One of America's most popular SUVs gets a complete makeover Imagine the space in this photo behind the Tahoe filled by a cabin cruiser on a trailer and that would be showing the big Chevy doing what it does best. By John Pearley Huffman Date posted: 01-09-2006 For you "red state" residents there's good news about the all-new 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe: It's bigger, bolder, more efficient, more luxurious, and more capable than ever! It's a confident expression of all that's right with America and the best full-size SUV ever built. No wonder the rest of the world really wants to live here. For "blue state" dwellers here's the bad news on the same subject: GM is still addicted to full-size SUVs! Despite marginal improvements in efficiency, the new Tahoe is an indulgent, thirsty, oversized monster that threatens smaller vehicles while exacerbating America's dependence on imported oil and hastening global warming. So what if it's the best full-size SUV ever built? It's also why the rest of the world hates us. For good or ill, this third-generation Tahoe is being born into a different America — or two different Americas — than the one the first-generation Tahoe entered in 1995. An America where, as this is written, unleaded regular sells for an average of $2.19 a gallon, car-based crossover SUVs have won buyers, and gas-electric hybrids carry a lot of prestige among a lot of high-income buyers. However, the full-size SUV market is still thickly profitable, and GM had to change to stay in the game. All large-SUV sales have been hammered recently, but the aging second-generation Tahoe and its brother GM products have been among the worst hit. This past November Chevy sold just 7,850 Tahoes — down nearly 20 percent from November 2004. Meanwhile, sales of the larger Suburban were off 43.6 percent, and open-bed Avalanche deliveries dove 31 percent. And that's despite incentive packages that have dealers knocking $9,000 or more off suggested retail prices. "We're realistic, and we don't expect the segment to grow," GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told The Detroit News. "But there are people who want and need the capabilities of a full-size SUV." The blue state hard-core is never going to embrace the new Tahoe. But the red state diehards will love it. At least those who can afford it. The sticker price of our loaded Tahoe LT test vehicle — which had such optional luxuries as a power liftgate, a DVD entertainment system and a rearview camera — was $48,639. Familiarly unfamiliar Restrained use of chrome and a single roof-mounted antenna that handles satellite and terrestrial radio sources give the Tahoe a clean look. The Tahoe on sale this month is the first of 12 products — including the various versions of the Chevrolet Suburban and Avalanche, Cadillac Escalade, and GMC Yukon — that GM will introduce this year based on the new T-900 architecture. It's better not because of any startling innovations, but because this time GM finally got the details right. In general specification, the incoming Tahoe isn't much different from the outgoing one. It still rides on a ladder frame; the rear suspension is still a solid axle on coil springs; the front suspension is still upper and lower control arms; and there's still a 5.3-liter V8 in its nose feeding a four-speed automatic transmission. Initially available only as a 4x4 (two-wheel-drive versions will come later this year), the new Tahoe is slightly bigger than the old one. The wheelbase carries over at 116 inches but overall length stretches from 196.9 inches to 202. Height is up from 76.7 to 77 inches and width has expanded from 78.9 inches to 79. But it looks more massive than that thanks to featureless flanks and a tall, blunt nose. The chassis' evolution is subtle, but significant. The front torsion bars have been ditched in favor of suppler coil springs, recirculating ball steering gives way to a more precise (if no more communicative) rack and pinion system, and the ABS-controlled four-wheel disc brakes are upsized. GM may have passed on an independent rear suspension (the market has been ho-hum about the IRS under Ford's Expedition and Lincoln Navigator), but this solid axle is well located with five links, and the ride is quiet and secure thanks to the unobtrusive standard StabiliTrak stability control. And the midline Tahoe LT's P265/70R17 Goodyear Wrangler HP tires are quiet and grippy (Tahoes also come in LS stripper and over-the-top LTZ models). Is the handling sporty? No. This truck's reflexes are muted. But the turning circle is a tight 39 feet, so it's maneuverable, and aimed for the horizon on an interstate, there aren't many better cruisers. Even when the blind-to-reality navigation system recommended a shortcut across Santa Barbara County's unmaintained and rock-strewn Refugio Canyon Road, the Tahoe never lost its composure. More powerful, more efficient The Tahoe's 320-horsepower, 5.3-liter Gen IV small-block V8 proves the viability of an OHV design going forward deep into the 21st century. GM's "Active Fuel Management" cylinder deactivation scheme helps save a few drops of fuel. A gas-electric hybrid should be available during 2007. While the displacement hasn't changed, the engine certainly has. GM proclaims it as a new "Gen IV" version of the small-block V8. There's still a single camshaft in the redesigned cast-iron block bumping pushrods actuating two valves per combustion chamber in aluminum cylinder heads. But the compression ratio has risen from 9.5-to-1 to 9.9-to-1, and combined with a new 32-bit engine control computer and more powerful ignition, that has knocked output up from 295 to 320 horsepower while adding GM's "Active Fuel Management" cylinder deactivation technology (formerly called "Displacement on Demand"). A similarly upgraded 290-hp, 4.8-liter version of the small-block V8 will come on two-wheel-drive Tahoes. The Active Fuel Management system's operation is impossible to detect, the engine and transmission feel perfectly matched to one another, and GM claims best-in-class EPA-rated fuel economy of 15 mpg in the city and 21 on the highway. And the truck is decently quick humping to 60 mph in just 8.6 seconds. But indulging that power will quickly sink mileage down into single digits. There are only so many ways to trick physics — this is a nearly 5,600-pound truck with a big V8. Best. Fake. Wood. Ever. Simple and elegant, it's tough to believe this dash is in a Chevy truck. After decades of lackluster GM interiors, the new Tahoe's is astonishing. The dashboard looks like it was lifted out of a 1998 BMW 740iL (a great dash), scaled up 10 percent, and shoved into this truck. The switchgear operates elegantly and the materials feel high-quality. It's hard to imagine better-looking real wood than the faux burl forest inside this truck. For the first time, the Tahoe's inside door handles are high on the door where humans can reach them. The seat anchors have moved from the seats to the B-pillar where they can be adjusted to something approaching comfort. The new seats are well shaped and the plastic surfaces are well grained. There aren't auto-up functions on the power window switches to go with the auto-down, and side-source sunlight can wipe out visibility of the center-mounted navigation and entertainment system monitor. But it's hard to find fault with where the first two rows of passengers sit. And yet, the Tahoe lacks the disappearing third-row rear seat many of its competitors feature. And when the Tahoe's third-row seats are removed, they leave behind raised plastic mounts that prevent laying cargo flat against the floor. For such an otherwise well-executed interior, this is a misstep. Form, function and towing Hidden just beneath the rear hatch's big gold "bowtie" is this small video camera that feeds an image to the dashboard's display screen when the truck is in reverse. The eight-seat 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe doesn't have a big, practical advantage over crossovers like the eight-passenger Honda Pilot. Except, of course, for towing. Rated to haul 7,700 pounds behind it, the Tahoe can lug more than twice what the Pilot can and that's a bedrock virtue in red states where boats, campers and car carriers are part of the American dream. Bob Lutz is right, there isn't much growth left in the full-size SUV market as people who have been buying them as minivan substitutes move over to crossovers or even — ACK! — minivans. And in some blue states the stigma such vehicles now carry may be a load many buyers would rather not bear. But if you need this, this is as good as this gets. Moving the license plate from the rear bumper onto the hatch door lets Chevy move the trailer receiver up to a more convenient location and drop the hatch itself down lower for better access. What Works: Fantastic dashboard, excellent interior quality, fine drivetrain, sweet road manners, tight turning circle. What Needs Work: No folding third-row seat, lower body plastic panels vulnerable to damage, dull steering, still very thirsty. Bottom Line: Chevrolet's 2007 Tahoe is new and changed in practically every way. But is that enough for a world that's changed even more?