2004 Chevrolet Tahoe
2004 Chevrolet Tahoe Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
When size large is just right.
The Chevrolet Tahoe is America's best-selling full-size SUV. One of the reasons is that it seems to be exactly the right size SUV for a lot of Americans. It's big enough to haul busloads of people and boatloads of cargo, yet it's more manageable than the super-size Suburban.
Tahoe carries more cargo than a compact or mid-size SUV such as the Chevy TrailBlazer or Ford Explorer. It can carry five passengers and their gear at the same time. Third-row seats are available to increase the capacity to seven passengers, or up to nine when equipped with bench seats throughout. The Tahoe makes for a stable towing platform and pulling a trailer is no problem with the optional 5.3-liter V8. Yet the Tahoe is far more maneuverable than a Suburban, important in crowded parking lots, underground garages, or when parallel parking, and it will fit into more garages.
On the road, the Tahoe is smooth and stable, a rock. It has plenty of power and its brakes work well. The cabin is comfortable and familiar, friendly and functional, particularly after improvements that were made for 2003. Turn off the highway and the Tahoe handles gravel, rugged two-tracks, mud, and snow. In any kind of driving, it's a great choice for someone who needs real carrying capacity.
Improvements to the Tahoe for 2004 further enhance its safety. New Hydroboost brakes provide power assist even if the engine stalls or is turned off. A tire-pressure monitor is now standard. New options include electronic traction control and 17-inch all-weather tires. A major upgrade was made to the Tahoe for 2003 for increased safety and reliability: GM's StabiliTrak electronic stability program became available for improved control on slippery surfaces. New airbag systems were designed to better protect children and adults of various sizes. Adjustable pedals became available, enhancing comfort and safety for drivers of smaller stature. The brakes were improved.
Tahoe dazzles its passengers with entertainment possibilities. XM Satellite Radio delivers CD-quality music, radio, sports, and other programming coast to coast. A rear DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones keeps the kids busy.
Chevy Tahoe is available in LS and LT trim, plus there's a Z71 off-road package. Two V8 engines are available, the Vortec 4800 and the Vortec 5300. Two- and four-wheel drive are available. All models come with a four-speed automatic transmission.
The Vortec 5300 is rated 295 horsepower, which is 10 more than the Vortec 4800. More important is the difference in torque: The 4800 develops 295 pounds-feet of torque, vs. 330 pounds-feet for the 5300, both at 4000 rpm. Torque is that force that propels you away from intersections and it is especially important for towing or hauling weighty stuff, like people.
Tahoe LS ($34,200) comes standard with the 4.8-liter V8, a 40/20/40 split bench front seat with six-way power for the driver, a 60/40 split folding middle bench seat, fog lamps, assist steps, heated power outside mirrors, tri-zone manual climate control, and a rear window defogger. Tahoe LS is available with 4WD ($37,000). The 5.3-liter V8 is optional ($700). The Preferred Equipment Group ($1735) adds bucket seats with upgraded cloth upholstery, a floor console, a Bose nine-speaker audio system with rear controls and headphone jacks and, on 4WD models, a 3.73:1 axle ratio.
Tahoe LT ($6,450) is a package that adds the 5.3-liter engine, leather seating surfaces, six-way power front bucket seats with heat and memory, floor console, adjustable pedals, a third-row, 50/50 split bench seat, tri-zone automatic climate control, the Bose sound system, plus XM satellite radio, steering-wheel-mounted audio and driver-information controls, power heated outside mirrors with turn signals and ground illumination, OnStar, a Homelink universal transmitter for opening your garage door, a trailer hitch platform, seven-lead wiring connector, and external transmission oil cooler, various cargo-compartment accessories, and more.
Z71 ($5,215) is a premium package specially equipped for off-highway driving and is only available for 4WD models with the Vortec 5300 engine. Z71 includes an off-road suspension with gas shocks and off-road jounce bumpers; heavy-duty locking rear differential; 3.73 rear axle ratio; skid plates for the oil pan, differentials, and transfer case; high-capacity air cleaner; removable front air dam; tubular assist steps; painted front bumper; panted rear step bumper with pad; color-keyed grille and door handles; round fog lamps; roof rack with cross rails; dark gray lower rocker moldings; wheel flares; Trailer Package with heavy-duty hitch platform, seven-lead wiring connector and external transmission oil cooler; and P265/70R17 on/off-road tires on 17-inch cast and machined aluminum wheels. Z71 also includes many of the same comfort and convenience items as the LT: the Driver Information Center; Bose nine-speaker stereo with rear audio controls, dual headphone jacks, and steering-wheel controls, power heated mirrors with turn signals and ground illumination; OnStar; leather seating surfaces; power front bucket seats with heat and memory; adjustable head restraints; and an inboard armrest.
Chevy Tahoe is an attractive truck, though it doesn't stand out with its conservative and familiar styling. It is essentially a shortened version of the Chevy Suburban and shares much in common with it.
The Tahoe is the same width as the Suburban. The Tahoe is more than 22 inches shorter than the Suburban and nearly 9 inches shorter than the Ford Expedition. The Tahoe is nearly 11 inches shorter than the stretched, midsize Chevy TrailBlazer EXT (and about 5 inches longer than the standard TrailBlazer), but the Tahoe is 4 inches wider than the TrailBlazer EXT.
Big outside mirrors afford an excellent view rearward. The mirrors on LT and Z71 models feature puddle lamps that light up the perimeter. These are nice at night in the woods, or when stepping out on nasty nights in your city best, and they provide some security in underground garages and other spooky places. The mirrors also tilt down when you shift into reverse. Press a button and they fold in for parking in narrow places. Heating elements keep off frost and ice. Turn signals are integrated into the mirrors to warn drivers alongside of your intentions. The left mirror automatically dims to reduce headlamp glare. If that isn't enough, these wonder-mirrors remember his and hers adjustments, just like the seats.
Tahoe buyers can select either a traditional rear hatch with a flip-up window, or split-panel doors, sometimes called barn doors or cargo doors. Choosing between them is a matter of lifestyle and personal preference. On the LS, cargo doors are standard, and the hatch a $250 option. On the LT, the hatch is standard. Cargo doors are more convenient when towing and for other truck chores, and they make it easier to control a dog. The traditional hatch is made of aluminum for light weight; being able to open just the glass is often more convenient when loading groceries or outdoor gear, especially since it can be operated with the keyless remote. The rear hatch offers a better view out back than the split doors, which block the view in the center.
The Tahoe's door handles are well-designed and easy to use; you do not need to flip your hand over to pull on them.
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 flexibi.
The Chevrolet Tahoe rides smoothly on the open road, and it's stable and comfortable at higher speeds. Although big and ponderous, the Tahoe handles well for such a large vehicle.
The Tahoe is built on GM full-size truck platform (GMT 800, if you must know), which forms the basis for the Silverado and Sierra pickups as well as the Suburban, Yukon, and Yukon XL SUVs. It's a superb platform, notable for the rigidity of its hydroformed frame. Chassis rigidity is the key to achieving good handling and a smooth ride, and the Tahoe delivers on both of those scores. It handles bumpy roads well, a good test of chassis rigidity.
Tahoe's front suspension is conventional in design, except for the springs. To save space, the Tahoe uses torsion bars instead of coil springs. And the Tahoe now comes standard with the Premium Ride suspension, formerly an option, which uses self-leveling rear shocks to maintain trim height for better handling when hauling heavy cargo or pulling a trailer.
Our Tahoe LT had the optional Autoride suspension ($1,120), which electronically controls rear air shocks to provide real-time adjustments in suspension damping. It provided a comfortable ride on I-405, a bumpy, busy freeway in Los Angeles. Autoride also kept the Tahoe from bounding around after running over railroad tracks when pulling a trailer.
The available Z71 package, with its off-road suspension, provides a good ride quality on gravel and washboard surfaces.
The brakes were greatly improved for 2003, so they're smoother and easier to modulate than before. The brakes comprise four-wheel discs with dual-piston calipers for good stopping performance. We were impressed with the Tahoe's braking ability while towing a horse trailer. A dynamic proportioning system continuously balances the front and rear brakes for maximum effectiveness without activating the ABS. Once activated, the ABS allows the driver to maintain control of the steering in an emergency maneuver. For 2004, Tahoe introduces Hydroboost braking. Most power-brake systems rely on engine vacuum to reduce braking effort, but Hydroboost uses power-steering fluid pressure, which provides added safety, with more reserve power assist for braking under specific conditions. The system will continue to provide sufficient power assist to stop the vehicle even if the engine stalls or is turned off.
The Tahoe is relatively easy to park, much easier than a Suburban. It's 22 inches shorter than a Suburban and its 38.3-foot turning diameter is 4 feet tighter than the Suburban's turning circle. With its shorter wheelbase, shorter rear overhang and taller ground clearance, the Tahoe traverses gullies and other rugged terrain where the Suburban scrapes bottom. Likewise, the Tahoe is shorter and more maneuverable than the Ford Expedition. Even though the Tahoe is a fraction of an inch wider than the Expedition, I find it easier to judge the distance between the Tahoe's right front corner and a tree. The Expedition's fenders seem taller visually, and the Tahoe seems easier to manage off-road. The Tahoe's recirculating-ball steering provides good control and feedback, even if it falls short of the rack-and-pinion steering found on the Ford Explorer. Tahoe's power steering system is designed for durability by operating at a lower temperature range.
Chevy's small-block overhead-valve V8s are excellent. They rival Ford's overhead-cam engines for smoothness and efficiency, and deliver strong torque for towing. The standard 4.8-liter V8 cranks out 285 horsepower, while delivering decent fuel economy; a Tahoe 2WD with the Vortec 4800 earns 18 mpg on the EPA's highway mileage test.
A better choice, and the one most people choose, is the 5.3-liter engine rated at 295 horsepower. It delivers strong acceleration performance and burns regular unleaded fuel. Our 2004 Tahoe 4WD with the Vortec 5300 earned an EPA-estimated 13/17 mpg city/highway.
Chevrolet Tahoe is perfect for drivers who want a full-size sport-utility, but don't want to herd a Suburban every day. New features introduced in the last two model years make living with the Tahoe more convenient. Numerous engineering changes make it a safer, more reliable vehicle. For many people, it's the ideal SUV.
Tahoe 2WD ($34,200); 4WD ($37,000).
Janesville, Wisconsin; Arlington, Texas.
Options As Tested
LT Preferred Equipment Group 1SM ($6,450) includes leather seating surfaces, electronic climate control, nine-speaker Bose audio with rear controls and headphone jacks, XM Satellite Radio, steering-wheel mounted audio and driver-information controls, OnStar, Homelink transmitter, power folding outside mirrors with turn signals and ground illumination, six-way power heated bucket seats with driver memory, power adjustable pedals, third-row seating, liftgate with wiper/washer, cargo shade, cargo net, cargo mat, crossbars for luggage rack, 3.73:1 axle ratio and locking rear differential, trailering package with transmission cooler; Vortec 5300 V8 engine ($700); in-dash 6 CD player ($300); Rear Seat Entertainment ($1,295); Autoride suspension ($1,120); Safe and Secure Package ($100) includes front side-impact airbags, StabiliTrak electronic stability control; second-row bucket seats ($490).
Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD ($37,000).
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