Rating: 7.5
Bottom Line:
The 2015 changes make the Tahoe more powerful, more efficient and more luxurious while maintaining its traditional capability. This truck-based SUV shouldn't go extinct, but higher prices and a continued move away from heavy truck-type SUVs mean sales will likely continue to fall. We would only recommend it to buyers who need the towing capacity. Otherwise, unibody crossover SUVs are wiser choices. Fortunately for Chevrolet, the company also sells the likeable Traverse and versatile Equinox.
Pros:
  • Inviting interior environment
  • Room for a family and its stuff
  • Lots of towing capability
Cons:
  • Cumbersome to drive
  • Hard on gas
  • Expensive

Some 200 million years ago an abundance of plant matter and possibly atmospheric oxygen gave rise to dinosaurs that could weigh as much as 65 tons. These massive creatures seemed virtually indestructible, but then 66 million years ago a giant asteroid hit the Yucatan Peninsula, creating an "impact winter" and wiping out the dinosaurs. Sixty-six million years later man turned the compacted remains of ancient organisms, including the dinosaurs, into cheap fossil fuels, giving rise to another behemoth — the full-size, truck-based SUV.

The SUV grew in popularity in the 1990s, even acting as family transportation, until gas prices rose sharply in the mid-2000s. The SUVs didn't go extinct, but sales fell sharply as the automakers built more reasonable forms of transportation that served families better. Now, after years of ignoring its full-size SUVs, General Motors is updating the Chevrolet Tahoe, along with the Suburban and GMC Yukon. We journeyed to California to drive the new behemoths and decide if they have a place in today's market or if they should fade into extinction.

View Pictures:  2015 Chevrolet Tahoe

Model lineup
We drove all of GM's full-size SUVs, all of which are based on the same platform, and we will review the most popular version here, the 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe. The Tahoe is offered in three trim levels — LS, LT and LTZ — each with rear- or 4-wheel drive.

Standard equipment in the $46,090 LS includes cloth upholstery, a 10-way power adjustable driver's seat, AM/FM/HD radio with a 4.2-inch center screen, satellite radio, two USB ports, Bluetooth connectivity, OnStar, remote starting, tri-zone automatic climate control, rear park assist, a rearview camera and 18-inch alloy wheels. The $51,490 LT trim additions include heated leather front seats, an 8-inch center touch screen, three additional USB ports, voice recognition, universal garage door opener, power adjustable pedals, auto-dimming rearview mirror, a Bose audio system, power rear liftgate, forward collision alert, and lane departure warning.

The $60,785 LTZ gets even more goodies, including leather heated and cooled front seats, power-release heated second-row seats, power folding third-row seats, heated steering wheel, Bose CenterPoint surround sound audio system, Magnetic Ride Control suspension, keyless entry and starting, front park assist, rear cross-traffic alert, side blind-zone alert, HID headlights and 20-inch polished aluminum wheels.

Under the hood
The 2014 Chevrolet Tahoe comes with just one engine, the all-new EcoTec3 5.3-liter V8. This engine, which can also run on E85 ethanol, replaces an engine of the same size, but it has direct injection, variable valve timing, and GM's Active Fuel Management, which shuts down four cylinders under light load conditions to save fuel. Output increases from 320 to 355 horsepower and 335 to 383 lb-ft of torque, and fuel economy improves from 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway with rear- or 4-wheel drive to 16/23 mpg with rear drive and 16/22 mpg with 4-wheel drive. The lone transmission is a 6-speed automatic.

Capability increases slightly for 2015, as maximum towing capacity goes from 8,500 to 8,600 pounds.

The Tahoe's 4-wheel-drive system includes low-range gearing for off-roading.

Inner space
The 2015 Tahoe rides the same architecture as the last model. Instead of updating its already capable chassis, Chevrolet concentrated on giving it a more luxurious and versatile interior. The new interior features upgraded materials in an open, inviting design. Soft-touch surfaces are now found on the dash, door tops, and other major touch points. The look and feel are much more upscale, which is appropriate because buyers are paying more.

While it doesn't share any panels with the Silverado pickup, the Tahoe's cabin benefits from the same philosophy applied to the pickup cabs — doors are inlaid into the sides of the vehicle rather than extending into the roof. This configuration, along with considerable effort to block noise with sound deadener and an aerodynamic new design, help make the Tahoe's cabin impressively quiet.

The technology and connectivity are also significantly upgraded. For the first time, the Tahoe gets Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system, which uses an 8-inch center screen to control the entertainment, navigation and communications features. Chevrolet says the system is designed to act as an extension of owners' smartphones. The system is fairly easy to use, and owners have several options for operating it. The touch screen has large icons that are easy to hit with a finger, but owners can also control the system via two dials and eight buttons set just beneath the screen, or by voice commands or buttons on the steering wheel. It all works pretty intuitively, and the system responds quickly. Later in the year Chevrolet will add 4G LTE connectivity with a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Though the space is basically the same, the Tahoe's interior gets more useful this year. The major change is made to the third-row seating. Instead of having to remove a pair of heavy seats to open up the rear cargo area, the third row now folds flat, and a power-folding feature is available. The tradeoff is that the seats don't fold into the floor. Instead, they fold to about five inches above the floor. Chevrolet makes the load floor flat, however, by adding a small storage bin behind the third row.

Despite these efforts, the second and third rows aren't that versatile, considering the Tahoe's large footprint. The second-row seats, while comfortable, don't slide fore and aft, and third-row passengers sit with their knees at their chins. Cargo space behind the third row is also limited to 15.3 cubic feet, which is just enough room for a pair of carry-on suitcases. Space expands to a much more useful 51.3 cubic feet with the third row folded and to 94.7 cubic feet with the second and third rows down. Buyers who need more space should consider the Suburban, which is a longer version of the Tahoe. The Chevrolet Traverse also makes a good alternative. It maxes out at 116.3 cubic feet of cargo space and has a more comfortable third-row seat.

On the road
With very few chassis changes, the 2015 Tahoe drives much like the outgoing model. That's not really a good thing, but there is little that Chevy can do with the vehicle dynamics, given the Tahoe's massive size and truck-type body-on-frame construction.

From behind the wheel you can really feel the Tahoe's size and weight. It's a lumbering beast that is hard to park, leans on curves, and doesn't especially want to turn corners. It does respond to driver inputs better than it has in the past, though. The steering is fairly direct, though slow, and the brakes are strong and predictable. The vehicle's weight also helps it iron out most bumps, but the solid rear axle creates a busy ride over broken pavement. This can be at least partially alleviated with the LTZ's Magnetic Ride Control suspension, which firms up in corners and loosens up over bumps, but an independent rear suspension would create a better ride.

The 5.3-liter V8 engine is a good match for the Tahoe. It emits a nice V8 burble, and it grunts under hard acceleration, but in general it is subdued. This engine is smooth and powerful, and the 2015 version is more fuel efficient than in the past. Zero to 60 mph takes about 7.5 seconds, which is decent for a 5,600-pound vehicle, but it's not as fast as the 5.9-second zero-to-60-mph time the 6.2-liter V8 delivers in the Tahoe's sibling, the GMC Yukon Denali. Nonetheless, the 5.3-liter V8 has enough torque to keep up with traffic while towing a heavy trailer.

Right for you?
If your family activities include towing a horse trailer, a race car, or any other type of trailer on a regular basis, the Tahoe is a viable — even wise — choice. If you don't need the towing capacity, however, any number of midsize to full-size crossovers, including Chevrolet's Traverse, will provide as much or more space, get better fuel economy, and offer a more pleasant driving experience.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.