by Richard Russell
The Chevrolet Tahoe is one of the most familiar names on the SUV landscape. Extensively redesigned for the 2000 model year, it has received some mid-life upgrades for 2003 making it worth a revisit. GM claims more than 40 changes and improvements, ranging from the arcane – new paint colours, to the more significant – the availability of StabiliTrak and adjustable pedals.
But before we get to the changes, let’s reacquaint ourselves with the vehicle. The Tahoe and its GMC Yukon sibling are based on the GMT 800 platform, which they share with a huge variety of GM truck products ranging from the Silverado pickup to the Suburban brute ute, and even the Hummer H2. Widely acknowledged as the segment leader when it was introduced, the GMT800 earned instant credibility for its class leading structure, powertrain and brakes. The four-wheel-disc brakes with standard ABS have since been copied, as has the use of hydroformed frame components for added strength without a weight penalty. But nobody has caught up in terms of engines. GM’s family of Vortec V8s is simply the class of the field in terms of not only power, but fuel efficiency, reliability and longevity.
The Tahoe comes in two trim levels LS and LT in two or all-wheel-drive. The LS comes with a 4.8 litre V8 and the LT a 5.3 litre version of the same basic design. The 4.8 produces 275 horsepower and 290-lb. ft. of torque while the larger engine gains 10 horsepower but a more significant and meaningful 40-lb. ft. of twist. The Tahoe is a big vehicle that benefits from the larger of the two engines. Our tester was the LT version with the 5.3 and it proved once again why this engine is so universally admired – smooth, quiet and perfectly capable of carrying or towing large loads.
The Tahoe comes with seating for five in the normal two plus three configuration. A third row is optional, allowing two smaller passengers in back – but at the expense of much of the very spacious cargo area. The front seats are big, comfortable and supportive. Many of the changes for 2003 can be found up front, including the seats themselves, a new instrument panel, centre console and HVAC controls, the latter worthy of comment. Air conditioning is standard, as is triple-zone climate control – automatic in the LT version – giving rear occupants some flexibility. Both systems feature clear graphics and large controls. There are a number of bins and cubbyholes, many of them rubber-lined to prevent things from sliding around or rattling.
The second row bench seats three with plenty of space for heads and feet. A pair of captain’s chairs is optional and while eliminating one seating position, provide considerably upscale accommodating. In either case the second row folds down, complete with headrests, creating an awesome amount of space. There are separate controls for sound and HVAC, reading lights and a 12-volt outlet. A DVD player with pop-down screen is optional. The optional third row seat has to be removed to maximize cargo space. It does not fold into the floor.
It’s hard to imagine calling anything 5000 mm long and weighing more than 2,350 kilograms mid-sized, but the Tahoe is actually 533 mm shorter than the Suburban, 203 mm shorter than the Explorer and takes up 250 mm less parking space than its TrailBlazer EXT sibling. But it makes up for this in width where it matches the Suburban and tops the TrailBlazer by 100 mm. That extra width shows up in the interior where the added shoulder width creates a much more roomy feeling.
The significant changes for 2003 include the availability of both StabiliTrak and adjustable pedals. I consider both of these to be significant safety enhancements. StabiliTrak ($605) is GM’s excellent anti-skid system which users sensors to monitor a number of dynamic parameters to help prevent loss of control. Many SUV buyers are blissfully unaware of the fact these big barges do not turn or stop as well as a car. These folks are usually the first ones you see in the ditch when the weather turns nasty. StabiliTrak should help reduce that trend. Similarly, the stature-challenged often chose SUVs as a way to enjoy the visibility enjoyed by taller folks. Unfortunately this higher perch still requires them to move the seat forward in close proximity to the steering wheel and its airbag – a nasty combination. The newly available electrically adjustable pedal set (standard on the LT) allows them to move a greater distance from that potential airbag deployment.
A couple of other passive safety features have come in for a great deal of attention – the side mirrors and steering wheel. There is as much electronics in the mirrors on the LT as in the early space program. They tilt down when reversing, fold in for tight spaces, defrost in winter, remember his and her adjustments, shine a light down unto the area alongside the vehicle when entering or leaving and even incorporate a turn signal to warn drivers alongside the behemoth is about to enter their space. The driver’s mirrror also incorporates an electrochromic auto-dimming feature. The steering wheel is another benefactor of the GMT800’s modern multiplexed electronic architecture. No less than eight control buttons allow operation of the sound and vehicle information systems.
This is a big and ponderous vehicle so don’t expect sports car like handling – and you won’t be disappointed. The stiff structure eliminates much of the shake, rattle and roll of many competitors and the suspension engineers did an impressive job of quelling head toss, that tendency for tall, truck-like conveyances to rock from side to side over uneven or broken surfaces. It’s size also makes tight quarters and parking a challenge. The five-link rear suspension allows more comfortable on-road manners than some and the overall highway ride is quite pleasant.
Should you desire to venture offroad, the Tahoe’s four-wheel-drive system has been enhanced for 2003. When equipped with the optional StabiliTrak system, it incorporates a two-speed open differential allowing it to operate in four-wheel drive in more circumstances without dreaded axle windup. Four driving modes can be controlled by buttons on the instrument panel. Auto 4WD sends power to the rear wheels, but allows some to be diverted to the fronts if slippage occurs. 4HI sends power to all wheels all the time for more difficult conditions and 4LO engages the lower gearset in the transfer case for serious work.
The big, agile vehicle has all the features expected in a truck-based SUV – if you can afford the entry fee and fuel bill.
Technical Data: 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe LT AWD
|Price as tested||$57,880|
|Type||4-door, 5, 6 or 9 passenger full-size SUV|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/2WD/PT 4WD/AWD|
|Engine||5.3 litre V8, OHV|
|Horsepower||285 @ 5200 rpm|
|Torque||325 @ 4000 rpm|
|Curb weight||2363 kg (5200 lbs.)|
|Towing capacity (max)||3357 kg. (7400 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2946 mm (116.0 in.)|
|Length||5050 mm (198.8 in)|
|Width||2002 mm (78.8 in)|
|Ground clearance (min)||2134 mm (8.4 in.)|
|Cargo volume||462 litres (16.3 cu.ft.) behind 3rd seat; 2962 litres (104.6 cu.ft.) behind front seats|
|Fuel consumption||City: 17.7 l/100 km (16 mpg)|
|Hwy: 12.3 l/100 km (23 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|