2010 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid Review
By Roger Boylan
This was my third go-around with one of GM’s hybrid trucks. In June, I reviewed the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, and last May I drove a Silverado 4X4 Hybrid for a week. In both cases, I was impressed. In this case, with the 2010 Tahoe Hybrid, I was more than impressed. I was damned near seduced. Read on and learn why.
For starters, the base Tahoe is one of the best full-size SUVs around. US News and World Report named it “.” “The Tahoe,” asserts US News, “delivers.” Multitudes of SUV drivers, undeterred by gas prices and general anti-SUV feeling, evidently agree: The number of Tahoes and sister Yukons, and big brother Suburbans, on the roads (especially the roads of Texas, where I live) attests to that. But it’s not just because this vehicle is a swaggering get-outta-my-way butchmobile that I liked it so much–although, let’s admit it, that might be part of it. But it’s also because it’s quiet, refined, comfortable, and maneuverable–not attributes automatically associated with the maxi-SUV class, although the class as a whole is improving, through attrition and economic circumstances. But the attribute never associated with the class is the Tahoe Hybrid’s strong suit: fuel economy, especially in city driving, where it’s up to 50% more frugal than its regular siblings (GM claims overall fuel economy, city/highway, to be about 30% better for the Hybrid than for the gasoline models; all versions happily take regular fuel). The EPA in-town estimate is 21 mpg for the 2WD model (non-hybrid, 15): “same as a standard 4-cylinder Toyota Camry,” as the GM ads keep chanting. On the highway, your penalty is slightly greater, and your savings vis-à-vis the regular Tahoe correspondingly lower, at 22 mpg for the 2WD, as opposed to 21 for a regular Tahoe, itself pretty dang economical for a big ‘un. Four-wheel-drive hybrids are rated at an even 20 mpg in both city and highway mileage.
In my test Tahoe Hybrid, judicious on-and-off application of the right foot, combined with cruise control and downhill grades–and ably assisted by the engine’s Active Fuel Management system, which shuts down four of the eight cylinders for highway cruising–I had no difficulty averaging over 20 mpg over my week of commuting and back-country driving. Indeed, I was thrilled occasionally to see figures north of 30 come up on the instant-MPG readout at the bottom of the tachometer. Equally thrilling was when these figures sank to single digits, because that was when I couldn’t hold myself back any more and was pounding the gas pedal just to hear the muted roar of the mighty V8.
OK, it’s no Prius, but the Prius is no Tahoe. What you get for the price of two Priuses is twice the car: an eight-passenger family hauler with a brawny and proven 6.0-liter V-8 engine making 332 horses and 367 pound-feet of torque, working in tandem with two 60-watt electric motors charging a 300-volt nickel-metal hydride battery. The Tahoe Hybrid is powered by either gasoline or electricity or a combination of both. It can run entirely on the battery at low speeds, enabling a silent and completely fuel-abstemious forward creep in traffic jams and across parking lots. In all hybrids, the engine turns off at a stop, but many have to start it up again to move off. Not a full, or “two-mode” hybrid like the Tahoe; under gentle throttle application, it glides silently away like a hulking ghost. It’s quite a charge, as it were, to be trundling along at 25 m.p.h. or so and see “99 mpg” (the highest possible rating) on the instant readout. At speeds above that the gas engine kicks in, although “kicks” is hardly the word. At most you feel the slightest shudder and the big V8 starts up and does its thing, and does it in under 8 seconds between immobility and 60 m.p.h., if you so desire. Little wind or road noise is audible as you reach cruising speed, and when you need to lower the anchor there’s no mushiness or hesitation, as one would hope in a vehicle this size: the brakes do the job firmly and instantly, again and again, without fade.
The interior is another prime attraction. The steering wheel, leather-wrapped, feels good in the hand, and the steering itself is light and precise. The dashboard is modern and elegant, with clean lines and wood trim so faux it looks more like the real thing than the real thing. Fit and finish overall are excellent, with tight panel tolerances and nothing shabby or ill-conceived except those awkward old GM HVAC buttons that I’ve complained about so often already I bore myself; never mind, I’m used to them now. Storage niches and cubbyholes abound, most rendered in that good old hard, roughly-grained plastic reminiscent of the thousand rental cars of a lifetime’s travels; but hey, nothing’s perfect, and Chevy’s designers got all the important things right. The Hybrid’s leather front buckets are superb, with excellent (manual) lumbar support. The second-row bench is big and broad, and can accommodate two in great comfort, three adequately. As for the removable third-row seat, it can just about accommodate two masochists or a brace of unhappy kids, but in my Tahoe it would go straight into the garage and gather dust until trade-in time. That would not only get rid of the torture zone but expand the truck’s cargo capacity from a miserly 16.9 cubic feet of space to 60.3, and up to as much as a whopping 108.9 with the second row folded down, which is more like what you expect from a full-size SUV. And you’d still have space for five, with room to spare for a dog or two and gobs of luggage.
Standard features on the Hybrid, which comes with the upscale LTZ trim of the normal Tahoe, include a one-year subscription to GM’s outstanding OnStar remote communications system, a nine-speaker Bose audio unit, a backup camera (excellent feature), heated side mirrors, and remote start. The few option possibilities include an engine block heater, a sunroof, and a backseat-DVD entertainment system. The touch-screen nav system is relatively easy to operate—and when bored, you can tune in an animated diagram of the hybrid drivetrain at work! But I wouldn’t advise it because a) it’s boring and b) it’s dangerous, dummy. Just select your radio station and forget the screen’s there. Some knocks on the nav system are that it’s far from the driver’s line of sight, works somewhat slowly, and has maps that lack detail.
The gauge and instrument cluster differs from the non-hybrid, naturally, featuring as it does the aforementioned animated cartoon extravaganza as well as an “auto-stop” position on the tach that tells you when the truck is running on battery power alone. It also includes an economy gauge that wags its needle at you rightward if you’re being a naughty guzzler, to the left if you’re on the side of the eco-angels. Safety gadgetry includes electronic stability control with rollover protection and acres of airbags, including head-curtain ones for all three rows of seats. The Tahoe garnered top scores in Federal Government crash-safety tests. I’m not unhappy to know that, especially in the pouring rain at rush hour.
I also like the way this truck looks. The Tahoe is an elegant and purposeful but unobtrusive SUV, not boxy or chunky, but squared-off in its latest iteration, and muscular, like a heavyweight boxer in his prime. Clean lines are everywhere, and the designers have spared us extraneous chrome or vulgar adornments. The most notable external differences between the Hybrid and the Non are the absence of a roof rack in the Hybrid, a lower air dam in the front, and large “Hybrid” graphics on the side doors and smaller ones (removable, fortunately) on the windshield and rear window. The Hybrid also has a hood and liftgate made of light-weight aluminum. tires with low-rolling resistance, and canted D-pillars designed for better aerodynamics. Everything seems to be dedicated to a lofty purpose in this vehicle: Have your cake and eat it, too. Everything except the price, that is. The 2WD Hybrid stickers at $50,455, the 4WD at $53,260. Quite a premium over the regular Tahoe, which starts at $38,165; but times are hard, and dealers are dealing. And if you keep your Hybrid for awhile, the reduced number of visits to your local filling station will begin to make itself felt in a big way.
So, if I were in the market for a full-size SUV I’d look no further. Problem is, they aren’t making very many of these fine vehicles, and they’re publicizing them hardly at all. I know they lose money on them, compared to the gas-powered models, but the costs would be amortized over time, especially if they doubled the production numbers. Why do I have an unpleasant feeling that GM is taking aim at its foot again, as with the Pontiac G8 and the Saturn line and so many other fine, underpublicized models in the past? These hybrids are splendid vehicles, and they deserve to be out there in greater numbers. Wake up, General. The rules have changed. You changed them.
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