Now deep in its second generation, the Chevrolet Tahoe has been around since 1999, enjoying great success until 2005, when its age, high gas prices, and growing competition conspired to cause a dramatic drop-off in sales. Still, the Tahoe has been a perennial best-seller for a reason: It hits the sweet spot in the full-size SUV segment. The Tahoe is a right-sized, garage-friendly alternative to the Suburban behemoth and even pickup trucks. It tows up to 7,800 pounds, offers a choice of powerful V-8 engines, provides plenty of room and comfortable passenger quarters, and is capable off road.
While the styling won’t melt you with its flourishes, there’s really nothing offensive about it, either. In fact, it makes a strong statement about form following function, and this basic, honest shape can be dressed up and accessorized in any number of ways. Despite current high gas prices, many shoppers still consider a full-size SUV to be a reasonable proposition–and “reasonable” is the Tahoe’s byword.
Developed alongside the Silverado pickups, the Tahoe shares clear visual lineage with broad, square shoulders tempered by rounding, almost friendly curves. The wheel arches are squared off, reflecting the brand’s current truck design aesthetic, seen all the way down to the Colorado pickup. The Chevrolet crossbar grille, smoothed headlights, and slightly tapering hood add grace notes to the front. Sandstone and Bermuda Blue are new colors for 2005. The rear liftgate with hinged rear glass is standard on all models. Side mirrors offer a folding feature (powered on Z71 and LT models) to avoid damage in narrow spaces. Z71 and LT models’ driver-side mirrors also feature built-in turn signals and electrochromatic glass that automatically dims headlight glare from following vehicles. Black or color-keyed fender flares, standard on the Z71 and optional on other Tahoes, add a touch of butch to the otherwise flat flanks.
Interior trim was revised for 2005, freshening the Tahoe with new fabrics and plastics. Unfortunately, the overall look is still that of old-think GM, with hard, unpleasing plastics, dated designs, and significant panel gaps. Still, if plain, rugged function is what you’re after, the outgoing Tahoe is hard to fault, with more storage than most competitors competitor and easy-to-use controls, designed for gloved-hand operation.
With the optional, third-row bench, up to nine people can be seated. This third-row seat also splits 50/50 and folds forward. Without this bench, and with the second-row folded forward, there is a flat load floor and minivan-like cargo space. The rear glass is deeply tinted to help keep everybody in the third row comfortable. Power locks, power windows with driver-side one-touch down, and cruise control are standard. A tri-zone, manual climate control system is standard, while automation of this system is optional. Second-row passengers can enjoy a separate audio source from that of the front-row people, and a rear-passenger DVD entertainment is available. The optional Bose sound system plays through eight speakers. XM satellite radio, also available, provides 120 channels for diverse listening tastes. The sixth-generation OnStar in-vehicle safety and security system boasts improved accuracy in voice recognition.
The Tahoe is equipped with dual-stage front airbags that deploy based on the severity of impact. Front-row side airbags are available. GM’s Passenger Sensing System won’t trigger the front passenger airbag if a child is seated or if the seat is unoccupied, acting as both a safety and repair-cost-reduction measure. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS are standard. The included Hydroboost feature provides brake assist in panic-braking situations. StabiliTrak, GM’s stability control system, is newly standard on all Tahoes.
Looking under the Tahoe’s hood reveals a familiar face: the time-tested Chevy small-block V-8, offered here displacing 4.8 liters for 285 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque V-8, or with longer-stroke cylinders displacing 5.3 liters for 295 horses and 335 lb-ft of torque. The blocks of these overhead-valve engines are cast iron; the cylinder heads are cast aluminum. Although these engines are smooth enough and powerful enough, in terms of refinement, they trail the more technologically advanced V-8 offerings from Nissan and Toyota. Fuel economy, poor to start with, hardly differs between the two engines, though both happily consume regular unleaded fuel. Only one transmission, a four-speed automatic, is offered, and like so many other things with the Tahoe, it’s good enough.
Behind the Wheel
It doesn’t take much time behind the wheel before the Tahoe’s size becomes a non-issue. Its length is actually shorter than that of quite a few minivans. The V-8 engine’s exhaust burbles pleasantly at idle, and serenity prevails inside the vehicle while cruising. One of the Tahoe’s primary missions is to insulate the driver and passengers from all harshness, so the natural consequence is that this isn’t the most highly involving driving experience. In some ways, the Tahoe is the spiritual heir of the “land yachts”–large sedans and wagons–that were so harshly criticized and even reviled during the 1970s and early 1980s. The steering system is highly boosted and isolated, creating a numb connection with the driver. The on-road isolation is made up for by off-pavement ability, as the Tahoe is right at home bouncing over rough terrain. The suspension and loose steering make easy work of harsh conditions, and the truck can be outfitted with the exceptional Z71 package to better tackle dirt-bound adventures. Smoothly conducted gear changes in the automatic transmission are registered only by the change in engine note. With long pedal travel and sponge-like feel, braking doesn’t provide the sensation of bite and modulation that is typical of the more impressive entries in the large SUV field. Directional stability on the highway is great, however, even when towing. The Tahoe faces the challenge of balancing serious workhorse ability and family-minded creature comforts in a vehicle that will most likely serve an as oversized station wagon. Without question, the Tahoe offers all the essential mechanical components, but in most configurations, the resulting package feels soft and less precise than most competitors, ultimately making it seem dated.
For buyers seeking a full-size SUV as a personality statement, the Tahoe is the wrong choice. It just wants to go about its business, which is to effortlessly haul the family boat and lots of kids to the lake or to tow the snowmobiles or ATVs to the trails. The current wave of rebates and low financing rates are persuasive, as is the vehicle’s solid value history. For GM-loyal buyers who can wait, it might be worth holding out for the next-generation Tahoe, expected to reach showrooms in the first half of 2006.
The Chevrolet Tahoe offers room, power, and toughness to those who will exploit its talents.
- What’s HotTouch-screen navigation Available Z71 off-road suspensionStandard stability control What’s Not Lack of second-row airbags Older interior designDrivetrain sophistication showing age
For 2005, Stabilitrak stability control and OnStar become standard offerings, touch-screen navigation is available, and 17-inch aluminum wheels are included on the LT model.
The 5.3-liter/295-horse V-8 achieves nearly the same fuel economy as the smaller engine and acquits itself very well in all situations.