2021 Chevrolet Suburban Premium Duramax new car reviews

Chevy says its Suburban has been redesigned for 2021. The big takeaway, though, is a new powerplant option: a 3.0-liter, inline-six Duramax turbodiesel.

Rated for 277 horsepower and 460 lb.-ft. of torque (the same amount of torque as the 6.2-liter gas V8), the diesel six comes mated a 10-speed automatic transmission.

How well does the new diesel-powered Suburban fair in the real world? Keep reading to find out.

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J.G. Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak
Production/Art Director

Long before the term SUV entered the public consciousness, Chevrolet Suburbans were bringing utility to the masses who wanted to haul goods but didn't need the more industrial sensibilities of a pickup truck. These days, even pickups are available in fairly luxurious trims, but that doesn’t diminish the Suburban’s continued mission of providing hyper-utilitarian function and pairing it with daily-driver accessibility.

We recently had the chance to sample Chevy’s latest Suburban in its natural environment: towing a load over a great distance. The good folks at Chevy loaned us a 2021 Suburban Premier with the tow-friendly 3.0-liter turbocharged Duramax diesel and their blessing to haul our Corvette 2000 miles to the SCCA’s Time Trials Nationals and back. Equipped with Chevy’s Advanced Trailering Package (a zero-cost option on the Premier trim), the diesel Suburban was not only well suited for the mission, but absolutely in its element.

The new-for-2021 Suburban shares GM’s T1XX platform with Chevy and GMC half-ton trucks, but it swaps the pickup’s live axle for an independent rear suspension. This allows for a lower floor in the rear, so even third-row passengers have a full complement of leg- and headroom.

All three rows of seating also fold quite flat—with power assist on our test vehicle—leaving a cavernous and very rectangular 144-plus cubic feet of cargo space. We slid two folding canopies, crates of tools and spares, video and photo gear, and personal luggage into the cargo hold of the Suburban and didn’t even need to fold down the second row of seats. Taking two rows of occupants to the track with a full range of support gear is entirely doable with zero inconveniences for the passengers.

Despite the Suburban’s prodigious size—this 12th-generation model is the largest Suburban ever produced at more than 225 inches long—it drives much smaller than its actual size. Making a U-turn on a four-lane road is entirely doable without curb-based drama, and navigating parking lots and paddocks doesn’t require a harbor pilot or guys with orange flashlights. It’s perfectly suited to everyday life, not simply tow-centric work.

But when it tows, it does so gloriously. Especially when equipped with the Duramax.

While max tow capacity is down somewhat compared with the pickup truck versions of the platform, the Suburban’s 8800-pound capacity is more than enough for open trailers and even many tow-friendly enclosed rigs.

Our roughly 5000-pound Corvette and aluminum open trailer combo seemed to fall squarely in the Suburban’s happy place, pulling behind with zero drama and amazing efficiency.

Yes, efficiency. Typically, we tow our Corvette behind a 5.7-liter Toyota Tundra—not a truck with a great reputation for efficiency, but respected for its towing ability. On a good day, with light traffic and a lot of cruise control time, our Tundra gets 12-13 mpg over flat Florida highways.

On the 1800-plus-mile round trip from Florida to Bowling Green, Kentucky, which includes trips through the mountains of southern Tennessee and the ever-rolling terrain of North Georgia, the Duramax-equipped Suburban averaged nearly 18 mpg of diesel. We’re lucky if our Tundra gets close to that with no trailer behind it.

With the trailer uncoupled from the Suburban, the efficiency of the Duramax was even more apparent. In our 120 or so miles of uncoupled driving—mostly in-town errands with a few one-exit jaunts on the highway—the 225-inch-long, nearly 3-ton Chevy Suburban averaged almost 27 mpg. That’s simply astounding for such a large vehicle, and combined with its impeccable around-town drivability, it turns the Suburban into a much more realistic choice for an everyday-use rig.

We’re also fans of Chevy’s Advanced Trailering Package, which is a suite of software utilities and accessory functions that give the driver a much better idea of what’s happening with the trailer.

We even got to experience some of the function firsthand when, a few hundred miles into the trip, the Suburban warmed us that the trailer's left turn signal and brake lights weren’t functioning. After investigating, we discovered a chip in the trailer plug and a loose wire inside the connector. With our usual tow rig, we probably wouldn't have discovered this issue until other drivers start honking and flipping us off.

The ATP also features enhanced, trailer-friendly rear camera angles and guidelines to make backing up easier, along with the ability to monitor other conditions—like trailer tire pressure—on compatible trailers. It takes a lot of stress and manual checklists out of the trailering process, and may have even saved us a chat with a highway patrol officer about that brake light issue.

The 3.0-liter Duramax inline-six also makes towing a snap. Coupled with a 10-speed 10L80 transmission, the Suburban shifts nearly seamlessly and always seems to be in the right gear, especially once you get rolling.

We experienced a bit of indecisiveness in near-stop-and-go conditions—you know, that 5-20-mph range where traffic isn’t quite at a standstill but you still hate everyone around you. Not horrible, though, and nothing that couldn’t be fixed by dropping into manual mode for traffic jams.

Towing uphill was uneventful, and the transmission rarely dropped gears to a point where you barely even noticed the engine working.

Downhill sections brought a bit more motion from the rear of the vehicle above 65 mph, but never to the point of instability. Rather, the downhill sections were really the only times we remembered that we were actually towing a trailer. Integrated engine braking also did a great job at keeping coasting speeds reasonable without having to rely on the brakes much.

Complaints? Ehh, not much. I guess we could complain about the near $75,000 price tag, but only because it’s out of reach for us average automotive journalist types, not because it isn’t market-appropriate and seemingly fair considering the capabilities, performance and efficiency of the platform.

Chevy doesn’t seem to have any trouble selling every single one it can make, as we couldn’t find much available stock anywhere in the U.S. That’s not surprising, as anyone shopping in this category likely knows exactly what they need, and one test drive in the Duramax Suburban and a look over the specs will instantly confirm that it fits the bill.

Ultimately, we just can’t get over the sheer efficiency of the vehicle. And that efficiency is delivered with little or no concession to either utility or comfort. The Premier-trim Suburban is fully loaded with luxo features, like a panoramic sunroof, comfy leather, and a full suite of electronics and control functions.

The adaptive cruise control in particular is a welcome addition for long-distance tows, as it deftly balances pace with a safe-distance buffer and never seems to get surprised. That’s probably part of the Suburban’s secret to exceptional towing fuel economy, but it’s also an excellent stress reducer for the driver—unlike many adaptive cruise systems, which seem either too timid or too aggressive in their application.

Overall, we’re impressed. Suburbans have always been highly capable and even comfortable—bordering on luxurious—in recent generations. But with the availability of the Duramax, we can now add “efficient” to that list, which is not an adjective we normally associate with Suburbans. But we’re excited for the opportunity.

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Comments
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Run_Away
Run_Away Dork
7/7/21 1:17 p.m.

27mpg is very impressive.

 

singleslammer
singleslammer GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
7/7/21 2:11 p.m.

That is truly amazing. Off to see if this drivetrain is available in a van. 

 

Edit: not yet. Maybe in time. 

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
7/7/21 2:39 p.m.
Run_Away said:

27mpg is very impressive.

 

I got the truck a couple days before I left on the trip, so I used it for all my pre-trip errands. I reset the mileage data when I got it, and I was pretty surprised when I first set out that it was hovering in the high-20s. "It'll go down as I get into stop-and-go or hit a few more lights" I figured.

But it never did. 

Pretty insane that this thing basically gets the same average fuel economy as my wife's Mazda CX-5.

slefain
slefain PowerDork
7/7/21 3:02 p.m.

I'm impressed the diesel engine is available at base model trim level. Usually you have to add a ton of stupid luxury extras to get an oil burner.

Two reactions:

1. The dashboard design in the Hoeburban is sooooo vastly superior to the dash design in the GM trucks.

2. My dearly departed '76 Suburbans had 144 cubic feet of interior space and fold flat 2nd row seats,  - the same as this one, but in a much smaller package.  I know: safety, safety, blah, blah, blah, but these things are just egregiously huge. 

neverdone
neverdone New Reader
7/7/21 7:27 p.m.

Yeah, as the ex owner of a diesel Suburban, I'll pass.

Number1Gaza
Number1Gaza GRM+ Memberand Reader
7/7/21 8:18 p.m.

As a resident of South Carolina with quite literally zero emissions testing or vehicle inspections,  it is rather tempting to grab one of these and immediately rip out all emissions devices sans the cats.  Once that's done...
 

Reliable?  Check.  Stylish? Check.  Comfortable?  Check.  Fits all the kids?  Check.  Tows a bass boat and a car trailer? Check.  Good gas mileage?  Check.  $75000?  Crap.  And it goes back to merely being a temptation.  

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
7/7/21 8:49 p.m.
Number1Gaza said:

$75000?  Crap.  

Yeah, I hear you on this one. But, to be fair, I'm not mad at Chevy for pricing it there, more just befuddled by a world where $75000 SUVs and pickups live and flourish and fly off of dealer showrooms as fast as they can build them. 

Datsun310Guy
Datsun310Guy MegaDork
7/7/21 9:00 p.m.

In reply to JG Pasterjak :

Once I bought a new Chevrolet S10 Blazer and an old coot that was friends with the family asked me what I paid......$19,500.

Shoot, he says.   I paid less for my first house.  

Won't be long where I'm the old coot.  $90,000?  I paid less.....

 

buzzboy
buzzboy Dork
7/8/21 6:49 a.m.

A 1999 diesel suburban cost $30,423 or $49,846 in today's money. Today's diesel suburban costs half again as much but something tells me the performance, comfort and safety are considerably more than 50% greater. Too bad that at the US median income it'll take your full salary for 2.4 years to pay for one.

yupididit
yupididit GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
7/8/21 6:57 a.m.

I think the new Chevy and GMC SUV's are hideous. I'll take this drivetrain in the new Escalade though. If I could afford an $109k vehicle 

RevRico
RevRico UltimaDork
7/8/21 7:02 a.m.
Uncle David (Forum Supporter) said:

Two reactions:

1. The dashboard design in the Hoeburban is sooooo vastly superior to the dash design in the GM trucks.

2. My dearly departed '76 Suburbans had 144 cubic feet of interior space and fold flat 2nd row seats,  - the same as this one, but in a much smaller package.  I know: safety, safety, blah, blah, blah, but these things are just egregiously huge. 

I don't know, still smaller than my excursion.

They don't look as ginormous in person, I've seen a few around. The extra square body styling makes them look a little off I think. 

AxeHealey
AxeHealey GRM+ Memberand Dork
7/8/21 8:20 a.m.

I actually just found out earlier this week that this diesel option exists in the Tahoe and have been noodling on how to get my wife to consider that as her next vehicle. 

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