DETROIT (SNS) Ė They can
dress up the giant interior of Cobo Hall at auto show time, but they
can never make it resemble the Phoenix desert as it rolls and rises up
into the mountains of Arizona.
The 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe seemed much more at home
out in Arizona, where it could negotiate the open countryside, and you
could visualize it towing a big horse trailer, or a house-sized
The North American automotive media got the chance
to first drive the Tahoe in that cactus country setting of Arizona,
but we were asked not to reveal our impressions until the world could
catch a look at the Tahoe during this past weekís press days at the
North American International Auto Show.
Driving through the twisting mountain roads outside
Phoenix, or zipping along highways down in the valley, the Tahoe
In fact, it can be unequivocally stated that the
2007 Tahoe is by far the best Tahoe ever built.
It is sleeker, more aerodynamic, with smoother and
more appealing edges than the husky but squarish predecessor, and with
dozens of fancy creature comforts that are breakthrough items for GM,
and even if all or almost all of the features are already out on a
variety of competitors, itís impressive that the Tahoe has packed all
of them into its shapelier body.
General Motors is stressing those
features, but mostly itís stressing that the Tahoe has "broken the
20-mile-per-gallon barrier" for large SUVs. There were all sorts
of stylish responses to the challenges facing the automotive world
at Detroitís show Ė small cars, smaller cars, hybrids, and all
sorts of compact, downsized and fuel-efficient crossover SUVs.
And there was General Motors, introducing as its
primary new vehicles the all-new Chevrolet Tahoe, and the all-new
Cadillac Escalade. The corporate twins, are trimmed up with distinctly
different features, but they are both large SUVs with big V8 engines.
Itís been eight model years since General Motors
made its last major change to its large truck-based vehicles, back
when the code-named 800 trucks supplanted the 12-year stand of the 400
model. So the new 900 was long in coming.
"The 400 model was pretty loose," said GM
engineering spokesman Gary White. "The 800 was much stiffer, but is
still squeaked and rattled more than we liked."
When gas prices rose toward $3 a gallon, people
started looking for more fuel-efficient cars. When it looked as though
the prices would stay over $2, the exodus from large SUVs left acres
of unsold trucks on GM, Ford Toyota, Nissan, and Dodge dealerships,
but General Motors sells the most and therefore felt the dropoff the
As cars stood unsold, the incentive rebates rose.
Edmunds.com, an industry-analyzing website, said that calendar year
2005 ended with large SUVs averaging just over $6,000 per unit, while
large trucks averaged $4,049, and nothing else had over a $3,000
average, with midsize SUVs third at just under that mark.
Compact cars, on the other hand, averaged only $876
in rebates per unit, and sports cars only $553. Such small rebates
gave large SUVs an inflated popularity, as many buyers couldnít pass
up the bargain price, even knowing fuel economy pains might be
Meanwhile, back at Detroit,
virtually all of the top GM competitors were stressing crossover
SUVs, particularly Ford, Lincoln, Dodge, Jeep, Hyundai, and Honda,
through its Acura arm. Most of those companies also introduced
fuel-sipping compact cars and small hatchbacks.
Still, for those who genuinely need a large SUV for
hauling a big family around, or towing hefty trailers, SUVs fill an
important niche, and they will be around for years to come. And the
Tahoe, which ranks as king of the large-SUV hill, was crying out for a
Aerodynamic smoothness shows up on the flush rear
side glass, and on the integrated antenna, and removal of the lip on
the fuel-filler door, dropping the coefficient of drag to .363, which
is the best for large SUVs.
The front has a stylish upgrade on the grille, with
its horizontal headlights and the horizontal line that splits the
grille. Great attention to narrowing all body panel gaps adds to the
classiness of the Tahoe.
Inside, the headliner is made of a woven fabric that
is an improvement over that ubiquitous fuzzy stuff of the past. The
front seats are heated and so is the second row of seats, while the
rear seat folds and tumbles forward at the push of a button to join
the foldable rear seat in making a flat floor. The instrument panel is
moved down and positioned six inches forward, to make the roomier
interior seem roomier still.
Some other intriguing features include rain-sensing
wipers, a rear camera to help avoid crushing smaller vehicles or
objects when backing up, and remote start, a feature on other GM
products that is eminently useful in cold climates.
Out of view of driver, occupant and
passer-by, the Tahoe has been improved from the ground up. It sits
on the same wheelbase, but the frame has been strengthened
considerably. The entire frame has been increased 49 percent in
torsional stiffness. Thatís a lot. The new front section, with
stronger cross-members, has been increased 90 percent in torsional
That allowed engineers to remake the suspension and
steering for much better handling feel, from on-center steering to
cornering precision without the sway normally associated with large,
A 3-inch wider stance up front aids that feel, and
use of higher-strength steel in body pillars adds to the safety of
occupants, along with rollover sensors and roof-mounted side airbags,
supplementing the usual array of airbags and side pillars.
Under the hood, the 5.3-liter pushrod V8 is all
aluminum, with 320 horsepower and 340 foot-pounds of torque, and
featuring an imperceptible cutoff of four of the eight cylinders when
Thatís something GM has been promising for two
years, while Chrysler beat the General to it and now has it in use on
every Hemi V8 application.
I like the instrumentation, and the new seats, which
have better side support than the smoothly slippery seats of past
Tahoes. Steering feel and the improved brake feel add to the feel of
control. The interior room and smoother exterior leads Chevy stalwarts
to claim the Tahoe drives smaller on the outside, while you live
The biggest claim for the Tahoe is improved fuel
economy. That, too, remains to be seen. All the cars in the
introductory fleet had the 5.3 V8, the two-wheel-drive Tahoe EPA
estimates are for 22 highway and 16 city, while the four-wheel-drive
units show 21 highway and 15 city.
These are EPA estimates, with city figures obtained
in a lab without driving, and highway figures calculated without going
over 60 miles per hour and without air-conditioning on.
I asked if Chevy had any real-world evidence that
they could get that sort of mileage, but Chevrolet officials said they
only use the EPA figures.
No matter what the actual mileage comes down to, and
even if large-SUV sales drop off from their annual sale of 750,000, GM
is not likely to lose their 62-percent share of that market.
GMís Gary White mentioned that the company likes
that 62 percent share, "But with the new Tahoe, we want to take the
excuses away from the other 38 percent."
Editor's note: John Gilbert writes weekly auto reviews. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.