Remember the SUV-asaurus? As a character in an ad campaign, it made us chuckle, the general gist being that the huge sport-utility vehicles of years past were hopelessly out of date, falling prey to higher gas prices and a shifting consumer attitude toward more efficient transportation, namely the car-based crossover. While no specific manufacturer was targeted (besides Suzuki, of course, as it was the brand that paid for the ad campaign), there were a few fullsize SUVs clearly wearing crosshairs – most obviously the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban and their corporate Yukon and Yukon XL twins from GMC.
Humorous as it may have been to poke fun at a would-be dodo, it seems the grave meant for the fullsize body-on-frame SUV may have been dug rather prematurely (ironically, the burial plot ended up being for Suzuki itself, at least here in the States). Proof positive can be seen in the 2015 Chevy Tahoe that is the subject of today's feature. It's a completely redesigned machine, and it holds an important place in the automaker's lineup – according to General Motors, fullsize SUVs make up 1.6 percent of the US vehicle market (2.2 percent if you include luxury nameplates), and GM owns a whopping 74 percent of that chunk. Add it all up and that equals 263,948 sales in 2013. What's more, these aren't low-dollar sales, with an average transaction price of $53,000, and they are known to have particularly huge profit margins.
So, we've established that fullsize SUVs aren't yet dead, Chevrolet and GMC are two of the biggest players in the segment and, importantly, that the market is lucrative. It was with these facts in mind that we slid behind the wheel of the 2015 Chevy Tahoe. Just who is it that are buying up these massive utilities, and what are the specific virtues that lead to their continued success? Let's find out.
When looking through an out-of-focus lens, just about any fullsize body-on-frame sport utility is going to appear mostly like a big box on wheels. Fortunately, Chevy has gone to great lengths to give the Tahoe a distinctive look. Whether it's an attractive vehicle, though, is certainly up for debate. To our eyes, it looks more purposeful than pretty, with a handsome profile that's a bit spoiled by the strangely shaped headlamp clusters and massive, upright chrome grille. If you don't like the look of the Tahoe, remember that there's a probably a GMC dealer close by with a sales floor full of Yukons, which we think look quite a bit prettier.
To our eyes, it looks more purposeful than pretty.
The good news is that its long, straight lines and vertical stance mean its interior is large, bright and airy. Seats are comfortable, and the leather surfaces of our LTZ tester were soft and supple. In front of the driver sits a cluster with easy-to-read gauges, including a large tachometer on the left, a matching speedometer on the right and a row of four smaller ancillaries in between. A reasonably sized LCD sits below those smaller gauges, offering the driver basic information that includes trip odometers and fuel mileage readouts. When optioned up properly, all the surfaces you can touch are covered in a soft-ish leather substitute in either gray or brown shades with attractive stitching. Similarly, the steering wheel is nicely covered and easy to put into a comfortable position.
The center console is dominated by an eight-inch LCD screen in LT and LTZ models, with a cubby hidden behind. That touchscreen features Chevy's MyLink infotainment system, which includes, among other things, Bluetooth, Pandora and, when so equipped, navigation. As many as six USB ports and six power outlets can be found inside the Tahoe for today's totally connected families – that's 12 devices drawing power from the Tahoe at once. All in, some 10 separate devices can be linked to the infotainment system.
And that leads us to the Tahoe's first easily discernible virtue: size. There's no getting around the fact that the Tahoe is a large vehicle, measuring in at 204 inches in length on a 116-inch wheelbase. It is 80.5 inches wide, with a 68.7-inch track. If that doesn't mean anything to you, consider this: maximum seating capacity sits at nine, and even when fully loaded with people, there's still 15.3 cubic-feet of storage space in back, which is comparable to the trunk size of a midsize sedan. If you don't need all those seats, fold the third row flat (a new feature for 2015) and you'll be rewarded with 51.6 cubes with which to fill. Fold all but the front seats flat and the Tahoe will swallow a truly impressive 94.7 cubic-feet of stuff. Besides other fullsize SUVs like the Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada and Toyota Sequoia, the only kind of passenger vehicle with comparable specs would be a minivan, but those have their own set of limitations.
Some 10 separate devices can be linked to the infotainment system.
Got a boat? A family-size travel trailer? Dirtbikes, jet skis or a classic car? No problem. The 2015 Chevy Tahoe can tow as much as 8,600 pounds (minus 200 lbs for 4x4s), far exceeding that of any minivans on the market. It's also available with real, honest-to-goodness four-wheel drive, which means it can find traction in adverse conditions and can get places where less-capable machinery has to find a place to park.
Much of the Tahoe's machoness comes from its pickup-based genetic makeup. While most utility vehicles on the market today have long since abandoned a perimeter frame, opting instead for lighter unibody construction, Chevrolet continues to bolt the body, powertrain and suspenders of its fullsizer to a fully boxed steel frame. This, while hopelessly out of fashion in today's automotive world, has a few benefits, not the least of which is its ability to haul heavy loads, as previously discussed.
Drawbacks, however, are often seen as outweighing factors – (usually) poorer efficiency due in part to higher weight (in this case, 5,466 pounds with two-wheel drive or 5,683 with four-wheel drive), and, due to the fact that they require multiple pieces to make a whole (as opposed to a single unibody structure), a rougher ride and a general sense of shimmying and shaking. Starting with the latter, we're happy to report that GM has done an excellent job of assuaging those on-road jitters.
The Tahoe can tow as much as 8,600 pounds.
The 2015 Chevy Tahoe rides rather well, with a quiet confidence on rough roads that feels like at least a match for any of its competitors. The Tahoe's ride and handling have been improved over its predecessor thanks to a number of engineering refinements that include a wider rear track and revised suspension geometry that includes a new cross-axis ball joint, more high-strength steel, shear-style body mounts and available Magneride magnetic ride control. Most of these updates are inherited from the latest Silverado and Sierra pickup trucks, but the magneto-rheological shocks, which come standard in LTZ trim, is worth mentioning. The technology, well known for its appearance on Chevy's own Corvette as well as Ferrari models, is capable of adapting its damping characteristics in as little as 10 milliseconds in response to changing road conditions. Suffice it to say that the technology works as advertised, offering a smooth ride and responsive handling in one package with no extra work required of the driver.
Buyers who choose LS or LT models receive much more basic twin-tube shocks and coil springs that are as much as 30-percent stiffer than before, while the Z85 package that comes with a heavy-duty trailering package benefits from a load-leveling rear suspension. Neither of these suspension systems is as fancy or functional as Magneride, but they certainly do a fine job of isolating passengers from the most jarring of roadway infractions. Eighteen-inch wheels come standard with P265/65R18 tires, and buyers with a thing for bling can option those all the way up to 22 inches in diameter. That said, we would recommend exercising some restraint in that department, as the 20-inchers of our LTZ test car struck a fine balance between looks, ride and handling. The 2015 Tahoe is also commendably quiet, though the Yukon is a bit quieter still due to its more extensive use of sound-deadening glass.
New for 2015 is an electronic steering system that replaces the old tried-and-true hydraulic setup. While enthusiasts sometimes bemoan these variable units, we found that Chevy has done an excellent job of tuning the rack for its latest fullsize SUVs. Little effort is required to turn the wheel at low speeds, as when maneuvering in a parking lot, and the effort stiffens admirably at higher speeds, giving a solid feel of straight-ahead steadiness.
Chevy has done an excellent job of tuning the steering for its latest fullsize SUVs.
Tahoe, Suburban and Yukon buyers will all benefit from Duralife brake rotors inherited from the company's fullsize pickups. GM says these units are far more durable than conventional rotors, making them extremely resistant to warpage that can be felt through the brake pedal, if not the steering wheel. We found the brake pedal reassuringly firm, and that's comforting when piloting such a large vehicle full of precious cargo... like seven human beings. We also appreciated the power-adjustable brake pedals fitted to our LTZ test vehicle, though we noted that the brake pedal was positioned unusually closer to the driver's foot than the gas pedal. We got used to the arrangement in short order, and we don't imagine anyone doing any heel-toe action in the big SUVs as there's no clutch pedal, but your mileage may vary. GM includes a full suite of driver assistance technologies as standard equipment, including StabilliTrack, ABS, trailer sway control and Auto Grade Braking, which downshifts on long descents to help preserve the brakes while keeping vehicle speed in check.
All 2015 Chevy Tahoe and Suburban models are equipped with the latest version of GM's trusty 5.3-liter V8 engine, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that pretty much carries over from the last generation. There's 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque on tap, and that feels like plenty of power in the Tahoe... until you take the Yukon Denali for a drive and experience the 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of its 6.2-liter V8. We asked Chevy why the 6.2 isn't at least optional in the Tahoe and were told that it was for a few years, but buyers almost never wanted it. So there you go...
The 6.2 was optional in the Tahoe for a few years, but buyers almost never wanted it.
In any case, GM's 5.3-liter V8 engine offers lots of technology to keep it current, including direct injection and variable valve timing, which, along with active cylinder deactivation that turns this V8 into a V4 when ultimate power isn't required, equals EPA-estimated fuel mileage ratings of 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 highway for two-wheel-drive models (22 on the highway with four-wheel drive). Due to improved efficiencies across the entire Tahoe platform, we noticed that the 5.3-liter engine was able to operate on four cylinders much more often and for longer periods than past systems from GM, and the switch between the two modes was truly seamless. As an interesting little factoid, GM notes that its very first small-block V8 engine appeared on the scene in 1955, displacing 4.3 liters and putting out 145 hp and 238 lb-ft as an option in the '55 Chevy Suburban.
It's also worth noting that Chevy offers different power ratings for its 5.3 engine when run on E10 fuel and when run on E85. When filled with 85-percent ethanol, the V8 spits out 380 horses (35 more than on E10) and 416 lb-ft (33 more torques). Score one for the higher octane ratings offered by ethanol, eh? There aren't separate fuel economy listings on the differing fuels, though, and we'd expect Tahoe drivers to lose a few mpg on E85.
Several paragraphs back, we mentioned some key competitors, namely the Expedition, Armada and Sequoia. With a starting price of $45,595, the Tahoe is priced in line with its segment, though it's easy to push the LTZ, which starts at $60,490, up into the low $70s with all its many option boxes checked (and for that price, we'd be keen to look at the Yukon Denali). These vehicles offer a similar size and a similar number of seats to the Tahoe, and they offer powerful V8 engines, just like the Chevy. But none of them have the polish or poise of the Bowtie's big SUV, and neither can they claim anything near the Tahoe's 16/23 estimated mpg (all three of those competitors scores just 13 or 14 mpg in the city, and highway ratings range from the Toyota's 17 mpg to the Ford's 20).
The 2015 Tahoe is easily the leader of the fullsize body-on-frame SUV pack.
Put simply, if what you need is a big sport utility vehicle to haul your family, your stuff or some combination thereof, the 2015 Tahoe is easily the leader of the fullsize body-on-frame SUV pack. And, with its newfound comfort and efficiency, we imagine that the beastly SUV-asaurus will manage to evade its grave for several more years, at least.
New Car Test Drive
The 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe is new inside and out, with more power, more fuel efficiency and more refinement than before. All told, the 2015 Tahoe's makeover is thoughtfully planned and nicely executed.
While chassis dimensions don't change, there are updates to the foundation. A stronger body structure uses more high-strength steel and the rear track has been expanded slightly, contributing to a smoother ride and quieter cabin.
Third-generation magnetic ride control automatically adjusts shock absorbers to road surfaces and driving demands in milliseconds, affording a blend of comfort and control we find remarkable in a vehicle this size. It's limited to the top of the line LTZ trim level, but trim levels with conventional spring and damping systems have been retuned and deliver better dynamics than the previous generation.
The sheetmetal has been reshaped from stem to stern, and while it takes an experienced eye to distinguish the 2015 Tahoe from the previous generation, the styling is crisp, with sharp angles and a strong character line running from front to rear just below the greenhouse. The front doors are unique to the Tahoe, no more sharing with the Silverado, and the B-pillar has been moved forward, enlarging the rear door opening for easier ingress.
The 2015 Tahoe's interior is all new, with two welcome new options: a power liftgate and power-folding rear seatbacks. For 2015, GM made a substantial investment in noise suppression, with triple seals around the doors, acoustical laminate windows, and lots of sound-insulation throughout. The payoff is a big ute with luxo sedan interior noises levels.
Like the Suburban, the 2015 Tahoe is limited to a single engine, a 5.3-liter V8, paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. That displacement is familiar, but this is a much different 5.3-liter V8: all aluminum, new block, new cylinder heads, new crankshaft, new pistons, higher compression ratio, direct fuel injection. More power: 355 horsepower versus 320 hp in the previous version, 383 pound-feet of torque. That torque provides the pulling power to achieve a towing capacity of 8400 pounds with four-wheel drive, 8600 pounds with 2WD.
And there's improved fuel efficiency to go with the increased thrust: 16/22 mpg City/Highway with 4WD, 16/23 mpg with rear-wheel drive.
Tahoe shares the Suburban's solid body-on-frame construction, and while it weighs a couple hundred pounds less than the big guy, at 5683 pounds with four-wheel drive it's no wraith. Curb weights on the 2015 models are up by as much as 100 pounds, depending on equipment, and while the Suburban takes up even more room, a vehicle that's 204 inches long and 74.4 inches high still casts a lot of shade in a parking lot.
The Tahoe is 14.4 inches shorter than the Suburban, on a 116-inch wheelbase, versus the Suburban's 130-inch wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels).
We found the 2015 Tahoe behaves very well on the road. Don't expect car-like driveability; it's a non-sequitur with vehicles in this size class. But the responses are prompt, an active safety plus for a vehicle that's likely to be loaded with kids. And it's a smooth operator in terms of ride quality.
All 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe models come with 5.3-liter V8 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive (2WD) is standard, four-wheel drive (4WD) is optional ($3000). (All prices are MSRP, which can change at any time without notice, and do not include $995 destination charge.)
Tahoe LS ($44,600) comes with tri-zone climate control, cloth upholstery, seating for nine, fold-flat second- and third-row seats, AM/FM/CD audio, satellite radio, remote vehicle starting, rear view camera, rear park assist. 4WD is optional ($47,600).
Tahoe LT ($50,000) adds leather trim to first and second row seats, heated power front seats with memory feature, Bose premium audio, Chevy MyLink infotainment system, power liftgate with programmable height, lane departure warning, forward collision alert.
Tahoe LTZ ($59,000) adds heated and cooled front seats, fog lamps, HID headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, heated power side mirrors, power tilt/telescope steering column with memory, heated leather steering wheel, keyless entry, pushbutton start, power folding second- and third-row seatbacks, power adjustable pedals, 110-volt power outlet, 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels, blind spot warning, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert.
Safety features include front center airbag.
The basic shape of the Chevy Tahoe is familiar, but the skin is all new for 2015, with attention to aerodynamics as well as aesthetics.
Current Tahoe owners will recognize the subtle distinctions between the new fascia and its predecessor, especially around the grille and headlights. That sharp stem-to-stern crease just below the windows, shared with the Suburban and GMC Yukon, lends interest to a profile that was previously slab-sided. GM has moved the B-pillar forward slightly, expanding the rear door opening, making it easier to climb in and out of the back seat, as well as the third row.
The side mirrors now have turn signal repeaters, and there's a power option for the rear liftgate. Chevy also points out that while there is chassis commonality, neither the Suburban nor the Tahoe share any sheetmetal with the Silverado pickup. Wheel options include 18-, 20-, and 22-inch choices.
Power running boards are a nice feature, retracting when not in use, deploying whenever a door is opened. However, when opening and closing doors a lot, for example, when loading and unloading cargo or cleaning, the constant retracting and deploying over and over can be annoying. Also, they can whack a shin when deploying. That said, the running boards make getting in the Tahoe far easier than getting into a full-size SUV or pickup without running boards.
The power liftgate works well, and the rear window can be opened separately, which is a nice feature. Finding the button to close the liftgate can be difficult for first-time users, though, because it is a small black-on-black button, so you may see people closing your power liftgate manually. And when the liftgate is opened, groceries can come tumbling out because there is no lip to stop them.
The inner Tahoe is all new for 2015, with improved materials, new seats, new (more legible, more attractive) instrumentation, enhanced connectivity and infotainment.
The design team invested substantial time and budget in noise suppression, making the Tahoe just about the quietest ride in its class, along with the similarly improved Suburban and GMC Yukon and Yukon XL.
The optional MyLink infotainment system features an 8-inch color touch screen in the middle of the dashboard. The navigation system is very easy to use. Punching in an address is quick and easy because a virtual keyboard pops up allowing the address to be typed in using commas as one would type on a computer.
The rear rows fold flat, and a power-folding option is available for the seatbacks, as well as power operation for the rear hatch.
It's hard to find much fault with this new interior, even in the standard base model. Our only reservation is one that was also true of the previous generation: a very snug third row, with limited leg room and a knees-up seating position thanks to the high load floor.
We could not find the button to turn on the cruise control, though no doubt this is covered in the owner's manual.
Leave the key fob in the car may cause the horn to blow, unnecessary when at a location where security is not a concern.
Unfortunately, GM's excellent new head-up display isn't available for the Tahoe or Suburban; it's reserved for the GMC Yukon lineup. And the luxurious High Country interior option that's new this year with the Chevy Silverado isn't available for the Suburban or Tahoe. Leather trim is offered, but if you want the really posh furnishings you need a Yukon Denali.
The Chevrolet Tahoe is smaller than the Suburban, but that doesn't mean small. With passengers, cargo or a combination of both, the Tahoe weighs in over the 3-ton mark. Its gross vehicle weight ratings (curb weight plus whatever may be on board) are 7100 pounds for 2WD, 7300 pounds with 4WD, and max payloads are 1702 and 1760, respectively. Mass plus a tall profile limit handling responses, and all that weight affects stopping distances.
On the other hand, the chassis engineers have done a very good job with the new suspension tuning, particularly in the LTZ, with its magnetic ride control. As a result, the Tahoe is surprisingly willing in its responses to commands from the helm. This is attributable, at least in part, to improved roll stiffness. Though the center of gravity is high in a vehicle of this type, giving mass more leverage in cornering maneuvers, that phenomenon is minimized by the magnetic damping system, which limits suspension body roll, allowing quicker recovery in rapid transitions. It also helps that weight distribution is close to 50/50, front/rear.
The steering, a new electric assist power rack and pinion system, is a little numb and rather slow at 3.4 turns lock to lock. But even so, the new rig is agile by big SUV standards. This doesn't make the Tahoe a slalom star; weight will have its say in any dynamic equation. But it does give the driver a better chance of turning a crash into a near miss. And it does so without sacrificing ride quality, which trends toward firm, but it takes a pretty nasty bump to find its way to the vehicle's occupants.
Braking is another strong suit, again with a for-its-size asterisk. Brake pedal feel is firm, it's easy to modulate pedal pressure, and the Tahoe stops straight and true. We can't testify to fade resistance, other than to say we failed to provoke any fade with a few hard stops and repeated use in mountain driving, and we don't know about stopping distances other than to mention that GM claims a slight reduction. But we can testify to system function, which is very good.
Considering the Tahoe's role as an all-around pachyderm, the new 5.3-liter V8 is a definite improvement over its predecessor. The Tahoe gets off the line quickly, especially with the 3:42 final drive in our tester, throttle response is right now, and the operation of its cylinder deactivation system, from V8 to V4 in light load conditions, is totally transparent.
One final noteworthy dynamic element: interior noise. Anyone who's unable to converse at living room voice levels when the Tahoe is operating at freeway speeds needs a hearing aid. Wind noise is minimal, road noise ditto, and the only time the engine becomes audible is when the driver tramps on the gas, opening flapper valves in the plumbing and adding a pleasant V8 baritone to the mix.
Smooth, exceptionally quiet, comfortable, capable, and powerful, the latest Tahoe continues to be the quintessential big job family wagon. Tahoe continues to be a solid family workhorse with the added attraction of more grunt and more refinement. It's a little less expensive and a little lighter than the Suburban, and a little handier around town. You can get a fancier version of the Tahoe at the GMC store. But with the exception of the increased power option, you won't get any better.
Tony Swan filed this report from Detroit.
Chevrolet Tahoe LS ($44,600), LS 4WD ($47,600); LT ($50,000), LT 4WD ($53,000); LTZ ($59,000), LTZ 4WD ($62,000).
Options As Tested
Sun/Entertainment/Destination package ($3305) includes power sunroof, MyLink with navigation, extended satellite radio subscription; adaptive cruise control ($1695); max trailering ($500); theft deterrent system ($385); cocoa/mahogany interior trim ($295).
Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ 4WD ($62,965).