There's a lot riding on the '07 Tahoe -- much more than just a new body and revised chassis.

GM badly needs for its popular full-size SUV (and its shared platform stable mates,, the new/'07 Caddy Escalade, GMC Yukon and the long-wheelbase Suburban) to hold the line against the burgeoning onslaught of large SUVs from Nissan (Armada) and Toyota (the coming '07 Tundra), some of which have already made significant incursions into territory that used to be the exclusive domain of U.S. automakers. GM can't afford to lose any more market share -- most especially here, in the one area where it is still a dominant player. (Tahoe has been the best-selling large SUV since 2001 and alone accounts for 26 percent of the segment.)

And so a lot of Deep Thought went into the '07 Tahoe -- everything from objective things like performance/capability/driving dynamics and features/equipment (including an available Autoride active damping suspension, power flip and fold second row seats, 20-inch rims and a DVD navigation system) to much harder to pin down subjectives like the feelings and thoughts it evokes when you first look at it.

Instead of me-tooing the crush-a-beer-can-on-your-forehead frat-boy/Tonka truck machismo exemplified by the Nissan Pathfinder Armada (and the new Jeep Commander), Chevy stylists gave the new Tahoe the look of confident authority -- the big dude over there in the custom-fitted suit who definitely fills up his clothes but doesn't need to jump up on the bar and flex to get you to notice his guns. This is still a very large vehicle -- and yet, not overpoweringly so. The wife won't fear it -- but your buds will still be into it. A nice counterpoint to the Armada and others that may be getting a bit over-the-top for some buyers.

You'll notice things like no more colored plastic body cladding -- even base LT Tahoes now get very attractive body-colored bumpers that are themselves snugged tighter to the fenders (just a couple millimeters of gap between the panels) than ever before. And you'll notice a wider stance -- as the track of both the front and rear wheels is significantly wider than the outgoing Tahoe's -- by three inches up front and 1 inch at the rear. It looks more planted and stable than the old model -- and this impression is not just a visual illusion. The handling of the '07 Tahoe sets a new bar for a full-sized SUV. Seriously. All '07s get coil-over shocks riding in aluminum lower control arms (which reduce unsprung mass by an impressive 20 percent), a new rack-and-pinion power steering system that delivers easy turn-in and superb road feel, even at high speeds -- and a revised 5-link rear suspension (along with a totally new boxed frame with 90 percent increased torsional stiffness in the front section, etc.). It's one of the mist un-trucky rides I have ever driven that still has very trucky toughness where it matters -- including an even tougher hydroformed and fully boxed bolt-on steel frame. Amazing.

Inside, there's an interior you simply will not believe until you open the door and see for yourself. If this truck is an indicator of GM's commitment to clawing its way back to the top, then it's time to load up on GM stock while it's cheap. Stunning. The look and feel of an expensive high-end import -- from the shape and materials used to create the elegant dash array to the aluminum door sill trim plates to the deliberate slightly concave sculpting of all the panels (including the driver and passenger seat backs) to give the occupants just that extra smidgen of room -- it's clear someone (indeed, many someone's) cared very much about this vehicle. It is to the old Tahoe what Folgers Crystals are to Starbucks. It's a Chevy? Really. Seriously. Check it out. They even configured the seat tracks so that no matter how far up or back you slide them, there is no exposed hardware to ugly up the interior. Ditto the superbly designed second-row flip and fold seats -- just touch a button and they roll up and out of the way to provide easy access to the third row. And you can still get buckets or bench seats for all rows -- take your pick. (The third row seats can be folded flat, 'natch -- and the front seats can be almost fully reclined for side-of-the-road snoozing.)

The use of new body structures, "quiet steel" laminates, revised door seals -- and trick technology such the use of expanding acoustical foam to fill up internal body spaces -- as well as extensive wind-tunnel shaping (including seemingly minor things like getting rid of the lip on the fuel filler door and the elimination of the mast antenna) cut wind and road noise down substantially. Chevy engineers claim the '07 Tahoe is more slippery in term of its aerodynamic profile than a C4 Corvette. But you'll need to try one out at 75 mph to fully appreciate how far SUV design refinement -- at least, Chevy SUV design refinement -- has come.

But the "guns" are definitely there, too -- including a revised 320-hp version of Chevy's 5.3 liter V-8 with standard Displacement on Demand cylinder deactivation technology that provides better fuel economy than a V-6 powered mid-sized Ford Explorer -- and almost 8,000-lbs. of towing capability (4WD models). The Tahoe's new engine one-ups the former class-leading Armada (305-hp) on standard power and kicks its tail at the pump, too -- with a segment-best combined city/highway fuel efficiency rating of more than 21 mpg. (A smaller displacement 4.8 liter V-8 will be available later in the calendar year and become the standard engine in 2WD Tahoes.) The 5.3 V-8 is can be ordered with "flex fuel" E85 (ethanol) capability, too.

Buyers can choose either a standard 3.73 axle or an optional 4.10 ratio for more low-end grunt.

The previous LS, LT and LTZ trim lines will continue (with the off-road Z-71 package appearing later in the year). But features never before offered in a Tahoe make this truck a contender in almost any segment it feels like competing in. In-dash satellite navigation; real-time damping suspension; rain-sensing wipers; first and second row heated seats (and heated windshield washer fluid, too). Power-articulating running boards; rearview camera. Ultrasonic Park Assist. Rear-seat DVD entertainment system. Standard Stabilitrak electronic stability control system with multi-stage front and side impact and head-curtain air bags with rollover-mitigation technology.

The whole ball of wax. Really and truly.

I have not been as impressed with a new GM vehicle in 15-plus years of covering the industry and test driving new cars. This new Tahoe is a magnificent SUV.

Try on yourself and see.

And with Chevy's initial quality and customer satisfaction scores on an upward trend (Chevy has actually beaten Toyota here lately) there is nowhere to go but up. Here's to hoping GM has more of this kind of engineering and styling commitment in the works.

Pricing for the new Tahoe -- which will be available in January, 2007 -- had not been revealed at the time of this writing. However, base MSRPs should fall close to the current 2006 Tahoe 2WD LS's MSRP of $34,115 -- with the price of a loaded 4WD LTZ somewhere in the mid-low $40k range.