2004 Chevrolet Tahoe Review
When size large is just right.
The Chevrolet Tahoe rides smoothly on the open road, and it's stable and comfortable at higher speeds. Although big and ponderous, the Tahoe handles well for such a large vehicle.
The Tahoe is built on GM full-size truck platform (GMT 800, if you must know), 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, notable for the rigidity of its hydroformed frame. Chassis rigidity is the key to achieving good handling and a smooth ride, 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. And the Tahoe now 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 Tahoe LT had the optional Autoride suspension ($1,120), which electronically controls rear air shocks to provide real-time adjustments in suspension damping. It provided a comfortable ride on I-405, a bumpy, busy freeway in Los Angeles. Autoride also kept the Tahoe from bounding around after running over railroad tracks when pulling a trailer.
The available Z71 package, with its off-road suspension, provides a good ride quality on gravel and washboard surfaces.
The brakes were greatly improved for 2003, so they're smoother and easier to modulate than before. The brakes comprise 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 effectiveness without activating the ABS. Once activated, the ABS allows the driver to maintain control of the steering in an emergency maneuver. For 2004, Tahoe introduces Hydroboost braking. Most power-brake systems rely on engine vacuum to reduce braking effort, but Hydroboost uses power-steering fluid pressure, which provides added safety, with more reserve power assist for braking under specific conditions. The system will continue to provide sufficient power assist to stop the vehicle even if the engine stalls or is turned off.
The Tahoe is relatively easy to park, much easier than a Suburban. It's 22 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 a fraction of 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 visually, and the Tahoe seems easier to manage off-road. The Tahoe's 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 Ford's overhead-cam engines for smoothness and efficiency, and deliver strong torque for towing. The standard 4.8-liter V8 cranks out 285 horsepower, while delivering decent fuel economy; a Tahoe 2WD with the Vortec 4800 earns 18 mpg on the EPA's highway mileage test.
A better choice, and the one most people choose, is the 5.3-liter engine rated at 295 horsepower. It delivers strong acceleration performance and burns regular unleaded fuel. Our 2004 Tahoe 4WD with the Vortec 5300 earned an EPA-estimated 13/17 mpg city/highway.
If serious off-road driving is your aim, you should know that the Tahoe does not 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, even 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 cluster. 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 ground, as it adds 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.
A heavy-duty locking rear differential ($295) gives drivers better traction in slippery conditions. Two-wheel-drive models can be ordered with electronic Traction Assist ($520) as well, which cuts engine power as needed to help maintain traction to the rear tires. StabiliTrak electronic stability control ($750) also includes a traction-assist function. A second-gear winter start feature in the automatic transmission also helps get the Tahoe rolling under slippery conditions without wheel spin. These 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, especially for those towing in hot weather.
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