Review: The 2021 Chevrolet Suburban Duramax Diesel Is The Ultimate Full-Size American SUV
It's been nearly 20 years since you could walk into a Chevy dealership and drive home with a diesel engine under the hood of its flagship sport-utility vehicle. For 2021 the Chevrolet Suburban's turbodiesel option is back, and this time it's not restricted to heavy-duty three-quarter ton models, either: for an extra thousand bucks buyers can add the Duramax engine to any trim level from base all the way up to High Country.
Photo: Benjamin Hunting
The redesigned Suburban stands alongside its Tahoe and Yukon siblings as the only American-built SUVs currently offered with a diesel option. It's an inspired pairing, as these full-size haulers are often the first choice among drivers seeking a comfortable, do-everything tow rig, and the six-cylinder turbodiesel engine's seemingly endless plateau of torque is well-suited to the task.
More to the point, however, the new Suburban underscores the efficiency of an alternative fuel that's been all but vilified after a decade of scandal. Volkswagen's emissions cheating debacle might have ruined the diesel party for nearly every other automaker around the world, but by staying inside the boundaries of current EPA regulations this Chevrolet makes it hard to argue that massive people movers should be powered by anything other than ultra-smooth, fuel-sipping turbodiesels.
Torque For Days
The 3.0L Duramax inline-six offered by diesel versions of the 2021 Chevrolet Suburban is the same engine that can be found in the full-size Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, where it debuted shortly before arriving in the SUV portfolio. Rated at 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque, with the latter coming on in full as low as 1,500 rpm, it finds itself wedged between the larger and thirstier 6.2L V8 (420 hp, 460 lb-ft) also available with the Suburban, and the more modest 5.3L base V8 (335 hp, 383 lb-ft).
Few Suburban shoppers are seeking straight line speed, but even down over a hundred horsepower versus the 5.3L, the Duramax-powered SUV is only a second or so slower off the line, reaching 60-mph in about 8 seconds. Credit goes to its incredible torque production, a smooth dollop of which effortlessly floats the truck's hefty 6,200 lbs of curb weight regardless of whether you're at highway speeds or simply idling from one stoplight to the next.
Photo: Benjamin Hunting
Although the Duramax's diesel origins are evident should you stand beside the Suburban at idle, from the inside there's only the occasional turbo wheeze to give it away even with the accelerator floored. Drama-free highway passing and uphill speed-holding are pleasant side effects of its 460 lb-ft of twist, and with a tow rating in the neighborhood of 8,000 lbs (and featuring an integrated exhaust brake), the diesel gives up very little to its mightier eight-cylinder siblings. It's the perfect partner for the Suburban's heft and mission statement, and there's a solid argument to be made that the Duramax deserves to be the standard drivetrain for the hefty SUV.
Even better? You'll be making far fewer visits to the fuel pump. On a 300 mile up-and-down road trip through the Laurentian mountains just north of Montreal, I logged an incredible 26 miles per gallon from the Chevrolet, which was loaded down with provisions for a cabin weekend in the wilderness. Even more incredible was the fact that city driving during the previous week knocked only a couple of mpg's off of the truck's overall performance, making the Duramax roughly 35 percent more frugal compared the vehicle's gas-powered options. Credit must go, too, to the 10-speed automatic gearbox that operated near-transparently during my time with the Suburban.
Aircraft Carrier Vibes
It's important to keep in mind that even with its new turbodiesel engine the redesigned 2021 Chevrolet Suburban isn't intended for everyone. Its long-wheelbase design and hulking proportions make it a genuine hassle to pilot in an urban setting, especially when it comes time to find a berth large enough to park it.
Photo: Benjamin Hunting
Although never twitchy or unstable (thanks to its upgrade to an independent rear suspension setup, and my tester's magnetically-controlled shocks), 'unwieldy' is the word that best describes operating the Suburban inside city limits. The SUV is far better enjoyed on the wide-open highway with the cruise control set and no need to worry about what might be hiding in front of the massive blind spot hovering just ahead of its towering grille. While it offers low-range four-wheel drive, the vehicle's brazen bulkiness dampens any trail aspirations one might have for Chevy's minibus.
Of course, the Suburban's gargantuan nature also affords it a level of interior room that's difficult to match outside of the minivan segment. There's very nearly 145 cubic feet of total storage space under its roof with the second and third row accommodations folded flat, and unlike the previous generation truck there's no ugly load floor hump to lift your gear over when packing it to the brim. Even with a passenger in each of its seven seats (my Premier trim model featured second-row buckets), there's a whopping 41.5 cubes stacked behind the final row.
It's rare to sit in the way-back of any current SUV and not curse your luck at rock-paper-scissors, but the Suburban (and its Yukon XL twin) is an exception. Leg room remains comfortable and there's little claustrophobia thanks to the truck's tall roof and ample side glass.
Second-from-the-top Premier trim trucks are also respectably equipped when it comes to cabin accoutrements, with surround sound audio, heated and cooled leather seats, a long list of active safety features, and even a power-folding option for the last row that frees you from the strain of reaching and tugging from the tailgate.
Best Of The Breed
The 2021 Chevrolet Suburban is a modern moving city, a thoroughly-updated take on the hulking sport-utility template that the original version of this truck helped to define in the '80s and '90s. While most of the market may have moved on from its body-on-frame majesty, when it comes to tasks like towing it's hard to better the Suburban's pickup-based roots in terms of both stability and capability, and its acres of interior room keep it at the head of the pack in appealing to those for whom practicality is of prime importance.
Add the available Duramax diesel as the motivating force behind all of the above, and you've got a near-perfect interpretation of the Suburban formula. Quite honestly it's difficult to justify ordering the Suburban with any other engine under the hood, especially considering the turbodiesel's extremely low cost and the fuel savings that come with it. The 3.0L's torque delivery is a perfect match for the 'Burb's big-boned character, and thanks to its suspension redesign and interior upgrades it's clear that the latest version of this iconic SUV is the best we've seen since the last diesel was on sale so many years ago.