It’s hard to argue with success when considering General Motors’ sheer domination of the large SUV segment. In the first half of this year, Chevrolet’s Suburban and Tahoe and GMC’s Yukon and Yukon XL accounted for 61.7% of the 125,565 fullsize SUVs sold in the U.S.
The current-generation Tahoe is No.1 in the Large SUV segment, according to Wards Intelligence data, even topping the Ford Expedition, which was redesigned two years ago.
Now it’s time for a clean-sheet re-engineering of GM’s SUV juggernauts, and the automaker delivers a number of meaningful upgrades, particularly an independent rear suspension, which makes the third row much more comfortable.
Long overdue, the new multilink rear suspension lowers the cabin floor in the rear (pictured above), meaning adults forced into the third row no longer will have to sit with their knees in their chest. Good riddance to the old live rear axle and the ergonomic challenges it posed.
The new suspension geometry also makes for a flat load floor and improves ride and handling, making these behemoth people haulers feel like somewhat nimble cars and less like the fullsize pickups of old.
After spending a day in a ’21 Suburban painted midnight blue metallic you would mistake for black unless the sun hits the sheetmetal at a certain angle, it’s fair to say GM has covered its bases in protecting its moneymaking franchise.
Interior improvements (pictured below) are noticeable and appreciated and not only because vehicles this big can’t help but feel spacious and comfortable: Climbing into the third row is easier, infotainment is first-rate, switchgear is modern and minimalist and a highlight is the clever sliding center console storage bin and armrest that serves both the first and second row.
Materials in our 4WD Z71 test model are generally upscale, including lots of soft surfaces and leather front seats, but the hard plastic throughout much of the vehicle looks and feels less than premium for a vehicle with a jaw-dropping sticker price of $78,875, including a $1,295 destination charge.
At that price, the Suburban and Tahoe should at least have cooled front seats and adaptive cruise control, if not GM’s innovative Super Cruise for hands-free and pedal-free highway driving, reserved at the moment for the Cadillac brand.
Chevy PR says ACC (not Super Cruise) is available on Suburban and Tahoe but not on the Z71 because those customers are more interested in off-roading. Plus, the Z71’s fascia (pictured below) is designed to accommodate a steep approach angle, which means there isn’t room for the necessary long-range radar sensor.
That claim is hard to swallow, given the plethora of small and midsize cars priced under $30,000 that manage to find room up front for radar sensors to enable ACC.
While we’re complaining, the fit-and-finish in our early salable model was generally good, except for the large, unsightly gap at the base of that center console that slides, controlled electronically by a switch in the overhead console, from between the front seats rearward for access to second-row passengers.
Also, we’ve grumbled about this for years to no avail: The third row has seatbelts for three occupants but head restraints only for the two outboard passengers (pictured below). In a rear-end collision, a middle occupant’s head would snap back dangerously.
GM designers say federal safety codes do not require head restraints for every middle seating position, although most other brands provide them.
On the powertrain front, GM offers three stellar engines: the 355-hp 5.3L and 420-hp 6.2L small-block pushrod gasoline V-8s and the 277-hp 3.0L Duramax DOHC diesel I-6, a 2020 Wards 10 Best Engines & Propulsion Systems winner as tested in the GMC Sierra 1500 pickup. The large trucks and fullsize SUVs share GM’s body-on-frame architecture.
Both the 5.3L and 6.2L V-8s come standard with Dynamic Fuel Management, a sophisticated cylinder-deactivation system that functions seamlessly and saves fuel. The 6.2L is directly related to the LT2 V-8 placed behind the driver in the all-new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, also a 2020 Wards 10 Best Engines & Propulsion Systems winner.
Our Z71 tester comes equipped with the 5.3L, which feels more than capable of propelling this beast on the highway or through the suburbs, aided by a smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission and auto stop/start to improve fuel efficiency.
Product planners expect up to 12% of Suburban and Tahoe buyers to choose the diesel (with production starting in November). Up to 20% of customers will choose the 6.2L and the rest are expected to pick the 5.3L V-8.
Both the Tahoe and Suburban are available in six trim levels, from LS (with starting price of $49,000 in Tahoe and $51,700 in Suburban) to High Country (starting at $69,600 in Tahoe and $72,300 in Suburban).
The most expensive option on our Suburban is the $5,735 Z71 off-road package, which includes magnetic ride control and an adaptive air suspension that contributes mightily to a smooth ride. Other options on our tester are the $2,820 Luxury package with second-row heated seats and third-row power folding seats, as well as the $2,490 Rear Media and Navigation package, which includes a 10.2-in. (25.4-cm) touchscreen and wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
The retooled plant in Arlington, TX, is working three shifts a day, six days a week and launched the Tahoe first, in June, followed by the Suburban (pictured below), which is arriving now in showrooms.