VIENNA, VA – The 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe doesn’t break any new ground, but why should it? It’s already darn near perfect. We recently got our hands on a 2003 Tahoe LT 4×4, and after driving it for nearly a month, we have to take our hats off to Chevrolet – they build one heckuva SUV (or truck, or whatever we’re calling them today).
It seems like everybody and his brother own a SUV, and we all love to pick on them for their apparent ‘unnecessary’ existence, heck, some organizations claim you’re supporting terrorism if you own one, which is a bit outrageous from our perspective. From soccer mom’s to senators – everyone’s tooling around in these large cargo-carriers, and the tree huggers love to point the condescending finger at them. That’s ok – let ’em point and poke all they want; Chevrolet’s Tahoe is an excellent vehicle that serves many purposes, and for all practical purposes is as environmentally friendly (if not more so) than the hippie’s busted-up 1968 VW Bugs and Vanagons.
Now that we’re done justifying its existence, let’s take a look at what’s new for the 2003 Tahoe. Most of the upgrades and enhancements occur on the interior, including adjustable foot pedals, a new climate control system, an optional “entertainment center” complete with DVD player and 7″ LCD screen, optional steering wheel-mounted controls, revised center console, available rear seat heaters, and a new optional Bose stereo system. Exterior upgrades include new power folding mirrors with built-in LED turn signal indicators. All else remains relatively unchanged.
Many of our staff already own larger sport utility vehicles and trucks, but that didn’t stop them from wanting to take a turn behind the wheel of our Tahoe tester. When the weekends came, everyone suddenly seemed to “need” the big rig for various jobs, tasks and trips – the Tahoe handled all of its tasks with ease.
Fortunately, as editor, I had first dibs on the Tahoe and I didn’t hesitate to exercise that option. Climbing in to the Tahoe isn’t any problem, but shorter staff members commented it was a bit of a climb and welcomed the “entrance assist” grips located at three of the Tahoe’s four main doors (driver’s seat doesn’t get a handle).
Once inside, we found the Tahoe to be large and comfy, although headroom was a little on the tight side for taller drivers, and the roof seemed to be raked a bit near the windshield, creating a somewhat “compressed” feeling when compared to competitor’s vehicles. Driving position is right-on, controls are placed well and the gauges are large and easy to read.
The seats were a sore spot for many, especially during longer trips – they lack thigh support and over a long haul, you’ll find the front of your thighs (just behind the knees) starting to ache as the majority of your weight seems to be positioned over that spot – no matter how we adjusted the electric, leather covered seats, we found we couldn’t fix the support issue.
The adjustable foot pedals were a welcome addition, especially to our height-challenged drivers, and the new tri-zone climate control system won rave reviews from everyone. There wasn’t anything wrong with the older climate control system – we just all have a passion for improvements and digital controls. The performance of the climate control was excellent – with the odd January weather, we had an opportunity to test both the heating and cooling abilities of the system, and no one was disappointed.
Rear passenger room is good, and the second row buckets were comfortable, especially with the new, optional seat heaters. The third row seats can accommodate adults, but not very comfortably – it’s best left for younger passengers, or removed completely, which is how our tester spent most of its time. With the rear seats in place, rear cargo capacity is greatly reduced – so much so, that you’re lucky to fit a weeks worth of groceries without some strategic positioning and arrangement.
Once the third row seats are removed, the back of the Tahoe becomes cavernous. Fold down the second row seats, and the Tahoe will swallow a sheet of plywood without any problem – now that’s impressive, especially when you consider that the Tahoe is one of the smaller “large” SUVs. Standing on a 116″ wheelbase, with an overall length of 196.9″, the Tahoe should fit in just about any garage without issue. With a maximum width (mirror to mirror) of almost 79″, it should look nice parked next to a second car in your two-car garage. Chevrolet did a great job of making the Tahoe “just big enough” to work well for just about everyone, and it’s moderate size makes it easy for most to drive.
Speaking of driving, we found the 2003 Tahoe LT with AutoRide to be a very quiet vehicle, especially given its size and obvious aerodynamic shortcomings. At highway speeds, minor tire noise can be heard in the cabin, but other than that, it’s surprisingly quiet. Steering is a bit vague at times, thanks in part to the large, 265/70/R16 Firestone Wilderness AT’s, the recirculating ball steering and the slightly ambitious AutoRide system. In almost all but the windiest conditions the Tahoe drives with very little effort, but when the wind picks up (especially a cross wind), the AutoRide seems to “hunt” for a stable driving environment, the result being a somewhat “swervy” endeavor, especially at higher speeds.
With the 5.3L, 285 horsepower Vortec V8 speed isn’t much of a problem. While the Tahoe isn’t fast, it is quick. It climbs to highway speeds effortlessly, and rarely shifts above 4,000rpm – with over 320 foot-pounds of torque available at 4000 rpm and thanks in part to a flat torque curve, the engine never left us wanting for more power. Around town, the engine delivers very smooth power with equally smooth shifts from the 4L60-E 4-speed automatic transmission. At highway speeds, you’ll find the mid-size V8 quietly working at a leisurely 2,000 rpm, with plenty of power available for an uphill pass, if necessary.
Need to tow something? We didn’t, but we did it anyway, just to see how the Tahoe handles pulling duties. Our LT came equipped with a towing package, which made hooking up and configuring a trailer very easy. It also pulled our trailer without any effort at all – we rented a U-Haul two-axle trailer, loaded up a staffer’s car and proceeded to tow it a few hundred miles. I must admit, I thought the 5.3L V8 might not be up to the task of pulling a 6,000lb load, but it did it without any problems or complaints. In fact, I often found my speed climbing to the high side of seventy miles per hour without even noticing it. Suffice it to say, the 2003 Tahoe and its 7400lb rated towing capacity should be able to pull most common loads effortlessly.
Gas mileage is typical for a large SUV/Truck – we averaged right around 15 mpg over our one-month time of possession. This included lots of heavy-footed driving, towing and around-town tooling about. Oddly, even when pulling a trailer, gas mileage didn’t suffer as much as we would have expected – our logs show 13 mpg averaged over a 300-mile trailer pulling commute.
Our only gripe with the Chevrolet Tahoe is with the brakes. With four-wheel, ABS equipped disc brakes, we’d expect the Tahoe to offer slightly better stopping performance. It’s not that it doesn’t stop well; we just feel it should stop better. 12″ ventilated discs on the front and 13″ solid discs on the back managed reasonable stopping distances, but the brakes just don’t have a strong “bite” like we’re used to. Panic stops from higher speeds require a firm foot on the pedal, but that’s to be expected when trying to haul 5,050lbs of American sheet metal to a complete stop. If we were to own a Tahoe for a long period of time, a brake pad upgrade would probably be in order, but again, that’s just us.