A he-man of SUVs: 2007 Chevy Tahoe destined for top-category ranking

Friday, February 17, 2006

The redesigned and re-engineered Chevrolet Tahoe for 2007 is so much a cut above its predecessors and many competitors it's destined to top several "best full-size sport utility vehicle" lists.

Already in showrooms as an early 2007 model, the Tahoe now looks trimmer than ever and has an exemplary, quiet interior that includes a more upscale appearance as well as supportive seats that are comfortable even for ample-sized people.

For the first time in a Tahoe, there's a V-8 that automatically shuts off four engine cylinders on occasion to save gasoline. The ride is so well managed and steering so comfortably accurate that many Tahoe drivers will feel as if they're driving something smaller and nimbler than a large SUV.

Also not to be missed: New fuss-free, power fold-and-tumble second-row seats that easily move out of the way so passengers have good access to third-row seats.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including delivery charge, for a base, two-wheel-drive, 2007 Tahoe LS with V-8 is $33,990. A Tahoe with four-wheel drive starts at $37,790.

The best-selling full-size SUV in the country since 2001, the Tahoe is valued for how many people it can carry -- up to nine -- and its towing capacity, which tops out at 7,700 pounds.

For 2007, Tahoes keep their V-8 power, which is needed for such a large, heavy vehicle that weighs more than 2.5 tons.

But engines now are more powerful. For example, the uplevel, 5.3-liter, Vortec 5300, overhead valve, LMG V-8 in the test Tahoe 4WD LTZ puts out 320 horsepower and 340 foot-pounds of torque at 4,200 rpm.

This is up from 295 horses and 335 foot-pounds of torque in the 2006 Tahoe with 5.3-liter V-8.

The test Tahoe moved confidently with traffic and easily passed other vehicles. There was a bit of coasting, however, when I'd let up on the gas pedal.

The transmission -- the four-speed automatic from last year's vehicle -- shifted smoothly.

This is the first Tahoe engine with Active Fuel Management, a system that detects when all eight engine cylinders aren't needed to power the vehicle and, during such times, automatically turns off four of them to conserve fuel.

With AFM and the uplevel V-8, the best government fuel economy rating is 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway for a two-wheel-drive model, which is better than last year's 15/20-mpg rating.

Indeed, it's better than that of any other full-size SUV.

The new, stiffer frame underneath the Tahoe provides a stable foundation for this large SUV, and the ride is smooth on many roads. Body motions are well-controlled.

Passengers experience less head bobbing in the new Tahoe than they would in many other SUVs, even smaller ones, and while there's occasional bounciness over rough road and off-road trails, the Tahoe's road manners are exceptional for a vehicle of its size. Tires, which range up to 20 inches in diameter, did squeal during aggressive driving, however.

Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering for this big vehicle is confidence-inspiring. Going through curves, I set the steering wheel and found it didn't need correcting.

The Tahoe's brakes worked strongly, though not with the immediate, tenacious feel of a European vehicle like a Volvo or BMW. Inside the Tahoe, the "towel bar" handle on the front-passenger dashboard is gone.

Throughout, there's a higher quality appearance to the plastics, and the new radio system has a modern, streamlined look. Stability control and tire pressure monitor system are standard, but curtain airbags are optional on some Tahoe trim levels.

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