What's New for 2009
For 2009, the Chevrolet Tahoe receives a few mechanical and feature-related changes. Almost all Tahoes are now equipped with a new six-speed automatic transmission that promises improved fuel efficiency. There's a new optional engine, too, a 6.2-liter V8 with 395 horsepower. Feature updates include a standard third-row seat for all models, real-time traffic information for the navigation systems and an enhanced version of OnStar. New Tahoe features this year include an integrated brake controller, Bluetooth connectivity, heated and cooled front seats and a blind-spot alert system.
Though hybrids and small cars are media darlings right now, there are still plenty of Americans who need a vehicle with large passenger-hauling and trailer-towing capabilities. In cases like this, only a traditional full-size SUV will do. And for the past few years, Chevrolet's Tahoe has been a very popular choice to fill this role.
Of course, with gas at around $4 a gallon, there's a reason everyone's fretting about fuel economy these days. Yet there are some large SUVs that tread more lightly than others when it comes to fuel mileage. The Tahoe fares decently in this regard, especially for 2009. A new six-speed automatic transmission is fitted to just about every Tahoe, making it slightly more fuel-efficient on the highway by lowering rpm.
There are a few other notable changes this year as well. For the first time since the current-generation Tahoe debuted for 2007, a larger engine is available. It's a 6.2-liter V8 and very similar to the one you'll find in the Tahoe's upscale siblings, the Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon Denali. In the Chevy, it makes 395 horsepower and boosts both acceleration and towing capacity.
The Tahoe's brawny truck-based underpinnings give it the sort of ruggedness that's a natural fit for recreational use. Yet it would be remiss to review the Tahoe without mentioning the Ford Expedition and Toyota Sequoia, its two most worthy rivals in the full-size-SUV dust-up. The Tahoe trailed the Expedition in our most recent comparison test. Each offers unique strengths; the Chevy's cabin is more inviting, but the Expedition's fold-flat third-row seat gives it the edge when it comes to convenience. The Sequoia is equally impressive due to its refined nature. In the end, though, all three vehicles are quite competent and worthy of a recommendation.
However, before parking a Tahoe in your garage, it's worth asking yourself if you really need a full-size SUV to begin with. If your main interest is passenger and cargo space, there are large crossover SUVs -- such as the GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook and Mazda CX-9 -- that will get the job done in a more fuel-efficient manner. However, if you need an SUV that can tow huge loads and barrel confidently off the paved path, the 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe shines as an excellent choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe is a full-size SUV that's available in four trim levels -- base LS, midlevel LT1 and LT2 and upscale LTZ. The LS should please most folks, as it comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, a 40/20/40-split bench front seat with built-in storage compartments, OnStar telematics, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, full power accessories, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, dual-zone climate control, an MP3-capable CD player with an auxiliary audio input, a 50/50-split bench third-row seat and a trip computer.
Additional standard equipment on the LT1 includes foglamps, front bucket seats and a turn-by-turn navigation feature for the OnStar system. The LT2 trim adds a six-disc CD changer, power-adjustable pedals, remote vehicle start, tri-zone automatic climate control and rear park assist. Stepping up to the LTZ trim adds premium leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats (with eight-way driver adjustment) and a Bose audio system. The top-dog LTZ trim also features 20-inch alloy wheels, heated second-row seats, a locking rear differential, a power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, second-row bucket seats and GM's Autoride air suspension.
Major stand-alone options for the Chevrolet Tahoe include a navigation system with real-time traffic updates, a rearview camera and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. LTZ Tahoes offer an optional Side Blind Zone Alert system that uses radar to detect vehicles in the SUV's blind spot. This year's tow package also includes a trailer brake controller.
For buyers who plan to drive their Tahoe off-road on a regular basis, Chevrolet offers an off-road suspension package with differently tuned springs and shock absorbers, 18-inch all-terrain tires, a heavy-duty locking rear differential, a high-capacity air cleaner and front tow hooks.
Powertrains and Performance
A trio of V8s sees duty in the Tahoe, and two transmissions are offered. One may also choose between two-wheel drive (2WD), which sends power to the rear wheels, and four-wheel drive (4WD). The 2WD Tahoe LS comes standard with a 4.8-liter V8 with 295 hp and 305 pound-feet of torque; a 5.3-liter V8 good for 320 hp and 340 lb-ft of torque is optional. All other Chevy Tahoes come standard with the 5.3-liter V8. A 6.2-liter V8 that boasts 395 hp and 417 lb-ft of torque is optional on LTZ models. The 4.8-liter V8 is paired with a four-speed automatic transmission, while the other two engines are mated to a six-speed automatic.
Fitted with the 5.3, a 4WD Tahoe posts EPA fuel economy estimates of 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 16 combined, figures that are above average for the traditional full-size SUV segment. Properly equipped, a 4WD Tahoe can tow up to 8,200 pounds.
Standard safety features for all Tahoes include full-length side curtain airbags, antilock disc brakes and stability control. In government crash testing, the 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe garnered a perfect five stars in both frontal- and side-impact evaluations.
Interior Design and Special Features
Thankfully, the current Tahoe raises the disappointingly low bar set by past Chevy SUVs when it comes to interior aesthetics. Slide inside the cabin and you'll find attractive materials and outstanding build quality. The Tahoe's controls are intuitively laid out, and even the navigation system is a snap to operate. It's also able to transport up to nine passengers, so it's at the top of its class when it comes to seating capacity.
The Tahoe offers 109 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity, besting that of rivals like the Dodge Durango and more or less equaling that of the Ford Expedition. One notable shortcoming concerns the Tahoe's standard third-row seats. These seats must be removed manually, and their hefty weight makes the process laborious.
For a 5,500-pound SUV, the Tahoe does pretty well when it comes to acceleration. Even 4WD models with the 5.3-liter V8 are able to get from zero to 60 mph in an impressive 8.6 seconds. Load it up with passengers and cargo, though, and the Tahoe's pudgy curb weight becomes more of a liability. Braking is about average for this porcine segment.
Those who favor a soft, forgiving ride will appreciate the 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe, but the downside of that cushy comfort is steering and handling that feels somewhat rubbery. The Tahoe may feel less than agile around corners, but its tight turning circle -- measuring just 39 feet -- makes it relatively easy to pilot in the city.