GM’s Big SUVs Live On

2015 Chevrolet Tahoe.

2015 Chevrolet Tahoe.

About a dozen years ago, the death knell sounded for large, truck-based sport utility vehicles. The public was increasingly wary of the vehicles’ overly large size, consumption and overall excessiveness. They were considered too much for most families’ needs.

And since then, the smaller (mid-size and compact) crossover SUV segment has flourished. Pretty much every mainstream car company now has a reasonably-sized SUV-type vehicle on the market.

So here we are ushering in the 2015 model year, and what do you know, one of GM’s big debuts is a redesigned line of full-size SUVs that ride on truck frames. Big as ever, capacious as ever, and able to tow big trailers and haul lots of people, just as in the past.

Hey, what happened? What happened is that General Motors is too smart to walk away from such a lucrative portion of the auto industry. While many people with smaller families have shied away from the largest of the SUVs, some buyers truly need something that can do some serious towing or hauling.

Even though the full-size SUV market isn’t as strong as it was during the heyday of the late 1990s, GM still has about 70% of what’s left of it. And, these vehicles are quite profitable, sharing many components with current full-size pickup truck models. So, on the heels of the large Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, we now have a new Chevy Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon/ Yukon XL.

The basic Tahoe and Yukon are still pretty huge by today’s standards, but they’re essentially the same size as the previous examples of each. And if you really want to see something huge, check out the Suburban and Yukon XL. They’re identical to the shorter ones from the grill to the second row of seats, but add a bunch of extra space to the rear.

I got to sample both sizes from both brands recently. A Tahoe to represent the shorter dimensions; and a Yukon XL, which is GMC’s twin to the Suburban. (Triva time: Some years ago the larger GMC was also called a Suburban. Only in recent generations has it gotten its own name.) Soon there will also be a new Cadillac Escalade in the two sizes, just as before.

The first thing that you notice when driving them (aside from the fact that they’re so big) is how much quieter they are inside. It’s still a truck underneath, but GM’s engineers really worked on isolating the cabin from both wind and road noise.

Part of the reduction in wind noise comes from improved aerodynamics. Okay, these things are still huge boxes trying to push their way through the air, but a tweak here and there smoothes out those boxes just a bit.

And, that slight aero advantage also helps fuel economy, on the highway at least. In a two wheel drive Tahoe, EPA estimates are 16 city and 23 highway. Also helping efficiency a bit are tweaks to the standard V8 engine like direct fuel injection, variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation.

The flip side to the data sheet is towing capacity. A 2WD Tahoe can pull up to 8600 pounds. For anyone with a substantial boat or horse trailer, that spec is more important than the fuel mileage figures.

Then there’s the interior volume. Huge space for many people (up to 9 if you can find one with a front bench seat), and now they’re carried in much more comfort. The top trim Tahoe even has magnetic ride control suspension. Additionally, the latest safety technologies like lane departure warning are now available.

Not only are these vehicles not small, they’re not inexpensive. Base price for the 2015 Chevy Tahoe is $45,890. (Add $2700 for the extra length and heft of the Suburban.) The full-zoot Tahoe LTZ that I test drove was $65,140. I also sampled a loaded-up GMC Yukon XL 4WD SLT which carried a bottom-line tab of $67,270

To paraphrase that old saying, “The large SUV is dead. Long live the large SUV.”

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunzT

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