2008 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid Review
Would you be less offended if it said TURBO or IROC on the side?
By David Surace
Photos by Kelly Surace
How come we’re not being held up at stop lights? Why is no one noticing? What’s wrong with these people?
I’m clearly driving a capital-H-capital-Y-brid, because it says so in six-inch-tall letters right on the very doors of the vehicle I’m driving, which along with the 72 other badges (I don’t know, the count seems to get bigger every week) that other journalists have encountered on this particular truck, has made it the talk of the town among those who care about automobiles and their interactions with the environment.
And by “talk” I mean this: you’d think GM was putting Sierra Club stickers on Imperial AT-ATs.
By my estimation there are three kinds of people who even have the word “hybrid” on the brain when it comes time to purchase a car: people A, who just want to save money; people B, who just want to stop relying on other countries for oil; and people C, who just want to save the ecosystem.
You’re all wonderful people and I commend your efforts. But if you belong to only one of these groups, and you feel great disdain for the other two, I’m afraid GM’s big hybrid trucks are simply not for you. If you identify with two of those categories, and don’t mind three’s company, you might be interested.
If you swear devotion to all three groups, please be advised that unicorns don’t exist.
For purposes of disclosure, I should let you know that I probably fall outside of these categories, because when it comes to my money I’m not all that interested in a hybrid system on its merit alone—no matter how technically impressive it may be. I’m not intoxicated by the mere mention of the “H-word”.
I am, however, intoxicated by an automobile’s ability to get me to my destination in comfort and poise, and if you’ll allow me to cut ahead a little, I’ll tell you that the Tahoe Hybrid I sampled had those items covered very well indeed, and a lot of it is attributable to the 2-Mode Hybrid system itself.
I want to talk about that system, however, because its very transparency gives this hybrid’s image a few problems. GM’s 2-Mode Hybrid system effortlessly slushes power between a gasoline engine (in the Tahoe’s case, a massive 6 liter V8) and a pair of 60kW electric motors. The internal combustion engine and electric motor are very different powertrains that deliver torque in decidedly different ways. Getting these devices to play together without arguing is 2-Mode’s reason for being.
Believe it or not, GM’s hybrid development strategy started with larger vehicles (Allison public transit buses, actually) and downsized to fit in smaller applications like this Tahoe and its sister, the GMC Yukon Hybrid. The intention is that, other than the PR fanfare, 2-Mode will quietly work its way into whatever model lineup GM wants to apply it.
The operative word in the previous sentence is quietly. The Tahoe, like any GMT-900 truck, is already a librarian-approved driving experience, authoritatively hushed by enormous gobs of sound deadening and thick glass and Jell-O-like engine mounts, even if you should bring that mighty V8 to full song. Full thrust is available if you give the right pedal a quick jab, but this is a very big and very heavy vehicle, so it’s simply more comfortable when driven leisurely. Add an instant-on ignition, aerodynamic enhancements to smooth some of the Tahoe’s rough edges, and the electric motors that whirr along at speeds up to 25mph, and the 2-Mode system to slurry that power together with the V8, and you have probably one of the most somber and dignified driving experiences this side of a Rolls-Royce. Or, if you’re a bargain hunter, a VW Phaeton.
Whoa, hold your pitchforks. I said somber and dignified, not opulent or auspicious. Most of you Autosavants are familiar with the basic inherent goodnesses of the GMT-900 vehicles, and one of them is the finely crafted interior, which is simply a very pleasant place in which to do business. The Hybrid (starting at $50,490 for the 2WD model, about $53k for the one I tested) sits at the tippy top of the Tahoe’s pricing scale, so it gets a fair share of the upmarket LTZ’s goodies as standard. The Hybrid comes with a few differences, however.
There’s a stringent weight reduction regimen in effect to tweak the Hybrid’s mileage numbers: an aluminum hood, a smaller fuel tank (24.5 gallons), a rear hatch with fixed glass, lightweight side-steps, light alloy wheels, and the notably de-stuffed lightweight heated seats, which are just-as-dang-near comfy as the originals. The truth is, you wouldn’t notice these things unless you spend your Tuesday nights at the Splitting Hairs Club.
So, unlike the naysayers, I can see GM’s logic in employing vast swaths of decals and big chrome emblems (handsome little guys, by the way, with a circuit-board pattern printed in the green plastic), because the “hybrid” content in the Tahoe is so inconspicuous that the only way you’ll be able to get the best out of the system is to actually be repeatedly reminded that it really is a hybrid.
I was told more than a few times by contacts at GM that I should utilize the Tahoe Hybrid’s no-cost-option nav screen to display a special section which is exclusive to the Hybrid models (and the reason the nav is free): a continuous status monitor of the 2-Mode system. It’s similar to the screens in Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive-equipped models in that it shows you a cartoon representation of the power transfer happening in your vehicle, the notable exception being that you can’t send more power to the shields or phasers. Not that I tried or anything.
My point is, if you want to meet those EPA numbers on the sticker (for the 2WD model I sampled, 21 city/22 highway) you should hit up the Driver Information Center underneath the tachometer, and access the Instant MPG display, which refreshes about twice a second (for the record, this is the most sensitive mpg display I’ve sampled). This, combined with the 2-Mode display, emboldens you to play the Efficiency Game, that super awesome secret hidden level that seems to be present on all hybrid cars, but in reality you can play in the comfort of in your very own beat-up Toyota Tercel. I played this very game all week in the Tahoe Hybrid and ended up with a rock-steady 19.8 mpg.
Hey, wait. That’s not that great, is it? Actually it represents about a 12% gain in efficiency over a standard Tahoe, which IS great, except… well, there’s that H-word on the side. Those folks who did express interest during my time with the Hybrid seemed universally disappointed with such a low number. Everyone–which in my case represents Groups A, B and C–seemed to be expecting more, even if this Tahoe is already an Archimedean feat of engineering in terms of efficiency, in almost direct spite of its own utility, comfort and size.
Most folks on the street still equate the word “hybrid” with a vehicle that gets at least 40-something mpg, something that would be quite frankly miraculous if it came from a three-row SUV as nice as this one.
I currently live in an area (the Deep South, if you must know) in which the Chevy Tahoe is an aspirational vehicle in its own right, and for some folks it’s even considered a sort of rite of passage into adulthood. Down here, the Tahoe (and its sister ship, the GMC Yukon) is a luxury car for people who hate luxury cars. I’m willing to wager that real fans of the Tahoe/Yukon–in other words, people who stuck around even after the Great SUV Collapse of ’08–would seriously enjoy the Hybrid’s whizbang engineering, the extra savings in gasoline and (currently) the cash on the hood.
This is a tough subject to tackle, given the large SUV’s rapidly diminishing relevance in the American marketplace. I don’t have an easy answer with regard to the Tahoe Hybrid. It is a marvelous and silent monster, a blue-collar Orient Express. It is very hard to recommend this vehicle to anyone but the smartest of Autosavants, people who have realistic expectations, people who seek the path most definitely less trodden. If you care about saving the environment or pinching pennies or protecting our national interests, BUT none of these things matter quite as much as your romantic feelings for the big SUV, the Tahoe Hybrid would be an enjoyable fit in your garage.
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