First Drive: 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Beats Other Truck-based Large SUVs

August 24, 2020 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Big, bold and powerful. That sums up the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe and by default, it’s larger Suburban sibling.

The Tahoe is the vehicle to buy if you have a family of four or more, need lots of cargo space and tow something multiple times a year. The Tahoe works well if you live on a ranch or frequently drive off-pavement. It’s also the right vehicle if you want to make a statement by driving a giant car, but don’t want a pickup truck.

The Tahoe – a complete redesign from the 2020 model—does all of the above well. Still, there are better vehicles if you are a parent who primarily carts children around town, drives an occasional carpool, or is just a commuter. The question buyers need to ask is does the Tahoe fit their actual driving requirements or are they purchasing a bigger and more expensive vehicle than they need.

BETTER DRIVING

Trucks.com tested a 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe in Southern California on a recent weekend. We drove the truck in traffic, on curvy roads, the highway and parked at the local Target store. The test version was equipped with a 6.2-liter V8 gasoline engine mated to the standard 10-speed automatic transmission. The new generation also comes with dynamic fuel management. It is a system that allows the engine to turn on and off up to seven of the eight cylinders depending on power needs. Ideally, that improves fuel economy, but the Tahoe’s fuel ratings remain poor at just 14 mpg in city driving, 19 on the highway and 16 in combined driving. Versions with the smaller 5.3-liter V8 gas engine get slightly better fuel economy. That engine has dynamic fuel management. Chevrolet will offer the same diesel motor available in the Silverado pickup truck starting in September.

The 6.2-liter engine provides 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. That’s more than enough for decent acceleration on and off the highway and passing. The configuration has a maximum towing capacity of about 8,000 pounds. The Tahoe size makes it challenging to drive through tight spaces and park in crowded lots despite a bevy of camera and visual aids. This latest generation Tahoe is almost 7 inches longer than the 2020 version. The new model has 66 percent more cargo room behind the third row than the current model. The legroom in the third row accommodates an adult.

2021 Tahoe High Country

High Country interior trim of the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe. (Photo: Chevrolet)

GIANT PRICE

The new model’s giant size also comes with an enormous price tag. Trucks.com tested the four-wheel-drive model in top High Country trim. The sticker price was almost $74,000, including the delivery fee. With options, the vehicle reached to almost $83,000. Even the far more basic LT trim model in two-wheel-drive starts at just above $55,000, including the delivery fee.

Buyers that require extra seating frequently and should take a serious look at the remarkably refined Kia Telluride and its sibling, the Hyundai Palisade. Fully-loaded, they list for $47,000 to $48,000 respectively. They both can tow up to 5,000 pounds. Or luxury buyers should consider the Mercedes-Benz GLS-450, which comes nicely equipped for about $80,000 and has surprisingly good off-road capability. It can also tow up to 7,700 pounds.

The Tahoe is built on a truck frame. The large 7-passenger SUVs recommended above are built-with unibody architecture that provides a smoother, car-like driving experience. They also get better fuel economy than the larger Tahoe.

None of this is a knock on the Tahoe, which is the best-selling large SUV. Along with the Suburban and the related GMC Yukon, General Motors sold about 220,000 last year.

“We own this segment and we have no intention of giving it up,” said Jim Danahy, Chevrolet’s executive chief engineer.

COMPETITION

And it is certainly well ahead of the other truck-based large SUVs.

The Ford Expedition sells decently, about 86,000 units last year, but needs a redesign. The Toyota Sequoia is primitive compared to the Tahoe and isn’t even worth a look. The Nissan Armada is a gas guzzler and ponderous to drive. Both the Nissan and the Toyota are also-rans when it comes to sales volume.

Chevrolet has done an excellent job of improving the Tahoe’s driving dynamics, comfort and technology. The styling also marks an improvement. It’s no longer two boxes joined together. The sculpted hood and beltline, a ridge leading to the taillights give the giant vehicle a pleasing, fluid look. Chevrolet also upgraded the interior, an area of criticism in its pickup trucks and the previous Tahoe/Suburban lineup.

SAFETY TECH

Standard safety technology includes forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking,  front pedestrian braking, and a following distance indicator. There’s also a hitch guidance system for trailering and a handful of other features such as an automatic high beam headlight system that adjusts to traffic conditions. Cameras around the vehicle project an excellent image onto the touch screen, helping the driver spot hazards while parking.

Unless you are buying one of the higher trim level vehicles, important features including lane centering assist, lane departure warning, blind zone alert and rear cross-traffic alert are options. The size of the Tahoe – the Suburban is even larger – makes any technology that reduces blind spots and aids the driver critically important. All of that comes in a $790 “Driver Alert Package.” At some point these are likely to be standard features, but for now, the extra security is worth the upcharge.

Chevrolet has also added some nifty optional technology, including a magnetic ride control that improves dampening and smooth bumps. It also can be adjusted to roadways, including highways, curvy roads and off-pavement routes. There’s available air suspension, which automatically adjusts load and ride height at all for corners. At highway speeds, the system automatically drops the vehicle three-quarters of an inch to improve aerodynamics. It also allows drivers to increase the ride height if they go off-roading and want to raise the ground clearance.

The bottom line is that except for fuel economy, the Tahoe hits all the marks for a buyer who needs a boatload of space and towing capacity. The challenge for new car shoppers is to examine their needs and discern exactly how much capability they require. If you are looking for a people hauler, there are better and less expensive choices.

Jerry Hirsch March 17, 2020
The redesigned 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pickup truck is decent, will work fine if you are a dedicated Chevy fan, but needs some improvement.

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