– Strong enough engine
– Quiet ride quality
– Top notch off-roader
– Cabin fit and finish
– Poor fuel economy
– Big for the streets
There are a lot of people who overcompensate for inadequacies in their lives. So they might follow the “bigger is better” philosophy, hoping to exude an outward toughness, while really crumbling on the inside. Around here, the Toyota Land Cruiser has carved a niche among those with issues. In America, the Chevrolet Tahoe is the vehicle of choice. The Tahoe certainly deserves a chance in this market, even among those who actually do use these vehicles for off-roading. Because we found the born-again Tahoe to be better than the established kings on many counts.
It is obvious that quality has improved at the General’s camp, as the new Tahoe is miles ahead of the old utilitarian one. Our version for this four-day test was the off-road-modded Z71. It looks good enough on the outside. Side-steps line the lower part of the big body, and the huge Tahoe really does need them, since the Z71 is lifted even higher than the standard model. Other Z71 features include a front bumper partially painted in silver, a chrome grille and 18-inch wheels wrapped in rock-beating rubber.
Heaving ourselves into the front cabin, we were met with space so abundant that the far ends of the interior seemed to be miles away. The cabin is very wide, just like in the old one, but this time it is not a chore to be inside one of these things. The dashboard design is now modern, and the materials are of a better quality. Almost all the plastics are hard, but the upper doors are actually lined with a thoughtfully softer material. The dash in the Z71 is lined by a strip of aluminium-looking trim, although we think the wood-looking trim in other Tahoe versions look nicer. The seat leather is probably of the non-animal variety, but the stitching is nice enough. Fit and finish is solid, but not perfect. We found enough misaligned interior panels to feel that the General’s quality march is still a work in progress.
The seats, in all three rows, are flat and feature almost no side-bolstering. Headroom and elbowroom are excellent throughout. Legroom is excellent in the front, merely adequate in the second row, and downright tight in the third. But there is a fire extinguisher right in the middle of the front passenger footwell, as if an afterthought to conform with GCC specs. Access to the third row is also a backbreaker as usual. Unusually, the third row cannot fold flat thanks to the Tahoe’s non-independent rear suspension. They just fold over and we suspect they are supposed to flip forward or something too, although we could not figure out which latches to pull to flip them. The third row can also be removed to increase the massive luggage space. The Toyota Land Cruiser has a similarly annoying third row, but its main rival, the Ford Expedition, features a cool motorised fold-flat third row.
Most of the usual power features are there, including windows, locks, mirrors, adjustable pedals and sunroof, but only the driver’s seat bottom is powered in the Z71 trim. We wish the heavy tailgate was powered too, but that’s optional. The keyless entry has a mind of its own, not always unlocking the tailgate even when following the press-and-hold technique. And the remote starter button on the key didn’t start anything, even after we turned on the feature. Working features include an adequate Bose CD stereo and a rear-mounted DVD player, with wheel-mounted stereo controls sharing space with cruise control buttons. The digital a/c is above average, with controls and vents even for second-row passengers. Parking sensors are only at the rear, and our tester did not have the optional reverse camera. More basic amenities include a huge central armrest covering a big storage box, smaller storage spaces all over the place, and cup-holders for all three rows. Front and side airbags are standard, while we also had the optional curtain airbags.
Out on the street, we started off slowly, since this is possibly the widest vehicle we’ve ever driven. All-round visibility is not bad at all, thanks to large side mirrors. At first our forward view was partially blocked by those huge mirrors, but raising the seat higher fixed that. However, if you see tiny women driving this on the school run, call the cops because they are going to cause an accident sooner or later. The big-boned Tahoe should have “handle with care” stickers all over. If you throw open the heavy doors, they bounce back and punch you unconscious. If you take a turn too fast and then straighten it out, the body sways as if a tsunami hit it. If you are parking in a small parking space, you go back and forth multiple times to fit in, only to find that you still aren’t within the lines. And if you find yourself having to share a narrow lane with a stupid cyclist trundling along the side of the road, you have to take a wide angle around the bicycle so that your side mirror does not knock that moron out.
But after we got used to this unique style of handling a car, we set off to do our real driving. Power from the 5.3-litre V8 is class-leading, with 320 horses and 460 Nm of torque on tap. The Tahoe does not set any speed records though, thanks to its 2500 kg weight. In all-wheel-drive mode and with traction control on, it took us 9.5 seconds to hit 100 kph from standstill. The automatic gearbox seems outdated, with only four speeds and a crude column shifter, but it actually does the job well, shifting smoothly and never getting confused. Fuel economy is pathetic though, managing to burn 24 litres per 100 km in mixed driving.
On the highway, it is easily one of the quietest 4WDs we’ve ever tested. Wind noise is surprisingly low considering how big this box is, and the ride quality is not bad at all. It occasionally feels lumpy on some rough surfaces, although protrusions as large as speed bumps are dispatched of like flies under a bulldozer.
Things get wobbly as soon as the steering wheel is moved. The power steering is mildly firmed up, but there is absolutely no feedback. Taking turns sharply leads to lots of body roll, while quick lane changes result in side-to-side swaying that continues for a second after the manoeuvre is already completed. Truth be told, most truck-based 4WDs handle like a boat, so this is nothing new. Once we got used to it, we figured out its limits and realised that it is stable in long sweeping turns, and safely understeers when the 265/65 tyres on 18-inch rims are pushed too hard. We believe the standard Tahoe might even handle a bit better than our Z71. Braking felt vague initially, but over the course of a few days, we found the ABS-assisted four-wheel-discs to be adequate. Hard braking causes the entire car to violently lunge forward, making things seem worse than they really are.
The Z71 is modified specifically for off-roading. The aggressive tyres and tall ground clearance becomes a blessing on the soft stuff. The transfer case controller is modern, with a cool electronic knob for switching between two-wheel-drive, automatic all-wheel-drive, four-high and four-low. This thing flattens most dunes with ease and never feels out of power. The only rattle came from the stupidly-mounted GCC-spec fire extinguisher. We didn’t go too extreme for fear of damaging this uninsured vehicle, but it was already obvious to us that it can outclass most rivals with ease.
The Tahoe is a loveable 4WD full of character, but like large people who need two seats on a plane, it is somewhat big for public roads. It is easy enough to get used to it, but you start wondering if you really need the regular headaches involving parking and petrol. It is definitely a better deal than many of the Japanese makes though, and it is an excellent off-roader, so if you really want a fullsizer, the Tahoe is a top contender.
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