Thumbs Up: It doesn’t drive like a hybrid.
Thumbs Down: Extra large SUV, extra large price tag
Buy This Car If: You need a full size SUV and want one as green as possible.
If you’re in the market for a full size SUV with room for eight passengers and four-wheel-drive, there are plenty of options on the market to choose from. As for manufacturers, you have your pick of a fairly broad spectrum, including both domestic and foreign makes in both the luxury and mainstream segments. If you’re looking for a hybrid SUV with the same capabilities, you choices narrow considerably.
In fact, the full-size hybrid SUV range is limited to three vehicles, all of which come from General Motors and are based on the same platform. If you want luxury and don’t care about price, you opt for the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. If you want value, you pick the GMC Yukon Hybrid or the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid. In return you get seating for eight adults, available four-wheel-drive, the ability to tow up to 6,000 pounds (6,200 with RWD models) and an impressive fuel economy rating of 20 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. That’s not Prius territory, but it is an improvement on the standard Tahoe’s 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway.
Here’s a word of caution, though: that additional fuel economy comes with a big price tag, and you’ll need to do quite a bit of city driving to justify the cost differential between a standard Tahoe and a Tahoe Hybrid. Comparably equipped, there’s about a $4,000 difference in price between the two. If you drive 12,000 miles in the city annually, the hybrid will use 200 gallons of gas less per year, so a best case projection with gas at $4.00 per gallon has you paying off the Tahoe Hybrid’s additional cost in five years.
For some, the cost is irrelevant and the Tahoe Hybrid is as environmentally responsible as a full size SUV gets. It certainly drives well enough, and the truck’s seamless power will soon have you forgetting that you’re driving a hybrid at all. Indeed, the Tahoe Hybrid is the very first hybrid vehicle I’ve driven that’s virtually transparent to a conventional vehicle behind the wheel, with only the fuel-saving start-stop system reminding me at traffic lights.
From the outside, the Hybrid’s unique wheels and large front airdam are the most visible distinguishing differences between itself and a conventional Tahoe. Look closely, however, and you’ll see the Hybrid logo on the front fenders, as well as on the rear liftgate. I’m sure GM’s stylists and engineers could point out a few more differences or tweaks made to reduce drag, but to the untrained eye the truck looks just like a Tahoe. It’s classic box-on-box styling, served up in an extra large, family-sized portion.
Inside, the Tahoe Hybrid is all about passenger comfort on extended trips. Front seats are comfortable enough for a week-long drive cross country, and they’re heated so you can visit the family in Wisconsin for Christmas in comfort. The seats are clad in thick leather, which seems stout enough to last for decades with a reasonable amount of care. Front storage space abounds, so keeping your stuff at hand on long trips is no problem at all.
Second row seats are equally comfortable and also leather wrapped. They aren’t heated, but passengers won’t complain too much since they have their own climate controls for the rear. The second row gives passengers ample leg room and plenty of head room, which solidifies the Tahoe Hybrid’s role as a classic family road trip hauler.
There’s a third row seat as well, which will fit three kid or two adults in reasonable comfort. Don’t expect leather here, but on the other hand, vinyl is easier to clean and maintain. The third row seat lacks the lateral support of the second row, but even third row occupants get to control their own airflow from the HVAC system. When not needed, the third row seats tumble forward or can be removed entirely for additional cargo space. There is surprisingly little cargo room with the third row seats in place, so if you’re hauling eight passengers don’t plan on hauling much else.
My tester came equipped with GM’s rear-seat DVD system, which comes with wireless headphones and is guaranteed to promote domestic harmony on long road trips. The Sun, Entertainment and Destination package also includes a power sliding sunroof, so front seat passengers can enjoy a view of the sky and the wind in their hair.
Like the exterior, the Tahoe Hybrid’s interior will be familiar to anyone who’s ever driven a GM-built truck. That’s not criticism, that’s praise, and no one will buy a Chevy Tahoe or Tahoe Hybrid just because of the interior style. No one will avoid the trucks because of style either, which is tasteful with intuitive controls. I’d personally prefer an interior treatment other than fake, glossy wood, but the trim does an effective job of breaking up the dash and center console. Besides, aluminum, piano black or carbon fiber would look out of place in a truck.
Under the hood lies a 6.0-liter V-8, equipped with variable valve timing and Active Fuel Management, GM’s term for their cylinder-deactivation technology. There are also two 60-kilowatt electric motors built into the transmission, and combined with the V-8, the drive system produces 332 horsepower and 367 foot pounds of torque. That’s enough to yield admirable acceleration, despite the truck’s 5,835 pound curb weight (roughly 200 pounds more than a standard 4wd Tahoe). The EPA rates the Tahoe Hybrid’s fuel economy at 20 mpg city, 23 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined, and I saw an indicated 20.8 mpg in mostly city driving.
On the road, the Tahoe Hybrid feels like any other full-size SUV. It isn’t nimble, but it is comfortable and confidence-inspiring across a wide range of driving conditions. Despite using regenerative brakes, the pedal feel was quite normal, which is a departure from other hybrids I’ve driven. Although I didn’t take the Tahoe off-roading, the 4WD system includes a 2WD mode, a 4WD High mode and a 4WD Low mode; it also has a “Auto” mode, which (presumably) operates in 2WD until wheel slip is detected, It’s an elegant system that would be ideal for driving through changing road or weather conditions.
The Tahoe came with motor-driven, adjustable pedals to accommodate drivers of all shapes and sizes. That’s a nice touch, but I have to complain about GM’s spacing of the brake and the gas pedal on the Tahoe Hybrid. To apply the brakes, it was necessary for me to come completely off the gas, retract my leg another inch or two and then transition to the oversized brake pedal. I know this is done to mitigate pedal confusion for the minority percentage of drivers who require this, but it makes a vehicle less safe (by increasing reaction time) for those of us who can fully distinguish between gas and brake. At sixty miles per hour, a vehicles is covering 88 feet each second. If this pedal array delays my reaction time by just a quarter of a second, that still translates into a stopping distance some 22 feet longer. To be fair, I’m sure that the majority of drivers won’t even notice the offset between brake and gas, and maybe the current design has been tested and found to reduce pedal confusion in a segment of the population.
My Chevy Tahoe Hybrid tester had a base price of $54,900, including a destination charge of $950. The sole option on my tester was the $1,940 Sun, Entertainment & Destinations Package (Rear Seat Entertainment System, Power Sunroof, Additional 9 Month XM Subscription) for a total sticker price of $56,840. By comparison, a comparably equipped GMC Yukon Hybrid would sticker at $57,310, while the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid would list for $77,635.