At the head of the class in features, technology and refinement.
by Dan Carney
Base Price $25,604
As Tested $41,983
Completely redesigned and re-engineered for model-year 2000, the Chevy Tahoe is lighter, trimmer, more powerful and more efficient than the previous model. The Tahoe's conservative-looking skin conceals the highest-technology full-size SUV on the market. But Chevrolet hasn't forgotten that buyers use Tahoes for work, so the 2000 model is loaded with features for towing and moving cargo.
A range of models is available. The base model is a stripped-down vinyl-seat work truck. You won't see many of these. Base 4X2 retails for $25,604, while 4X4 goes for $28,520.
You'll likely be choosing between LS or LT trim. Mid-line LS 4X2 ($31,768) and LS 4X4 ($34,684) include popular features such as rear A/C, enhanced stereo, vehicle alarm and heated outside mirrors.
Top of the line and most popular are the LT 4X2 ($36,191) and LT 4X4 ($39,107), which come loaded with leather, power seats, premium ride suspension, OnStar driver assistance and automatic climate control.
The most obvious aspect of the new Tahoe is that, like the Silverado pickup truck upon which it is based, its styling is mildly evolutionary, not radically changed. While the new model looks very similar to its predecessor, one change is an arched roofline that provides extra headroom for the second and third rows.
Getting inside the 2000 Tahoe is easier thanks to new pull-handle style door handles that replace the old lift-up style openers. Step-in height has been reduced, making it easier to climb into the driver's seat.
At the rear, Chevy continues to offer a choice of a traditional hatch with a flip-up window or panel doors, also known as barn doors or cargo doors. Panel doors are standard on the base Tahoe and optional on the LS and LT models.
Chevrolet has gone to great lengths to make the Tahoe's interior more comfortable, more user-friendly, and more attractive for families. Controls are mounted closer to the driver's seat. Visibility out of the Tahoe is very good, thanks to new larger windows. The combination of good visibility and confident handling give the Tahoe an air of nimbleness that the Ford Expedition lacks.
The Tahoe also tops the Expedition in the usefulness of its third-row seat. While the Ford's third seat is a children-only compression chamber, the Tahoe's third seat provides space for adults' feet. It isn't a lot of space, but it is there. The third seat also folds, flips, slides and removes impressively. Whichever way you choose to stow the third-row seat, it is easy to do; it even has wheels to help it roll into the garage for storage.
One child-only seat in the Tahoe is the middle seat on the optional front bench seat. The seat is basically two low-bolstered bucket seats, bridged by a fixed, non-reclining mid-section where the console sits on most Tahoes. This perch is too uncomfortable for any adult and is probably not a good idea for more than short rides for children. Yes, kids are safest in the back seat, but the front seat in a full-size SUV like the Tahoe is statistically safer than the rear seat in most any car. Just keep those rear-facing child seats in the back, away from the airbags.
The leather seats that are standard in the tested LT are very nice. Seat-mounted shoulder harnesses on the front and rear seats make the Tahoe's belts easier to wear.
The Tahoe has a good nine-speaker stereo with a subwoofer and uses a spiral-wrapped radio antenna to cut wind noise. Chevrolet says it chose to use a conventional mast rather than embedding the antenna in a window for better performance. Chevrolet is offering a different antenna matched to an improved radio late in the model year.
The Tahoe delivers on the promise of its impressive specifications. On bumpy rural byways that make some SUVs feel like pogo sticks, the Tahoe rides with impressive, sedan-like smoothness. And on smooth highways, the Tahoe cruises effortlessly.
Car-based SUV's such as the Lexus RX300 use independent rear suspension to provide the ride and handling customers expect, but the Chevrolet has managed to give the Tahoe those benefits without compromising its cargo-carrying utility. A new five-link independent rear suspension contributes to better ride and handling than any vehicle in this class. The front suspension is conventional in design, except for the springs. To save space, the Tahoe uses torsion bars instead of coil springs. The Tahoe's conventional ladder frame is fully boxed in the mid-section for maximum rigidity, while the front and rear portions are shaped by the same hydro-forming technique used to make Corvette frames. This design is a key to the Tahoe's excellent ride and handling. At the very front of the frame is a section that is designed to crush and absorb impacts in a crash.
The premium ride suspension helps keep the Tahoe level over bumps. This effect is especially pronounced when towing; a trailer tends to cause the towing vehicle to rock back and forth when driving over bumps, but the premium ride system keeps the Tahoe amazingly smooth.
The recirculating-ball steering provides good control and feedback, even if it falls short of the rack-and-pinion steering found on the Ford Explorer and in many sports cars. Tahoe's power steering system is designed for durability by operating at a lower temperature range. A much-tighter 38.3-foot turning diameter makes the Tahoe easier to park than before.
The rear axle now carries dual-piston brake calipers for its disk brakes. Along with bigger front disks, the new Tahoe enjoys a much-needed upgrade in the stopping department. The upgraded brakes perform nicely. As a test, we towed a heavily laden horse trailer without trailer brakes connected and were impressed with its braking ability. A dynamic proportioning system continuously balances the front and rear brakes for maximum braking without activating the ABS.
Under the hood, the Tahoe employs the latest version of Chevy's small-block V8 engine family. These Generation III overhead-valve engines are the best yet and rival competitors' overhead-cam engines for smoothness and efficiency. The new 4.8-liter version cranks out 275 horsepower, which is 20 more than the old 5.7-liter motor. At the same time, it is quite efficient; the 2WD, 4.8-liter version, for example, earns 20 mpg on the EPA's highway mileage test. The tested 5.3-liter engine is rated at 285 horsepower and its acceleration performance is impressive. Like the 4.8-liter engine, the 5.3 burns regular unleaded fuel, making pit stops a little more affordable.
Two-wheel-drive Tahoes offer a limited-slip rear differential to give drivers better traction in slippery conditions. More clutch disks than before mean smoother engagement of the differential lock. An available traction assist (not quite true traction control) cuts engine power as needed to help maintain traction to the rear tires. A second-gear winter start feature in the automatic transmission also helps get the Tahoe rolling without wheel spin under slippery conditions. These two systems should make the 4x2 Tahoe sufficient for all but those who live at the end of long driveways in snowy climates.
All Tahoes are equipped to accept a lighting plug for trailer towing, and have provisions for connecting a trailer brake controller very easily. They also have a deeper oil pan on the transmission to provide a better supply of cool transmission fluid while towing. Our Tahoe LT equipped with the towing package included a receiver hitch and an external oil-to-air transmission cooler. Chevy says the cooler is unnecessary, but that customers who tow with the Tahoe install them universally. Cool transmission fluid is vital to transmission life, so better safe than sorry.
The Chevrolet Tahoe is a comfortable, roomy machine that gets surprisingly good gas mileage. It offers more power and more seating capacity than its predecessor and adds safety features such as side-impact air bags. These changes don't just make the new Tahoe better than the old one, they make it better than the other full-size SUVs available.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.