If you want a diesel engine, you’ll have to buy either a pickup truck or an SUV. Diesels are no longer offered in passenger cars in the U.S., although Mazda has been planning to make available a diesel version of its Mazda6 sedan. Recent scandals involving emissions tampering and an industry shift to hybrids and electric vehicles have eliminated diesel offerings in cars. But diesels generate far more torque than gas engines, and that low-end grunt makes them the engine of choice for many who need to tow heavy trailers, so you’ll still see this powertrain option in truck and SUV lineups.
In addition, the EPA says diesel fuel contains 10-15% more energy per gallon than gasoline and that diesel engines operate more efficiently, so a diesel-powered vehicle can go 20-35% farther on a gallon of fuel than a gas engine.
Here are the significant changes for model-year 2021 among vehicles available with diesel engines:
Cadillac is offering a diesel engine in the U.S. for the first time since 1985 in its redesigned Escalade full-size SUV. The turbo-diesel 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder generates 277 horsepower and 460 pounds-feet of torque, and it’s a no-cost alternative to the standard gas 6.2-liter V-8.
The Escalade and longer Escalade ESV are built from the same design as the Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon/Yukon XL (see below for more on those). As the most luxurious version of the trio, it offers unique features, including a massive organic light-emitting diode touchscreen and dashboard display and, due later in the model year, the Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving system.
Towing capacity for the Silverado 1500 with the turbo-diesel 3.0-liter six-cylinder increases by 1,900 pounds on most configurations to a maximum of 9,500 pounds on two-wheel-drive models. Being able to tow more also will cost less for 2021: The price of the turbo-diesel six-cylinder drops $1,500 to $995 more than the 5.3-liter gas V-8.
On the heavy-duty 3500, maximum towing capacity rises 500 pounds to a maximum of 36,000, but that’s specifically on a 2WD regular-cab Work Truck model with the turbo-diesel 6.6-liter V-8, dual rear wheels and optional Max Tow Package.
Among other changes for Chevy’s full-size pickup for 2021, the six-function Multi-Flex Tailgate is a new option; previously, it was only available on the GMC corporate twin, where it’s called the MultiPro Tailgate. New camera technology for trailering includes a trailer-length indicator and a jack-knife alert; wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity is also newly available.
The full-size SUVs from Chevrolet are redesigned for 2021 to larger dimensions, roomier interiors and a new engine option, a turbo-diesel 3.0-liter six-cylinder. The diesel generates 277 hp and 460 pounds-feet of torque, and is optional in place of gas 5.3- and 6.2-liter V-8s. The diesel also is available in the Cadillac Escalade/Escalade ESV and GMC Yukon/Yukon XL siblings.
Both the Tahoe and the longer Suburban seat from seven to nine, but the Suburban’s additional 15 inches of length give it 144.7 cubic feet of cargo volume, nearly 22 cubic feet more than the Tahoe. Among new features are push-button shifter controls for the 10-speed automatic transmission, a standard 10-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and an independent rear suspension that opens more space for third-row passengers and cargo.
A turbo-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 is a carryover engine for the F-150, America’s bestselling truck, but for 2021, it toils in a redesigned pickup that has evolutionary styling changes, a more luxurious interior and new features, such as an optional 12-inch touchscreen, an onboard generator available in three power levels and an available electronically folding shifter that lowers into the center console to create a flat work surface.
The diesel, which generates 250 hp and 440 pounds-feet of torque, is available in SuperCab and SuperCrew models. The diesel is one of six engines available on the F-150, including a new V-6 hybrid option, and like the others, it comes with a 10-speed automatic.
Maximum towing capacity on the Sierra 1500 pickup with the optional turbo-diesel 3.0-liter six-cylinder increases by 1,900 pounds to 9,300 on 2WD double cabs, and the price drops by $1,500 to $995 more than the 5.3-liter gas V-8. Maximum trailer weight on the heavy-duty 3500 series increases to 36,000 pounds on the 2WD regular cab with the turbo-diesel 6.6-liter V-8, dual rear wheels and gooseneck trailer hitch.
The Sierra, an upscale version of Chevrolet’s Silverado, gets the same camera technology enhancements for trailering, including a new trailer-length indicator and jack-knife alert, along with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity.
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The redesigned Yukon and longer Yukon XL share drivetrains with their GM corporate siblings, the Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban and Cadillac Escalade/Escalade ESV, so GMC also offers a turbo-diesel 3.0-liter six-cylinder as a new engine option for 2021. The engine produces 277 hp and 460 pounds-feet of torque, and it’s available with two- or four-wheel drive as an alternative to the gas 5.3- and 6.2-liter V-8s.
The Yukon and Yukon XL differ from their siblings mainly in styling and interior treatment. Both are roomier than previous models, especially in the third row and cargo area. All models have new dashboard-mounted push-button controls for the transmission shifter, and the top-shelf Denali model gets a unique dashboard to go with its more upscale furnishings.
Jeep’s Gladiator pickup gains a turbo-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 with 260 hp and 442 pounds-feet of torque as a new option. The diesel, coupled with full-time 4WD, comes with stop-start engine technology and teams with an eight-speed automatic to boost the EPA combined mileage estimate to 24 mpg — 5 mpg more than the standard gas V-6, though the diesel costs an extra $4,000.
The Ram 1500 adds a more efficient diesel model, the Tradesman High Fuel Efficiency EcoDiesel, with an EPA combined rating of 26 mpg, 2 mpg more than the best of the 1500’s other diesel models. The Tradesman HFE uses the same turbo-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 and eight-speed automatic as other Ram 1500 diesels, but is available only on the crew cab with a 5-foot-7-inch bed and 20-inch wheels.
On the heavy-duty side, torque on the Ram 3500’s Cummins turbo-diesel 6.7-liter rises to 1,075 pounds-feet, and gooseneck towing capacity increases to 37,100 pounds, both best-in-class numbers.