Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing
Quick Summary: The case for the 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe boils down to how you answer two questions. Will you tow between 5,000 and 8,000 pounds? Do you need true four-wheel drive and a bit more underbody clearance to deal with unimproved roads instead of the typical lower-slung crossover's all-wheel drive?
A "yes" answer to either question should land the 2015 Chevy Tahoe on your shopping list. But if you answered "no" on both counts you'd be better off with something along the lines of the Chevrolet Traverse, which offers a more spacious third row and greater cargo-carrying volume in an easier driving package that costs less.
What Is It?
The 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe is the first year of the all-new fourth generation of this popular full-size SUV, replacing the third-generation model that was produced between 2006 and 2014.
What Has Changed?
Its distinctive new sheet metal defines a reshaped body that is 2.5 inches lower, 1.5 inches wider and 2 inches longer than last year. No exterior panels are shared with the 2014 Chevy Silverado pickup, which shares its chassis and engines with the Tahoe.
Underneath, the basic construction mimics that of years past. A separate body is bolted to a truck-style ladder frame, and the combination rides on the same sort of suspension as before: independent double wishbones up front and a solid axle out back. Numerous tweaks have been applied to improve quietness, comfort and stability, and for the first time the top-level LTZ comes with Magnetic Ride Control computer-controlled shocks.
Power comes from the same "Ecotec3" 5.3-liter V8 first seen in the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado. In the Tahoe this new engine churns out 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque, some 35 extra horses and 48 additional lb-ft of torque compared to last year. Shifting chores are handled by a sturdy six-speed automatic transmission.
Inside, the cabin has been completely restyled and upgraded to support the sorts of personal electronic devices people bring into their vehicles. And the 2015 Tahoe's third-row seats now fold flat into the floor, a welcome change that addresses a long-standing complaint. But the execution suffers from Chevrolet's decision to stick with a solid rear axle instead of adopting an independent rear suspension, a move that would have opened up additional room for third-row passengers or cargo.
How Many Trim Levels Are There?
As before, the 2015 Chevy Tahoe comes in three flavors: LS, LT and the LTZ. Each of these is offered in rear-wheel-drive or part-time four-wheel-drive configurations, with the 4x4 versions costing precisely $3,000 more than their rear-drive counterparts.
The 4x4 system is slightly different this year, in that you won't get a low-range transfer case on any grade including the LTZ unless you spend $500 more and buy the Maximum Trailering package. You'll get off-road-friendly 3.42 axle ratios in the bargain, though.
And then there's the roomier Chevrolet Suburban, the long-wheelbase version of the Tahoe that's more or less the same except for 20.4 inches of additional length, 14 inches of additional wheelbase and about 230 pounds of extra weight. Curiously, even though it's larger and has more cargo volume, the payload and towing capacities of a 2015 Suburban (as measured in pounds) trail behind those of a Tahoe precisely because of that extra curb weight.
Our 4x4 Tahoe test sample has the top-level LTZ trim that comes loaded up with a host of standard luxury, convenience and safety features. Relative to last year, the 2015 LTZ 4x4's base price has risen by some $4,000 to stand at $62,995. Options such as the Sun, Entertainment, Destination package ($3,255 minus $500 discount — sunroof, navigation, Chevrolet MyLink 8-inch touchscreen audio and rear-seat entertainment); Maximum Trailering package ($500 — 3.42 axle ratio, trailer brake controller, low-range transfer case); and Theft Deterrent package ($395) pushed the as-tested price up to $66,645.
How Does It Drive?
Crossover SUVs have become increasingly popular because their car-based underpinnings make them inherently lighter and easier to handle. It's no surprise, then, that the truck-based Tahoe retains truck driving traits that feel dated. Our scales tell us our LTZ 4x4 weighs a substantial 5,689 pounds, and it feels every bit of that. The last Traverse we drove weighed 4,956 pounds.
The reduction in overall height and the wider suspension footprint does a respectable job of imparting a stable feel and muting the sensation of roll. But the Tahoe doesn't like to be rushed, especially on winding roads. And even though the new electric power steering has the right level of response and effort, the sensation of two-way communication between road and driver isn't here; Chevy's own Silverado pickup does this better.
The healthy 5.3-liter V8 engine comes across as lethargic because the throttle pedal feels curiously heavy. Push through with a more leaden foot and the Tahoe 4x4 moves out smartly, as evidenced by our 7.3-second 0-60 run at the test track (6.9 seconds with a foot of rollout as on a drag strip).
It's much the same with the brakes. They hauled our Tahoe back to rest from 60 mph in just 126 feet at the track: an admirable panic-stop showing for something this big. But around-town routine stops don't leave us brimming with confidence because the initial press of the pedal doesn't provoke as much response as expected.
What About Ride Comfort?
More than anything, it seems, GM engineers have a put a lot of work into making the new Tahoe quiet. New tight-fitting triple-sealed doors and revised cab-to-frame mounts are just two of many design elements they fussed over.
Their efforts have paid off. Precious little road noise makes its way into our Tahoe's cab from below, even on coarse surfaces. The Ecotec3 V8 goes about its business quietly in the background, and they have pretty much eliminated the semi-flatulent drone that used to herald the switch to the fuel-saving four-cylinder mode in past years.
Actual ride comfort is a mixed bag. On the one hand the 2015 Tahoe LTZ is neither too stiff on the rough stuff, nor too soft over queasy terrain. But the heavy solid-axle rear suspension isn't adept at filtering out low-grade pitter-patter and jostling on patched asphalt and lowest-bidder lanes that look smooth, but aren't. Competing full-size SUVs with independent rear suspension have an edge here.
And you'll want to think long and hard before checking the box for the 22-inch wheel and tire option. Compared to our 20-inch rolling stock, the larger $2,995 specials represent more moving mass for the shocks to control and less tire sidewall to absorb impacts. We tried them briefly on another test vehicle and didn't like the deterioration in ride quality.
What Is the New Interior Like?
There's a lot more style this time around and last year's myriad tiny buttons have been replaced with attractive and easy-to-use controls that are more spread out and logically placed. Our LTZ's MyLink touchscreen audio and navigation system sits seamlessly integrated at center stage.
Front row occupants enjoy abundant headroom and legroom while they sit perched on their comfy buckets. The overall vibe is a spacious one, but some of our taller drivers discovered that the wide center console armrest takes a bite out of elbow room while they're working the wheel.
As we saw with last year's 2014 Silverado pickup, the 2015 Tahoe's central door post has been shifted forward about 2 inches. Front seat occupants won't notice their shorter doors, but those in back will greatly appreciate the extra clearance when clambering in and out of the spacious rear seats.
In our LTZ, those middle-row seats tumble forward at the touch of a button for ridiculously easy third-row access. But the solid axle rear suspension distorts the shape of the floor back there, resulting in a paltry 24.8 inches of third-row legroom, a full 10-12 inches less than the Ford Expedition and Toyota Sequoia.
What About Cargo and Towing?
New for 2015 is fold-flat third-row seating. One no longer needs to unlatch the seats from the floor and tote them into the garage when maximum cargo space is needed. And our LTZ's push-button power-fold mechanism requires even less effort. What's more, the folded third row matches up with the folded second row to make a flat-floor cargo bay, front to back.
Thing is, the folded third-row seats are nearly as bulky and high-perched as they ever were because of the intruding rear suspension. GM made them fold flat into the floor by more or less raising the floor to match. Because of this, the liftover height at the rear edge of the load deck is now 37 inches, some 5.3 inches taller than last year.
This higher load floor results in a loss of cargo volume. With those third-row seats folded there are now 51.6 cubic feet instead of 60.3 cubic feet, a loss of 14 percent. Maximum volume with all seats folded drops from 108.9 cubic feet to 94.7 cubic feet. Chevy's own Traverse crossover offers far more room with 70.3 and 116.3 cubic feet, respectively.
Towing, however, is where the Traverse can't keep up. Our 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe 4x4 is rated to tow 8,300 pounds thanks to the optional Maximum Trailering package, which includes a 3.42 axle ratio and built-in electric trailer brake controller.
But there is an asterisk. Chevrolet has refused to apply the new standardized SAE tow rating procedure to the 2015 Tahoe, which means the difference between this and the 7,100-pound tow rating of the Toyota Sequoia (which does follow the SAE guidelines) is not as big or significant as it appears.
How Safe Is It?
Independent crash tests have not yet been performed on the 2015 Tahoe, but there's no reason to expect any surprises. Last year's Tahoe earned five stars in NHTSA front and side-impact tests and three stars in rollover resistance.
The airbag count increases by one with the addition of a new side airbag on the inboard side of the driver seat. Carryover airbags include the familiar dual front airbags, outboard side airbags for the front seats and head side curtain airbags with rollover detection that cover all three rows.
Certain standard preventive safety features from last year continue, including electronic stability control, traction control, antilock brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system. A back-up camera and rear park-assist sensors are standard fare.
Since our Tahoe is a top-of-the-line LTZ, it has several new safety features. It begins modestly with forward park-assist sensors. Last year's blind-spot monitoring system returns, but this version can catch fast-approaching vehicles from farther back because of additional sensors that make up the new cross-traffic alert system. And there are forward collision and lane departure warning systems, both of which are tied into a vibrating safety alert driver seat in addition to the usual warning chimes and winking lights.
These systems are limited to warnings only, however. None of them intervenes should the driver fail to act.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
All versions of the 2015 Tahoe 4x4 come with the 5.3-liter Ecotec3 V8 and six-speed transmission, so it's no surprise they all share an EPA rating of 18 mpg combined (16 city/22 highway). All three figures are 1 mpg better than last year.
But we couldn't match them over 1,600 miles of test driving. Our overall average was 16.3 mpg, with a best tank of 19.5 mpg on our standardized test loop.
Why did we fall short? The most likely answer is the presence of the optional Maximum Trailering package, which swaps out the standard 3.08 axle gearing and replaces it with a 3.42 ratio that makes the engine run at higher rpm.
Thing is, our observed fuel economy still exceeds the rated fuel economy of the Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada and Toyota Sequoia.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The Chevrolet Tahoe's biggest competitor may just be the GMC Yukon, which is more or less the same vehicle in GMC guise. And of course there are the Chevy Suburban and Yukon XL long-wheelbase versions for those who see the Tahoe and Yukon as too small.
Outside the GM family, the most obvious cross-town rival is the Ford Expedition. Its independent rear suspension gives it the triple benefits of a smoother ride on rough roads, a significant increase in third-row legroom and more cargo room. It's also rated to tow several hundred pounds more. Fuel economy lags behind for now, but the upcoming 2015 version (appearing in fall 2014) should edge closer because it'll have Ford's EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 engine.
The Toyota Sequoia is worth looking at because it also benefits from an independent rear suspension in terms of ride comfort, third-row space and cargo capacity, the latter being the most generous in the entire class by a good margin. The Sequoia's V8 is more powerful than the others, too. On the other hand, fuel economy is rated lower because the axle ratio necessary to support the maximum tow rating is standard equipment, not optional.
Why Should You Consider This SUV
The 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe 4x4 remains a viable choice for those who want their large SUV to have certain truck attributes. Chief among these are towing capacity in the 5,000-to-8,000-pound range, a high ground clearance and low-range gearing for off-road situations. And its fuel economy compares favorably to that of other truck-based SUVs. Add the stylish and functional interior to the plus side of the ledger, too.
Why Should You Think Twice About This SUV
The 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe doesn't hold as much cargo as its competition, it doesn't ride as smoothly on certain surfaces and its third-row seat remains a kids-only proposition. If you need the space but don't tow much and won't wander off the pavement very far, you'll be better served by one of the larger crossovers out there such as GM's own Chevy Traverse or the GMC Acadia.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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