Honestly, when was the last time you heard the term "sport utility vehicle" bandied about? It likely has been a while, since not many are being made anymore. Still, there are a few hanging on, including the full-size Tahoe and its super-size Suburban relation.
Hanging on? Actually, these rigs, with their ball-team seating capacities, are thriving where others have faded from sight or have been converted to kindler, gentler, more fuel-frugal car-based wagons. North American Tahoe/Suburban sales climbed more than 15 percent for the 2013 model year and, according to General Motors, represented nearly half of all full-size sport utility vehicles sold. Add in healthy sales of the similar GMC Yukon and there's little left for the few remaining competitors.
The 2015 Tahoe, arriving this spring, has undergone a complete transformation. The shape is sleeker, there's less weight and the powertrain is easier on gas. There's also more safety content.
The trimmer sheetmetal and stylish grille creates the impression that the Tahoe is a bit smaller than before, but the tape measure proves that not much has really changed. What is clear is the separation between the Tahoe and the considerably bolder looking 2015 Yukon counterpart.
It's a different story on the inside where max stowage volume has actually decreased slightly, possibly because the third-row seats now fold flat for added capacity and are no longer removable. Other changes include a more fashionable dashboard and control panel, complete with a five- or available eight-inch touch-screens that control the infotainment and communications systems. A smaller secondary screen is located between the watch-style dash gauges that displays key info where the driver can easily view it.
The filing-cabinet-sized center console can swallow a laptop computer and other bulky items. There are also storage areas beneath the door armrests plus a secure spot behind the touch-screen for holding cell phones and other small valuables.
The Tahoe's body is attached to a stronger ladder frame that widens the distance between the wheels slightly for greater stability.
Mounted between the rails is a 5.3-liter V8 that produces 355 horsepower and healthy 383 pound-feet of torque. Although displacement is the same as the previous base V8, the new 5.3 is all-aluminum and employs direct-injection (fuel force-fed into the cylinders under high pressure) and continuously variable valve timing (alters valve lift/duration to improve performance and economy). The engine can also run on four cylinders under steady-state cruising, which also saves gas.
All this, a 100-pound drop in weight and improved aerodynamics help the Tahoe achieve 16 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway (a bit higher when the optional four-wheel-drive is added).
The transmission is a six-speed automatic with steering-wheel "TapShift" controls and a Tow/Haul mode that holds the gear changes longer when trailering heavy loads (up to 8,000 pounds). There's also auto Grade Braking, which downshifts the transmission to help slow the Tahoe when descending a hill. This helps maintain vehicle control while keeping the brakes from overheating.
As per the 2014 version, the 2015 Tahoe is offered in LS, LT and LTZ flavors. Base models come with plenty of standard gear, with the mid- and top-grade trims piling on content such as keyless push-button entry, power-folding rear seat and start, magnetic ride control that constantly adjusts the dampers for a smoother ride.
Eighteen-inch wheels are standard with 20- and 22-inchers available at extra cost.
On the safety front, along with the latest in crash-avoiding technologies, there's an available front-seat center air bag. It deploys (from the right side of the driver's seat) to prevent passengers from colliding with each other during a side impact. This key piece of technology addresses a weakness in current shoulder belt design allows passengers to move sideways. Look for broader use of this in more vehicles.
With a $45,600 starting price ($2,000 extra for four-wheel-drive), including destination charges, the new Tahoe continues a tradition of capbility and power.
Even in this day and age, it makes no apologies for that, nor should it.
What you should know: 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe
Type: Four-door, rear- /four-wheel-drive full-size sport utility vehicle
Engine (hp): 5.3-liter OHV V8 (355)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Market position: General Motors dominates the full-size sport-utility market with no fewer than five nameplates. Despite rising fuel costs, these large wagons remain popular with folks who have serious towing and hauling needs.
Points: New look lacks the character of the identically sized GMC Yukon; Powerful V8 the sole engine choice, but Tahoe could really use a diesel option; Impressive cabin can seat up to nine adults; Upgraded interior provides plenty of cubbys and cupholders; Slight MPG improvement, but still thirsty with all this weight to move around.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; front-seat center airbag (opt.); anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 16/23; Base price (incl. destination) $45,600
Base price: $43,500 (est.)
Upcoming 2015 wagon is better looking and its turbo V6 boosts fuel economy.
Base price: $44,600
Eight-seat rig is solidly built but it gets a bit too chummy with gas pumps.
Base price: $46,000 (est.)
Tahoe and Yukon are similar. Denali trim level piles on the goodies.