Continue riding past this article if you think that large SUVs are immoral.
This hardly seems like the time for financially troubled General Motors to introduce a new full-size SUV such as the Chevrolet Tahoe, with high gasoline prices and a move toward smaller SUVs and crossover vehicles.
However, the Tahoe was designed several years ago, when it seemed nobody could build enough large SUVS. And the market for such vehicles is far from dead, with many folks needing their roominess and towing abilities.
General Motors hopes, with tightly crossed fingers, to score big with its profitable, redesigned large sport-utility vehicles, starting with the quiet, comfortable, refined Tahoe, which looks better than its predecessors, inside and out.
The first thing many might notice is that the new Tahoe is built as if it came from Toyota, with tight body fits and such. Take it out for a spin on rough roads, and you'll hear no squeaks or rattles.
The Tahoe was the top-selling full-size SUV last year, with sales of 152,305 units, although high fuel prices partly caused that number to drop from 186,181 units in 2004.
GM also has made no secret of the fact that its early 2007 full-size trucks would be significantly redesigned, which led some potential buyers to hold off for the 2007 versions. The early 2007 Tahoe will be followed later this year by other GM full-size 2007 SUVs, including the Chevrolet Suburban and Cadillac Escalade.
The Tahoe has LS, LT and LTZ trim levels, with the high-volume LT trim level offered with LT-1, LT-2 and LT-3 equipment. It's available with rear- or four-wheel drive.
List prices range from $33,115 to $37,665. All Tahoes are pretty well equipped, but options can cause prices to quickly escalate.
New and revised features include an optional power fold-and-tumble second-row seat, rear-seat entertainment system, XM satellite radio, ultrasonic rear parking assist and a remote starting system to warm up the Tahoe before winter driving.
Safety items include optional curtain side air bags with rollover protection.
The driving feel is far more precise, thanks partly to a revised suspension. The old sloppy steering is gone, although the new rack-and-pinion steering has a bit of an on-center soft spot. Handling and maneuverability are good, and redesigned anti-lock brakes and antiskid/traction control are standard.
The ride is smooth, and GM's Autoride suspension, which automatically adjusts firmness based on road and driving conditions, is standard for the LTZ, but not for other Tahoe models.
Wheel sizes range from 17 inches to an extra-large 20 inches.
The quiet cockpit is a long-overdue home room; the old Tahoe's haphazard placement of marginal knobs and switches has given way to a dashboard with logically placed controls -- although some sound-system controls are too small.
The new Tahoe looks sportier, with a more chiseled and aggressive-looking body. It sits on a stiffer new frame and chassis. It's about five inches longer and about one-half inch higher, with wider tracks for a lower center of gravity and a more hunkered-down look.
A third-row seat is standard in the LTZ and optional for the LS and LT. That seat provides enough head and leg room for two 6-footers, although it had flat cushions and thus was nowhere near as comfortable as the first- and second-row seats. It calls for above-average agility to reach the third seat, although you can get second-row seats that power fold to provide easier access to the third seat.
Total seating capacity is nine, although five or six is a more realistic -- not to mention comfortable -- limit.
Extra effort is needed to get in or out of this high vehicle, and my test Tahoe's running boards were too narrow to provide much entry/exist assistance. (Power running boards will be offered later in the model year.) Once inside, the view is commanding. A lower dashboard tends to make front-seat occupants feel as if they're sitting higher than they actually are.
There's hardly any cargo space behind the third-row seat in its upright position. That heavy seat folds forward or is removable for impressive cargo room. The rear hatch with separate-opening glass is wide, but has a rather high opening.
Acceleration is strong with the 5.3-liter V-8. It generates gobs of torque and 320 horsepower, up from 295 for the 2006 version. (A lower-cost Tahoe with a 4.8-liter V-8 will be offered later with only the rear-drive setup.)
The 5.3 V-8 works with a four-speed automatic transmission that is responsive, but the Tahoe lacks the more modern six-speed automatic promised for the 2007 Escalade.
Chevy says estimated fuel economy is 16 mpg in the city and 22 on highways with rear-wheel drive and 15 and 21 with four-wheel drive. But those are optimistic EPA numbers, so I wouldn't hold my breath trying to get the in-town figures.
On the other hand, those numbers aren't bad for a big, powerful SUV that weighs approximately 5,500 pounds. Fuel economy is slightly better than that delivered by the 2006 Tahoe, thanks to a more aerodynamic body and a gas-saving four-cylinder cutoff feature when cruising.
Anyway, nobody who buys a full-size SUV for large-job muscle expects more than mediocre economy. The Tahoe provides lots of other benefits.
2007 CHEVROLET TAHOE
LIKES: Powerful. Roomy. Handsome. Good roadability. Comfortable. Quiet. Refined.
DISLIKES: High step-in. Scant cargo room with third seat in place. Only a four-speed automatic transmission.