2011 Chevrolet Tahoe Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 15, 2011

The 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe is very comfortable, capable vehicle, built on tough, traditional building blocks; and especially in the sophisticated Tahoe Hybrid, it's no dinosaur.

The 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe is, in some respects, a relic—a body-on-frame sport-utility vehicle with solid truck underpinnings. But on closer look, especially in its upper trims, it's a luxury vehicle through and through. And with great chassis tuning, top-notch powertrains, good safety, and a sophisticated, 23-mpg Tahoe Hybrid model, it's not completely lost in the past.

The Tahoe carries over styling that's now several years old, but even if it's not the freshest face among full-size utes it's well-sculpted and not too overwrought. There's not much to distinguish the Tahoe Hybrid model, but it does have several subtle modifications that improve aerodynamics and reduce weight, along with a number of Hybrid badges and, inside, a different display on the console's LCD screen.

Most 2011 Chevy Tahoe models are powered by 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 engine 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.

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All Tahoe models are built on GM's full-size SUV platform, with a fully boxed frame, coil-over-shock front suspension, and rack-and-pinion steering. At its best, the Tahoe is as responsive as any 5,600-pound vehicle can be and feels much more maneuverable than it should. It's more maneuverable than it might suggest, and it holds the road fairly well, considering it is a tall, heavy vehicle with a solid rear axle.

In Hybrid models, a big 332-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 is augmented with electric motors and battery power, using a version of the Two-Mode Hybrid system developed by GM with BMW, Daimler and Chrysler. With this system, the Tahoe can accelerate (lightly) on battery power alone or with a mix of engine and motor power.

Simple and straightforward, yet supremely comfortable is the best way to describe the Tahoe's interior. Most Tahoe models come with large, supportive front bucket seats, and in both the first and second rows there's plenty of headroom and legroom. There's a third-row seat available as well, but it's one of the more difficult of its kind, as it's hard to get into. The ride is remarkably refined overall, though with its solid rear axle, passengers will know when the rear wheels hit a rough patch

With such mammoth dimensions and a stout build, people are prone to think that the 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe is a very safe pick. In this case, they're right; the Tahoe has a number of top five-star ratings from the federal government, even in the new tougher tests, and has stability control and side-curtain bags that cover all three rows.

The Chevrolet Tahoe has long ago abandoned its basic truck roots; even the base Tahoe LS comes equipped like an entry-luxury model, and while the serious towing ability is there many Tahoes are used first and foremost as tough and secure yet comfortable transportation. LT and LTZ models add more features, with the top-of-the-line LTZ getting serious load-bearing upgrades like a heavy-duty locking differential, Autoride load-leveling suspension, and 20-inch wheels, in addition to an upgraded Bose Centerpoint audio system, a nav system with voice recognition, heated and cooled front seats, heated second-row seats, remote starting, and power-adjustable pedals. Bluetooth hands-free now comes in all models.

The Tahoe Hybrid gets many of the same features as the LT, and can be equipped with LTZ features as options.

7

2011 Chevrolet Tahoe

Styling

The Chevrolet Tahoe is no longer fresh, but its simple, handsome exterior still manages to look smart.

The 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe carries over styling that's now several years old, but even if it's not the freshest face among full-size utes it's well-sculpted and not too overwrought.

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 proportions are nothing surprising—it's the expected two-box styling, quite subtle despite its large dimensions, and without the added chrome and over-the-top rippled sheetmetal of some models. There are subtle flares at the fenders, and the tailgate is simply shaped, with a minimum of cutlines and fuss.

There's not much to distinguish the Tahoe Hybrid model, but it does have several subtle modifications that improve aerodynamics and reduce weight, along with a number of Hybrid badges and, inside, a different display on the console's LCD screen.

The cabin look is rather simple and straightforward as well. A wide band of trim runs across the dash and gives the cabin a spacious appearance, and large, well-marked gauges are framed by the steering wheel, with a wide center console alongside, encasing clearly marked secondary controls.

To be more specific, there are actually two different instrument-panel looks offered in the Tahoe. 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.

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7

2011 Chevrolet Tahoe

Performance

For such a big, heavy vehicle, the Tahoe and Tahoe Hybrid move quickly and handle relatively well.

Most 2011 Chevy Tahoe models are powered by 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 engine 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.

All Tahoe models are built on GM's full-size SUV platform, with a fully boxed frame, coil-over-shock front suspension, and rack-and-pinion steering. At its best, the Tahoe is as responsive as any 5,600-pound vehicle can be and feels much more maneuverable than it should. It's more maneuverable than it might suggest, and it holds the road fairly well, considering it is a tall, heavy vehicle with a solid rear axle.

In Hybrid models, a big 332-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 is augmented with electric motors and battery power, using a version of the Two-Mode Hybrid system developed by GM with BMW, Daimler and Chrysler. With this system, the Tahoe can accelerate (lightly) on battery power alone or with a mix of engine and motor power. 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. It's a very fuel-efficient combination, allowing EPA ratings of 20 mpg city, 23 highway, and tow ratings of up to 5,000 pounds.

The Hybrid models have a similar driving feel, though the electric-assisted steering lacks feedback, and regenerative braking makes stops a little less coordinated.

Throughout the standard Tahoe lineup, it can be ordered with rear- or four-wheel drive, with a dual-range system available. The Tahoe Hybrid's system is a more sophisticated, electronically switched system.

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8

2011 Chevrolet Tahoe

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe is spacious and comfortable—with high-quality materials to boot—though the third-row design is clunky.

The 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe and Tahoe Hybrid share quite a bit in common with GM's full-size pickups, like the Chevrolet Silverado, but they don't ride like trucks. 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

Most Tahoe models come with large, supportive front bucket seats, and in both the first and second rows there's plenty of headroom and legroom. 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, but 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 of the Hybrid is slashed by the 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. There's storage and stowage aplenty, though; all Tahoes have cup holders for all, plus a huge glove box, a wide center console, and lots of door-panel storage.

Interior materials and trims don't quite have the high-end feel and gloss of those used in GM's Cadillac products, but they're among the best, and the Tahoe's interior is well isolated from road and wind noise.

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2011 Chevrolet Tahoe

Safety

The 2011 Chevy Tahoe has an excellent reputation for safety and occupant protection—including crash-test results to confirm it.

With such mammoth dimensions and a stout build, people are prone to think that the 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe is a very safe pick. In this case, they're right.

The Tahoe hasn't been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but in the federal government's new, more stringent crash tests for 2011, the Tahoe gets top five star scores in both frontal and side impact—with an overall score of four only because it's such a tall vehicle and thus more rollover-prone. The Tahoe also achieves a top five-star score in the new NHTSA side pole test, which isn't yet figured into the overall score.

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.

Outward visibility can be an issue in the Tahoe; with its very tall stance and wide pillars, parking and lane changes require some double checks—though wide side mirrors help with those lane changes. A rearview camera is an option, as are rear parking sensors and a blind-spot warning system.

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2011 Chevrolet Tahoe

Features

Don't think of the 2011 Tahoe as a work truck; Tahoe LTZ and Hybrid models, with their $50k+ price tags and long feature lists, qualify as full-fledged luxury vehicles.

The Chevrolet Tahoe has long ago abandoned its basic truck roots; even the base Tahoe LS comes equipped like an entry-luxury model, and while the serious towing ability is there many Tahoes are used first and foremost as tough and secure yet comfortable transportation.

For those types, equipment in the base Tahoe LS has gotten even better for 2011. Bluetooth connectivity is now standard, as are rear audio controls with two headphone jacks, and floor console storage luggage rack rails, and premium front bucket seats are now also standard. A 40/20/40-split front bench remains optional. Other standard features carried over include 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.

LT and LTZ models add more features, with the top-of-the-line LTZ getting serious load-bearing upgrades like a heavy-duty locking differential, Autoride load-leveling suspension, and 20-inch wheels, in addition to an upgraded Bose Centerpoint audio system, a nav system with voice recognition, heated and cooled front seats, heated second-row seats, tri-zone climate control, remote starting, power-adjustable pedals, and additional power outlets.

The Tahoe Hybrid gets many of the same features as the LT, and can be equipped with LTZ features as options.

This is one vehicle in which you might actually want to spring for the power liftgate; the standard hatch is quite heavy to operate with one arm.

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2011 Chevrolet Tahoe

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe models aren't particularly greeen—but the Hybrid is one of the most fuel-efficient large SUVs.

The 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid is no doubt the star of the lineup from a green perspective; with an EPA-estimated 20 mpg city, 23 highway, it goes nearly 50 percent farther per gallon on regular gasoline than most full-size utes, and it has comparable performance and towing and hauling ability.

But even the standard Tahoe and Suburban models are significantly better on gas than other models in this class. For instance, the Nissan Armada 4WD gets just 12/18, while the equivalent Tahoe gets 15/21.

All standard Tahoe models are also E85 (85-percent ethanol) compatible; but when you fuel up with ethanol you'll get an EPA-estimated 11 mpg city, 16 highway.

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