While the 2009 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid's subtle styling tweaks to lower its coefficient of drag are confined to the running boards, front fascia and rear spoiler, what powers this full-size SUV is a quantum leap in how we think about big hulking four by fours.
A two-mode hybrid system combines electric power and a fuel efficient V-8 to improve gas mileage by an average of 25%. The conventional power source is a 332 horsepower 6.0-liter Vortec V8 with active fuel management that shuts down 4 of the 8 cylinders at cruising speeds. Two electric motors built into the 4-speed automatic transmission move the Tahoe Hybrid at low speeds by drawing power from a 300-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery pack located under the rear bench. When stopping, the electric motors become generators, using regenerative braking to slow the vehicle and pump electricity back into the batteries.
The end result is fuel economy of 21 miles per gallon city, 22 highway for the rear wheel drive model, and 20 miles per gallon city and highway for the 4 wheel drive model.
The 8-passenger Tahoe Hybrid comes outfitted more like a luxury vehicle than a fuel sipper - sporting standard leather seating, heated front seats, leather wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, and rear seat audio and climate controls. When you consider the only optional items on our Tahoe test vehicle were the power sunroof and DVD/navigation package, the Tahoe Hybrid makes for one very well appointed SUV.
The Tahoe Hybrid doesn't disappoint when it comes to safety, either. Dual-stage front row airbags and first and second row head curtain side-impact airbags are all standard.
Hybrid power doesn't mean foregoing off-road equipment, as 4-wheel drive models come equipped with an Autotrac active low range transfer case. The four available drive modes are selected via in-dash push buttons.
For trailering, the 6200-pound towing capacity on the 2-wheel drive hybrid is on par with other non-hybrid Tahoe's.
Base MSRP for the 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid is $50,455. A fully loaded 4-wheel drive model will top out at just under $60,000. The Tahoe Hybrid is backed by a 5-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The Tahoe Hybrid may not get the gas mileage of a Prius, but given its size and the significant improvement in fuel economy over the conventionally powered Tahoe, we find the 2008 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid to be a very well designed truck-based sport-ute with fuel efficient technology that puts it well ahead of the pack.