If you choose to drive a full-size SUV nowadays, you may want to opt for the deep-tinted window package. With gas at $4 a gallon, chances are good that folks driving economy cars are going to either point and scowl or point and laugh at your vehicle choice, so being anonymous may lessen the sting.
We understand that some large SUV owners actually use them for their intended purposes — towing big trailers, transporting a gaggle of kids to school in treacherous conditions, moving large items, making a trans-Arctic expedition with their fellow extreme sports mates. But the other 90 percent seem to buy them for reasons that are less clear. Maybe it's many Americans' strange need to supersize everything; in that case, it's something of an automotive gluttony.
Now, with the 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, it's possible to drive one of these beasts without upping the limit on your gas card or risking the scorn of your neighbors. And there are plenty of decals and emblems on this Tahoe to let everyone know that it is indeed a hybrid, furthering your chances of social acceptance.
A two-mode hybrid (meaning it can run on electric power, gas or both combined), the Tahoe Hybrid also features a unique two-mode transmission. When in electric or electric-gas propulsion mode, the abundance of torque output allows it to utilize a two-speed unit that makes for fewer gearchanges and thus more seamless acceleration. When just the gas engine is employed, a more robust, conventional four-speed automatic comes into play. This combination allows the four-wheel-drive Tahoe Hybrid to offer refined, shudder-free performance as well as (in the 4WD version) a low gear for slippery, low-speed conditions. The latter is unique among the few hybrid SUVs on the market.
Of course, the headline story here is fuel-efficiency. A standard Tahoe 1500 4WD with the 5.3-liter V8 earns an EPA fuel economy estimate of 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined, while the 4WD hybrid boasts a 6.0-liter V8 and still manages to achieve 20 mpg city, 20 mpg highway and 20 combined.
Although the Tahoe Hybrid comes packing Chevy's muscular 6.0-liter V8, output in this application is down from 367 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque to 332 hp and 367 lb-ft, as it's tuned to optimize fuel economy. That's still plenty of grunt, and let's not forget it's joined by a pair of 60-kilowatt electric motors. The latter have the ability to propel the Tahoe on their own at low speeds, such as when in stop-and-go traffic; hence the ability of this nearly 6,000-pound SUV to get 20 mpg in the city. The electric motors can join forces with the gas engine when you need to summon up full steam ahead. The V8 also features GM's cylinder deactivation technology, so it runs on just four cylinders while cruising under light throttle loads on the freeway.
In our time with the 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, we found that the hybrid powertrain worked quite well. During our acceleration testing, the Tahoe Hybrid scampered to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds, which is quick for such a big bruiser. Driving conservatively, we averaged nearly 21 mpg in mixed driving, significantly better than the 14.6 mpg our long-term Tahoe 5.3 4WD averaged. That's a nearly 50 percent improvement. Opt for the two-wheel-drive version of the hybrid, and you should do a mile or two per gallon better. The only sacrifice for the greatly improved mileage is towing capacity, which is rated at 6,000 pounds for the hybrid, compared to 8,200 pounds for the standard Tahoe.
When you're talking about a 3-ton, full-size SUV, sharp handling is obviously not going to be part of the conversation. The Tahoe Hybrid's suspension is softly tuned for ride comfort. This is nice around town and on the highway, but body roll is noticeable on tighter turns, making the Tahoe Hybrid feel ponderous when pushed. The steering is precise but a bit slow and too light for such a big vehicle — more heft in the wheel would be appropriate for such a hefty rig, if only to remind the driver of the mass at hand. With a 134-foot stopping distance from 60 mph, braking performance is good; the pedal feel is somewhat spongy but progressive.
Though there's a low-range gear for the 4WD system, we can't imagine it being used much. The hybrid has a low-slung, aerodynamics-improving front airdam that a Lamborghini would envy, and it barely clears parking blocks. Off-roading on anything more rugged than a fire road is pretty much out of the question.
In an effort to keep weight down (!), the Tahoe Hybrid's front seats are thinner than the standard Tahoe's. We found them to be not as comfortable as the regular Tahoe seats due to a rather flat bottom cushion, though this becomes apparent only on longer road trips. Some longer-legged staffers took issue with the lack of a telescoping feature for the steering wheel and felt that this or the power pedal adjustment should at least be optional in this otherwise loaded ute. A large padded console top and plenty of storage cubbies make the Tahoe Hybrid a user-friendly ride for commuting and road trips.
Oddly, the second-row seats are more comfortable than the fronts, thanks to a more supportive bottom cushion. The third-row seat can seat three, though they'd best be skinny kids. Two kids will fare better. The seats are well-padded, and there are cubbies back there for their juice boxes and electronic toys.
On the open highway, the Tahoe is in its element, effortlessly wafting down the road with wind and road noise well-muted. All the better for the kiddies to enjoy the optional rear-seat entertainment system.
The Tahoe's gauges are easily read, and both the climate and audio controls are intuitive. GM has one of the best navigation systems around, thanks to a simple interface that makes it a snap to enter a destination. The nav screen does triple duty, as it can show an energy flow diagram (that oddly lacks battery-pack status) and serves as a monitor for the back-up camera. Once you get used to the funky icons, the trip computer can show you everything from average fuel economy to the pressure in individual tires.
Our biggest beef with the 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid (or any Tahoe, for that matter) concerns the third-row seats. Because of the Tahoe's traditional solid rear axle suspension design, Chevy wasn't able to design the seats so that they could fold flat into the floor. As such, you have to pull them out of the truck if you want maximum cargo space. They weigh 60 pounds each, so you may want to renew your gym membership if removing these seats is going to be a common task. Once they're out, and with the second row folded, there are 108.9 cubic feet of cargo space available.
Design/Fit and Finish
With Chevy's now-signature horizontally split grille and downward-angled headlights, the Tahoe Hybrid looks appropriately tough and handsome at the same time. The clean profile is somewhat marred by the large, hokey "Hybrid" decal that runs the length of the rocker panel.
Inside the cabin, the Tahoe Hybrid is trimmed in Chevy's finest. In this case, that means LTZ-trim-level furnishings. The dash and center stack are especially elegant, with the convincing wood tone and metallic accents giving it the ambiance of a Cadillac. Though hard plastic tops the dash, the grain patterns all match, build quality is tight and most touch points, such as the door armrests and inserts, are covered in soft-touch material.
Who should consider this vehicle
For those folks who must have a traditional truck-based SUV, the 2008 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid is a best-case scenario, provided they can handle the $50-grand-plus price tag. There's something eerily satisfying about getting 21 mpg while driving a big and powerful SUV.
But if it were our $53 grand, we'd get a base (but still well-equipped) Saturn Outlook (the least expensive of GM's superb full-size crossover SUV triplets) and spend the other $22,000 on a Prius. Then, if we split our driving between those two equally, we'd be averaging 32 mpg.
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