What's New for 2012
The 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe is pretty much unchanged. The optional navigation system is now hard-drive based, providing quicker responses and digital music storage capability. On the Tahoe LTZ trim, a new heated steering wheel is standard.
Although there's a dwindling market for full-size SUVs, a sizable number of folks continue to appreciate the mix of truck toughness and surprisingly refined practicality in the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe. A smaller sibling to the venerable Chevy Suburban, the Tahoe is based on the same fully boxed-frame architecture as the Silverado pickup but with a more compliant rear suspension. This strategy maintains healthy towing and payload capacities while providing a smoother ride.
The do-anything, go-anywhere capability isn't required every day by most owners, but they're glad the Tahoe is ready when needed. Otherwise, they appreciate the traditional big-SUV advantages such as high-profile seating, excellent visibility and a robust body/frame structure.
The Tahoe is big but relatively athletic for its size, with a strong V8 engine and well-tuned suspension. The few clumsy manners it has on the road are easily overlooked when considering the eight-passenger seating (with potential for nine), 8,000-pound-plus towing capability and respectable off-road prowess when properly equipped. In the era of the crossover, few vehicles offer such a combination.
Within its segment, the 2012 Chevy Tahoe compares well to the Ford Expedition and Toyota Sequoia. The Expedition offers a more practical stow-away third seat but has less towing capacity. The Sequoia is the Tahoe's most serious competitor, with a similar mix of performance and utility. We'll also point out that if pure passenger use is more important than toting and towing, a large crossover SUV such as the Chevy Traverse or Ford Flex could be a more practical choice. These vehicles promise better on-road handling, superior fuel economy and more flexible interior arrangements.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe is available in three trim levels: LS, LT and LTZ. The Tahoe Hybrid is reviewed separately. Eight seats are standard, but there are two optional seating arrangements: second-row captain's chairs drop the count to seven and an available 40/20/40 front bench seat ups it to nine.
The base Tahoe LS comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, tri-zone manual climate control, power front seats, a 60/40-split second-row seat and 50/50-split removable third-row seat. Also standard are Bluetooth, OnStar and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, rear audio controls, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. An optional Convenience package includes power-adjustable pedals, remote ignition, rear parking assist and a rearview camera system.
LT models include most available LS equipment plus foglamps, a locking rear differential, tri-zone automatic climate control, driver memory functions, leather upholstery and a nine-speaker Bose sound system. Among options not available on the LT are second-row captain's chairs and a Luxury package with heated front and second-row seats (with power release), power-folding mirrors and a power rear liftgate. An optional Z71 Off-Road package adds specially tuned springs and shocks, 18-inch alloy wheels with all-terrain tires, skid plates and unique front and rear fascias.
LTZ-trimmed Tahoes include the LT Luxury package content with the captain's chairs as standard equipment and add 20-inch wheels, an upgraded air suspension, perforated leather-trimmed seating with more adjustments, heated and ventilated front seats, power flip-and-fold second-row seats, a hard-drive-based navigation system and a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system with digital-music storage. The second-row split bench seat is still optional. LTZ options include power-retractable assist steps and a blind-spot warning system.
Optional on the LT and LTZ is the Sun, Entertainment and Destinations package, which includes a sunroof and a rear-seat entertainment system. On the LT, it also includes the navigation system.
A Trailering package and a variety of 20- and 22-inch wheels are also optional on the Tahoe.
Powertrains and Performance
All 2012 Chevrolet Tahoes come with a 5.3-liter V8 generating 320 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission transmits power through the rear wheels on 2WD models or all four wheels on 4WD models. The 4WD Tahoe is offered with a choice of either a traditional two-speed transfer case or a single-speed unit without low-range gearing (not available on LTZ).
In Edmunds testing a Tahoe hit 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds -- average for a full-size SUV. EPA-estimated fuel economy is respectable, with 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined. A properly equipped Tahoe can tow up to 8,500 pounds.
Standard safety equipment on the 2012 Chevy Tahoe includes antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and OnStar emergency telematics. Rear parking sensors and a rearview camera are available on every Tahoe, while the Tahoe LTZ can be had with a blind-spot warning system.
In government crash safety tests, the Tahoe earned an overall rating of four stars (out of five), with five stars for overall frontal-impact crash protection and five stars for overall side-impact crash protection. Its three-star rollover rating contributed to its lower overall score. In Edmunds brake testing, a Tahoe came to a stop from 60 mph in 134 feet, an average distance for a vehicle in this class.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Tahoe's cabin features an attractive design supported with high-quality fit and finish, including wood trim on the LTZ model. The control layout is straightforward and the switchgear operation is intuitive. Large front seats provide comfort and support for long drives, though the lack of a telescoping steering wheel might be a drawback for some drivers.
One of the Tahoe's advantages over its competition is the ability to accommodate nine occupants with the LS's available front split bench seat. However, the Tahoe lacks a convenient flat-folding third-row seat. The 50/50 split rear bench seats are heavy, awkward to remove and must be stored elsewhere to open up the cargo area to its full 109 cubic feet of storage capacity. With the third seat in place, there's barely 17 cubic feet of cargo space behind the seat. If maximum passenger space isn't a priority, the Tahoe can be had with bucket seats in the middle row.
Fully loaded with cargo and passengers, the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe weighs more than 3 tons. But the spirited V8 engine provides energetic acceleration, and the suspension is supple enough to yield a compliant and cushioned ride. LTZ buyers get the Autoride suspension that features variable shock damping and air-assisted load-leveling, which is quite useful when towing. The steering isn't particularly responsive in terms of handling, but on the plus side, the Tahoe's tight 39-foot turning circle does make it reasonably maneuverable in town.
While other large crossovers and minivans can seat eight people, the Tahoe's main attraction for a vehicle this size is its towing and off-road ability. Family boats, extra cars and small horse trailers easily fall within the Tahoe's maximum towing capacity when properly equipped. Also, the Z71 package includes upgraded shocks, more aggressive tires, skid plates and an automatic locking rear differential, all of which increase driver confidence in off-highway situations like ski roads, muddy rodeo grounds or campground trails.