You might not be old enough to remember the commercial tagline, "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen," but the idea still rings true. When Chevrolet introduces a new Tahoe, for decades the best-selling full-size SUV, people take notice. So it is that there's an all-new Tahoe for the 2021 model year and people are taking notice.
Tahoe remains the shorter sibling of the equally new Chevrolet Suburban. However, while Suburban gets a longer wheelbase, Tahoe gets significantly larger overall. Wheelbase grows 4.9 inches and overall length grows 6.7 inches. In addition, Tahoe gains an independent rear suspension, a diesel engine option and additional safety and technology features. Still a body-on-frame 4-door wagon offered with rear- or four-wheel drive, Tahoe competes with vehicles like the Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada and Toyota Sequoia. It's mechanically similar to the GMC Yukon.
Six trim levels are offered: LS, LT, RST, Z71, Premier and High Country. All save the High Country get a 5.3-liter V8 that makes 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque. High Country gets a 6.2-liter V8 that makes 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. Later in the model year Chevy will make a turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel engine optional on all but the Z71. Sole transmission offering is a 10-speed automatic. Maximum towing capacity is 8,400 pounds.
All models come standard with LED headlights, 18-inch wheels, 8-passenger seating, 10.2-inch touch screen infotainment system with Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility and forward-collision warning and mitigation. Additional features include a front bench seat, hands-free liftgate, wireless charging pad, Bose audio system, digital instrument cluster, and head-up display. The Z71 adds a 2-speed transfer case, hill-descent control, all-terrain tires, tow hooks and front skid plates. Prices start as low as $50,295 but rise sharply to more than $70,000 for the High Country.
Joke all you want about General Motor's pushrod V8s, but it's kind of like making fun of Tom Brady for being old. He's still the GOAT and GM's V8 are still the best all-around truck engines on the planet. They offer the best blend of performance, efficiency, reliability and, most importantly, affordability. The base 5.3-liter does a yeoman's job around town, providing a 0-60 MPH time of just under 8 seconds. However, it definitely lacks the highway punch of the top-line engine in the Explorer. Unfortunately, right now only High Country models get the potent and smooth 6.2-liter V8. That engine is likely to become an option in other models in a year or two.
Both engines mate every well to the smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic. Two different 4-wheel drive systems are offered. Both have an auto mode and can be left engaged on dry pavement. LS, LT and RST come standard with a single-speed 4WD system. Optional on Premier and High Country and standard on the Z71 is a two-speed transfer case designed for more serious off-road use.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the 5.3-liter are 16 MPG city and 20 MPG highway with the 6.2-liter trailing by a few MPGs. And, while the 5.3 runs fine on regular-grade gasoline, the 6.2 runs best with premium-grade fuel. For comparison, Ford's Explorer nets 17/23 MPG ratings in 2WD trim. As you might expect, Tahoe is no fuel economy champ. In routine suburban commuting expect to average close to 17 MPG overall. Appreciatively, the huge 24-gallon fuel tank helps limit trips to the gas station.
Thanks to its all-new independent rear suspension, the 2021 Tahoe represents a massive leap forward in refinement and ride quality over it's solid-axle predecessor. The long wheelbase and tall sidewall tires simply soak up road imperfections with little impact harshness and undue secondary motions. There's still a bit of jiggle on really rough roads compliments of the body-on-frame chassis that's just not as exacting as a more carlike unibody setup. That becomes obvious when you start to hustle Tahoe around corners or change direction quickly. In that case, the steering feels a bit slow and disconnected and there's a delay in how quickly the chassis responds to driver input. Still, its miles better than the old setup that tended to crab over mid-corner bumps.
There's no denying that Tahoe is huge. And while that's a bonus to overall passenger and cargo capacity, it's a detriment when it comes to agility. In urban environments, Tahoe just seems a bit too big for its surroundings and can be a chore to park. Thankfully, the steering is a lot quicker than in competitor Expedition and the turning radius is reasonable. Brakes provide good stopping power and have easy-to-modulate pedal action. Interior noise levels are very low, almost luxury-car low.
In terms of capability, Tahoe easily bests unibody competitors when it comes to towing and hauling. Max. trailering is 8,400 pounds and payload capacity is more than 1,800 pounds. The standard single-speed 4WD system is best suited for on-road use in slippery conditions. The Z71's two speed transfer case and available limited-slip rear differential give Tahoe a leg up off-road as well, but it's really just too large to be a true mudder.
Though decidedly Chevrolet in flavor, the Tahoe's interior is fresh and modern with just enough flourishes to help soften the $50,000-plus price point. Still function-following-form, the layout is simple and straightforward and features well-marked buttons are that are large and well placed. Assembly quality was impressive for a first-year vehicle and the materials seems to be sturdy and well suited for heavy-duty use.
The standard instrument cluster is conventional with two large dials sandwiching a programmable info display. The design works and is very readable and functional. An 8-inch digital IP is offered in Premier and above. While still easy to read, it's not really necessary as the standard setup is so functional. The center stack is topped by a 10.2-inch touch screen for the infotainment system. Below are conventional dials and buttons for audio and HVAC controls. Chevy created a push button array to replace the conventional console gear shift. It opens up additional storage space and is simple enough to operate. Ancillary controls are spaced to the lower left of the steering wheel and they can sometimes be a challenge to see.
Chevrolet's infotainment system is one of the best in the business. It's straightforward, responds quickly to touch and, most importantly, doesn't require a PhD to operate. It supports Android Auto and Apple Car Play right out of the box. While many competitors try to simplify their interiors and incorporate more functions into the infotainment system, Chevrolet maintains redundant controls for many features that allow for distraction-free operation.
On the safety front, it is unfortunate that some safety features like lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitor and a rear-pedestrian alert system are not standard.
Tahoe is 6.7 inches longer and gets a 4.9-inch boost in wheelbase. That translates into a much more commodious interior -- especially in the third row, which offers a whopping 10 inches more leg room than the previous model. All told, Tahoe offers best-in-class passenger space. The front seats are roomy and comfortable and nicely padded for long-haul comfort. Second-row seats are also quite nicely appointed and can be had in 3-passenger bench or captain's chair configuration. The third-row bench is finally adult friendly as well.
Though the high-riding Tahoe offers a commanding view of the road, visibility is only average because of the tall hood and thick rear pillars. Thankfully a surround-view camara is available. Step in can be difficult as some models ride fairly high. However, the doors open wide and the second-row seats tip and slide fairly easily.
Cargo space is greatly increased over the outgoing model. Behind the rear seats there's 25.5 cubic feet of capacity. All seats down, Tahoe has more than 120 cubic feet of storage, which is more than the old Suburban. In terms of interior storage, Chevy has placed lots of open and covered bins throughout.
Bottom Line -- Chevrolet clearly had to up its game after Ford introduced a significantly improved Expedition in 2018. It might have taken a few years, but for most buyers the wait was more than worth it. Tahoe is improved in every way. It's more comfortable, better riding, quieter, and boasts the latest tech and safety features. They say competition is good, and in in the full-size SUV market, Ford and Chevy continue to go head-to-head at the top of the class. The new Tahoe raises the bar to a new level and we'll have to see how Ford responds.