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New Car Review: 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe LT 2WD

A Nice Car er'Truck

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide


The few full-sized sedans available today no larger than some of the ``compacts'' of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Yet people are larger, and Americans like space. So, as cars have gotten smaller, trucks have entered more lives. Large sport-utility vehicles have taken the place of the full-size sedans and station wagons of the past, and the Chevrolet Tahoe is the most popular full-sized SUV in the country. While some Tahoes do indeed see work duty, most are used by urban and suburban families in the same way they would use a car – for getting groceries, taking the kids to school or after- school activities, picking up stuff on weekends, taking the dog to the vet, and family vacations. Secondarily, big SUVs like the Tahoe are used for towing. Going to the lake with the boat? A mid-size sedan won't last long as a tow vehicle, and, while a pickup can tow as much or more than an SUV, inside space is at a premium. So SUVs have become ubiquitous. And, although the current Tahoe is only a couple of years old, Chevrolet keeps it ahead of its competition. And so the 2003 version, offered in LS and LT trim levels, has enhancements starting with a multiplexed electrical system that allows more electronic goodies, including a DVD-based rear seat entertainment system and XM satellite radio, improvements to the climate control and air bag systems, and availability of the ``StabiliTrak'' stability enhancement system. I've been driving a Tahoe LT with most of the new equipment for the past week, and it's been a pleasant and comfortable car, er, truck.

APPEARANCE: The Tahoe hasn't changed much since the current generation debuted in model year 2000, and no styling changes were needed. It is tastefully conservative, and discernibly a Chevrolet, with its power-dome hood and eggcrate grille with a prominent chromed crossbar featuring the Chevy bowtie. Thanks to the gently-curved and flared fenders, softly-rounded roofline, and arched side windows, it doesn't look particularly boxy, a good feat considering that it is a large two-box SUV.

COMFORT: Perhaps one of the reasons for the Tahoe's popularity is that it reminds today's parents of the large station wagons they rode in as kids. But the Tahoe is even bigger inside, especially in height. And it has comforts undreamed of when wagons roamed the roads. The front seats are comfy buckets, leather, power-adjustable and heated in the LT trim level, with the shoulder straps mounted on the seats for automatic adjustment. The LT's new adjustable pedals help driver comfort, especially for shorter drivers. Also new this year are available second-row bucket seats, leather-surfaced in the LT, that flip and fold for cargo and have adjustable back angles for human comfort. They fit full-sized adults just fine. A flat floor and the center aisle make access to the optional third-row seat easy. Theater-style, its cushion is higher than those of the other seats, and it is best-suited for small adults or children. Which brings up the available rear seat DVD-based entertainment system, with a small LCD screen for second- and third-row viewing pleasure. Back up front, the hot new accessory is XM satellite radio, with 100 channels of clear sound for just about any musical taste, available across the country. It's a far cry from the eight-track in the wagon your parents had. And to preserve family harmony, rear seat headphone jacks allow junior's hip-hop and dad's classic rock to coexist. Maybe…

SAFETY: A strong frame and body structure, with a safety cage around the passenger compartment, and four-wheel antilock disc brakes have been Tahoe features since 2000. Dual-level front airbags and a front passenger sensing system are new this year.

ROADABILITY: ``Comfort'' is the word for the Tahoe LT's ride, especially with the ``Autoride'' computer-controlled shock damping system. Good frame and body rigidity allow relatively soft spring rates and good control, and also decrease squeaks and rattles caused by different rates of motion of various body, interior, and frame parts. The coil springs and five-link location of the solid rear axle virtually eliminate the harshness commonly felt from solid axles. A Tahoe is not a small vehicle, but its front suspension allows more steering lock than earlier models, and so it has a remarkably small turning circle for its size, which makes parking easier. The Chevy Tahoe is a solid, capable truck that feels more like a luxury car than a truck.

PERFORMANCE: With the 5.3-liter ``Vortec'' V8, a Tahoe has plenty of power. 285 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 325 lb-ft of torque at 4000, to be exact. Acceleration is brisk despite the two- and-a-half ton weight, and when called upon for serious work, payload is over 1600 lbs, or, in 2WD form, towing capacity is 7700 lbs. That's a full load of people and cargo or a good-sized boat, or some combination thereof. The four-speed automatic's ``tow-haul'' mode holds gears longer and shifts more aggressively, for better towing or hauling.

CONCLUSIONS: The Chevrolet Tahoe combines truck capability and car comfort.

SPECIFICATIONS 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe LT

Base Price $ 33,506 Price As Tested $ 43,570 Engine Type 16-valve pushrod overhead valve V8 Engine Size 5.3 liters / 327 cu. in. Horsepower 285 @ 5200 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 325 @ 4000 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 116 in. / 198.8 in. Curb Weight 4828 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17 Fuel Capacity 26 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline, also ethanol-capable Tires P 265/70 R16 Firestone Wilderness LE Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent upper and lower control arms with torsion bars / solid axle with 5-link location and coil springs Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive.

PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 14 / 18 / 14 0 to 60 mph 8.8 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Tahoe LT preferred equipment group: - includes: Vortec 5.3-liter engine, AM/FM/6-CD in-dash stereo with RDS, premium Bose ® speaker system, rear-seat audio controls, 1st & 2nd row leather seating surfaces, power fold & adjust outside rearview mirrors with turn signals, 6-way power heated front bucket seats (driver's memory), power adjustable pedals $ 3,945 Rear seat entertainment $ 1,295 Autoride $ 875 Personal security package – includes: front side-impact airbags, steering wheel controls, OnStar with 1-year ``safe & sound'' plan $ 875 3rd-row seat package – includes: 3rd-row seat, liftgate/liftglass $ 760 2nd-row bucket seats $ 490 XM satellite radio (subscription extra) $ 325 Trailering package – includes: trailering equipment, transmission oil cooler $ 260 Locking rear differential $ 252 Driver convenience pack $ 107 Cargo package – includes cargo net, luggage rack cross bars $ 75 Destination charge $ 755