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TheCarConnection.com's editors have driven both the latest Chevy Tahoe and the Tahoe Hybrid, and have written this road test summary from firsthand experience with both. Editors have compared the Tahoe and hybrid with other SUVs to help you in the decision process. TheCarConnection.com editors also condensed opinions from other Web sites into the companion full review to give you the most comprehensive resource possible for the 2010 Tahoe.
Are full-size sport-utility vehicles a thing of the past? With tough fuel economy rules coming, you may think so-but the Chevrolet Tahoe soldiers on into the 2010 model year as one of the best-performing SUVs available, even in fuel economy, thanks to the recently added, 22-mpg Tahoe Hybrid. With a base price of about $38,000 for the Tahoe and about $51,000 for the Tahoe Hybrid, the big sport-ute's primary competition includes gas-powered utes like the Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia, and Nissan Armada; among hybrids, it takes on the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class with the clean BlueTEC diesel and the BMW X6 Hybrid, but more likely, GM's own Cadillac Escalade Hybrid and Yukon Hybrid.
The Tahoe's styling takes traditional SUV cues and updates them smartly. The design was new in 2007, and GM's stylists have done good work in giving the Tahoe a distinct identity from the Cadillac Escalade-though it's pretty close in appearance to the similar GMC Yukon except up front. The Tahoe's grille and nose carry Chevrolet's latest design theme, with twin horizontal grilles split by a big gold bowtie badge and flanked by large, square headlamps. The Tahoe's glass and sheetmetal are in good proportion, there are subtle flares at the fenders, and the tailgate is simply shaped, with a minimum of cutlines and fuss. The Tahoe's interior is simplified, too, and seems very appealing. A wide band of trim sits high on the dash-it looks better in metallic paint than in glossy wood grain-and gives the cabin a spacious appearance. Large, well-marked gauges are framed by a big steering wheel, and a wide center console encases simple, clearly marked secondary controls. A more work-oriented interior is fitted to the base Tahoe, but the well-trimmed LTZ's interior could have been lifted from a premium German sedan. The Hybrid model has several subtle modifications that improve aerodynamics and reduce weight, along with a number of Hybrid badges and a different display on the console's LCD screen.
A single V-8 engine powers most Tahoes, but in Hybrid models, a bigger V-8 is augmented with electric motors and battery power. Traditional SUV buyers get a 320-horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, a seamless duo that provide steady and smooth acceleration with a hint of muscle car sound. The 5.3-liter has plenty of power to move the big Chevy with authority. On a special XFE edition, a taller final-drive ratio helps boost fuel economy from the usual 14/20 mpg to 15/21 mpg. The engine now sports variable valve timing and E85 flexible-fuel capability, along with cylinder deactivation, which cuts power to half the cylinders in low-engine-load scenarios. In the Tahoe Hybrid, GM's version of the Two-Mode Hybrid it pioneered with BMW, Daimler and Chrysler team a big bin full of gears, clutches, gear sets, and generators to give the Tahoe the ability to drive on battery power alone or a blend of gas-generated and electric power. The combination of a 332-hp 6.0-liter V-8 and the hybrid system's batteries and transmission will allow electric-only driving up to 27 mph; beyond that, both the gas engine and electric power are run in parallel, and the gas engine deactivates cylinders to save gas. All told, the rear-drive Tahoe Hybrid is rated at 21/22 mpg-a 50 percent boost over the standard Tahoe's city fuel economy. Four-wheel-drive models fall to 20/20 mpg.
Both the Tahoe and Hybrid can be ordered with rear- or four-wheel drive. The Tahoe offers standard single-ratio four-wheel drive, with a dual-range system available. The Hybrid's system is a more sophisticated, electronically switched system.
All Tahoe models are built on GM's full-size SUV platform that incorporates features such as a fully boxed frame, coil-over-shock front suspension, and rack-and-pinion steering. The big Tahoe rides smoothly on its coil-spring suspension, but beware that as you move up in wheel and tire size, ride quality suffers. Because of this, TheCarConnection.com vastly prefers the 17- and 18-inch tires to the 20-inchers. With the smaller rims, the Tahoe is as responsive as any 5,600-pound vehicle can be and feels much more maneuverable than it should. It holds the road fairly well, considering it is a tall, heavy vehicle with a solid rear axle, though passengers will know when the rear wheels hit a rough patch. The Hybrid models have a similar, but particular driving feel. The steering is electrically assisted and almost without real feedback-it's simply an eerie feeling to pull away in the Tahoe without much of a sound. Regenerative braking gives the pedal a bit more resistance and masks some of the braking feel-not something the Tahoe's known for, in any case. It still rides comfortably, but the slight measure of driving satisfaction the Tahoe affords is wiped away by the Hybrid's electronics.
In either the 2010 Chevy Tahoe or the Tahoe Hybrid, seat comfort is a strong suit. In standard versions, the first two rows have wide, cushy seats and plenty of head- and legroom for adults. Adding middle passengers in the front two rows isn't the best idea, despite the Tahoe's size and the availability of bench seat in front and in the second row. There's a third-row seat available as well, and it's one of the more difficult of its kind. It's tough to clamber into, since the second-row seats only move forward a little, and legroom in the third row is slashed by the Hybrid's battery pack, which is mounted under the second-row seats. For cargo space, the two-row Tahoe is a champion, with 60.3 cubic feet available. Flip up a third-row seat in either version, and the cargo space shrinks to 16.9 cubic feet. All Tahoes have a wide center console, a huge glove box, lots of door-panel storage, and cup holders that outpace the Brady Bunch in count and size.
When it comes to safety, the 2010 Tahoe performs well. NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) awards it five stars for all crash tests, save for a three-star rollover rating. The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has not yet tested any of the big GM utes. Standard safety features include dual front, side, and curtain airbags that cover all rows of seats; traction and stability control; OnStar; and tire pressure monitors. A rearview camera is an option, as are rear parking sensors and a blind-spot warning system.
The 2010 Chevy Tahoe has moved steadily up the price ladder since its introduction in the 1990s. Today's Tahoe sports a base price of about $38,000 and includes features such as an AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 player with USB input; cruise control; power windows, locks, and mirrors; a leather-wrapped steering wheel with wheel-mounted audio controls; and express-down windows. Bluetooth is optional, as are rear air conditioning; a DVD navigation system with rear audio jacks; real-time traffic; a rear-seat entertainment system; power-adjustable pedals; remote starting; leather upholstery; and a sunroof. Upscale versions add standard ventilated seats and various trim and wheel packages upsized from the standard 17-inch rims. The Tahoe Hybrid starts at about $51,000 and gets much more standard equipment, including the DVD navigation system; the third-row seat; and Bluetooth. Hybrid options include three-zone climate control; a premium audio system with hybrid displays built in to the LCD screen; the rear-seat DVD entertainment system and a rear-seat console; the rearview camera; a sunroof; and remote starting.