The SUV is dead. Long live the sedan on stilts! Yes folks, Chevrolet has transformed their Tahoe from a cheap and cheerful workhorse for environmentally insensitive soccer Moms, to a deluxe cruiser for environmentally insensitive soccer Moms. The change is so well executed, so completely earnest in both scope and scale, you almost feel sorry for the beast. Like the Wild Things watching Max sailing back to his bedroom (already regretting his rumpus at the pumpus), the new Tahoe cries out to departing SUV buyers "Come back! We love you so!" What say you, America?
The new Tahoe is certainly a more alluring monster than the big bland boring box it replaces. Bob Lutz– the GM executive who once dismissed a passel of motor show concept cars as "angry appliances"– will be delighted with what Chevy's American Revolution has wrought: a happy appliance. The Tahoe's sheetmetal displays all the subdued modernism, implied practicality and aesthetic solidity of a Sub-Zero refrigerator, right down to the sleek door handles– I mean "pulls". The Tahoe's hood is as perfectly creased as an Armani suit. The SUV's bowed nose and tail, the gently curving C-pillar, the side mirrors' blacked-out bottoms – every detail reflects an entirely successful attempt to give the Tahoe's exterior a contemporary kitchen's supercool coherence.
The Tahoe's cabin continues the cognitive displacement. Whereas the previous Tahoe's pickup truck-style interior was about as inviting as an Al Qaeda cell meeting, the new cockpit sees Ford's "tough luxury" and raises it an Aston. OK, the Tahoe's soft touch materials aren't, the chairs are flatter than a Kansas pool hall, and how much does it cost to smooth off the ends of plastic stalks? But the Tahoe's lowered dash is faultless in its Starke simplicity. The symmetrical gauges are elegantly restrained. The tasteful dials are ringed with faux chrome and sensibly grouped. The remaining buttons are separated by tiny chrome slashes, with built-in lamps indicating activation. If only BMW's looked this good and worked this well.
The ergonomic success story does not extend to packaging. Our Tahoe LT was set up in the worst possible combination: two, three, three. In this configuration, the huge second row bench tilts forward and up for access, and then comes crashing back down like a big ass guillotine. Even if your spare children move their feet quickly enough to avoid depeditation, the third row is a sick joke, with no foot well, leg room or visibility. The third row seats are easily removed and replaced – provided Mom has a Bow Flex body – but then what? Alternatively, you could go two, two, two; but then you can't tote enough grub to feed the troops more than a light lunch – never mind re-clothe them the following day. There's no excuse for a vehicle this big and thirsty to be this stingy on space.
Yes there is that. If you're an SUV driver who tows a boat and/or plugs mud, who cares about fuel consumption? But if you're looking at the so-not-a-butch-minivan-it-literally-hurts Tahoe as some kind of "lifestyle choice," I'm here to tell you that the EPA figures are bad (16 / 22mpg), the reality worse (11 mpg). Even though the Tahoe LT's 5.8-liter V8 shuts down four-cylinders in cruise mode, there's just too much SUV to lug around for its powerplant to stop gargling gas. If you like a lick of speed, the Tahoe's gonna tear a big old hole in your wallet– and even if you don't.
Oh well. At least the Tahoe drives well. The buckboard ride and handling that used to make Mom feel like one of the cowboys has been sucked out every nook and cranny. Chevy started by stiffening the big rig's frame, turning a wibbly wobbly trucky sort of vehicle into something stable enough to draw attention to its other dynamic deficiencies. So they got rid of them too. They replaced the Tahoe's laughable recirculating ball steering system with a rack and pinion helm that's genuinely accurate, if equally numb. They made the brakes less squidgy, if only marginally more effective. They ditched the torture– I mean torsion bar suspension for coil springs and a rear multi-link axle, creating a more comfortable, if similarly floaty-drift ride.
In short, the Tahoe looks, rides, handles, steers, stops and feels like a luxury car. So, if that sort of thing appeals, how about a luxury car? Or a minivan? You know: something with better mileage and a bit more space. Yes, I thought so. Despite a huge evolutionary leap, the Tahoe still doesn't have what it takes to lure gas-conscious Americans back into their trucks. Max is back in his bedroom with his credit card. And it's still hot.