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Large is still in charge with the Chevy Tahoe

May 26, 2006|by DAN LYONS/Motor Matters

If small is the new big, is large still in charge? It's actually a question that carmakers are wrestling with.

With fuel prices high and holding, many sport-utility vehicle buyers have been migrating from large SUVs to smaller models. For most, it wasn't a trip they took voluntarily. We Americans enjoy the room, power and comfort that bigger vehicles afford. But when affording the monthly gas bill becomes the greater priority, many have decided to downsize and do with less.

Automakers roll with the punches. They're no more privy to future gas prices than you and I are. Besides that, they've got to deal with the ever-changing tastes of their buyers. As a result, they must react to that which they can't predict. So was the case when GM was designing the next-generation full-size SUV several years ago. Those models are here now, and they've hit a hard market. But in many ways, it's the same market that used to exist for large sport-utilities. Then as now, there are a certain percentage of buyers who need a big, do-anything truck. One that on a given day might be asked to taxi a full load of adults, haul a load of cargo, tow a good-sized trailer and go where the roads stop. Maybe all at once.

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The 2007 Chevy Tahoe rolls into this rocky segment with a full head of steam. It's been redesigned with refinements to improve its comfort, versatility and fuel efficiency. Tahoe rides on a new box frame that's said to be 50 percent stiffer than previously. The coil-over-shock front suspension is also new, as is the rack-and-pinion steering.

No big SUV will handle like a small sports car, but the Tahoe feels stable, rides smoothly, and doesn't do the side-to-side shimmy dance that some big trucks do when they encounter bumps. Tahoe is offered in two- and four-wheel drive. A 4x4 vehicle this size is not expected to tackle heavy off-roading. However, my tester was perfectly suited to the tasks that would typically be asked of it: traveling securely over unimproved roads and providing added traction in winter weather.

Stability Control adds an extra layer of security to your travels on- and off-road. Switching between two-wheel drive and four high, low or automatic modes is as easy as twisting a dashboard dial.

The standard, 5.3-liter V-8 offers a smooth power flow over a wide band of engine speeds. A 4x4 Tahoe can be equipped to tow as much as 7,700 pounds. Rated at 320 horsepower and 335 lbs.-ft. of torque, the engine has a displacement-on-demand feature. The motor automatically shifts from eight cylinders to four when driving conditions indicate less demand (for example, when cruising down the highway).

The Tahoe is also a flex fuel vehicle, able to be operated on E85 Ethanol, where available. The new fuel management system bumps the Tahoe's EPA estimated mileage to 15 miles per gallon city and 21 mpg highway; levels which Chevrolet claims are class-leading. I averaged 15 mpg during my test drive. Fuel economy will never be the strong suit of any large SUV. I liken it to football players. If you want the size and power of a lineman, you can't expect to feed him like a punter.

Three trim levels are offered with three equipment groups. My mid-level, LT 4x4 with the "LT2" package and a handful of options had a sticker price of $42,820. Inside, the Tahoe scores points for combining utility with impressive fit and finish. Two-toning, textures and tasteful trim give the cabin an updated, upscale look. The amount of available electronics on board (power fold and tumble second-row seat, navigation system, rearview camera, rear parking assist, heated seats for both rows, DVD rear entertainment system, etc.) is limited only by the depth of your wallet. Seating is on the firm side of comfortable, with adult-size room in the first and second rows.

A third-row seat is optional and suitably sized for kids. With all three rows in place, you've got just 16.9 cubic feet of cargo space at your disposal. That number climbs to 60.3 with two rows of seats, and a healthy 108.9 cubic feet, if you leave only the front row standing.

Chevy sharpened the saw with the new Tahoe to take on a tough market and stiff competition. If your driving needs include things that only a big SUV can provide, Tahoe fits the bill nicely.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2006

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