The Chevy Tahoe features a crisp design with curved edges, fully wrapped front fascia that eliminates air-grabbing gaps, doors that wrap over the rocker panels, and a steeply raked windshield.
The result of the streamlined body is optimal fuel economy, according to GM. Automotive engineers judge wind-cheating aerodynamics by a factor known as the coefficient of drag: The lower the number, the easier air flows over it. The Tahoe has a Cd of 0.363. The XFE and Hybrid models are even more slippery, with a Cd of 0.35 and 0.34 respectively. However, total drag also includes frontal area, and the Tahoe's substantial frontal profile means it isn't as low-drag as a much smaller vehicle with a slightly higher Cd.
Up front, the Tahoe features a clean interpretation of Chevrolet's two-tier front grille with a central bowtie logo. Tow hook openings flank the license plate frame and they are, on cars so equipped, flanked by fog lights. The sides of the Tahoe have little ornamentation, yielding a smooth design. Windows aren't shrunk in the name of style and offer a decent view; unlike the Suburban the rear side windows do not roll all the way down. And at the rear, the liftgate has separate opening glass to offer easier loading of small items and the bumper top is ribbed for safer roof loading.
The smooth appearance doesn't mean the Tahoe looks soft. Built on a wide frame, this is a commanding vehicle with a strong stance. A bulging hood enhances its visual strength. Further boosting the muscular look are standard 17-inch wheels, with 18s and 20s available.
The LTZ model can be distinguished by its standard chrome accents on the door handles and grille inserts.
The Hybrid model has several distinct characteristics. To offset the added weight of the hybrid system (the Hybrid Tahoe weighs about 250 pounds more than a standard Tahoe) and reduce drag, the front end features an aluminum hood and front bumper beam, a lowered air dam, and a slightly larger grille opening to offset the blocked off fog light and tow hook openings and smaller lower air inlets. Along the sides, the running boards are tapered front and rear for improved aerodynamics and the wheel flares are slightly reshaped. At the back, the rear side pillars, roof spoiler and center high-mounted stoplight have a unique shape, the tailgate is made of aluminum and has fixed glass, and LED tail lights. The wheels are more aero efficient and the tires have lower rolling resistance. The spare tire and jack have been replaced by a tire inflation kit. Hybrids also carry H logos with a printed-circuit board-like center and substantial Hybrid wallpaper along the door sides.
The Chevy Tahoe instrument panel and center stack are cleanly designed and easy to use. The gauge cluster is attractive and informative, dominated by the large, easy-to-read and speedometer in black with blue-green numbers; the tachometer scale ends where redline would otherwise be marked. Oil pressure, voltage and water temperature gauges are standard, providing data many other vehicles leave to warning lights.
While largely plastic, the cabin materials are finished well and fit together with tight tolerances. With the available leather upholstery, the look is upscale; we find the lighter colors look more luxurious, the black very businesslike. Small items storage space is abundant, with a large center console, map pockets in the doors, a big glovebox and a handy tray below the center stack.
The Hybrid gets a modified instrument panel. The tachometer has an AutoStop position between 0 and 1000 rpm to show when the gasoline engine is off but the car is still on, the oil pressure gauge moves to the voltmeter position, and an Economy gauge goes top left. In theory this gauge is to give a quick glance indication of how efficiently you're driving, but unlike the others that swing right to show more the economy gauge swings right when you're using the most fuel, not getting the best economy. It also doesn't always agree with the screen.
Hybrids have navigation as standard, in part so you can use the screen (if desired) to watch power flow amongst the gas engine, battery pack and electric motors. When you lift off the gas to coast or slow the center screen shows the battery being charged but the economy gauge stays planted in its default center position. Only when the brake pedal is pressed does the economy gauge needle move left and the screen shows battery charge. The screen display could be distracting, so just keep the economy gauge from swinging right and you'll be efficient.
The touch-screen navigation/audio systems work well and easily; we never had to consult the owner's manual to get what we wanted. If you're subscribed you get XM radio and real-time traffic data as well, and non-navi cars have options with OnStar. The switchgear is clearly labeled and easily laid out, the rotary light and drive switches both default to automatic, and the rear wiper switch is cleanly integrated onto the turn signal stalk where cruise control was in earlier generations.
The spacious interior of the Tahoe can be enjoyed from any of the three rows of seats. The driver sits up high with a good view of the road; steering wheel/seat/pedal/instrument placement is such that the eye is drawn to right of center. With tilt wheel, power seat (with manual backrest on some) and available adjustable pedals most drivers should find a proper, safe driving position. Roof pillars are narrower than on a Hummer but they are still substantial; taller drivers mentioned the top of the left windshield pillar and shorter drivers the pillar behind the right side door and the third-row seat which should be left folded when not occupied.
Front and second row seats have leg and headroom just slightly larger than Chevy's shorter outside Malibu and Impala sedans, but many inches more in hip and shoulder room that makes three-across in the second row a realistic proposition. It's worth noting that the Hybrid's lighter-weight front seats are also thinner; they don't feel any less comfortable than the standard seats but they add more than an inch to rear seat knee room and we'd like to see them standard everywhere.
A yank on the second-row seat lever (or push on the optional button) flips the seat up for access to the third row. We sat in the third-row seats and found that short-to-average adults fit, though they will likely feel insulted if kept back there more than 10 or 15 minutes. The Tahoe's rear suspension design means there is no foot well behind the second row; the seats sit on the cargo deck like very well upholstered beach chairs. The Expedition has more than a foot more legroom in the third row; Expedition's third-row head and legroom nearly match the Tahoe's second row.
Like the second-row bench the third-row seats have three seatbelts but no center headrests. They are split 50/50; the backrests fold down, the whole seat can be folded up against the second row, or they can be pulled back and lifted out. Unlike most of the competition big loads in the Tahoe require leaving the third row out of the truck somewhere.
With the third row out and second row folded Tahoe has full-size cargo space of 108.9 cubic feet (108.3 for Expedition), 60.3 cubic feet behind the second row (Expedition 55.0) and 16.9 cubic feet behind the third row (Expedition 18.6). The load height is about the same height as a typical pickup bed.