• Feb 5th 2009 at 12:00PM
  • 63
2009 Chevy Tahoe LTZ 6.2L 4x4 – Click above for high-res image gallery

For a long time, gas prices in the United States were literally cheaper than dirt. Seriousl – check out the price of a bag of top soil at your local home improvement store. With such low fuel prices, the cost of operating a motor vehicle was really not much of an issue for most Americans. As a result, the only cost that concerned Americans when buying a vehicle was the monthly payment. People bought what ever they could afford on a monthly basis, not at the pump.

The result was the rise of the personal use truck, and in particular, the sport utility vehicle. It started slowly in the 1980s with the Jeep Cherokee and really picked up steam with the launch of the Ford Explorer. As the Nineties wore on, people moved into even bigger full-size SUVs and the Chevy Tahoe was among the most successful up until the last few years. That's when sales hit a brick wall as gas prices finally started to climb.

We recently got to spend some quality time with a 2009 Chevy Tahoe LTZ and its big 6.2-lliter V8. Follow the jump to see if this behemoth still has what it takes to charm consumers now that gas prices have ebbed.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

2008 was a horrible time to be in the business of making big trucks, with every brand getting hammered hard first as gas prices went to $4 per gallon and then during the financial collapse in the Fall. Sales of the Tahoe dropped by more than 37 percent last year to just 91,578 units. Even at that level, the Tahoe was still the best-selling full-size SUV in America by a wide margin. Among those were several thousand hybrid models as they became widely available for the first time.

For this visit to the Autoblog Garage however, General Motors sent over a loaded LTZ model with a 6.2-liter V8 cranking out 395 horsepower at a surprisingly lofty 5,600 rpm and 417 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 rpm. General Motors likes to advertise that it offers more models that achieve over 30 miles-per-gallon on the highway than any other automaker, but with all of that power on tap, this Tahoe is understandably not one of them.

At a distance, the Tahoe's styling belies its dimensions. Its overall proportions with its short overhangs and tidy detailing give a handsome impression. Compared to the now euthanized Trailblazer EXT, the Tahoe doesn't look as top-heavy and clumsy. At the front, there's no doubt that this is a contemporary Chevrolet thanks to the dual port grille. Unlike the hybrid, this one doesn't have the deep front air dam and at least looks like it could handle crawling over some boulders without getting into too much trouble.

As you walk up close, it becomes immediately apparent just how big the Tahoe is. At 16.8 feet long and 6.4 feet tall, the Tahoe towers over its little brother, the Aveo. For those who like the whole command seating approach where you can see over traffic, at least the traffic that isn't driving a Tahoe or something similar, this thing fits the bill. The test unit we drove also had optional 20-inch chromed wheels that fill out the wheel wells. Given the step up into the Tahoe, the standard running boards also come in handy for entry/exit.

The first two rows of seats in the high-zoot LTZ version are clad in tan-colored leather, and the seats themselves have heating and cooling circuits. During our time with the Tahoe, overnight temperatures here in southeast Michigan dipped low into the single digits. Fortunately, the Tahoe was equipped with a remote starter on the key fob allowing the SUV to be started from the comfort of the author's home. One particularly handy feature given the frigid morning weather was that the remote start also triggered the seat heaters, preventing a frozen bottom upon hitting the cold leather.

The second row captains chairs are also heated and flip forward to allow access to the third row. They can't be completely removed but the seatbacks do fold flat. Because the Tahoe has a live rear axle, the rear floor has to be fairly high to allow clearance for the motion of the differential. Since the third row seats sit on the floor, occupants end up in a knees-up seating position that isn't particularly comfortable for adults. Those who really want to utilize the third row would be better off opting for the longer wheelbase Suburban.

The third row seats also don't fold flat into the floor, so maximizing rear cargo space requires completely removing the seats. That's accomplished by pulling up a lever and then grabbing the handle and pulling the whole seat back and out. With the third row seat removed and the middle row folded forward, we were able to load an old sectional sofa in the back to haul it to the local reuse center. Of course, we had to do it one section at a time, but nonetheless, it's a task we couldn't have accomplished with in a passenger car.

How you feel about driving the Tahoe will depend on how you feel about driving in general and how you plan to use it. Anyone who prefers a sporting drive will be disappointed with the Tahoe, or any other similar SUV for that matter. The nearly 400-hp V8 provides plenty of grunt and moves the 5,500-lb Tahoe without breathing hard. The brakes are vastly improved compared to GM trucks of a decade ago. The pedal still feels a bit over-boosted, but the brakes are fairly easy to modulate and there doesn't seem to be the six inches of free play that older models exhibit.

The steering also lacks any noticeable free play right off center and motions of the wheel translate directly into directional changes. The effort required to turn the wheel, however, is too light and there is no real feedback... but GM doesn't market the Tahoe as an alternative to the Porsche Cayenne, right? When the snow falls, however, the Tahoe shines. Its four-wheel drive system allows it to plow right through several inches of fresh powder with a reassuring sure-footedness. The ABS, traction and stability control systems work together smoothly without feeling overly intrusive.

We didn't have an opportunity to test the towing capability during its weeklong stay, but the spec sheet lists an 8,200-pound towing capacity for the 4X4 Tahoe with the 6.2L V8 engine. The rear-wheel-drive model increases that to 8,500 pounds. Based on our past towing experience with GM trucks, we have no reason to doubt those numbers. The Tahoe also has a tow/haul switch that changes the standard programming of the 6-speed automatic transmission. Activating tow/haul holds gears longer, prevents hunting and triggers downshifts to incur more engine braking.

All the capability of the Tahoe brings with it a thirst for refined petroleum. The EPA rates the 6.2-liter LTZ at 12 miles-per-gallon city and 19 mpg on the highway. During our week with the Tahoe, it managed a mere 12.4 mpg, a figure certainly not helped by the chilly temperatures. Warmer temps and a light throttle foot could probably bring that number up to 15-16 in combined driving. For 2009, the 6.2L engine also has flex-fuel capability, so highly subsidized corn-based fuel becomes an option if you have an E85 pump in the neighborhood.

While the mileage figure was low, the price tag wasn't. The 4WD LTZ starts at $50,900 and ours had an out-the-door bottom line of $57,335 delivered. That includes the $4,790 Sun, Entertainment and Destination package, which will guide you to where you want to go with the in-dash nav system and keep the munchkins entertained with the rear seat DVD system, among other items.

Fifty-seven grand is a lot of money in these harsh economic times, so it's no surprise that sales of the Tahoe and its ilk are suffering. For many people who don't often have a use for such vehicles, a truck or SUV is a great thing to borrow from a friend. Others, however, have a real need for vehicles like the Tahoe that can tow and haul more people and cargo than a passenger car or a comparably-sized crossover. If you don't need the towing power offered by the 6.2-liter V8, there are also 4.8-liter and 5.3-liter models with less of the luxury goods that start around $37,000. Those who need the space and utility but want better fuel economy can also go for the two-mode hybrid model. Of course, all of the aforementioned prices border on the hypothetical since the Tahoe and its siblings are loaded down with incentives these days. So if you're the person who really needs what the Tahoe has to offer, now may be the best time to buy. Just make sure you can afford the payments at the pump.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      I hate GM's new trend of implementing the alloy-style wheel covers (Versa-wheels or w/e) on all its cars, even the top-of-the-range models. The 2009 Silverado LTZ has those and now this one. The Cobalt LTZ (or LT) is not available with real alloy wheels like the 2006-2008 models anymore.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Guys, what's the difference between a Tahoe and Yukon?
      Mechanically, I mean.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I'm probably one of the few people who could afford and need a Tahoe. While shopping we noticed one big flaw with the Tahoe. The rear row while handy is just about unusable. Entry into the third row is hard compared to other SUVs and once you are in there is no place for your legs, even little kids. Also once the 3rd row is up there is no room behind the seats for cargo. So lets imagine you have four kids...and are going on a trip. First off the rear passengers will be really grumpy and you better pack lightly because once you have those rows up you can't take much with you.

      We ended up getting the Dodge Durango instead because you can fit people back there and there is room for cargo. Also since we choose the 4.7 with the 5 speed we get 19mpg with a vehicle that has a full frame underneath for towing.

        • 6 Years Ago
        Yes, IRS makes all the difference for rear packaging.

        The midsize Explorer has a more useable 3rd row than a fullsize Tahoe.

        • 6 Years Ago
        Chris- with 4 kids, GM has your answer in the Suburban.
        Henry- you left some thing out- sounds like..... (crap, nothing rhymes with arrogance)
        • 6 Years Ago
        HAHA! You couldn't afford the Hemi! You are poor!
        • 6 Years Ago
        im not so sure about your comment, i don't think these are hard to afford anymore. My 21 y/o brother just purchased a new one and they cut about 20K off the sticker. He only paid about 25K out the door. I think it would be more realistic to say that your one of the few people that are actually in the market for one of these things as opposed to being able to afford it.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Did you take a look at the Ford Expedition? With the independent rear suspension, the packaging aft of the second row is superb - even though I'm 5'10" I rode with reasonable comfort in the third row of a friends.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I love GM's full sized SUVs and the 6.2 is just the icing on the cake. Sure, their platform roots can be traced back to forever ago and the 3rd row is a joke. But the rest of the vehicle is a charm. For those who want a 3rd row, there's the Suburban, which weighs about the same and handles actually a little better.

      I have an 05 Yukon XL right now and when I get sick of it, I will probably get a lightly used Escalade ESV or Denali XL (probably in a few years). These vehicles have such a high depreciation right now, which makes them complete steals when purchased with a few miles on them.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Barf! No IRS!

      You can go get a Navigator for the same price and it has a seat that folds flat into the floor...motorized running boards....Sync....TaWHO?

      Almost $60K for a Chevy?

      Women loves these things to drive soccer teams around. That 3rd row is a joke. Go sit in an Expedition...or an Expedition EL. No woman I know can get that 3rd seat out on her own.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The Tahoe and all its variants have always been great looking trucks. Im suprised they have not made a crossover based on the same look with a 4 andor 6 cylinder. Jeep did it.
      • 6 Years Ago

      I love it. The best full size SUV. The Escalade is also based on this.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Certainly looks good! Nice rims too - not too flashy.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Love the Tahoe, great little write-up. Wish GM would offer optional HID headlamps, but I know they don't want Chevrolet stepping on Cadillac's toes. Nonetheless, HID's would pimp out the LTZ Tahoe even further and give Chevrolet some needed cachet.

      I know there's no real way around 5500lbs but 12mpg is brutal, even with MDS and modern V8 technology. (Yes I know its a 6.2L with nearly 400hp and that GM offers smaller V8's). This truck could use stop/start and regenerative braking or something to eek out another 3 or 4 mpg. Alas, cost starts to creep in at that point. Witness the Tahoe Hybrid. Better mpg, less features and even less truck for the money.

      One small typo: "The effort required to turn the wheel, however, is to light and there is no real feedback... " ...should be "too light".

      Keep up the good work Autoblog! You make my subscriptions to Motor Trend and C&D more and more redundantly useless every day! (Good thing their dirt cheap and easy to read on the can!)
        • 6 Years Ago
        Maybe GM will offer a 3.08 axle ratio with the 6.2
        That should get an extra mpg city/highway.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "Eeek out another 3 or 4 mpg"? That's a 30% improvement in mpg you're asking for you know?

        The hybrid gets 20 mpg. Both models best the similar truck from Toyota BTW!
        • 6 Years Ago
        "One small typo: "The effort required to turn the wheel, however, is to light and there is no real feedback... " ...should be "too light".

        Keep up the good work Autoblog! You make my subscriptions to Motor Trend and C&D more and more redundantly useless every day! (Good thing their dirt cheap and easy to read on the can!)"

        If you're going to correct someone on grammar, you need learn the difference between "their" and "they're".
      • 6 Years Ago
      Just to address some of these comments:

      "No IRS"

      -It's an SUV made for more than just pavement pounding, if anything it should have a solid front axle as well. If you want IRS, buy a Traverse/Acadia.

      "No third row leg room"

      -This is due to the excellent clearance of the strong and simple solid rear axle, if you want more third row leg room, the Suburban 1500 and 2500 offer that. Or, they could bring back leaf springs, which would allow for a slightly better floor configuration.

      "Gas mileage sucks"

      -No duh, it's a near three ton full size true SUV. GM also offers a hybrid version and a soft-roader version in the Traverse/Acadia that get better mileage if that's what you're after.

      As someone who has owned Suburbans and Blazers since the 60's, I'm not too impressed with the latest models. For years they were doing fine as the SUV alternative to a full size truck. All of a sudden they've become big cars with astronomical prices. It amazes me that, in an full size SUV stickered at over $50k, I can get heated and cooled seats, but I can't get a real transfer case or real lockers. You can't even get a manual transmission is a 1/2 ton truck anymore, that's just sad.

      I think the only one that really gets "Luxury SUV" right, IMO, is Mercedes with their G-Wagen. The interior is beautiful and luxurious, yet it still has a functional exterior, full frame, solid front and rear axles, lockers front and rear, and a true transfer case that also locks up. You get luxury, but you don't sacrifice any capability. An SUV first, a luxury vehicle second. If more SUVs were like that than maybe people that don't need them would stop buying them and it would solve part of the problem.
        • 6 Years Ago
        It was probably GM's plan to drop the Tahoe/Yukon for the porky Lambdas, they are pretty close in weight, give the 500lb frame.
        So what to do?
        Now it seems like GM will have to cut the curb weight of the Lambdas by 10%, and truck-ify up the Tahoe.

        GM could play the semantic games Ford played. Expedition & Expedition EL, Nav & Nav L, by changing the name of the Tahoe to 'Suburban'. Keeping the length to about 17'

        Okay, make a Suburban XL, 4 rows deep! 20' long.
        Front row, driver/passenger as per norm.
        Second row-Either long doors or Clamshell?, so that the second row becomes a three person bench and there is room to enter the third row without requiring the second row to be moved.
        Third row, two captains. You get to the 4th row via the empty center 3rd row.
        Fourth row, three passenger bench.
        10 person vehicle, 20 feet long, rear wheel steering on independent suspension (Take the gained experience from Quadrasteer and use it)

        Nobody really likes the 4 abreast seating in full size vans anyway.
        • 6 Years Ago
        My point though, is they've already got the Traverse/Acadia with IRS, eight seats, ect. Why not bring the Tahoe/Suburban back to what it's supposed to be, a real SUV?

        I had Suburbans and Blazers with solid front axles and leaf springs front and rear for years. They rode fine, never caused an ounce of trouble, and went over obstacles like a tank. Why fix what isn't broken? The Jeep Wrangler has kept the same basic setup for years, and it still sells....to those who either need it or want it. I feel like I'm at the point of diminishing returns, paying three times the amount of what I used to, for a vehicle that isn't really three times better (just three times more complicated).

        At least they got one thing right though, offering the G80 limited slip rear. You can't even get a limited slip rear from Ford anymore in the Explorer/Expedition.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Just look at this turd of a car...and we wonder why GM is failing...and doesn't deserve to exist.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Get a clue. In this segment, this is highly competitive offering. What's wrong with it? It's not like this is the only thing GM makes.

        In fact, they ARE the only ones making a hybrid of this size. A hybrid that gets the SAME mileage (City) as a 4 cyl Camry!!!
      • 6 Years Ago
      is this the Best GM has got???? 12 mpg I don,t wonder they need money just to put gas in to get out the door
        • 6 Years Ago
        That mileage is typical of what you will get in a full-size SUV.
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