The 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe and its stretched Suburban sibling have arrived to take their rightful place as the brand’s flagship family vehicles.
The models have been de facto at the top for a while, but now that the Chevrolet Impala is out of production, their position is undisputed.
The all-new trucks come loaded for bear, with the Ford Expedition and Toyota Sequoia full-size SUVs firmly in their sights. They’re both based on the same frame as the recently redesigned Chevrolet Silverado pickup, but with one major difference.
For the first time ever, the body-on-frame Chevys feature an independent rear suspension to give them a more crossover-like ride. The Expedition has had one since 2003, but this apparent advantage didn’t seriously start to manifest itself on the sales chart until the lasted generation launched in 2018 and got hot, so it’s about time for the bestselling Chevys to step things up to stay a step ahead.
I tested a $60,495 Tahoe Z71, which is one of six trim levels that will eventually be available (LS, LT, RST, Z71, Premier and High Country) with starting prices ranging from $50,295 for a two-wheel-drive LS to the 4x4 High Country at $72,895. The larger Suburban adds $2,700 across the board.
Along with the new platform, the Tahoe has a longer wheelbase that increases passenger and cargo space significantly compared to the outgoing version. That new suspension also allows for a lower rear floor that contributes to adding 10 inches of legroom to the third row, which is suitable for people well over six-feet tall.
There’s also 60 percent more cargo space behind the third row, a healthy 25.5 cubic feet in all, making the step up to the much longer Suburban less of an advantage than before, although its 41.5 cubic-foot space is cavernous.
The interior has a very high-end feel, with excellent materials, including a wrapped dash, and quality switchgear throughout. A wide 10.2-inch infotainment screen is standard and has the best glare-free surface in any vehicle today. The layout is entirely different than the industrial grade setup found in the Silverado pickup.
The second row seating – a bench or captain’s chairs - slides fore and aft. A rear entertainment system is available that includes two 12.6-inch tablet style displays that can play videos stored on memory sticks or Android devices. They also have HDMI inputs that allow them to be used with video games or streaming media systems, like an Amazon Fire TV Stick, connected to the vehicle’s built-in Wi-Fi. Passengers can also search for destinations with them on the built-in navigation system and send them to the driver to approve.
Ice cream, anyone?
Most Tahoes are equipped with a 5.3-liter V8 with 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque, but the High Country has a 6.2-liter V8 that puts out 420 hp and 460 lb-ft. Both engines are paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission, and a 3.0-liter turbodiesel will be added later in the model year. Top tow ratings range from 8,100 to 8,400 pounds, depending on the configuration. Two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive Tahoes with the smaller engine have identical fuel economy at 16 mpg city/20 mpg highway. That trails the turbocharged V6-powered Expedition’s ratings of 17/23 mpg and 17/22 mpg for two-wheel-drive and 4x4 models, respectively.
The Z71 is the off-road model of the lineup. It has a unique high-clearance front end design for getting over rocks, 33-inch all-terrain tires, a front skid plate, red recovery hooks and a two-speed 4x4 system with a full-time auto setting.
It can also be ordered with Magnetic Ride Control dampers that adjust their stiffness automatically and a Chevy-first air suspension system that can raise and lower the Tahoe by up to 2-inches in either direction. It crouches down to make entry easier and to streamline things on the highway and provides up to 10 inches of ground clearance in its highest setting, which you need to be in 4Low to engage.
On pavement, you can really feel the suspension massaging the road in ways the old Tahoe’s solid rear axle never could, and the electronic dampers practically eliminate unwanted body motion. It all makes the Tahoe feel much smaller than it is, especially in curves.
The cabin is quieter than expected, and even the knobby tires on the Z71 don’t generate much noise. They are a little on the stiff side, however. Something you notice on the harshest ruts and potholes, which can cause a shudder that reminds you you’re in a truck.
Available driver aids run the gamut from automatic emergency brakes to a blind spot warning system and lane-keeping assist, but adaptive cruise control is currently reserved for the High Country. There is a 360-degree birds-eye-view camera system to help with parking, trailering and getting through tight trails.
I took the Tahoe down a few that weren’t extremely challenging, but rough enough to get the tire sidewalls scuffed. It felt very at home there and ready for a lot more. More to the point, you could ride fences on dirt roads all day in one of these without worrying about saddle sores.
Hopefully your ranch is a productive one, because with all the goodies, my test truck checked out at $76,175, while a High Country can be optioned up to well over $80,000.
Is it worth the price? Far more than the old one, which was only about $1,000 less. The extra outlay goes a long way, like a bulk purchase at one of the warehouse stores you're sure to see plenty of these parked in front of in the coming years.
2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71
Base price: $60,495
As tested: $76,175
Type: 4-door, 7-passenger, 4x4SUV
Engine: 5.3-liter V8
Power: 355 hp, 383 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 16 city/20 hwy