Behind the Wheel

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Review: Duramax diesel is the right power at the right place

The Tahoe has three available powertrains.

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

When I write car reviews, I don't typically say very much about the engine and drivetrain unless there's something particularly interesting or unique about it.

I believe most car buyers don't really care about things like zero to 60 mph times or how many gears a transmission has. Those are features and statistics, and they're an imperfect measurement of an automobile.

I'm a fan of the Good-Better-Best school of cars, and it looks a bit like a bell curve. There aren't any genuinely terrible new cars sold today, so at worst, you're getting something that's Good. I'll call that the bottom 20 percent of the market. Sometimes these cars have engines that really are too weak and should probably be avoided, and I'll mention that in my review.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax DieselDiesel-powered versions of the Tahoe look just like gasoline-powered Tahoes.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Then there's the class of Better, or the middle 60 percent. When I review these cars, I'll include a throwaway line about the engine or drivetrain as it's not worth mentioning in depth. They get the job done, but there's nothing to get excited about.

Then there's that top twenty percent where the magic happens. Whether it's the perfect majesty of a Rolls-Royce V12, the throaty bark of a Lamborghini V10, or even the brilliance of a Toyota Corolla Hybrid's effortless 52 miles per gallon — these are engines worth discussing.

And so it is again with my test car this week: the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe. We've already reviewed two of the Tahoe's sister vehicles, the GMC Yukon and the Cadillac Escalade. Despite being from the same family, they're definitively different branches.

But under the hood of the Tahoe is an engine that is so firmly lodged in the Best category that I can't help but write hundreds of words about it. It's the 3.0-liter six-cylinder "baby" Duramax turbodiesel that was in the works at GM for more than a decade.

It gives terrific fuel economy (for a giant truck, anyway) and fantastic torque in everyday driving. I find it far preferable to the extraordinarily thirsty 6.2-liter V8 that I had in the Yukon and the Escalade and heartily recommend it to anyone buying a GM full-size SUV or half-ton pickup. That's even more impressive because the 6.2-liter V8 is already an upgrade over the smaller 5.3-liter V8 that comes standard in most Tahoe trims.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax DieselThe engine is a mighty six-cylinder.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

It sports 277 horsepower, which doesn't sound like a lot, but horsepower is a poor quantifier of engine performance. Because it's a diesel and because it has a turbocharger, the baby Duramax has gobs of torque with which to pull away from stoplights or accelerate on a hill, or when you're trying to pass someone and you need to accelerate from 55 to 75 mph as quickly as possible.

The Tahoe's diesel engine excels in all these scenarios while delivering an EPA-estimated 21 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined in the RWD trim that I drove. That's a healthy improvement over the 16 mpg combined from the 6.2L and four-wheel drive-equipped Yukon. It's worth noting that the four-wheel drive diesel fares a little worse, getting 22 mpg combined, but that's still far better than the traditional gasoline engine.

It does all this, and it can even tow up to 8,200 pounds when properly equipped, but most people will never tow anything heavier than a small horse trailer or a boat with their full-size SUV. If you're hauling that much weight on the regular, you've likely opted for a heavy-duty pickup.

The irony of the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal is twofold. For one, some were pulling similar testing shenanigans that Volkswagen was — it's just that VW was the first to get caught. And second, those VW diesel engines were fantastic. They were torquey and excelled in everyday driving, pesky pollution aside.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax DieselDiesel Tahoes are branded with the Duramax name.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

There's a dirty secret to the horsepower numbers that most carmakers cite: they peak at very high RPMs that average drivers will never reach. But torquey turbocharged engines like this baby Duramax? It generates 95% of its 460 pound-feet of torque at just 1,250 RPM, and then peak torque runs all the way from 1,500 to 3,000 RPM. That means you're in the prime torque band nearly continuously.

In plain English, that means it's way better to drive. It's more fun, it's more efficient, and thanks to all manner of fancy technology, diesel engines aren't weird and finicky anymore.

Yes, you should probably plug it in if you park it outside in frigid weather. But other than that one minor caveat, this diesel is nonpareil.

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The Denali Ultimate trim is new for 2023.

GMC

The GMC Yukon has always been a luxurious family hauler with beefy capability, but it moved even more upmarket in recent years with added tech and upscale interior materials. GMC just announced an even cushier version of the SUV for the 2023 model year. The Yukon Ultimate Denali gets unique styling touches and upgrades that take the already plush SUV to another level.

2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate22-inch wheels are standard GMC

The Denali Ultimate gets exclusive upgrades over other trims that include 22-inch wheels and chrome accents outside. The full-size SUV just got a complete redesign for 2021, which brought updated boxy styling, and a sleek look, so there are no additional exterior changes for 2023.

GMC offers three engines in the standard Yukon, but only two make it into the Ultimate. The standard powertrain includes a 6.2-liter V8 that produces 420 horsepower. A 3.0-liter turbodiesel is also available that makes 277 horsepower and a whopping 460 pound-feet of torque. A ten-speed automatic transmission is standard for all engines, and four-wheel drive is available.

Inside, the Ultimate comes with Alpine Umber full-grain leather upholstery with 16-way power front seats and massaging. Trim-exclusive contrast stitching and aluminum trim accent the space, and the top model gets an 18-speaker Bose audio system with stainless steel speaker grilles.

2023 GMC Yukon Denali UltimateGrained leather upholstery and upscale interior finishes are standard. GMC

A 10.2-inch infotainment touchscreen comes standard, and offers Google services built in. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard, along with wireless phone charging. A Wi-Fi hotspot and Amazon Alexa functionality are available. GMC also offers Super Cruise hands-free driving system in the Denali Ultimate.

GMC hasn’t detailed pricing for the new SUV yet, but we expect it to start at a premium over the standard Denali, which starts at just over $70,000.

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The Z06 isn't on sale yet, but it's already raising money for charities.

Chevrolet

Just a couple years ago, the Chevrolet Corvette got a major overhaul that completely changed its design, personality, and performance. The car moved to a mid-engine layout for the first time, and its V8 produces thundering performance at a reasonable price. As it has always done with the Corvette, Chevy's laying out special editions for the car, and one of the first in the new generation will be the 2023 Corvette Z06. An early Z06 sold at a Barrett-Jackson auction this weekend to raise money for charity, and the final dollar amount crested the $1 million mark.

2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06The car raised $1 million at the Palm Beach Auction. Chevrolet

The car crossed the block at the Palm Beach Auction, which took place on April 9. It's the first production model of the car, which builds on the mid-engine eighth-generation Corvette. It's powered by a 670-horsepower 5.5-liter flat plane-crank V8, which sends its power to the rear wheels through an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The engine revs much higher than a standard V8 and features a distinct sound. Chevy says the Z06's engine offers the most horsepower of any naturally aspirated V8 on sale.

2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06Rick Hendrick was the winning bidder for the car. 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

The car's $1 million price tag raised money for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. The organization supports training of educators at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBI). This auction, together with the first retail version of the car auctioned earlier this year, brings the Corvette's total charity haul to $4.6 million in 2022.

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