By Derek Price
Full-size SUVs may never again scale the highest peaks of popularity like they did in the 1990s, but that doesn’t mean they’re irrelevant today.
I just spent a week driving the Chevrolet Tahoe, one of the very few body-on-frame SUVs that hasn’t gone extinct, and it’s easy to see why drivers still fall in love with the capability of a truck like this — if you’re the right type of person.
If you’re just carrying kids to soccer practice, well, this kind of vehicle doesn’t make much sense. That’s why the plethora of lighter, better handling, more fuel-efficient crossover vehicles have taken over most kid-hauling roles these days.
But if you need to do more than kiddie duty, the Tahoe starts to look far more appealing.
V8 power and an 8,600-pound trailer rating mean it can do some jobs you’d normally need a big pickup for, such as pulling boats and tromping through the mud. Its available off-road suspension package and 4×4 traction help it easily reach places that would make most family crossovers squeamish.
Its tall, king-of-the-road, truck-like seating position is a plus for drivers who like that sort of thing.
That said, General Motors took a long list of steps to bring the old-school Tahoe into the new-school era, where fuel economy and car-like handling qualities matter more than ever.
The new design largely succeeds, improving the highway gas mileage by 10 percent without sacrificing capability — the whole reason people buy a Tahoe in the first place. It has a remarkably quiet, stable and sophisticated feel over the road.
In fact, the only misstep I can see that GM made on this redesign is with its cargo capacity. With a high loading floor that eats into the volume, there’s just not a whole lot of room for road-trip luggage when the back seats are in place, which makes the Suburban seem considerably more appealing to me.
Pricing starts at $47,000 for the Tahoe and $49,700 for the more cargo-friendly Suburban. You’ll pay slightly more still if you prefer the look and feel of their closely related GMC cousins, the Yukon and Yukon XL.
From a comfort and quality standpoint, the newly designed GM SUVs are all lightyears ahead of where they used to be. They’ve even got the same soft-touch materials and air-tight cabin construction that buyers have come to expect from nice cars and crossovers — something unheard of in the truck world until recently.
The tester Chevy loaned me was a nice LTZ model with two-wheel drive and a rear-seat entertainment system that rang up at $64,540. While not quite as snazzy as GMC’s incredible Denali trim, it comes close, including a magnetic suspension system that lets you adjust the ride quality and leather seats that make long stretches of highway a joy.
For people who need its abundant power and sizable footprint for towing and traveling off the pavement, the Tahoe makes a compelling case for why the full-size SUV still has a meaningful place in 2015.
At a Glance
What was tested?
2015 Chevrolet Tahoe 2WD LTZ ($61,085). Options: Sun, Entertainment, Destination package ($2,260). Price as tested (including $1,195 destination charge): $64,540
Wheelbase: 116 in.
Length: 204 in.
Width: 80.5 in.
Height: 74.4 in.
Engine: 5.3-liter EcoTec3 V8 (355 hp, 383 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 16 city, 23 highway
2015 Chevrolet Tahoe
Why buy it?
It’s great for people who need the full capability of an SUV, including ample power for towing heavy trailers. It’s far more refined than the Tahoe used to be.