Exterior Design: **
Whether you love or hate big SUVs, the 2008 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid sports monolithic good looks compared to others in the category. Body-color trim, molded-in side steps, and the hybrid-specific front air dam add to handsome proportions. If you're trying to be subtle, though, look elsewhere: The Tahoe Hybrid shouts its greenness from every surface, using emblems, logos, and tape stripes to tell the world you're doing your part for global warming...wait, against global warming. What exactly DOES this thing say? Oh yeah, Hybrid. Everywhere. We'd like to give this beast four stars here, but we'll subtract one for huge "HYBRID" logos on each side.
Interior Design: ***
Good God it's wide in here. The expanse of dash and the far proximity of our passenger reminds us of a friend's '68 Chrysler Newport, albeit jacked up a few feet. Everything is where you expect it to be, though, with storage and power options just about everywhere you look...except under the second-row bench, which is where the battery pack lives. The leather-swaddled seats were comfortable for hours on end, and the clear lines of sight made the huge Tahoe easier to drive.
Six liters and electric assist be damned, this is a huge truck, and it's not in any hurry to get out of its own way. That said, it never felt dangerously slow, but stepping on the gas when decelerating in electric mode sometimes confused the software, resulting in a delay when you really didn't want one — such as while turning left with opposing traffic approaching. When all else fails, the big Vortec can jump when asked — just don't look at the real-time fuel economy indicator while you've got your foot in it. On the other side, it sure is fun trying to keep yourself in all-electric mode.
The Tahoe Hybrid hauls itself down to a stop in impressive fashion, with four big discs combining with the hybrid system's regenerative assist. Our complaints weren't with stopping prowess, but rather the odd clunks and whirrs that occasionally accompanied it. Another editor noticed the gas engine/motor system does some sort of transfer of power during braking that makes it feel as though the vehicle has been rear-ended.
You want smooth and floaty? You can't go wrong with body-on-frame. The Tahoe was designed to be a top-shelf SUV, and it rides like one, keeping passengers disconnected from the surface below through the use of soggy rubber bushings, stout shocks and springs, and a few hundred pounds of sound insulation.
Read the part about ride above and you'll discover everything you need to know about the Tahoe Hybrid's handling. It's a huge, top-heavy truck. The handling is as good as one can hope to expect from this type of vehicle, with slow, overboosted steering and soggy suspension. It was kind of fun on dirt roads, though.
The two-mode hybrid autobox is the heart of GM's hybrid SUVs: Essentially, it integrates the automatic transmission and the electric motors needed for hybrid operation. As a pure automatic, the hybrid shifts imperceptibly. But as mentioned earlier the transitions into and out of gas-power and into purely electric mode aren't always subtle.
As one would expect in a $50k ride, the Tahoe does tunes justice. Thanks to the Bose Premium Speaker System as standard equipment, including sub tucked into a rear-compartment cubby, we were able to kick Willie's Place sky-high on the XM for our entire drive north. Speaking of, like most GM vehicles, XM radio in the Tahoe is free for three months to get you good and hooked; it's hard not to fall in love with it.
It's all here: The Tahoe Hybrid has OnStar, satnav, XM, heated seats, tri-zone automatic climate control, overhead DVD, a 120-volt outlet, and power everything. The radio system also has an addictive "hybrid power flow display" that graphically shows what the hybrid system is doing at all times, much like other hybrids on the market. In other words, you get most everything you'd get on an Escalade, including the price tag.
The Tahoe Hybrid offers a lot of goodies and a powerful, uniquely efficient powertrain (for a full-size SUV). But at a list price of $52,250, we can think of so many better vehicles for the money that the Tahoe can't compete. When big SUVs were fashionable, folks would pay that kind of scratch just to have one in the driveway. Times have changed.
As far as novelties go, the Tahoe Hybrid is one. It's a nice luxury SUV, but no one buys those anymore. Don't get us wrong, it's much more efficient than a standard Tahoe. But if you need the space and towing capacity, buy a diesel Savana van if fuel efficiency is the priority. At the $50k plus price point where the Tahoe Hybrid sits, there's enough really good competition that this thing is a non-starter. On the other hand, viewed as a first application of the two-mode hybrid system and nothing more, the Tahoe Hybrid shows that GM can build a true hybrid with the best of them; we look forward to seeing the system in something more manageable and less expensive.
2008 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, Part One