The Chevy Tahoe has been the best-selling vehicle in its category since 2001, accounting for more than 25 percent of all full-size SUV registrations in the United States, and it's easy to understand why. It hauls loads of passengers and gear, it can pull heavy trailers, and it holds up well to abuse and rugged terrain.
Tahoe can accommodate five to nine passengers, and the first two rows offer spacious, even luxurious, seating. Fold the second and third rows of seats and the Tahoe offers nearly 109 cubic feet of cargo space. A properly equipped Tahoe is rated to tow up to 8,200 pounds; based on the same platform as the Suburban and Silverado, the Tahoe makes a stable rig for pulling trailers.
With its rigid chassis, the Tahoe feels taut, the steering is precise and responsive, and the brakes are responsive and smooth. The ride quality is generally smooth, even with the available 20-inch wheels. At highway speeds, the Tahoe is quiet and comfortable.
The 5.3-liter V8 engine features GM's Active Fuel Management technology to save gas, but you can't even feel it switching between four and eight cylinders whether on the highway or around town. The 5.3-liter V8 provides all the power most customers will need, and there's a less-expensive 4.8-liter V8 available.
The new Hybrid model works seamlessly. It offers more power and drastically improved fuel economy compared to other models, but tows about a ton less. The Hybrid model provides an answer for those who want the size and capability of a full-size SUV without the poor fuel economy.
Autotrac four-wheel drive is available, a full-time system that can be left engaged on dry pavement and includes low-range gearing. It comes in handy for rugged terrain and serious snow and ice, but it's also handy for yanking a boat up a slippery boat ramp or pulling a trailer out of a silty, sandy parking area, those momentary needs that can be so crucial.
Be they families with children, empty-nest couples with active lifestyles or individuals who simply have cargo to carry securely or trailers to tow, some people really do need the all-weather practicality of a full-size sport utility vehicle. For those who need to tow, the Tahoe is a fine choice. Those who don't tow might be better served by one of the big, new crossover SUVs, such as the GMC Acadia.
Chevy Tahoe LS 2WD ($34,094), LS 4WD ($37,895); LT 2WD ($36,145), LT 4WD ($38,950); LTZ 2WD ($44,780), LTZ 4WD ($47,585); Hybrid, Hybrid 4WD
The result of the streamlined body is optimal fuel economy, according to GM. Automotive engineers judge wind-cheating aerodynamics by a factor known as the coefficient of drag. The lower the number, the slicker the vehicle. The Tahoe has a Cd of 0.363. And the Hybrid model is even more slippery, with a Cd of 0.34. For comparison, the smaller but extremely sporty Porsche Cayenne emerges from the wind tunnel at a less slippery 0.38.
Up front, the Tahoe features a clean interpretation of Chevrolet's two-tier front grille with a central bowtie logo. Tow hook openings flank the license plate frame and they are, in turn, flanked by fog lights. The sides of the Tahoe have little ornamentation, yielding a smooth design. Tall side glass allows for an unobstructed view of the road. And at the rear, the liftgate has separate opening glass to offer easier loading of small items.
The smooth appearance doesn't mean the Tahoe looks soft. Built on a wide frame, this is a commanding vehicle with a strong stance. A bulging hood enhances its visual strength. Further boosting the muscular look are standard 17-inch wheels, with 18s and 20s available.
The LTZ model can be distinguished by its standard 20-inch polished aluminum wheels and use of chrome accents on the door handles and grille inserts.
The Hybrid model has several distinct characteristics. To reduce weight and drag, the front end features an aluminum hood, a lowered air dam, a slightly larger grille opening, and blocked off fog light and tow hook openings. Along the sides, the running boards are tapered front and rear for improved aerodynamics and the wheel flares are slightly reshaped. At the back, the rear pillars and center high-mounted stoplight have a unique shape, the tailgate is made of aluminum and has fixed glass, and LED taillights replace the standard bulbs. The wheels are more aero efficient and the tires have a lower rolling resistance. The spare tire and jack have been replaced by a tire inflation kit.
While largely plastic, the dash materials are finished well and fit together with tight tolerances. With the available leather upholstery, the look is upscale. Small items storage space is abundant, with a large center console, map pockets in the doors, a big glovebox and a handy tray below the center stack.
New for 2008, the Hybrid gets its own gauge cluster with a special tachometer and an economy gauge. The economy gauge has a green bar that represents a zone drivers can aim for to maximize fuel economy. The tachometer has an Auto Stop reading to indicate when the gasoline engine is shut off. The Hybrid comes standard with a navigation system and a 6.5-inch screen that also shows a graphic representation of the hybrid system's power flow. Like in Toyota products, this screen shows if the power is coming from the electric motors, the gasoline engine, or both, plus when regenerative braking is charging the batteries. The system also shows whether in 2WD or 4WD. It's fun to monitor the Hybrid's additional information displays, but be aware this can distract attention from the road.
The spacious interior of the Tahoe can be enjoyed from any of the three rows of seats. The driver sits up high with a commanding view of the road. Visibility is good all around, though the right side third pillar creates a blind spot, and third row seat blocks the lower portion of the rear window. Available power-adjustable pedals help fit the Tahoe to drivers of varying statures. The front seats move far back to maximize leg room for tall front seat occupants. Even so, tall passengers have room in the second row because the front-seat backs are sculpted to allow optimal room.
We sat in the third-row seats and found that adults fit, though they might not want to ride back there for much longer than a short drive from the office to lunch. The Tahoe we tested was equipped with the two-person third-row seat setup that comprises two separate seats, each with its own cup holder and storage area.
The second-row seats can be equipped with a power fold-and-tumble feature to provide easier access to available the third-row seating area or for loading or unloading cargo. The third-row seats can be removed to take full advantage of the Tahoe's cargo carrying capabilities. Some competitors, however, have third-row seats that fold to create a flat load floor, which is much easier than removing the Tahoe's heavy seats.
Cargo space is aplenty: 108.9 cubic feet behind the first row with second row folded and no third row, 60.3 cubic feet behind second row with no third row, 16.9 cubic feet behind third row.
The Tahoe's aerodynamic body not only cuts through the wind, but it minimizes wind noise. Occupants can hear each other when speaking in normal conversational tones while cruising down the highway.
The Tahoe uses a coil-over front suspension and a five-link rear suspension that combine to offer decent handling and a supple ride. It is available with the standard (ZW7) Smooth Ride suspension, or with GM's Autoride (Z55) air suspension providing real-time dampening on the LTZ. A special off-road (Z71) suspension package is also offered. The Z71 suspension tends to make the Tahoe bound over bumps. We couldn't detect much of a difference with the Autoride suspension, but the rear load leveling is a great feature for towing.
We prefer the 17-inch wheels over the 20-inch wheels. The ride was comfortable but not at all soft or spongy with the taller tires on the 17-inch wheels. The 20-inch wheels might look nice, but they come with tires with nearly three inches less sidewall area and thus provide much less cushion for absorbing bumps along the way. We recommend you try the 20s before you buy.
The strong frame, wide track, coil-over-shock front suspension and multi-link live axle rear suspension combine to make the vehicle handle well for a large SUV. Still, the Tahoe's large size makes it prone to body lean in turns and slow reactions in quick changes of direction. While the Tahoe's steering is somewhat slow, it feels more direct and precise than it has in the past. That's thanks to the rack-and-pinion steering system, with its rack mounted on an engine cross member. The turning circle is also pleasantly tight for such a large vehicle. All Tahoes have four-wheel disc brakes. The brake pedal has a good feel, and the brakes work quickly and confidently.
We drove a Tahoe LT-3 4WD and found the 5.3-liter is a good engine that moves the Tahoe well around town. It has enough grunt to tow up to 8200 pounds, but we would have preferred more than four gears in the transmission, especially when climbing some long mountain grades northwest of Phoenix. We liked the fact that we couldn't feel the transitions when the Active Fuel Management shut off or turned back on four cylinders as needed during highway cruising. The system even works in normal city driving, though the only way we could tell was to see the indicator lights change on the driver information panel on the dashboard.
We drove on regular gasoline, but a flexible-fuel version of the Vortec 5300 is available that operates on either gasoline or on E85 ethanol fuel. Note, however, that fuel economy suffers by as much as 25 percent when E85 is used. Both versions of the Vortec 5300 meet GM's 200,000-mile durability requirements. With four-wheel drive, the 5.3-liter V8 is EPA-rated at 14 mpg in the City, 19 mpg on the Highway.
We drove the Hybrid model and found the two-mode hybrid system worked seamlessly. The system uses two electric motors in GM's new Electrically Variable Transmission (EVT) that has four fixed gears. The EVT is mated to a 6.0-liter V8 that also has Active Fuel Management. Total output is 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque. One of the motors aids power at low speeds and the other lends a hand at highway speeds. Under light throttle, the electric motor can propel the Tahoe up to 30 mph. With heavier throttle, the gasoline engine starts up smoothly, with only a little shudder. Like other systems, the gasoline engine turns off at stoplights and restarts as soon as it's needed.
The Hybrid's fuel economy makes the almost three-ton Tahoe as fuel efficient as a typical sedan. With 2WD, the Tahoe Hybrid is EPA-rated at 21 mpg in the City and 22 on the Highway. With 4WD, it gets 20/20 mpg City/Highway. While the Hybrid has considerably less towing capacity at 6000 pounds with 4WD and 6200 pounds with 2WD, that's still enough for many towing needs.
The 2008 Chevy Tahoe offers lots of cargo space, comfortable passenger accommodations, and a big towing capacity. It's a full-size truck and handles like one, but the Tahoe offers a smooth ride and a pleasant interior. With the addition of the Hybrid model, it can get sedan-like fuel economy. The Hybrid is a good choice for a daily driver with a lot of cargo and passenger carrying capacity, and the other models are excellent choices for those who need to tow.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Larry Edsall reported from Phoenix, Arizona; with Kirk Bell reporting on the Hybrid in Chicago.