by Frank A. Aukofer

Once regarded as a truncated version of the historic Chevrolet Suburban, the all-new 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe has become a distinct competitor in the full-size sport utility realm, especially in the four-wheel drive Z71 trim tested for this review.

The Suburban has been with us as a premier hauler of family and cargo since 1934, probably a week or two before most of its buyers were born. Over the years, it was the choice of anyone who needed lots of space for passengers and cargo, as well as brute force towing capability.

For Chevrolet and General Motors, the Suburban functioned as a bulwark against the increasingly popular minivan, popularized in the mid-1980s by Chrysler. But it always retained its muscular personality, and spun off other iterations, including the luxury Cadillac Escalade and the GMC Yukon — no surprise because they were based on the same platform as General Motors’ Silverado and Sierra full-size pickup trucks.

That’s either a positive or negative depending on the chores you want to assign to your big boomer. Full-size SUVs can carry the same number of passengers and cargo as a now-traditional minivan. And they can tow heavier trailers and handle heavier loads. But big SUVs lose to the minivan on fuel economy, handling and comfort. On a beach trip, the kids in back likely would prefer a Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, or the all-new Kia Carnival, which masquerades as an SUV.

On the other hand, if you’re regularly towing your 27-foot party barge for a family cruise on Lake Tahoe in Nevada and California, you’d likely choose the Chevrolet Tahoe or some other lunker like the Ford Expedition MAX, Nissan Armada, or Toyota Sequoia.

The Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD Z71 that is the subject here did not arrive as the Suburban’s sibling until 1994 — a somewhat smaller and slightly less expensive alternative. At the outset, the two vehicles seemed alike except that the Tahoe looked like a Suburban with about 15 inches whacked off the back end.

But now, all-new for 2021, the Tahoe comes with well-balanced styling and a personality all its own despite its family resemblance to big brother — or sister — Suburban.

In an era when manufacturers are trending toward smaller turbocharged four-cylinder engines, the 2021 Tahoe Z71 continues with good old-fashioned Detroit muscle — a pushrod 5.3-liter V8 engine with 355 hp and 358 lb-ft of torque. It sends its power to all four wheels via a 10-speed automatic transmission.      

The combination guarantees that you will never feel at a disadvantage either in the hiccups of plugged up/high speed interstate travel or urban puddling around. But no matter how you are driving, don’t count on competing with any economy cars. The tested Tahoe Z71 has a city/highway/combined EPA fuel consumption rating of 16/20/18 mpg, and almost everybody will get less.

But there’s quiet comfort in cruising. Buttressed with an air suspension system and adaptive shock absorbers, the tested Tahoe exhibited good handling for its size, cruised quietly and comfortably for long distances at Interstate speeds and featured mostly fatigue-free seating. 

The air suspension system also enabled a larger cabin with 178 cubic feet of space for up to seven passengers and 25 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row. Both the second and third rows can be folded to greatly expand the cargo capacity. Third-row seats have power folding.

The tested Z71, with standard four-wheel drive, came with a $5,735 off-road package of options that included the air suspension, magnetic ride control and a heavy-duty radiator for enhanced cooling. The package also featured an advanced trailering system with hitch guidance and trailer brake control. 

Safety equipment on the tester, both standard and optional, included automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, following-distance indicator, lane-change alert with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-keeping assist with lane-departure warning.

Inside, the Z71 offered a complement of infotainment, comfort and convenience functions. Among them: tri-zone automatic climate control, wireless smart phone charging, Wi-Fi, five USB ports, SXM satellite radio, nine-speaker Bose audio system, and a rear window that opens independently of the power rear hatch for convenience in loading smaller items.

The Z71 is one of six versions, called trim levels in the industry, that have starting prices from $51,195 to $71,220, including destination charges, with the Z71 in the middle of the range at $60,495. With options, the tested Tahoe Z71 topped out at $68,940.

Specifications 

  • Model: 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD Z71 four-door sport utility vehicle. 
  • Engine: 5.3-liter Ecotec V8, 355 hp, 358 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 178/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,865 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,600 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/20/18 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $60,495.
  • Price as tested: $68,940.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Chevrolet