Pros: Nine-passenger capacity; refined and powerful engine; trucklike capability; plush ride; well-crafted interior
Cons: Less maneuverable than most large crossovers; limited space in the third row; too big for city driving
Year after year, the Chevrolet Tahoe proves itself, both as a consummate people mover and as a capable workhorse in the large utility category. It can seat up to nine people and tow 8500 pounds. There are very few offerings that can claim those two things together.
The Tahoe earns its traditional SUV credentials from its sturdy body-on-frame construction and all-terrain prowess. What's more, the Tahoe offers a superb expanse of cargo space and a comfortable, content-rich cabin for large broods to enjoy. Plus, for those seeking a greener approach to the utility vehicle, there's a Tahoe Hybrid.
Although the Tahoe is strong on functionality, it lacks in the practicality department. Those wanting better fuel economy and carlike handling may find a better fit with a large crossover - Chevrolet's own Traverse, for example.
For 2012, the Tahoe receives minor upgrades, such as an optional new navigation system with digital music storage. The standard electronic stability control system gets newly added trailer sway control and hill start assist. The midlevel LT trim now offers heated front seats, while the range-topping LTZ adds a heated steering wheel and a blind-spot monitoring system.
For carting people comfortably, towing a boat competently and treading harsh road conditions confidently, the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe is clearly a top choice. For all of these attributes plus even more cargo space, buyers may want to go with the Tahoe's older brother, the Suburban.
Comfort & Utility
The first thing a potential buyer will notice when climbing in is the Tahoe's excellent fit and finish. This cabin is handsome, well-crafted and intelligently laid out with lots of useful storage compartments.
Prominent gauges and controls serve as the face of this interior. Most switchgear has a solid and tactile feel; even the steering wheel offers an excellent grip for piloting this vessel. The only drawback is the lack of a telescoping feature.
The large, chunky seats are supportive and comfortable all the way around. The front row, especially, is positioned high to give the driver excellent visibility over traffic. The Tahoe comes in eight- and nine-passenger configurations. The eight-person setup trades the middle 60/40 split bench for a pair of well-contoured bucket seats. In the very back, the third-row seat accommodates three passenger but is tighter than that of some other large utilities. The third row also offers a 50/50 split feature. However, the seat doesn't fold flat and must be completely removed to expand the rear cargo area.
The maximum storage area is voluminous at 109 cubic feet. But with all seats up, there's an almost unusable 18 cubic feet of rear cargo room. As an alternative, Chevrolet's longer Suburban has quite a bit more rear cargo room and can carry nine passengers.
The Tahoe is available in three trims: LS, LT and LTZ. Standard convenience features for the base LS include power-adjustable front seats, tri-zone climate control and a six-speaker stereo. The midlevel LT adds leather upholstery, driver's-side memory functions and an available Luxury Package, which adds heated seats in front and second rows. The range-topping LTZ comes highly equipped with ventilated front seats, second-row captain's chairs and a premium 10-speaker audio system.
Technology amenities on the base LS are limited to Bluetooth, USB connectivity and an optional backup-camera system. The uplevel LTZ features a new hard-drive-based navigation system with digital music storage. Both LT and LTZ models offer an optional DVD system for second- and third-row passengers.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe comes in two versions: gasoline-powered and hybrid. Both are available in two- and four-wheel drive configurations. The Tahoe's four-wheel-drive system utilizes either a single-speed transfer case or a more traditional two-speed mechanism. Maximum towing capacity is 8500 pounds.
The conventional Tahoe is powered by a 5.5-liter V8 producing 320 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. Energy is managed by a six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy ratings are 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway in both two- and four-wheel-drive setups.
The Tahoe Hybrid is propelled by a 6.0-liter V8 in combination with a two-mode electric drive system. Total output is 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 20 mpg city/23 mpg highway.
Occupant protection comes from six airbags and OnStar telematics. A new blind-spot warning system is optional on the LTZ.
The Tahoe also comes equipped with ABS and stability control with newly added trailer sway control and hill start assist.
The Tahoe's engine delivers power in a strong but smooth manner. It feels refined, even under harder acceleration. The same is the case with the Tahoe Hybrid, which feels powerful in an even more seamless and quiet way.
Sharing the same architecture as the venerable Chevrolet Silverado pickup, the Tahoe is extremely capable. But this utility vehicle benefits from a more yielding rear suspension that makes for a plusher ride for carting the family. The LTZ's Autoride suspension with load-leveling elevates the ride even further. And specific sound-deadening characteristics shield the Tahoe's cabin from wind, road and engine noise.
As for handling, the Tahoe drives like a truck. It is not as maneuverable or carlike as many large crossovers that benefit from unibody construction. The Tahoe also exhibits noticeable body roll in corners. Its large size is apparent from behind the wheel and must be managed accordingly.
The Tahoe's wheels range from 17 inches to the Trailering package's 22-inchers. For truly dominating the wild, there's a Z71 off-road package that brings a resprung suspension, beefier shocks, skid plates and special all-terrain wheels and tires.
Other Cars to Consider
Toyota Sequoia - The Sequoia and the Tahoe are very comparable in both performance and functionality.
Ford Expedition - The Expedition is less capable than the Tahoe in towing capacity. Its third-row seat, however, is more sensibly designed, allowing a fold-away feature as opposed to the Tahoe's inconvenient remove-and-stow requirement.
Nissan Armada - The Armada falls short of the Tahoe with less overall cargo space and a more trucklike ride.
Our choice of Tahoe is the well-equipped LTZ model with four-wheel drive. If you're going to shell out for a big SUV, you're going to want it to have all the bells and whistles that make it the ultimate family hauler. Its price premium justifies all that it has to offer. And four-wheel drive is a no-brainer when opting for a truck-based SUV. We suggest adding optional DVD entertainment as well as the Z71 Off-Road package to this formula.
Although the Tahoe Hybrid is a well-intentioned addition to the model line, it is much too pricey for the little bit of additional fuel economy that it gains.