The Chevrolet Tahoe makes the most of its truck hardware when it comes to performance.
The mainstream powertrain in the 2012 Tahoe couples a 5.3-liter V-8 with 320 horsepower, to a six-speed automatic transmission. It's a well-executed combo that doles out smooth, steady acceleration as well as a little of the unmistakable big V-8 sound. It's also flexible-fuel-capable, and has cylinder deactivation--which shuts off fuel to half the cylinders under low power demand--to give it acceptable gas mileage of 15/21 mpg. Across the non-hybrid Tahoe lineup, rear-wheel drive is standard, with a dual-range four-wheel-drive system available.
Beneath the angular sheetmetal is a classic truck chassis with a boxed frame, coil-over-shock front suspension, and rack-and-pinion steering. Tuned for good on-road feel, the Tahoe's steering and suspension feel as responsive as any 5,600-pound vehicle can be, much more maneuverable than any Tahoe from the past. Roadholding and grip are good, especially for such a tall vehicle. 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 (we recommend the 17- or 18-inch wheels over the 20-inchers. The ride is remarkably refined overall, though with its solid rear axle, passengers will know when the rear wheels hit a rough patch.
The Tahoe Hybrid is substantially different from the gas-only model, thanks to a host of electronics that meld its batteries and motors with V-8 power. The Hybrid sports a 6.0-liter V-8 that puts out 332 horsepower, and a two-mode hybrid system like the one found in GM's big pickups--the one developed by GM with BMW, Daimler and Chrysler, but now pretty much used by GM alone. The Tahoe Hybrid can drive on electric power alone at speeds of up to 27 mph, at which point gas and electric power blend together while the engine shuts off fuel delivery to half its cylinders, all to save gas. While tow ratings stay as high as 5,000 pounds, the Tahoe Hybrid's gas mileage rises to 20/23 mpg.
The Hybrid models have a similar driving feel, though the electric-assisted steering lacks feedback, and regenerative braking makes stops a little less coordinated. The Hybrid's four-wheel-drive system is a more sophisticated, electronically switched system.