2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Diesel Review: When You Get It Right

North America isn’t big on diesel, maybe it should be.

Where I come from, diesel engines are the holy grail of the automotive industry. So much so that quite a few car models are only available with diesels engines. The reason for this is simple, India is a mileage-centric car market and as a fuel, diesel is more efficient than petrol hence people love diesel. This has led to an epidemic of diesel-powered cars in India. You can buy practically any car with a diesel motor. A lot of luxury cars are only available as diesels. 

Diesels are efficient, yes, but they are also noisy, vibey, some are outright unruly, and manufacturers seem to stick them in everything they make all for mileage bragging rights. As efficient as they are, they just don’t make sense in a lot of cars. If you’ve ever wondered how a diesel 3 Series drives, you’re better off not knowing.

So you can imagine my skepticism as I took the keys to the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Diesel. The Tahoe is famous for its road presence and its V8 engines, especially the venerable 6.2-liter push-rod V8. So while adding the 3.0-liter Duramax Diesel to the full-sizer makes a ton of sense, could it potentially compromise what the Tahoe stands for?

What’s New?

The last time a diesel Tahoe was around, George W Bush was still in office. The addition of the 3.0-liter Duramax marks the return of the diesel to the Tahoe lineup after over twenty years and it is possibly the most welcome change to date. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that the addition of the diesel is the most significant change to the Tahoe lineup after the fifth-generation overhaul. 

People who buy Tahoes are usually looking for a tireless workhorse that can handle any motoring situation thrown at it, from urban commuting to cross-country trips and especially trailer towing. It has always been a do-it-all vehicle which has been one of the primary reasons for its success. But it is also seen as a guzzler of fuels, a V8 isn’t the most efficient engine on the planet, as venerable as it might be. With the diesel option, Chevrolet hopes to add fuel efficiency to its long list of Tahoe features. It should not only help the company eliminate doubts from its existing buyers looking to upgrade but should help bring in customers who were previously skeptical of investing in a full-size SUV owing to high fuel costs. 

Duramax Diesel and Economy

To my utter third-world country surprise, the engine doesn’t feel or sound like a “diesel”. It does have a shakier start than its gasoline sibling when you turn it over but it settles down quickly. It is noisier compared to the V8 but the typical diesel engine clatter is almost non-existent. You could easily mistake it for a rougher gas engine rather than a diesel and that is quite the compliment for a diesel motor. It is more audible if you stand next to it but inside the cabin, you’ll be hard-pressed to hear it tick over. 

It also feels a tad more laborious than the gas engine while going off the line and you do need to dial in more throttle to get it going. Unlike the V8, which offers an even spread of torque throughout the rev-range, the Duramax’s torque kicks in, quite strongly I might add, at 1,500 rpm where the engine also makes its peak torque. Despite the 460 lb-ft on tap you still need to be deliberate with the throttle. It doesn’t coast the way you would expect it to but that is a good thing. Being as large and heavy as the Tahoe is, a more deliberate throttle ensures that it doesn’t get away from you. 

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The engine pairs with a 10-speed gearbox, the same as the V8. It is refined and unintrusive. The Tahoe is not built to be driven in a hurry and the gearbox is in tune with the philosophy. You barely notice it cycling through the gears as speeds increase and fall. Sudden throttle inputs tend to throw it off. But a more linear throttle input even if right down to the metal garners a more prompt and dignified response from the transmission. While the engine tends to feel strained at the top end as it makes 277 hp against 42o hp you get from the V8, it is a compromise worth making. Not only does the torque make up for the power deficit, but the Duramax is also significantly more efficient than its V8 sibling. 

During the 300 mile stint over the week, I drove the full-sizer as normally as I could. Barring soft throttle inputs, no hypermiling tactics were used. So it was a week of normal driving on busy streets, school runs, and two trips to the countryside. And the Tahoe returned 28.6 mpg (8.2 L/100km) overall, which is not only impressive but also more than Chevrolet claims. It is worth noting that if you drive even more carefully and try your hand at hypermiling, the Duramax will do even better. Also, peak power in a car like the Tahoe is like the depth rating on your diver’s watch, it’s more of a bragging right and rarely verifiable. 

Feels Like Riding on a Cloud?

More like cotton candy. The Tahoe we have here is the Premier trim and doesn’t get the optional Air Ride suspension, but it isn’t any worse off for it. An independent front and multi-link rear setup with Magnetic Ride Control are more than up for the job. It deals with the smaller undulations and the kind of potholes and bumps you encounter during daily drives without fuss or resistance. And despite its heft, it manages its weight rather efficiently. Even the larger potholes cause the slightest of lateral movements. 

There is little body roll at normal speeds and despite its size, the Tahoe feels fairly manageable in the city. The steering is light and the turning circle too is quite tight. Plus, since you sit quite high off the ground, the visibility is great as well and the rotary phone-sized wing mirrors certainly help. Out on the highway, it feels planted and surefooted. Again, the bumps and undulations are taken care of without batting an eyelid. It doesn’t however, appreciate or comply well with sudden lane changes.

It isn’t however, a driver’s car, not surprisingly. Though it can weave through the long sweeping corners with relative ease, it can catch you off guard in the curves going downhill. It can gather momentum rather quickly thanks to its mass and before you realize it, you’re going faster than you should be. Braking is consistent but requires a considerable amount of pressure. Plus, you feel the weight shifting to the front, as the front dips and now you have a heart pounder of a situation. The good news is, the brakes work every time you call upon them but it’s also worth noting that downhill corners are best tackled with caution. 

Cabin on the Ladder 

While not an illustration of exemplary luxury, the cabin on the Tahoe Diesel feels premium and upmarket. It doesn’t feel like a compromise, at least in terms of look and feel when compared to the top-of-the-line High Country trim. The black stitched leather-wrapped dash looks understated but feels plush and soft to the touch. There is however, a fair amount of exposed plastic, especially on the center console, which happens to be draped in leather in the High Country, but here takes away the overall feeling of plushness. The hard plastic on the door panels does more of the same and the wood inserts also feel of the faux variety. 

Fortunately, the seats are impeccably comfortable and customizable. The view from the driver’s perch is fantastic, and you can sit low in the cabin if you so choose. There’s no high-at-the-lowest-setting business here and finding your ideal driving position takes mere seconds. Seat squabs are just the right length, the seatbacks and side bolstering are just the right depth and very supportive. Admittedly, the seats do look a tad flat at first glance but as the adage goes, the taste of the pudding… 

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At the rear too, the captain’s chairs feel well contoured and supportive even if a tad narrow. More generously proportioned individuals might feel a dearth of width but everyone else will be quite comfortable. There’s a two-step process to tumble the chairs forward to gain access to the third row. The last row is surprisingly spacious. Mostly, the third rows are “more spacious” than the previous generations, a comparison which is only relative. But here, the third row is usable for adults. It isn’t bolted to the floor so your thighs actually rest on the squab.

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There is ample head and legroom and the massive quarter glass windows on either side contribute to the feeling of space. Speaking of which, the whole cabin feels very spacious a feeling that is only enhanced by that optional but massive panoramic sunroof. Plus, there’s enough room for a four-year-old’s bicycle and a couple of weekend bags with all rows up. And, the third row folds down in less than ten seconds at the push of a button which expands the luggage capacity to 123 cu-ft (3,480 liters)

Tech Musings 

Compared to its surroundings, the 10.2-inch infotainment screen seems rather small. But it’s intuitive and easy to use with a well-laid-out interface that isn’t distracting or overly complicated. The display is crisp and even displays the phone projection screen in high definition. Speaking of, both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay can be projected wirelessly. It is also quite ergonomically placed like the rest of the cabin. 

There are a plethora of controls all around the cabin but all–sorry for the cliche–fall to hand easily. I especially appreciated the independent toggle controls for the optional heads-up display to the left of the steering wheel. They allow you to adjust the height, information and brightness with a single touch. All controls for the trailer, driving modes, the 4WD and most driver assistance systems, all reside to the left of the steering wheel. And all of them are large buttons and knobs to aid muscle memory and avoid distraction. Only the climate control knobs are a bit of a reach as they are placed lower in the center stack. 

Chevy offers a host of driver assistance systems as standard, including blind-spot with rear cross-traffic alerts, emergency auto braking, auto-pedestrian braking, and cruise control are all standard across the range. Our tester, the Premier trim also gets lane-keeping assist as standard. But assistance systems like adaptive cruise control, enhanced auto emergency braking and all trailer assistance systems are available as optional extras only. 

Who Should Buy it?

The Tahoe exists as a full-size people mover with exuberant style and imposing road presence. It usually strikes the fancy of people with two or more kids who like to pack their SUVs to the rafters as they hit the road for a week-long road trip and usually have a trailer in tow. All Tahoe trims are available with the 3.0-liter Duramax engine and only costs $995 ($1,995 CAD) for the upgrade unless you go for the High Country. Upgrade in the top trim costs $1,500 over its gasoline counterpart. But for an extra $1,000 or $1,500 you get an engine which produces the same amount of torque but peaks at much lower rpm, which is a boon for towing. It also offers a higher standard towing capacity at 8,000 lb (3,629 kg). 

Prices for the diesel Tahoe start from $52,290 for the base 2WD LS trim and will nudge the $80,000 ($100,000 CAD) mark with options for the 4WD High Country trim. So the full-sizer can offer you just the drivetrain and a decent cabin or a tricked-out premium full-size SUV depending on your buying preferences. 

Verdict: 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Diesel

The complete overhaul of the Tahoe has resulted in an impressive product. Gone is the tight, for-kids-only third row. It is also a lot more usable and practical than before. Being able to seat adults in the third row certainly helps its credentials, so does the loading lip which is now lower by five full inches. But despite the massive improvements in space and practicality, the Tahoe still lacked a critical component, a fuel-efficient powertrain. 

On a more personal note, I have never been too fond of diesels as the ones I have mostly driven were clattery noise boxes only good for low end grunt and marginally better fuel efficiency. But the 3.0 Duramax diesel is by far the most impressive diesel engine I have encountered so far and not just because it makes immense torque or is as smooth as a gas engine. Okay, the last one counts. It’s the most impressive because it’s as efficient as a Subaru Forester and yet never feels inadequate for a two-and-a-half-ton, full-size SUV that is the Tahoe. If you are looking to buy a do-it-all full-size workhorse of an SUV, the Tahoe Diesel is the one to have.

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