Tahoe's interior was extensively revised for 2003, making it more comfortable, user-friendly, and attractive. New seats, a new center console, a new instrument panel, new HVAC controls, and refinement throughout resulted in an improved environment for driver and passengers.
There's plenty of headroom and legroom in the Tahoe. The front seats are big, wide and, in the LT, fully adjustable. Optional seat heaters are easy to turn on and adjust. Switchgear is nicely designed and easy to operate. The map lights can be aimed. Rubber lined cubbies on the center console offer places to organize odds and ends. The ashtray can be removed to reveal another nice cubby for sunglasses and stuff. Cup holders are well designed. Double visors with extenders keep the sun out of your eyes. Three power outlets in front and one in back deliver electricity for accessories. Visibility is very good through big windows, but we'd like the option of an electronic park-assist feature to help maneuver this big rig in tight quarters.
We appreciated the available power-adjustable pedals. Pressing a button moves the brake and accelerator pedals for an optimum driving position. This allows a shorter driver to move farther from the steering wheel where the airbag is located. The tilt steering could use finer adjustments, but by adjusting the height and tilt of the seat it's possible for drivers of all sizes to find a comfortable position. Steering wheel-mounted controls add convenience and enable the driver to personalize functions.
We love the LT's electronically controlled, automatic three-zone HVAC system for its sophistication and ease of use. Change the driver's temperature, for example, and a panel displays the new temperature for a few moments, then display's the passenger's temperature, then displays the driver's temperature again. It's easy to operate the controls with the big knobs and a clear LED display that's easy to understand. Rear electronic temperature controls improve comfort for second- and third-row passengers and pets.
The standard setup is a manual-control HVAC system with three zones that allows temperature differentials of 30 degrees between driver and passenger. It also works quite well. The third zone allows manual control of the rear air conditioning. The optional driver information center warns you when ice may be on the road.
Second-row seating in the Tahoe is quite comfortable. Second-row bucket seats ($490), an option on the LT, are less versatile than a bench seat, but more comfortable, more luxurious. Cup holders are close by no matter where you're sitting. A pair of map lights flanks each dome light on the second and third row, a great feature when traveling or accessing gear. The Tahoe provides slightly more cargo space behind the second row than the Ford Expedition does (63.6 cubic feet vs. 60.9 cubic feet).
Folding the second-row seats down provides enormous cargo capacity, 104.6 cubic feet of cargo space, a bit less than the Expedition's 110.5 cubic feet. Folding the second row down is easy. Headrests stay in place, convenient and safer because you can't forget to put them back on.
The Tahoe is comfortable with four or five passengers, but it can seat seven (and up to nine) with its optional third-row seat. However, getting in and out of the third row isn't easy, and once back there, it's uncomfortable for an adult. The seat height is low relative to your feet, sort of like sitting on the floor. So if you think you'll be using that third row on a daily basis, then step over to the other side of the showroom and take a look at the Suburban. The Suburban is more practical than the Tahoe for carrying six to nine people regularly. The Tahoe offers just 16.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row, less than even the Expedition's paltry 20.6 cubic feet and far less than the Suburban's 45.7 cubic feet.
In terms of flexibility, however, the Tahoe''s third-row seats comprise one of the best designs in the business. They can be quickly folded and flipped out of the way. And they are easy to remove: Just fold down, flip up, grab the release handle, and roll them out on their wheels. They're not light, but one strong person with a good back can remove each of the two seats. Storing them in the garage is a good idea as it opens up more cargo space. This leaves room for five people and lots of cargo.
With the third row flipped up, there's room for a dog, though the seat bottoms aren't too friendly with their mounting hardware bared. Remove the third row and there's lots of room for a big dog. Throw a rubber mat over the cargo area and you can haul big items without scuffing the carpet. Reinstalling the third-row seats is a snap. If you have a lot of smaller items, you can load them into the Tahoe even with the third row in place: Just flip up the second- and third-row seats and you can put stuff between the seats as well as behind them.
The new XM Satellite Radio system works great, delivering CD-quality sound nearly everywhere. Not having to change stations on a cross-country trip has distinct advantages, but even in a radio market as crowded as Los Angeles, we enjoyed being able to keep up with Fox News and CNN. We didn't have the supplied guide handy, but switching among stations was easy because the radio's LED display clearly labels the programming. Turning a big knob on the Tahoe's new audio system moves you through 71 music channels: '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s music; country; classical; jazz; all displayed as such in big LED letters. There's sports coverage of all kinds and children's programming. You get 100 digital channels with no dead spaces in between, just clear sound coast to coast. There is advertising on some, but not all channels.
Also standard on our Tahoe LT was OnStar, which provides operator-assisted directions with the press of a button and brings the rescue squad if the airbag goes off. OnStar operators can unlock the doors if you lock the keys inside and they can identify the exact location of your Tahoe if it's stolen.
Our Tahoe also had the Panasonic DVD Passenger Entertainment System with wireless headphones. Controls for audio and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) were improved for 2003 and the driver information center was enhanced, making life in the Tahoe a little easier.