2003 Chevrolet Tahoe Review
Substantial upgrades to a superb package.
The Chevrolet Tahoe rides smoothly on the open road and it's stable and comfortable at higher speeds. Big and ponderous, the Tahoe handles well for such a large vehicle. I found the improved brakes on the 2003 Tahoe smooth and easy to modulate.
The Tahoe is built on the full-size GM truck GMT 800 platform, which forms the basis for the Silverado and Sierra pickups as well as the Suburban, Yukon, and Yukon XL SUVs. It's a superb platform, perhaps the best in the business, and notable for the rigidity of its hydro formed frame. Chassis rigidity is the key to achieving good handling and a smooth ride quality, and the Tahoe delivers on both of those scores. It handles bumpy roads well, a good test of chassis rigidity.
Tahoe's front suspension is conventional in design, except for the springs. To save space, the Tahoe uses torsion bars instead of coil springs. The Tahoe comes standard with the Premium Ride suspension, formerly an option, which uses self-leveling rear shocks to maintain trim height for better handling when hauling heavy cargo or pulling a trailer.
Our 2003 Tahoe LT came with the optional Autoride suspension ($875), which electronically controls rear air shocks to provide real-time suspension damping. It provided a comfortable ride on I-405, a bumpy, busy interstate in Los Angeles. Autoride keeps the Tahoe from bounding around after running over railroad tracks when pulling a trailer.
The available Z71 package provides a good ride quality on gravel and washboard surfaces.
The 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe brings improved brake performance, better pedal feel and quieter operation. They represent a huge improvement over the brakes found on early Tahoe and Suburban models. They use four-wheel discs with dual-piston calipers for good stopping performance. We were impressed with the Tahoe's braking ability while towing a horse trailer. A dynamic proportioning system continuously balances the front and rear brakes for maximum braking without activating the ABS. Once activated, the ABS allows the driver to maintain control of the steering in an emergency braking maneuver.
The Tahoe is relatively easy to park, much easier than a Suburban. It's 20 inches shorter than a Suburban and its 38.3-foot turning diameter is 4 feet tighter than the Suburban's turning circle. With its shorter wheelbase, shorter rear overhang and taller ground clearance, the Tahoe traverses gullies and other rugged terrain where the Suburban scrapes bottom. Likewise, the Tahoe is shorter and more maneuverable than the Ford Expedition. Even though the Tahoe is an inch wider than the Expedition, I find it easier to judge the distance between the Tahoe's right front corner and a tree. The Expedition's fenders seem taller and the Tahoe seems easier to manage off road.
The recirculating-ball steering provides good control and feedback, even if it falls short of the rack-and-pinion steering found on the Ford Explorer. Tahoe's power steering system is designed for durability by operating at a lower temperature range.
Chevy's small-block overhead-valve V8s are excellent. They rival the overhead-cam engines from Ford for smoothness and efficiency, and deliver strong torque for towing. The 4.8-liter version cranks out 275 horsepower, while delivering decent fuel economy; a Tahoe 2WD with the Vortec 4800 earns 20 mpg on the EPA's highway mileage test.
A better choice, and the one you'll probably end up with, is the 5.3-liter engine rated at 285 horsepower. It delivers strong acceleration performance and burns regular unleaded fuel. Our 2003 Tahoe 4WD with the Vortec 5300 earned an EPA-estimated 13/17 mpg city/highway.
If serious off-road driving is your game, you should know the Tahoe doesn't offer the capability of a Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Land Cruiser, or Land Rover Discovery. The Tahoe will, however, get to most of the places most of us want to go, fording deep snow or mud. Its four-wheel-drive system provides four driving modes controlled by buttons on the dash to the left of the instrument panel. Two-wheel drive offers the best fuel economy on streets and highways.
Press the Auto 4WD button for inconsistent road conditions: It will send all the power to the rear wheels when there's good grip, but any loss of traction will cause power to be directed to the front wheels. This works well when patches of snow and ice are on the road, adding stability in inconsistent conditions. I like using Auto 4WD on gravel roads where it seems to offer the best handling balance. Press the 4HI button when standard four-wheel drive is needed for driving off road or on roads fully covered by snow and ice. The 4LO setting is used for creeping through deep sand, deep mud, deep snow, or up or down steep grades.
Two-wheel-drive models offer a limited-slip rear differential to give drivers better traction in slippery conditions. Optional traction assist cuts engine power as needed to help maintain traction to the rear tires. A second-gear winter start feature in the automatic transmission also helps get the Tahoe rolling without wheel spin under slippery conditions. These two systems should make the 4x2 Tahoe sufficient for all but those who live at the end of long driveways in snowy climates.
Tahoe's pulling power can be as much as 7,700 pounds when properly equipped. Press a button at the end of the transmission shift lever and GM's tow/haul mode holds the transmission in gear longer and shifts more abruptly to keep the transmission cooler. All models are equipped to accept a lighting plug for trailer towing, and have provisions for easily connecting a trailer brake controller. They also have a deeper oil pan on the transmission to provide a better supply of cool transmission fluid while towing. Our Tahoe LT came with the trailering package, which included a receiver hitch and an external oil-to-air transmission cooler. Chevy says the cooler is unnecessary, but we think it's good insurance.
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