Ann Arbor- If you think huge is a mortal sport-utility sin, move on. But if you still need huge in your SUV, then you'll want to take a closer look at the new Chevrolet Tahoe. We have no quarrel with its size; we only want to know how this new Tahoe does its big-ute job. It's bigger than ever, by five inches in overall length and a bit in height and width. The wheelbase remains the same, but the track is wider by three inches in front and an inch in the rear. Maximum ground clearance improves by about half an inch, and the curb weight of the four-wheel-drive model we tested jumps by a whopping 500 pounds.
The poor suckers bound for the Tahoe's third-row seats will find tighter leg room and a loss of three inches of shoulder clearance. Your big, strong, girl reporter had a tough time flipping the heavy third-row seats up and out of the way. They need power. They need to fold into the floor. Second-row passengers lose about an inch of head room, but they're compensated with a slight easement of legs and shoulders and the luxury of seat heaters. Another notable loss is that of 100 pounds of maximum trailer-towing capability. Error. And while engineers were jacking the Tahoe's weight past 5500 pounds, how is it that seventy more pounds worth of independent rear suspension didn't figure in?
Having said that, this Tahoe works better than it ever did. On a blustery day, there was no buffeting and no wind or road noise. New rack-and-pinion steering dramatically helps on-center feel, and the redesigned brakes no longer bring on that runaway-freight-train feeling on initial deceleration.
Ride and handling are noticeably refined, thanks to coil-over dampers in place of the old front torsion bars and a slightly lower ride height and center of gravity. The carryover V-8 engines have improved power: the 4.8-liter produces 290 hp, and the displacement-on-demand 5.3-liter jumps to 320 hp. Chevy is hoping for EPA ratings that will push both engines over 20 mpg, but we saw a mere 14.5 mpg with our 4x4 5.3-liter test vehicle.
Some Chevy charm has been lost with the new exterior, even though it has been built with evident care. The interior is a home run. The previous vehicle's haphazard olio of clunky knobs and switches gives way to a low, sleek dash fitted with handsome, neatly packaged control sets clustered by function. The look is tailored and upscale, more Cadillac than Chevy. Will it and its seven iterations (from Avalanche to Suburban) sell? Time will tell.
Price: $34,000 (base 5.3L, est.)
Engines: 4.8L V-8, 290 hp, 290 lb-ft; 5.3L V-8, 320 hp, 340 lb-ft
Drive: Rear- or 4-wheel