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2012 Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ Road Test

Who It's For
Chevrolet Silverado owners who prioritize the hauling and off-road capability of their favorite heavy duty truck but need the extra passenger capacity.
Best Thing
Familiarity with the Chevrolet Silverado.
Worst Thing
Dated interior design, materials.
Snap Judgment
The 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe is a vehicle for buyers prioritizing off-road and towing capacity, as well as the ride and character of a truck especially the Chevrolet Silverado pickup.


You have a new addition to the family. Or you'll be regularly hauling several adults, whether for a carpool or your kids who have moved back home. Regardless, you need a bigger vehicle, preferably something that can carry a driver and up to four passengers and their cargo. You've ruled out full-sized cars and station wagons because they're practically non-existent (and the ones still around are way out of budget) and minivans, well, just because. You've narrowed down your choices to large crossovers and full-sized SUVs but stopped there. What's the difference, you ask? Why is the Chevrolet Traverse a "crossover" while the Chevrolet Tahoe an SUV? They look pretty much the same.

Technically, an "SUV" is built around a truck chassis. The Chevrolet Tahoe is built off the Chevrolet Silverado pickup. The Chevrolet Traverse, on the other hand, uses a chassis usually built for cars. This fundamental difference affects how the vehicle drives on -- and off -- the road, design, and even interior space.

So is the Chevrolet Tahoe basically the Silverado pickup with permanent camper shell? Or is it a different beast entirely? The slightly larger Chevrolet Suburban is also an SUV and built off the Silverado chassis. It can carry up to nine people total and their cargo. What makes the Chevy Tahoe different from it as well as the Chevy Equinox crossover? We spent a week in the top-of-the line Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ to find out.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

What We Drove

General Motors pretty much threw everything but the kitchen sink in our top-of-the-line 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ. Pricing for the 2012 Chevy Tahoe LTZ starts at $56,720 which includes $950 in handling and destination charges. Standard comfort features include heated and cooled front seats, heated second row seating, heated steering wheel, powered liftgate, and navigation. Our Tahoe came equipped with blindspot detector and rearview camera, both of which we strongly recommend for such large vehicles. The Chevy Silverado is famed for its towing capable and the Tahoe inherits all that capability including automatic locking rear differential, two-speed transfer case, and trailer sway control. Basically, if the Chevrolet Silverado has it, the Chevy Tahoe has it (or can be similarly equipped.) Optional features include even more comfort features powered sunroof (always a desirable feature here in Southern California), rear seat entertainment system which includes roof monitor and wi-fi headsets; heavy duty cooling package, and trailer brake controller for towing. Total comes to $59,585 with Chevrolet taking off $450 for a final price tag of $59,135.

Safety features standard on the 2012 Chevy Tahoe include front, side, and head curtain side airbags, stability control, and the always recommended blindspot detector. Our Tahoe came equipped with rearview camera as well. OnStar, General Motors' telematics system, is available for six months free. The NHTSA gave the Chevrolet Tahoe five stars (out of five) on its front and side driver's crash tests, four stars for the front passenger, and three stars in its rollover tests. The private IIHS has not rated the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe at the time of this post.

The Commute

Truck owners, especially owners of the Chevrolet Silverado, will quickly feel at home in the Chevy Tahoe. Despite the large size, we found the Chevy Tahoe easy to maneuver thanks to the electric-assist steering and soft suspension. The SUV's V-8 engine provides adequate power even when passing, while the ride itself was almost cushy. But the Tahoe's underlying truck chassis shows as you find yourself turning the wheel a bit more when going around that curve, or wait as the SUV takes a second or two longer to settle down after hitting that pothole. As can be expected, blindspots on the Tahoe are huge and only partially alleviated by the large rearview mirrors. Our Chevrolet Tahoe came equipped with blindspot detectors and a rearview camera; we strongly recommend them if your budget permits.

There's plenty of room for the Tahoe's driver and front passenger, and second row passengers can stretch their legs. The third row, though, can barely accommodate three adults, and is best for small children. One of the reasons the third row was so uncomfortable is the second row seats don't slide forward to give more leg room.

The Chevrolet Tahoe's driver seat comfort varied with our reviewers. Some found the flat seats just fine, while others thought it was too flat, firm or not firm enough and in all the wrong places. The Tahoe's motorized seat controls were adequate in finding the right configuration per driver. The same can't be said about the steering column, which could only tilt, not telescope. That's an odd omission for such a large vehicle, especially in this $60,000 price range. The Tahoe's steering column issue was partially offset by the adjustable pedal controls, which could move the pedals closer to or farther from the driver. All this, though, will be old hat for Chevy Silverado owners, whose vehicles have identical settings.

The Chevrolet Tahoe's similarity to the Silverado continues throughout the dash features, especially the controls. The column-mounted transmission shifter is huge, while the infotainment and climate controls are small, looking more like they belong in a car than a large vehicle like an SUV. The bulky shifter actually blocked some of the buttons on the dash and center stack. Thankfully, the Chevrolet Tahoe's manual audio and climate controls systems were fairly intuitive. We wish we could say the same for the infotainment system and its touch screen system, which looked out of place. When using the system, we found ourselves looking away from the road way too long. Once all the controls were all set, the interior of the Chevrolet Tahoe is a fairly relaxed experience. We found engine and wind noise well controlled especially at lower cruising speed, with most noise coming from the road.

The Grocery Run

The "U" in SUV stands for "utility" in all SUVs and their car-based CUV, or crossover, offspring. Why station wagons and minivans aren't included is technical mumbo jumbo and is best handled by your nearest gearhead family member or colleague. Our weeklong sojourn with the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe revealed it to be a mixed bag in fulfilling this trait. On one hand, the Tahoe provided plenty of space for up to five people and their cargo. We found the dual-level center console bin deep enough to hold a large purse or, in our case, our tablet computers, while the glove compartment was nearly as large, and lockable. On the other hand, the Tahoe's side door pockets were smaller than expected for a vehicle of this size. We also noted there was no eyeglass holder, omissions it shares with -- you guessed it -- the Chevrolet Silverado.

Even the Chevrolet Tahoe's role as a people hauler had its limits. The Tahoe could haul up to the five of us and our gear easily once we got the third row seats down. (which were moderately heavy, by the way). But lock the third row seats up and cargo room plummeted. And here's the fundamental difference between the Chevrolet Tahoe from the Chevrolet Suburban. The 2012 Chevy Tahoe works best as either a five-people-and-their-cargo hauler, or strictly as an up-to-nine passenger mover. If you need to do both simultaneously, check out the Suburban. Regardless, be prepared for gas price shock, as neither the Tahoe nor the Suburban can match the fuel economy of the full-size Chevrolet Traverse crossover.

While we're on the subject of cargo, it should be noted that while you can fold down the third-row seatbacks, you must remove the seats entirely to maximize cargo space behind the second row. This is no easy task, as each half is quite heavy, and can require two people to get down onto the garage floor. The Tahoe is the only full-size SUV that requires you to remove the seats; the Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia, and Nissan Titan all have seatbacks that fold into the floor. With a new Tahoe on the horizon, hopefully GM will fix this.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

The Weekend Fun

Driving to and fro from home to work and back is fine and all that, but you don't buy an SUV for such short distances. We put the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe through its paces as a people hauler in a leisurely cruise from our home in Los Angeles to San Diego, stopping in Orange County long enough to admire the pretty fireworks over Disneyland. As expected, the Chevy Tahoe performed fine for a truck-based SUV. Ride comfort for driver and passengers were comfortable, the suspension absorbing virtually all road imperfections. Like all truck-based SUVs, the Chevy Tahoe's body quivers a little bit after hitting a bump, pothole, or other road imperfection, something you won't notice in a car-based crossover like the Chevrolet Traverse.

Leg room, as we stated above, was plentiful as long as you sat in the front and second rows. Air conditioning vents in all three rows kept everyone comfortable. The Chevy Tahoe's cooled seating, especially, were a joy for driver and front row passenger. At the beginning of the trip, a playful fight broke out among the passengers on who would wear the available wireless headsets and watch a movie from the folding roof monitor. We were a bit surprised, though, at the level of noise entering the Tahoe during our four hour roundabout. Around town during the week, engine, road, and wind noise in the Tahoe were well-controlled. Not luxury-level here, but managed. Once we hit the freeways and up to speed, wind noise became more pronounced. We didn't have to raise our voices but the din from outside was noticeable.

We didn't have a chance to take the Chevrolet Tahoe off-road, nor did we tow anything. Both are strong points for truck-based SUVs compared to crossovers, and if that's part of your lifestyle, we suggest checking out our sister site Truck Trend [LINK http://www.trucktrend.com/index.html] for reviews of the Tahoe as it leaves asphalt and hits the rocks and rivers of the countryside.

Summary

There's nothing wrong with the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe, especially if you're looking for a hauler for five people and their stuff. However, the big truck-based SUV hasn't been significantly updated since 2007, and it shows. The Chevrolet Tahoe is an equal among an increasingly vanishing number of truck-based SUVs (e.g., Ford Excursion, Toyota Sequoia) but its day-to-day practicality falls rapidly behind large crossovers like the Chevrolet Traverse. The latter and its kindred (e.g., Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango) run roughshod over the Tahoe in virtually everything, from better fuel economy, handling, to ride comfort. They even beat the Tahoe in design. The Chevrolet Tahoe can go off-roading, but we don't see too many of today's buyers prioritizing that as a must-have feature.

An all-new Chevrolet Silverado is scheduled to debut early next year, and it doesn't take a prophet to see the next-generation Tahoe being built from it. For folks currently looking for an SUV right now for primarily city and suburban commute, we strongly recommend they look at Chevrolet's true crossover options. But if you're towing or heading off-road, the Tahoe's hard to beat.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $59,135
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 15 mpg
EPA Highway: 21 mpg
EPA Combined: 17 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 442 miles
Cost of Ownership: Above Average

Notebook Quotes

I could see myself buying a Tahoe, except for one thing: The third row seats. Chevy had a chance to better integrate them so they folded into the floor when the Tahoe was redesigned a few years ago. Instead, they stuck with the old-style removable seats, and lost a potential customer. -Keith Buglewicz, News Director

The Tahoe offers comfort, style, and room for the whole family. Your kids will love it, as will your neighborhood gas stations. -Matt Askari, Assistant Editor

This SUV, without question, is the centerpiece of Chevy's current lineup. While the Camaro could also fit into that claim, the Tahoe provides the necessary refinements for a sizeable family to travel together comfortably. The media and navigation system blew me away with how simple it was to interact with and its ability to adapt to other technology in the vehicle. -Trevor Dorchies, Assistant Editor

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