One of America's most popular SUVs gets a complete makeover
For you "red state" residents there's good news about the all-new 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe: It's bigger, bolder, more efficient, more luxurious, and more capable than ever! It's a confident expression of all that's right with America and the best full-size SUV ever built. No wonder the rest of the world really wants to live here.
For "blue state" dwellers here's the bad news on the same subject: GM is still addicted to full-size SUVs! Despite marginal improvements in efficiency, the new Tahoe is an indulgent, thirsty, oversized monster that threatens smaller vehicles while exacerbating America's dependence on imported oil and hastening global warming. So what if it's the best full-size SUV ever built? It's also why the rest of the world hates us.
For good or ill, this third-generation Tahoe is being born into a different America — or two different Americas — than the one the first-generation Tahoe entered in 1995. An America where, as this is written, unleaded regular sells for an average of $2.19 a gallon, car-based crossover SUVs have won buyers, and gas-electric hybrids carry a lot of prestige among a lot of high-income buyers.
However, the full-size SUV market is still thickly profitable, and GM had to change to stay in the game. All large-SUV sales have been hammered recently, but the aging second-generation Tahoe and its brother GM products have been among the worst hit.
This past November Chevy sold just 7,850 Tahoes — down nearly 20 percent from November 2004. Meanwhile, sales of the larger Suburban were off 43.6 percent, and open-bed Avalanche deliveries dove 31 percent. And that's despite incentive packages that have dealers knocking $9,000 or more off suggested retail prices.
"We're realistic, and we don't expect the segment to grow," GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told The Detroit News. "But there are people who want and need the capabilities of a full-size SUV."
The blue state hard-core is never going to embrace the new Tahoe. But the red state diehards will love it. At least those who can afford it. The sticker price of our loaded Tahoe LT test vehicle — which had such optional luxuries as a power liftgate, a DVD entertainment system and a rearview camera — was $48,639.
The Tahoe on sale this month is the first of 12 products — including the various versions of the Chevrolet Suburban and Avalanche, Cadillac Escalade, and GMC Yukon — that GM will introduce this year based on the new T-900 architecture. It's better not because of any startling innovations, but because this time GM finally got the details right.
In general specification, the incoming Tahoe isn't much different from the outgoing one. It still rides on a ladder frame; the rear suspension is still a solid axle on coil springs; the front suspension is still upper and lower control arms; and there's still a 5.3-liter V8 in its nose feeding a four-speed automatic transmission.
Initially available only as a 4x4 (two-wheel-drive versions will come later this year), the new Tahoe is slightly bigger than the old one. The wheelbase carries over at 116 inches but overall length stretches from 196.9 inches to 202. Height is up from 76.7 to 77 inches and width has expanded from 78.9 inches to 79. But it looks more massive than that thanks to featureless flanks and a tall, blunt nose.
The chassis' evolution is subtle, but significant. The front torsion bars have been ditched in favor of suppler coil springs, recirculating ball steering gives way to a more precise (if no more communicative) rack and pinion system, and the ABS-controlled four-wheel disc brakes are upsized.
GM may have passed on an independent rear suspension (the market has been ho-hum about the IRS under Ford's Expedition and Lincoln Navigator), but this solid axle is well located with five links, and the ride is quiet and secure thanks to the unobtrusive standard StabiliTrak stability control. And the midline Tahoe LT's P265/70R17 Goodyear Wrangler HP tires are quiet and grippy (Tahoes also come in LS stripper and over-the-top LTZ models).
Is the handling sporty? No. This truck's reflexes are muted. But the turning circle is a tight 39 feet, so it's maneuverable, and aimed for the horizon on an interstate, there aren't many better cruisers. Even when the blind-to-reality navigation system recommended a shortcut across Santa Barbara County's unmaintained and rock-strewn Refugio Canyon Road, the Tahoe never lost its composure.
More powerful, more efficient
While the displacement hasn't changed, the engine certainly has. GM proclaims it as a new "Gen IV" version of the small-block V8. There's still a single camshaft in the redesigned cast-iron block bumping pushrods actuating two valves per combustion chamber in aluminum cylinder heads.
But the compression ratio has risen from 9.5-to-1 to 9.9-to-1, and combined with a new 32-bit engine control computer and more powerful ignition, that has knocked output up from 295 to 320 horsepower while adding GM's "Active Fuel Management" cylinder deactivation technology (formerly called "Displacement on Demand"). A similarly upgraded 290-hp, 4.8-liter version of the small-block V8 will come on two-wheel-drive Tahoes.
The Active Fuel Management system's operation is impossible to detect, the engine and transmission feel perfectly matched to one another, and GM claims best-in-class EPA-rated fuel economy of 15 mpg in the city and 21 on the highway. And the truck is decently quick humping to 60 mph in just 8.6 seconds. But indulging that power will quickly sink mileage down into single digits. There are only so many ways to trick physics — this is a nearly 5,600-pound truck with a big V8.
Best. Fake. Wood. Ever.
After decades of lackluster GM interiors, the new Tahoe's is astonishing. The dashboard looks like it was lifted out of a 1998 BMW 740iL (a great dash), scaled up 10 percent, and shoved into this truck. The switchgear operates elegantly and the materials feel high-quality. It's hard to imagine better-looking real wood than the faux burl forest inside this truck.
For the first time, the Tahoe's inside door handles are high on the door where humans can reach them. The seat anchors have moved from the seats to the B-pillar where they can be adjusted to something approaching comfort. The new seats are well shaped and the plastic surfaces are well grained.
There aren't auto-up functions on the power window switches to go with the auto-down, and side-source sunlight can wipe out visibility of the center-mounted navigation and entertainment system monitor. But it's hard to find fault with where the first two rows of passengers sit.
And yet, the Tahoe lacks the disappearing third-row rear seat many of its competitors feature. And when the Tahoe's third-row seats are removed, they leave behind raised plastic mounts that prevent laying cargo flat against the floor. For such an otherwise well-executed interior, this is a misstep.
Form, function and towing
The eight-seat 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe doesn't have a big, practical advantage over crossovers like the eight-passenger Honda Pilot. Except, of course, for towing. Rated to haul 7,700 pounds behind it, the Tahoe can lug more than twice what the Pilot can and that's a bedrock virtue in red states where boats, campers and car carriers are part of the American dream.
Bob Lutz is right, there isn't much growth left in the full-size SUV market as people who have been buying them as minivan substitutes move over to crossovers or even — ACK! — minivans. And in some blue states the stigma such vehicles now carry may be a load many buyers would rather not bear.
But if you need this, this is as good as this gets.
Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot says:
I've always wanted to make a movie. No, not like you're thinking. My movie would be of soccer moms parking their full-size SUVs in spaces sized for compact cars. It would be a comedy. You know what I'm talking about — the back and forth routine of gear mashing and wheel sawing that inevitably results in door dings for vehicles on either side of the truck once it finally comes to rest. Now that would be funny.
Or at least it would have been funny. Chevy's new-for-2007 Tahoe is foiling my plans. The new Tahoe is quieter, slicker, more fuel-efficient and more convenient. Specifically, it's fraught with technologies that make it easier for soccer moms to go about their daily duties, parking included.
Changes that will be most obvious to soccer moms happened inside. The switchgear I've become accustomed to in GM vehicles, which looked like it was made by Fisher-Price, has been replaced with flush-fitting, attractive controls for the radio and ventilation. Interior materials are better-looking as well.
Since reversing an SUV is a consistent pain in the ass, Chevy has made that easier with an optional rearview camera and ultrasonic parking assist. Bolstering parking lot bliss even further is a revised steering ratio for the hydraulic power-assisted rack and pinion steering. Even the rear hatch has an automatic closure.
Chevy knows soccer moms make all the decisions these days. Catering to these ladies of suburbia has kept the Tahoe atop the sales list of full-size SUVs since 2001. Doesn't look like that's going to change anytime soon. So much for my movie.
Road Test Editor Brian Moody says:
The 2007 Chevy Tahoe is a giant leap forward for a truck I've only recently admitted was a little outdated. The new interior is very very nice. I'd go as far as to say it equals or tops the interior of the current Cadillac Escalade.
One feature I especially found thoughtful is in the navigation system. I've found that the "points of interest" feature on many nav systems to be very helpful. You can use it to find ATMs or gas stations or whatever, but it's always a pain in the bottom to turn on and off, frequently requiring several layers of menus and submenus. Not so in the new Tahoe. There's a simple "POI" button on the map screen, and pressing it brings up the list of categories. This may seem small but it makes a huge difference in terms of driver distraction.
I also like driving the new Tahoe, but it feels heavier and bulkier than the previous version, which I remember as having a tighter feel to the suspension. The steering is also too quick for me — it borders on jumpy or nervous.
But overall, the new Tahoe is a huge and needed improvement over the previous version. It might not be as revolutionary as the 2000 Chevy Tahoe was — this new version is more of an evolution — but it will help keep Chevrolet competitive in a segment the company virtually created with the Suburban.
System Score: 9.0
Components: The nine-speaker Bose system is standard on our LTZ; it comes with a single CD player that can read MP3 CD and DVD-A discs. A radio with an in-dash six-CD changer is available on LS and LT-1 models. A Dual Play radio is optional and provides two separate, single-disc player slots for playing CD audio and the DVD video for the rear-seat entertainment system. There's also a mini-jack input for playing portable MP3 devices.
The new Tahoe also offers a choice of two touchscreen DVD-based navigation radios on LT2, LT3 and LTZ models. Ours was equipped with a rear-seat entertainment package and a head unit that has two DVD slots; one for a map disc and the other for rear-seat entertainment.
Performance: Like the Tahoe itself, the audio system is a big step forward over the previous version. The Bose speakers sound great and the controls are user-friendly with only a few exceptions.
Our Tahoe was equipped with a navigation system and the audio controls work in concert with its 6.5-inch touchscreen. The touchscreen allows for some innovative features and is part of the reason this system earns such a high score. Like Audi's Multi Media Interface, this Tahoe system allows the driver to customize a favorites list without regard for AM, FM or XM radio. All can coexist on one list that shows up horizontally at the bottom of the screen when pressing the "FAV" button. We also like the dedicated page for tone adjustments and the fact that it doesn't "time out" or go away automatically. Our only gripe here is that the touchscreen buttons are rather small and won't work by simply holding your finger on them — you must repeatedly press the bass or treble button to adjust it.
Another thoughtful feature is that the system lets you add or delete XM radio categories from a simple, easy-to-access list. If you know for certain that you will never listen to the category "Country" or "Urban," just delete it from the categories list and you won't have to scroll through it on your way to "Sports" or "Rock."
Aside from all this the stereo sounds very good. The bass is nice and deep but sharp at the same time. Midrange and highs can get a little overwhelming but with proper adjustment they round out the sound and add detail even to pop music.
Although this isn't a surround-sound system, the Tahoe's expansive cabin gives music a big space to fill and the sound seems to envelop the occupants. Separation is also very good with different instruments distinguishable from one another.
Best Feature: Innovative features and ease of use.
Worst Feature: Some touchscreen buttons are a little small.
Conclusion: This is a stereo we'd expect to find in an Escalade not a Chevy Tahoe. The controls have a quality feel and, despite many touchscreen choices, everything makes sense and is easy to understand. Oh, and it sounds great, too. — Brian Moody