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Chevrolet Tahoe vs. Nissan Armada: Battleship face-off

Two three-row behemoths go grille to grille to vie for the title of Best of These Two SUVs. This week Chevrolet's redone Tahoe gets the once-over. Next week, it's the Nissan Armada.

The 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe gets plenty of upgrades for the new model year, but that nose is one of the more questionable.
The 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe gets plenty of upgrades for the new model year, but that nose is one of the more questionable.Read moreChevrolet

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD Z71 vs. 2021 Nissan Armada Platinum 4WD: Titanic battle.

This week: Chevrolet Tahoe

Price: $68,940. Z71 Off-Road Package, $5,735; Rear Media and Nav Package, $2,490; sliding floor console, $350.

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes that the “cabin is impressively quiet, third row is actually comfortable, able to tow up to 8,400 pounds,” but not the “divisive front-end design, some questionable interior ergonomics, top models cost as much as luxury alternatives.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Bigger. Better. Bolder.”

Reality: Bigger, yes, but that’s a strong start.

What’s new: The Chevrolet Tahoe showed up in my driveway, and I admit I wasn’t too excited about the prospect. But the updates for the redesigned 2021 model year — more space, better manners, more towing — hold some promise.

Up to speed: The Tahoe isn’t winning any races, at 7.4 seconds to 60, according to Motor Trend. The 355-horsepower 5.3-liter EcoTec V-8 under the giant hood roars on acceleration as if it has 14 cylinders — which honestly would probably draw in more buyers. (A 6.2-liter V-8 and a 3.0-liter turbo-diesel six are also available.)

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Shifty: The 10-speed automatic transmission performs serenely, especially considering that it has almost as many gears as football players on the field. It’s a real home run.

Actually, put that transmission in the penalty box. PRNDL buttons. And regular readers know I’m going to say there’s no shiftability, just up-down buttons. Snore.

Also, I noticed this in the Canyon first, but the Tahoe suffers from a similar trouble on turns, especially when it’s cold. Many times when pulled out to the left or right, it seems that the four-wheel-drive system can’t decide on two or four wheels, and the turn goes long or goes sharp. Random.

On the road: Speaking of snore, the Tahoe offers a version of catlike handling, in that it seems mostly indifferent to your commands. It turns; it straightens out; it doesn’t toss you around too much. Now leave it alone, it’s time for a nap.

Highways and two-lane numbered routes in Southeastern Pennsylvania are generally pleasant, but trips to the mountains or the countryside might require a Dramamine. Even the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat described it as having lots of sway.

Driver’s Seat: We’d spent a solid couple hours traveling from store to store for some project materials — thanks, blue big-box store, for sending half the order to Avondale and the other half to Morgantown — and I found the seat to be remarkably comfortable. No back pain, no leg pain, everything lined up just right. That new independent rear suspension must be helping.

But, oh, that giant engine compartment. Tough to see past; difficult to park.

Friends and stuff: And here’s where I found the reason to buy a Tahoe. This is one of the few three-row SUVs with six satisfactory, grown-up seating positions. Push the middle row as far forward as it can go, and there’s still legroom and foot room aplenty, and the third-row passengers will be able to stretch out nicely. Headroom all around is excellent.

We also had the chance to load down the Tahoe with some building materials. If you’re looking to carry a number of 8-foot boards often, an upgrade to the Suburban is going to be in order; the Tahoe is just shy of the length needed. (A few can slide through to the console.)

The power seat backs are a convenient touch for loading, and the middle row buckets ($370) can fold up and even be pulled out easily. Cargo space is 25.5 cubic feet behind the third row, 72.6 behind the second, and 122.9 behind the first, large for an SUV.

Our penchant for buying these vehicles is causing our marriages to suffer, I fear. Even after years in opposite corners of a Sienna, the Tahoe made the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat feel far, far away. Yeah, we’re still cuddly after 30 years. Sue us.

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Play some tunes: The controls are really nice. Dials and the touchscreen make it simple to operate, and a 10.2-inch screen is large and in charge. Buttons direct many of the operations from outside the screen, as well.

Sound from the system is excellent, probably an A-.

Keeping warm and cool: These controls are simple, as well — dials for temperature and fan speed, and buttons for everything else.

Night shift: Most of that evening shift involved other cars flashing their high beams at me. Sigh. Manufacturers have got to do something about these headlights.

The map lights up front are a little too subtle.

Fuel economy: That last evening of longish trips boosted the fuel economy to a whopping 15.7 mpg. Why that’s good enough for anyone is beyond me. Yeah, gas is more than $3 a gallon; suck it up. Feed the Tahoe whatever.

Where it’s built: Arlington, Texas

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts its reliability to be a 2 out of 5.

Next week: 2021 Nissan Armada Platinum 4WD.