They say that familiarity breeds contempt. At first, maybe. But then it breeds comfort. At least that's my experience with the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe. The 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD LTZ carries a base price of $55,770 ($59,135 as tested), with a 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, a 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and EPA estimates of 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway. Tahoe competes with GM stablemate GMC Yukon, Toyota Sequoia, Ford Expedition, Honda Pilot, Nissan Armada and Dodge Durango/Jeep Grand Cherokee. Let’s drive.
Tahoe hasn't changed much at all since its last makeover in 2007, the last time GM revised its full-size, body-on-frame SUV and truck platform. The current platform, called the GMT900, underlies the Tahoe, the Cadillac Escalade, the GMC Yukon and the Chevy Suburban SUVs, and the GMC Sierra and the Chevy Silverado pickup trucks. Add in the variants, and you're talking about a big slice of the GM portfolio, all depending on a very similar architecture. With the way that CAFE regulations (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) have shaped up since 2007, along with the plummet of full size SUVs corresponding with the rise of gas prices, we may be waiting a long, long time before GM puts a new full-size platform into use.
When I decided to review the latest Tahoe, I got a sour taste in my mouth. I like big SUVs, but I always feel a little bit guilty driving around self-righteous Los Angeles in one. I'm painfully aware of how big my ride is, how much gas I'm using, and how bad it is for the planet. But then, the Tahoe shows up in my driveway, and I shake off my preconceptions to examine what is really in front of me.
Tahoe is a really attractive big SUV with a splash of style and substance. It sits just perfectly over those 20" polished aluminum wheels (standard as part of the LTZ package), and there's not a detail out of place. With 9" of minimum ground clearance, Tahoe gives off the impression that it would perform well off-road, though such details as chrome-coated recovery hooks and a fancy chrome mesh front grille make it clear that Tahoe is meant for the city, at least in LTZ trim.
When it comes to actual capability, Tahoe does not disappoint. A 5.3-liter FlexFuel V8 is standard, tuned to produce 320 hp and 335 lb-ft of torque on gas, 326 hp and 348 lb-ft of torque when running on E85. The venerable Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic transmission is also standard, with a choice of rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive ($2,800 - $4,100 extra, depending on trim level). With curb weights from 5,448 - 5,567 lbs (RWD/4WD), it's kind of amazing that GM is able to squeeze 21 mpg out on the highway. Tahoe has a decent payload at 1,652 (RWD)/1,733 (4WD) and towing capacity at 8,500 lbs (RWD)/8,200 lbs (4WD), which means that despite its glamorous looks, it is actually ready to do some work when needed. Just keep your expectations reasonable. Tahoe is not fast -- I'd estimate its 0-60 time in the 9-second range -- but it is surprisingly fun to drive, with the same suspension setup as the rest of the GMT900 vehicles. Every time I find myself behind the wheel of a Tahoe, I'm delighted at just how easy to drive and all-around pleasant it is. Tahoe is easy to drive, easy to park, easy to live with and almost fun.
Tahoe's interior hasn't changed much over the years either, and that's fine. Material selection inside is good, with a quality feel and excellent fit and finish. The instrumentation is starting to look a little dated (or vintage), but GM keeps plugging newer and better audio and navigation systems into the dash. Standard OnStar is a great feature, and way more useful than you might guess. The standard features (and prices) keep stacking up as you move from LS ($38,530) to LT ($43,680) to LTZ $53,745).
My big disappointment with Tahoe, and the whole GMT900 platform in fact, is the third row of seats. Not only are they cramped and uncomfortable, they don't stow away. They just fold down, disrupting the cargo compartment. The third row is removable, but each half of the seat weighs over 40 lbs, so the idea of tossing them into the garage between uses is less than thrilling. Cargo space behind the third row (when in place) is 16.9 cubic feet -- which would be a decent-sized trunk in a sedan, but is a cramped, shallow space in an SUV. Bummer. Almost makes you want to buy a Suburban instead, which shares a platform with Tahoe but adds 14" of wheelbase, 22" of length and almost 30 cubic feet of additional luggage space behind the third row.
Still, even with its flaws and its aging platform, I can't help but like the Chevrolet Tahoe. If you really need a full-size SUV, you owe it to yourself to try out the Tahoe. The more familiar it gets, the harder it is to maintain your contempt.