- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

While critics historically have been able to grouse about the level of comfort, refinement and sophistication of General Motors’ big SUVs, they have also had to applaud their capability and durability. GM has always viewed these vehicles as trucks, steadfastly promoting a rugged body-on-frame design and a solid rear axle.

To no one’s surprise, GM carried this philosophy forward into the 2007 redesign of its big pickups and SUVs. So how much of an improvement could there possibly be? Sure you can deck out a gorilla in a tuxedo, but can you teach him the proper fork to use? Judging from the 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe LT Z71, yes, you can.

Dissecting and explaining the many trim levels, variations and nuances of Tahoe could occupy paragraphs. Further complicating sorting through the different trims is the existence of two sublevels for the LT trim level that are really option packages, each with its own added features.

It is worth mentioning, though, that the least you can expect to pay for a Tahoe is about $34,755 for the two-wheel-drive LS. There is very little air separating the base prices of the various trim levels; it’s the options and option packages that can really ring the cash register.

I drove a $38,935 4WD LT with the $3,650 LT3 and the $1,795 Z71 packages, and that is the primary basis for this discussion.

A number of mechanical improvements significantly elevate the newest Tahoe above those preceding it. A new boxed frame increases stiffness, creating a more stable platform and a quieter ride. The torsion-bar suspension in front has been replaced with an independent coil-over-shock arrangement, providing a more forgiving ride.

A more accurate rack-and-pinion steering system supercedes the recirculating ball setup in previous Tahoes. All of these enhancements contribute to the new Tahoe’s excellent road manners and increased agility. Although the words Tahoe and nimble probably will never be used together in a sentence, the latest Tahoe is more athletic than its predecessors and certainly more manageable.

Two-wheel-drive versions use a 295-horsepower 4.8-liter V-8 to turn the rear wheels. Optional on the 2WD and standard on 4WD versions is a 320-horsepower 5.3-liter V-8. The 5.3-liter also produces 340 foot-pounds of stump-pulling peak torque. A four-speed automatic transmission doles out engine production to the appropriate wheels.

Accelerating from a red light isn’t exactly like being shot out of a cannon, but it gets up and goes without hesitation. Fuel economy is less than stellar, but about normal in this segment. The number of drive wheels and engine displacement make very little difference.

The four-wheel drives have an Environmental Protection rating of 15 miles per gallon in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. Moving down to 2WD and the smaller V-8 actually loses one mile per gallon, according to the EPA.

The heavy-duty 4WD system is simple to use and/or ignore. A knob mounted next to the headlight control on the left side of the steering wheel lets the driver set the system in auto mode from which it transparently moves in and out of 4WD as conditions dictate. However, the driver may use the same knob to manually select 2WD, 4WD or 4WD Lo for more intense off-roading.

Four-wheel disc brakes with antilock are standard on all Tahoes. Engineered on the shoulders of the antilock system is electronic stability control. Braking is robust — not a bad thing when attempting to bring more than 5,500 pounds to a screeching halt.

Chevrolet has added some interest to the exterior styling. More carefully integrated, the front fascia wraps around the nose and the redesigned fenders are beefier. The entire package has a wind-cheating coefficient of drag of 0.36. Eighteen-inch aluminum wheels and tires are part of the Z71 package. They do an admirable job of filling the wheel openings.

Even the humblest Tahoe is well equipped with seating for six, power accessories, dual-zone climate control, eight-speaker audio system with CD player and MP3 capability, tilt steering wheel with redundant audio controls and cruise control.

By the time you work your way up to the LT3, the features include leather seating, heated front seats, power-adjustable pedals, remote start, upgraded Bose audio system with XM satellite radio and tri-zone automatic climate control. If you are willing to spend more, you can add a power-operated liftgate, navigation system, power folding second-row seat and third row seats that expand seating to nine.

The LT3’s two-tone leather interior is luxurious and comfortable. Offering excellent support, the seats are designed for long hauls. The cabin is roomy with lots of passenger and cargo space. With all three rows of seats in place, there is 16.9 cubic feet of cargo room. This swells to 108.9 cubic feet with the second-row seat folded and the third-row seats removed. Perhaps the one glaring shortcoming that hasn’t been addressed is that the third-row seats don’t fold flat into the cargo floor. To utilize all available cargo space, the third-row seats must be manually removed from the vehicle. They are heavy, awkward and you should pay the youngster down the street to remove them.

Otherwise the Tahoe cabin is well executed. The materials are top notch and the workmanship worthy of the $50,000 truck it can be equipped to be. Noise reaching the interior is noticeably reduced, rendering the cabin downright quiet. Chevrolet may have chosen to keep the 2007 Tahoe loyal to its truck roots, but it’s the luxury and refinement passengers will notice and appreciate.

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