aged 7, 11, and 13. If you were an eye-in-the-sky, you’d easily see that a typical weekday afternoon in a ’Burban is a tossed salad of jumbled backpacks, sports bags, grocery sacks, kids, and friends. There’s always someone or something going in and out the doors, over and back across three rows of seats. Amidst such a backdrop of scarcely contained chaos, The Wife sits in placid self-contentment upon a pedestal seat behind the wheel, far above and in front of the fray—the ancient mariner of the streets.

For 1998, Chevrolet has wisely left unadulterated its winning formula for the Suburban. What’s new is actually a collection of superficial refinements meant to enhance further the Suburban “environment,” if you will. There’s a new push-button Autotrac four-wheel-drive system (for $400) that’s technically an all-wheel-drive setup meant to monitor and compensate for lost traction at each wheel. There’s a “Comfort and Security Package” (for $995) that bundles heated and power-adjusting leather seats, plush-riding Bilstein shocks, and HomeLink remote-control capability. HomeLink’s three-button panel allows for fingertip mastery over whatever you need to control, be it the garage door, the eaves lights, or those pesky electric gates at the head of the driveway. What could be more Suburban?

With its 5.7-liter Vortec V8, Suburban throbs out 290 horsepower and 410 foot-pounds of torque. Around town, that’s enough to goose its 5,300-lb. bulk every bit as sprightly as any ol’ puny sedan. On the highway, you can enjoy long-distance cruising comfort over any hill and grade. You can haul up to 2,000 lbs. and tow up to 6,000 lbs. Hopefully, you can also afford the fuel economy rating of 12/16 miles per gallon, city/highway.

Trivia buffs may appreciate the fact that “Suburban” is the auto industry’s longest surviving nameplate in continuous use—since 1935, in fact. Chevrolet’s dominance of the full-size sport/utility category is anything but trivial, however. For all of the irrational exuberance within the SUV category overall, it’s still fair to say that other models may accommodate similar numbers of passengers or cargo. But no other model swallows passengers and cargo the way a Suburban does.

Ford Super Duty F-350 Crew Cab 4x4 “Dually”

My 7-year-old squealed with glee when first she saw it: “Dools, dools!” She loves the tandem rear-wheel setup that puts six tires on the road and certifies Ford’s F-350 Crew Cab 4x4 DRW as a true juggernaut. It’s easy to fathom a child’s innocent impressionability concerning something so big and imposing as this truck. More difficult is explaining how I slipped so completely under its spell.

There is nothing about this truck that’s not dedicated to hard work. It’s 21-and-a-half feet long—an 18-percent stretch beyond the Suburban. That fact alone guarantees you’ll expend plenty of effort just parking the darn thing. The F-350 is Ford’s designation for the one-ton truck class, which translates into a stunning payload capacity of 7,000 lbs. If you’re into trailer toys, you can pull a 14,534-pound one with the dually model that I tested.

Not since test-driving the VW New Beetle have I attracted so many high-fives and thumbs-up from bystanders—all of ’em guys, by the way. Guys love trucks. We think of all the extra projects we could add to our lists of things we’re too busy to tackle—if we only had a big truck. I think the medical literature refers to this condition as Tonka Syndrome. Well, for a too-short week, I had THE truck; and suddenly I realized, if only for a moment, that I was in temporary possession of the biggest tool in the box. It didn’t matter that I had nothing actually to accomplish with a truck this large. It was fine just knowing I sat atop so much potential for accomplishment.

For the layman, it’s probably enough to know that this six-passenger behemoth features four full-size doors, power windows all ’round, leather seating, and a super-fine CD/cassette stereo with new RDS (radio data system) capability. As broadcasters embrace this technology, RDS will provide ticker-tape-style text messages about traffic, weather, and station format. Punch up “Talk Radio” on the display, for example, and the unit sniffs out only those stations in the broadcast area that match that description.

The “Power Stroke” V8 turbo diesel sounds like a 747 taxiing up to takeoff. At first, the turbo whistle is startling. Then it’s something you can’t seem to live without—s-s-wheee, s-s-wheee, s-s-wheee through the gears as power pounds to the pavement. The exaggerated fenders over the tandem rear wheels look like Godzilla’s thighs. If you’re not paying attention, you may suddenly find yourself shifting into four-wheel-drive in search of Mothra’s lair.

Guys who merit this truck—the ones who actually need it to do their jobs—will appreciate significant new features in Ford’s Super Duty lineup. In particular, the shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive system is a first for the over-8,500-pound class. Even more significant, perhaps, is the first-ever power takeoff (PTO) provision with an automatic transmission. The PTO is what powers hydraulic accessories like dump beds, snow blowers, tailgate lifts—all the stuff that helps a $40,000 truck earn its keep.

I’d have liked to earn this truck’s keep myself, but even apart from the price tag, I simply don’t deserve it. In fact, I think I hurt its feelings when all I could find to tote in that giant cargo bed were three 40-lb. sacks of “Flyer’s Choice” birdseed. Still, I hated to see the F-350 go. “Where’s the dool?” my Sara asked me that melancholy morning after. “Had a job to do,” I replied, looking off toward the sunrise.

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