The verdict: The bigger, bolder 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe feels like a massive upgrade over the old one, loaded with technology, style, luxury and capability.
Versus the competition: It’s a little less expensive than the Ford Expedition and doesn’t have quite the Ford’s tight body control, but it’s nicer inside, has more powertrain options and might just be the better truck.
For a couple of years now, Ford has had the best full-size SUV in the land: the Expedition. The folks at GM had their work cut out for them because the aging Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban were still stuck with inferior interior space, a tall cargo floor due to the solid rear axle design and less flexible seating arrangements. Late last year, Chevy showed the world what it intended to do about this and unveiled the 2021 Tahoe and Suburban. We’ve finally had some seat time in the latest top-spec 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe High Country, and we’re now able to say that the Expedition once again has some serious competition.
That the General has done its homework is immediately obvious: The new models are considerably bigger than the outgoing ones, and even bigger in some ways than the Expedition. They have a new rear suspension that opens up the cargo area and third-row seating considerably, with new flexible seating options that make getting into that third row a snap. There’s also a new engine, Chevy’s excellent turbo-diesel 3.0-liter six-cylinder that impressed us in the Silverado pickup truck. There’s an all-new interior that looks fantastic, with a high-mounted push-button shifter, massive multimedia screen, obvious upgrades to the plastics and leather trim, and a few trick features like a power retractable center console storage bin.
Power Galore, but Thirsty
So it may not feel quite as nimble and well damped as the Expedition, but where the Tahoe does stack up well is in the powertrain department. My test truck came with the optional 6.2-liter V-8 engine that’s standard on the High Country. It makes 420 horsepower and 460 pounds-feet of torque, which is unchanged from the prior model year, but frankly the engines weren’t an area that needed much improvement. The GM brands are your only choice if you want a V-8 in a big American full-size SUV. While the twin-turbocharged V-6 in the Expedition is more than adequate, there’s just something about that V-8 rumble in the Tahoe that seems appropriate. Plant your right foot and it blasts the big Tahoe forward as the standard 10-speed automatic transmission busts off shifts with GM’s trademark smoothness. The engine and transmission pairing is very well matched, and despite that this is basically the same transmission in the Ford (part of a joint venture between the automakers with different gear ratios and software), it shows how well GM powertrain engineers know their stuff that it feels so at home snuggled up next to the big Chevy V-8.
You will, however, pay for that V-8 at the pump because the Tahoe 4×4 6.2-liter is EPA-rated at 14/19/16 mpg city/highway/combined, and my 150 miles in the truck over an afternoon saw it return about 19.1 mpg overall, which wasn’t bad considering most of my driving was at speeds over 55 mph. The Ford Expedition’s turbo six is rated at 17/22/19 mpg, but our own testing of the truck saw it return considerably less, albeit under less-than-ideal conditions. So it may be comparable with the Expedition, but it’s still down from the 2020 Tahoe’s EPA ratings with the 6.2-liter V-8 and 10-speed automatic: 14/22/17, which has a considerably higher highway rating. Chevy explains the drop in fuel economy as a factor of the new truck’s bigger dimensions.
Interior Space and Tons of Tech
Hop up into the driver’s seat and you’re greeted with the nicest interior Chevrolet has yet put into a truck; it actually isn’t that much of a hop into the High Country thanks to an air suspension that lowers the truck a bit when you’re in Park and has power retractable running boards that pop out when you open the door. The upgraded interior materials over both the last Tahoe and current Silverado is tangible and welcome. This is the interior that the Silverado pickup should have had from the start, and may yet get, if we’re lucky (and loud enough). The High Country trim is the top level for the Tahoe, equivalent to the Platinum trim on the Expedition, but has nicer materials than I’ve experienced in the Ford. The plastics are higher quality, the leather feels good and Chevy didn’t skimp on the details. Check out the piping in the seats that looks like patterned couch upholstery. It looks good, it feels good and it’s finally well done.
There’s plenty of storage up front; cubbies and console storage abounds. You won’t have any problem finding places to stash electronics, cups, hand sanitizer. If you want to get really fancy, opt for the power retractable center console. At the touch of a button (strangely located up among the moonroof controls), the entire center console armrest storage bin slides back to provide cupholders for the second row while opening up a secret hidden drawer for the first-row passengers. It seems a bit gimmicky and unnecessary, but it’s probably fun at parties or for stashing things you don’t want stolen should someone break into the truck.
Chevrolet’s latest multimedia system is also on display, a big 10-inch tablet-style display that allows for one of the largest usable applications of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto I’ve ever experienced. There’s also a digital component to the gauge cluster, but only an 8-inch one flanked by two traditional gauges. If you want a fully digital cluster, you’ll have to look in the Cadillac showroom later this year. Other notable features on the latest Tahoe interior include an optional digital rearview mirror camera, which helps you see behind you if the passenger and cargo areas are full of people and stuff, and the inclusion of GM’s latest multicamera system that’s immensely useful for navigating tight parking lots, backing up to a trailer and hauling that trailer out on the road. Past experience with Chevrolet’s trailering app, cameras and controls mean that Chevy is now one of my preferred brands to use for such activities, given the myriad ways the brand provides to monitor the health and safety of your trailer.
The Tahoe is also extremely comfortable in any seat in the house. The front seats are generous, but even the folding second-row captains chairs are pleasant. They fold, tumble and slide using two big handles or a strap in the back, creating a flattish cargo floor when folded completely or allowing for legroom negotiation between all three rows. The third row is almost as comfortable as the second row and no longer a penalty box in the slightest thanks to greatly improved seating position and legroom, and it’s even relatively easy to get into and out of. The truck is 6.7 inches longer than the old one, with a wheelbase boost of 4.9 inches, and you definitely see the benefits in passenger comfort.
And when you’re in need of cargo capacity instead of people capacity, the second and third rows fold at the touch of a few buttons in the High Country’s cargo area. The new suspension setup allows for a third row that folds flat without the lip that prior generations of Tahoe had to deal with.
Big SUVs Don’t Come Cheap
As with the Tahoe’s main competitors, the latest full-size SUV is expensive. It starts that way and it stays that way as you option one up. The base price for a new 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe LS is $50,295 (all prices include a destination fee). Six trim levels will eventually be offered for the Tahoe: LS, LT, RST, Z71, Premier and High Country. Four are available for order currently: LT, Z71, Premier and High Country. My test truck was a four-wheel-drive High Country with a base price of $73,895 — luxury money — for a Chevrolet. Optioned up with all of the packages that the tester came with and you’re looking at an as-tested sticker price just north of $80,000. Chevrolet spokespeople would like to point out that this is consistently $3,000-$4,000 less than the Ford Expedition, trim for trim. Given that a 2020 Ford Expedition Platinum 4×4 starts at $78,780, this seems accurate.
But it’s starting to feel like you really do get what you pay for. The latest Tahoe can be loaded up with a massive amount of technology, and it comes with significant boosts to comfort, utility, luxury features and style. It provides an excellent competitor for the Ford Expedition, and it will be very interesting to pit them against each other in a comparison test, given the somewhat different philosophies they employ with regard to powertrain and interior packaging.
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