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1996 CHEVROLET TAHOE Review - Base Price $23,501

Rugged, assertive and roomier than most SUVs.


1996 chevrolet tahoe Review

The rationale behind the Chevrolet Tahoe is based on the Goldilocks syndrome, with trucks taking the place of bowls of porridge. There are some buyers for whom the Blazer is too small and the monstrous Suburban is too large. For them, the Tahoe will be just right.

Unlike a good story, the Tahoe saga has no suspense. If you want a 4-door vehicle of this type and size, you buy a Tahoe, or its twin from GMC, the Yukon. No other manufacturer offers a similar machine at the moment, though Ford will be joining the battle later this year with its new Expedition, a 4-door replacement for the Bronco.

The closest competitor is the Chevy/GMC Suburban, which is, in all respects save length and seating capacity, identical, although it could be argued that the Toyota Land Cruiser nibbles at the fringes of this size/price class.

Smaller truck/wagons abound, from the aforementioned Chevy Blazer/GMC Jimmy to Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer to Range- and Land Rovers to a host of alternatives from Japan. All are a little easier to handle in urban situations and slightly more economical to operate, but none offer Texas-sized interiors or the ruggedness and trailer-pulling capacity of a fullsize truck platform underneath.

First introduced in 1969 as a K-Blazer (not to be confused with the smaller Blazer/Jimmy), Tahoe got its current name last year. It has come a long way from its early pickup-truck-with-plastic-roof beginnings, evolving into a unique and versatile people-carrier.

Tahoe is a rugged beast, a go-almost-anywhere, do-almost-anything sport-utility vehicle. With last year's interior refinements and an added model, plus this year's powerplant upgrade and new drivetrain variants, Tahoe would be a standout even if it had direct competitors.


The most noticeable interior feature is the redesigned dashboard introduced in the 1995 Tahoes. Big and rounded, it looks far more attractive than the previous squared-off panel and holds a complete array of gauges (speedometer, tachometer, coolant temperature, oil pressure, fuel level and voltmeter) and soft-touch rotary knobs for headlamp and heat/vent/air conditioning controls. All switches, knobs and buttons are backlit, making them easy to use at night.

Give General Motors one demerit, however, for not including a passenger airbag among the Tahoe's safety features. No doubt one will be offered in time, but we believe it should be there now.

Depending on seating arrangement, Tahoes can carry five or six passengers. Three can ride in front on a standard bench seat; the optional bucket seats hold two, and are far more comfortable for extended use. In standard form, the seats are covered in attractive and long-wearing cloth that has been treated with Scotchgard for improved stain and soil resistance; the base 2-door has durable but less attractive vinyl upholstery. Leather seats are optional.

As expected, the sporty 2-door is best used by two people and luggage. The rear seat has adequate room, but getting there is something of a chore and the 4-door is far more spacious. Climbing into the 4-door's rear seat presents no challenge, of course. There's a good-sized step-up, but passenger-assist handles take excess effort out of this and the door openings are wide.

A side benefit to opting for the larger Tahoe is the extra cargo room freed by placing the spare tire under the rear floor. Two-door models still carry their spare upright in the cargo space.

Tahoes can be as plain or fancy as the owner's inclinations and budget allow. A long list of extras are offered to make them more comfortable, including air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, keyless entry, power assists for windows, door locks and mirrors, a variety of sound systems, fancier paint and upholstery upgrades, side running boards/steps that can support 600 lbs., styled steel or cast-aluminum wheels, or easier to drive off-road electric pushbutton shifting for the 4x4's 2-speed transfer case.


Disguising the Tahoe's size would be a monumental task. The only way to put its size in perspective is to park it next to a Suburban, which is almost 2 ft. longer. Fortunately, Chevrolet's stylists have opted for the straightforward approach, making the big Tahoes attractive in a rugged, assertive manner. Research shows that's the way folks like these vehicles to look, and General Motors is obviously listening to what potential owners are saying.

Whether 2- or 4-door, Tahoe shares front end sheet metal with the large C- and K-series Chevy pickup trucks. The high, bluff front doesn't do much for aerodynamics, but looks just right. All versions save the 2-door Sport have plenty of bright trim; within the limitations imposed by size and basic form, the stylists have given the Tahoe a downright elegant look.

The 4-door Tahoe rides on a longer wheelbase, making space for four large portals. Both versions can be ordered with either a pair of rear cargo doors or a conventional tailgate/lift glass setup. Although the rear doors make loading and unloading easier, we prefer the tailgate because it doesn't interfere with vision out the rear window.

Three trim levels are available. A base model is confined to the 2-door only; both versions are offered in standard LS and upscale LT trim. This year, buyers have a choice between 2- and on-demand 4-wheel drive across the board. Regardless of model or number of driven wheels, the standard powerplant is a 5.7-liter gasoline V8 mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission. A 6.5-liter turbodiesel is available in the 2-door 4WD Tahoe; a beefed-up 4-speed automatic comes with it.

Regardless of engine choice or door count, Tahoes ride on the beefy Chevy C- and K-series truck frame. Stiff and heavy, the ladder chassis gives Tahoe versatile on- or off-road competence. Its long wheelbase, size and comfort-oriented suspension tuning limit its off-road range to some degree--this isn't the right vehicle for the cliff-hanging perils of the Rubicon Trail, for example--but it's capable enough for any off-road adventures a family might be inclined to tackle.


First, last and always, the Tahoes are large vehicles. As such, they lack the maneuverability of smaller sport-utilities. That's especially true in around-town use where the Tahoe driver has to exercise the kind of caution familiar to big truck drivers, though the Tahoe and Yukon 4-doors are distinctly handier than the even bigger Suburban.

That said, Chevrolet has done a good job of tuning Tahoe's suspension and power steering to make commuting comfortable and easy. With reasonable care, these big vehicles can be wormed into parking spaces and threaded through traffic.

On the open highway, the 4-door delivers a remarkably smooth ride, not quite up to sedan standards, but far from trucklike. Comfort is hardly affected by load; even a trailer (maximum weight 5500 lbs. for the gasoline-fueled versions, 7000 lbs. for turbodiesel) does little to disturb the occupants' comfort.

The 2-door's shorter wheelbase gives it a choppier ride by comparison, but it still copes well with all but the worst road surfaces.

Power, always a strong suit in full-size American sport-utes, is plentiful. Our Tahoe's V8 delivered the kind of effortless performance that we normally associate with luxury sedans, and there's plenty of reserve for passing on 2-lane roads.

Braking is another matter. All Tahoes (and, for that matter, the big Chevy trucks from which they are derived) suffer from somehat numb, mushy brakes. They work well, but not as well as we'd like.

This year's version of the Tahoe/Yukon 5.7-liter V8 has been given substantial increases in horsepower (250 vs. last year's 200) and torque (335 lbs.-ft. vs. 310). Drivers will notice the difference. The turbodiesel's ratings are unchanged; its advantages are better fuel economy and enough torque (360 lb-ft) to deal with the heaviest loads.


Even without direct competition to contend with, Chevrolet has consistently improved the Tahoe over the years, particularly with the addition of the 4-door version. It's a multipurpose machine that accomplishes its tasks well, and looks good while doing so.

Tahoe is a big, wide-open-spaces, user-friendly sort of sport-utility that can be austere or fancy without losing its inherent strength. If that fits your needs, there's no reason to look elsewhere. Even if you could.

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