What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid gets standard front-seat side airbags, along with a new audio system and hard-drive-based navigation (replaces the old DVD-based unit).
The 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid is an expensive but well-appointed full-size SUV with impressive green credentials, considering its size and capability. It can seat eight and tow up to 6,200 pounds, but still gets an estimated 20 mpg in city driving. That's better fuel economy than a six-cylinder Honda Odyssey, for instance.
Credit for this capability goes to the Tahoe Hybrid's two-mode hybrid powertrain, which combines a 6.0-liter V8 with a pair of electric motors and a specialized transmission. Shoppers with an eye on conserving the earth's resources, yet who still need the size and towing capability of a big SUV, can feel good about choosing the Tahoe Hybrid. This is especially true if you routinely end up in stop-and-go traffic, as the efficiency improvement delivered by its electric components is maximized in such driving conditions.
From a practical standpoint, however, the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid isn't as appealing. Other full-size SUVs can tow more than the Tahoe Hybrid, and there's a gaggle of vehicles -- including minivans and big crossovers -- that provide greater comfort, versatility and agility while returning fuel economy within 2 or 3 mpg of the Tahoe Hybrid. Then there's the issue of price, with the Hybrid starting about $5,000 more than a similarly equipped regular Tahoe. Based on average use, the EPA says you'll only save about $550 per year from reduced costs at the gas pump.
There are clearly alternatives available. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid isn't quite as spacious or brawny as the Tahoe, but it's far cheaper and achieves much better fuel economy. You might consider smaller, diesel-powered, European luxury crossovers like the BMW X5 xDrive35d that have less interior room but offer greater fuel-efficiency and a superior driving experience. And if pulling heavy objects isn't a requirement, you'd be well advised to consider a large crossover like the Chevy Traverse, Dodge Durango or Ford Explorer.
In the end, the Tahoe Hybrid will definitely save fuel compared to other large family haulers, especially in the city. If this is your chief priority while also maintaining maximum utility, then the 2012 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid is really the only show in town. But will you also save money? That seems extremely doubtful.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
An eight-passenger full-size SUV, the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid is available only in a single trim level: 1HY. But it's a fully loaded trim for customers seeking a fusion of utility and luxury.
Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, rear parking sensors, running boards, power-folding heated mirrors (driver-side auto-dimming), remote ignition, cruise control, tri-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable pedals, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated six-way power front seats (manual recline), a 60/40-split-folding second-row seat, 50/50 folding and removable third-row seats, and leather upholstery in the first and second rows (third row vinyl).
Also standard are Bluetooth, OnStar, a hybrid-specific trip computer, a rearview camera, a navigation system, a touchscreen interface, voice controls, real-time traffic and a nine-speaker Bose sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack, an iPod/USB audio interface and rear headphone jacks. A sunroof and a rear-seat entertainment system are the only two options.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid features a 6.0-liter V8. On its own, the V8 is rated at 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque. It's joined by two 60-kilowatt electric motors supplied by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack under the rear seat. GM engineers say that combined output of the gas and electric motors is 379 hp.
The unique transmission houses the electric motors along with three different planetary gearsets and four traditional clutches. It's complex to say the least, but simply put, it maximizes efficiency by adapting itself to current driving conditions. Rear-wheel drive is standard, while four-wheel drive is optional and includes a two-speed transfer case. All Tahoe Hybrids are equipped with a locking rear differential.
In Edmunds performance testing, the Tahoe Hybrid went from zero to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds, which is pretty good for a full-size SUV. EPA-estimated mileage is 20 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined regardless of drivetrain. A properly equipped 2WD Tahoe Hybrid can tow up to 6,200 pounds, while the 4WD model is rated at 5,900 pounds.
The 2012 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, rear parking sensors and OnStar emergency communications.
In government crash testing, the 2012 Tahoe Hybrid earned an overall rating of four stars (out of five), with five stars for both overall frontal crash protection and overall side crash protection. Its three-star rollover rating lowered the Chevy's overall score.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Tahoe Hybrid came to a stop from 60 mph in 132 feet ? an effective stop for a full-size truck.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid's cabin is nearly identical to that found in the regular Tahoe with its no-nonsense but attractive design and solid fit and finish. The one noticeable difference is the gauge cluster with information dedicated to hybrid operation. Additional hybrid-specific info such as power flow and battery condition are displayed on the touchscreen included with the standard navigation system. Controls and switchgear are straightforward and operation is reasonably intuitive, but the buttons and touchscreen itself are on the small side compared to similar systems offered elsewhere.
There's room for eight, but if you regularly fill the cheap seats out back, note that the Chevy Traverse crossover has better third-row accommodations. If you want more cargo space in back of the Tahoe, the 50/50-split third-row seat doesn't fold away. Instead, it requires a lot of grunting and heaving to remove and store it. Once it's out, though, there are 109 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity available, making the Tahoe (along with its GMC Yukon Hybrid and Cadillac Escalade Hybrid cousins) the roomiest hybrids on the market.
The 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid weighs more than a standard Tahoe, and its hybrid-specific electronic automatic transmission is a bit lazy under full power. As a result, acceleration is good but not quite as sharp as you might expect given the advertised horsepower and torque.
On paper, the electric motors can push the Tahoe up to almost 30 mph alone, but in real-world driving the top speed is usually lower. When the gas engine kicks in there can be a slight shudder under some driving conditions, which definitely takes some getting used to. The same applies to the regenerative braking system, which has a delayed response to actual braking force, then grabby deceleration upon engagement. But once you get accustomed to the response you can utilize the regeneration mode to help reduce brake pad wear and increase battery power.
The Tahoe Hybrid does shine on the open highway with its quiet and cushioned ride. Some will feel a slow response from the electric power steering, and the handling is ponderous compared to that of larger crossovers. On the upside, towing capacity for a hybrid is unmatched.