By on April 16, 2021

We continue the Cheapest Of series today on Buy/Drive/Burn, and check out the least expensive full-size truck-based SUVs on sale in America in 2021. And we’ve been generous today and equipped each of them with four-wheel drive to avoid any usability concerns. Today’s trio is very close in price but diverges elsewhere. Let’s go.

Chevrolet Tahoe

The Tahoe is new for 2021, is the cheapest vehicle here. This year it gains a host of updates including an independent rear suspension and some very in-your-face-styling. General Motors believes more trims are better, and offers Tahoe in LS, LT, RST, Z71, Premier, and High Country variations. At the lower end, an LS starts at $49,600, and a High Country is $68,200 before options. Unlike the others here, the power plant depends on trim and is provided via the stalwart 5.3-liter V8, a 6.2-liter V8 (High Country only), or a 3.0-liter inline-six turbodiesel. The 5.3 and diesel are both available at the LS level, and the V8 is slightly cheaper. A 4×4 LS is available in eight different free colors, most of which are grey-ish. Seats are covered in cloth here, but buyers can choose between Jet Black and “Very Dark Atmosphere,” or as you’d call it light gray. A bench seat can replace the front console, but that’ll cost you $250. With no options selected and after the freight charge of $1,695, the Tahoe asks $54,295.

Ford Expedition

Ford’s Expedition is F-150 based as you’d expect and has been on sale in its current guise since the 2018 model year. It’s available in five different trims presently: XL STX, XLT, Limited, King Ranch, and Platinum. Prices range from a base of $49,025 to nearly $74,000 for the Platinum. All trims feature the same 3.5-liter turbocharged EcoBoost V6, which produces 375 horsepower. In XL STX trim, all six available paint colors are free of charge, and one of them is brown. All seats are covered in cloth at this level, and the only color on offer is Ebony. The 4×4 upcharge is added to the acquisition fee of $656 and the destination charge of $1,695 for a grand total of $55,385.

Nissan Armada

The most expensive entry of today’s trio is also the only one from Japan. The Nissan Armada in its current guise is sold as the Patrol elsewhere in the world and shares a body with the more expensive QX80 and a platform with the Nissan Titan. Available in four trims, S, SV, SL, and Platinum, the Armada ranges from $48,600 to over $65,000 before options. All trims share the same naturally aspirated 5.6-liter V8 used across Nissan’s truck line that’s good for 400 horsepower. Colors available for free on the SV 4WD trim include black and silver. Interiors are dark gray or tan, and the leather has an -ette at the end of it. The four-wheel drive and shipping fee add up for a base price on the Armada of $57,095.

Three big SUVs, all of them ask for around $55,000 of your dollars. Which one goes home with you?

[Images: GM, Ford, Nissan]

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53 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: The Cheapest Full-size, Truck-based SUVs in America for 2021...”


  • avatar
    Hydromatic

    Buy the Tahoe, drive the Expedition, burn the Armada.

    • 0 avatar
      Urlik

      I think that’s the most correct answer. Next would be burn, burn, burn.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      Ditto. Buy the Tahoe, drive the Expedition, burn the Armada. But it offends me that even an optionless stripper in this category costs north of 50K. Buyers are simply being taken advantage of.

      • 0 avatar
        SD 328I

        Isn’t the average price of a new car $37,000?

        I think with inflation, these large SUVs are priced right around where they always have been.

        Considering that most strippers include basics like A/C, power everything, tons of airbags, back-up camera, ABS, traction control, auto braking, etc.

        Stripped out these days means no leather, big wheels and a gigantic screen.

        • 0 avatar

          A few years ago one of the magazines (car and driver motor trend) did an article on this and I seem to remeber full size SUVs having the biggest price increase relative to inflation where as some small sedans had actually gotten cheaper.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            I enjoyed when Car and Driver did a comparison of the best selling vehicles pre Gas Criss (1970s) to best selling vehicles of the early mid-2000s. This meant comparing gigantic sedans to gigantic SUVs and trucks.

            Low and behold the width/length and weight of the best selling vehicles had changed very little.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          Prices for a Suburban are waaaaay higher than back in the 80s (They started at around $10K or a bit higher). While median wages; much less after tax, after rent/mortgage, after various forms of “insurance” etc., are, if at all, only a little higher.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      That about sums it up…does the EB engine still have an internal water pump? If so, it will move itself to the burn pile.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        The EcoBoost never had a internal water pump in the pickups, it is only the FWD applications where it was internal to shorten the overall length of the engine.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      My neighbor probably wants to burn his his new Expedition of only a few years now. The trend of Ford’s being problematic has caught him as he has had loaners of F-150, Navigator, and now a Escape, since the end of March. I’ll wait the vehicle swapping subsides before probing details.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Does Toyota still offer the Sequoia? I honestly have no idea.
    [goes to check]
    They DO still build ’em… would have fit the topic better than the rebadged Patrol up there.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Again on the Ford that acquisition fee is if you do the Ford lease. The purchase option does not have an acquisition fee. Yes it is stupid that they make it so hard to get the purchase price but you can just do the math.

    Nissan is the easy burn.

    Drive the Chev.

    Buy the Ford.

  • avatar
    dingo426

    Buy the Patrol, sorry, Armada. Outside the US the Patrol is as well regarded as the Land Cruiser in the aspect of durability and reliability.

    Drive the Tahoe

    Although it is quite comfortable, Burn the Expedition as there is no other alternative.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    FYI Corey the last time I checked the GMC website it was a $250 credit to get the front bench in a Yukon. I mess with that “build your own” frequently because I know there’s a 99% chance that my wife’s next vehicle will be a Yukon in some configuration. (Her want, not mine. But I’ll have a heavy influence on options etc because “I’m the car guy.)

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Ford is in cahoots with Google, so BURN!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar
    jimmyy

    I have been a Toyota/Honda guy for a long time. But, I was quickly warming up to the F150 and the Tahoe, which are very nice products.

    However, both GM and Ford are out swinging against Georgia’s election integrity laws … GM and Ford think ballot fraud is OK with them since they will be getting lots of handouts.

    So, burn everything GM and Ford.

    • 0 avatar
      JD-Shifty

      Those companies are on the right side of history. Cutting voting hours and absentee voting is nothing more than more continued GOP bigotry. You don’t have the numbers anymore.

      • 0 avatar

        JD-Shifty,
        Not to get political,but…
        The Georhia votng law in question ADDED a mandatory Saturday for early voting.Sunday voting is authorized if counties wish to do so(as previously allowed).
        Previous law allowed for early voting during “normal business hours.” The new bill stated if counties allow early voting it must be at least from 9:00AM to 5:00PM and can be extended from 7:00AM to 7:00PM if a county so desires.
        Since the new law ADDED AN EXTRA DAY and gave counties the option of extended hours for early voting,by your definition,Ford and GM are on the wrong side of history.

        • 0 avatar
          canam23

          The only voting fraud I know of in Georgia is Trump begging the governor to illegally give him 12000 votes, even though the Republican governor found no evidence of voter fraud.

          • 0 avatar
            Urlik

            @canam23 The Washington Post had to retract the story about Trump pressuring Georgia when a recording surfaced of the call and demonstrated the story was false.

        • 0 avatar
          Mike Beranek

          None of that makes up for the provision that allows the state legislature to pick their own winners.
          Running elections is a function of the executive branch, not the legislature.
          This is the part that everyone is upset about.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I have some time in all of these due to the need to rent large SUV’s to ferry equipment to jobs since we haven’t been allowed to fly in a year. (Drove the Armada from Alabama to Texas, and the other 2 from Alabama to Maryland). The Armada was pre update so that would adress some of my gripes it looks like but the powertrain carries over.

    I’m going to buy the Tahoe. It didn’t do anything special but it brought no drama either and just did it’s job. Long term I like the powertrain.

    I’ll drive the Expedition. It was my favorite but it had an issue…the 10 speed transmission got confused a few times…once downshifting in DC traffic to the point it broke the rear wheels loose. It was a rental with 40,000 miles though and we got it frequently so many some of those miles were driving through the desert at White Sands, etc. Seemed to be a bad speed sensor or something…but given the 10 speed’s reputation, I’d rather go long term with the Tahoe, even if the Expedition drove better. It also got the best mileage and had a massive tank that would give you over 500 miles of range on the highway.

    Burn the Armada. I’ll leave out all the grief with the 2005 era interior and infotainment as it should now be refreshed. It wandered all over the road, generally didn’t care for interstate speeds and got all of 16 MPG on a mostly flat roads trip. It rode the worst by far.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Tahoe and Expedition share a 10 speed transmission co-developed between Ford and GM.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        I wonder if GM tunes it better then or if the Ford just had a bad one. If they are truly the same and it was luck of the draw I’d reverse and go with the Expedition. The Tahoe had like 10,000 miles in comparison. My F150 is the older 6 speed and I’d take it over both though.

        • 0 avatar

          My had has transmission gripes on his newish F150 also, to the point where he is thinking about dumping it and going back to Ram.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            There can of course always be differences in programing between two transmissions even if they are internally the same.

            GM is currently facing a class action lawsuit over their 8-speed. Canyon and Colorado owners claim that it is “slam shifting” after a few thousand miles build up. The lawsuit due to GM refusing to acknowledge the problem.

            I had also read that when Ford was bringing out their new 8 speed FWD/AWD trans that it was a development with GM but the two parted ways at the end and GM elected to build their current 9-speed while Ford decided “8 is enough.”

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            Last year a GM mechanic was telling me that Chev/GM can’t seem to be able to tune a transmission to shift well. Maybe they’ve sorted it out. 10 speeds would be a nightmare for engineers.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’d never buy one of these, but I’d say the only ones worth having are the ones with V-8s, so…

    Buy: Armada. I rented one for a family trip a few years back, and it was darned nice. Even got 19 mpg overall, even though we were slogging it through the Colorado mountains with a full load of people and stuff. The only real weak spot was the interior, and that’s been upgraded. Great V-8 motor.

    Drive: Tahoe. It’s has a V-8. It’s also really, really ugly.

    Burn: Expedition. Best looking of the bunch, but no V-8.

  • avatar
    07NodnarB

    Hmmm…I just dont know about that Armada, so sadly, it must BURN! and uh…buy the ‘Ex and drive the ‘Hoe.

  • avatar
    stuki

    I’d get the Armada, if forced to buy a shortie. But in the real world, would get a Suburban, with the diesel, if I were to get something this big. That GM diesel is a sweet piece, and just fits the vibe of these lumbering hulks better than a thirsty gasser.

  • avatar
    EX35

    Odd to see how many would burn the armada. I’ve owned the armada/patrol for 4 years. It’s never let me down, handles great on the highway, quieter than the Tahoe or expedition and has a great v8. Yeah, the infotainment leaves some to be desired but I’m actually not sure what else I would want. I guess if you want lots of animation and fancy lights, you won’t like the armada. Also, I’ll take the build quality of the Japanese built armada over the Tahoe or expedition anyday of the week. It’s no LC, but it’s actually no that far off.

  • avatar
    EX35

    The problem with the Tahoe (tried to help a friend buy one recently) is to get one without the 5.3 (either the 3.0 Duramax or 6.2 gas) you are looking at well over 70K (sale not MSRP) That’s insane. The 5.3 is just plain awful. We have a fleet of Tahoe’s at work and the 5.3 is such a weak dog in a vehicle of this size. Plus, we have all sorts of reliability issues with the 5.3 which is surprising since it’s been around for so long. It’s inexcusable GM won’t include the 6.2 in trims other than the top Denali.

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      “The 5.3 is just plain awful. We have a fleet of Tahoe’s at work and the 5.3 is such a weak dog in a vehicle of this size.”

      Have to disagree with all of that. The 5.3 has plenty of power for towing, reliable as the day is long, and buttery smooth. I’ve been towing with a my 2007 Tahoe for what will be 14 years this August. Even w/4sp transmission it has plenty of power to get the job done. Heck I even used it tow my 25′ Searay Cruiser for awhile after I got rid of my 3/4 ton PU which weighed close to 4 tons. amazed at how well it handled all that weight. Pulled my new 7′ high v-nose enclosed tandem axle snowmobile trailer great last winter. I’d much rather have a CC PU than an SUV but that old Tahoe is such a damn good tow vehicle(and still drives like a new truck w/180K miles) that I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. The 5.3, minus the oil consumption issue due to the AFM, has to this point been absolutely bullet proof. The truck was originally my ex’s and I didn’t expect much out of that 5.3 from a towing perspective but it has proven me wrong. Of the 4 trucks that I’ve owned and towed with, that 5.3 Tahoe has by far been the best.

      • 0 avatar
        EX35

        I drive our fleet Tahoe 5.3s quite a bit so I am basing my experiences comparing those to my Armada and with my friends new expedition w/ the 3.5 eco boost. In comparison to those, I find the 5.3 to be a boat anchor. The 6.2 is fantastic though. I’ve never driven it in a truck but in my C7 it’s brilliant.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “to get one without the 5.3 (either the 3.0 Duramax or 6.2 gas) you are looking at well over 70K”

      I’m not a fan of diesel engines but on the 2021 model year the 3.0L is available on every trim of the Tahoe for about a $1000 upcharge over the 5.3L.

    • 0 avatar
      Funky D

      “The 5.3 is just plain awful. We have a fleet of Tahoe’s at work and the 5.3 is such a weak dog in a vehicle of this size.”

      The 5.3 is not a barn-burner, but it is certainly not awful. It is a reliable and durable powerplant. I’ve run 175k on mine without anything but regular maintenance. Even when pulling close to 7000 pounds, it will deliver 10~12 MPG while never feeling overtaxed or wheezy.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        I’ve found that if you don’t mind revving an engine then you’ll be ok with the 5.3. That’s about the only complaint I’ve ever encountered.

        • 0 avatar
          Dan

          Perfectly good engines when they’re spun up but between stupidly tall rear gears – 3.08s if you didn’t put the order in yourself! With 32″ tires! – and GM’s lug for mileage at all costs shift schedules the trucks really don’t want to.

          As expensive as this segment has gotten, and as roided up under the hood as everything else that expensive is, why settle?

  • avatar
    crispin001

    Buy: Tahoe….especially since Chevrolet can’t get chips for the asinine DFM on the 5.3 (edit: I think the bench is a $250 credit… which is the way I’d order mine ). No diesel no: all your fuel savings go up in flames when the air injection pump grenades 10 miles outside the powertrain warranty (or the inaccessible oil pump belt decides to do what belts love to do).

    Drive: Ford with that massively sweet power pig econoboost 3.5…but since I’m a GM guy, I’d dump it after the warranty ran out because turbo voodoo being that I’m EXTREMELY superstitious…I don’t even trust the yellow plastic drain plug on econoboosts….

    Burn: Nissan….although on an older platform, WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG with Renault in charge of the supply chain? I’ll pass….being superstitious and all….I like DOHC but since I keep cars forever, I’ll just make due with the inherent durability of a simpler GM design (Chinesium notwithstanding).

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Let’s deal with the easy choice first, burn the crappy Nissan. I rode in an older Nissan FS PU, what a rattle box. NEXT!….LOL

    The new Tahoe with the stretched wheelbase and IRS should drive just as nice as the Ford. I’d have to tow with both first to tell you what I’d want to drive though, because why else would you buy one of these big gas guzzlers if you aren’t hooking your favorite toy(s) to the back of it every weekend and heading out of town? Buy, that comes down to are you a Ford or a Chevy guy……both are good truck based SUVs.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Normally I get exposure to cars in this class either through rentals or airport shuttle rides. COVID means I haven’t done either since the current Yukotahoburbalade came out, so I don’t have any exposure to it. That makes this hard.

    If the Tahoe were the last one, it would be easy: Buy Expedition, Drive Armada, Burn Tahoe. But with this new Tahoe I expect the Armada will be the one to get burned. A stick axle may be good for people who want to tow five-ton trailers but for everyone else it’s a big drag.

  • avatar
    ajla

    But the only reason I’d be shopping these is if I planned to tow a 5-ton trailer.

  • avatar
    Dan

    Who am I kidding that I’d buy any of these over a truck and if I had too many kids for that it’d be a van but I’ll play.

    Buy Ford. It has most the big classy presence that the Tahoe used to have before GM ruined it. Turbo motor wafts with the best of them. Didn’t like the dial shifter in my Ram and don’t like it here either. Do like the 31 gallon tank.

    Drive Nissan. The best motor and the tallest tires. The cloth interior is actually nice. Fugly and a foot too small but still a no brainer.

    Burn Chevy. Don’t like these at all. The 5300 motor has been worst in class by a lot for what, 15 years now? The styling hasn’t grown on me at all either, the hideous new Silverado in front and their rental grade crossovers everywhere else. Hard pass.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    In this day of global warming, should we be burning anything? LOL

    I’d buy the Tahoe, drive the Ford and scrap the Nissan.
    If I got a better deal on a Ford, I’d reverse that sequence.

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