The 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe is arguably a relic of another time, when gas was a bit cheaper and many more U.S. families looked to truck-based SUVs for everyday use. That time has passed—and there are a number of much better, more passenger-friendly crossover wagons like Chevrolet’s own Traverse just for passenger duty. But the body-on-frame sport-utility vehicle is still relevant today if you need truck toughness or good tow ratings along with good passenger space. And to give the Tahoe an added touch of relevance for today’s more fuel-economy-minded shoppers, there’s the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, which has EPA ratings of up to 23 mpg.
With styling that’s definitely dated, the 2012 Tahoe probably won’t charm you over from a more contemporary design, but it’s still handsome next to any of the competition. Inside, the Tahoe has a lower-set, more carlike instrument panel, with rounded edges and a less ‘macho’ look than rival models such as the Toyota Sequoia and Nissan Armada. In lower trims it can look a little plasticky, but move up to the LTZ and the look is decidedly premium. There’s not much to distinguish the Tahoe Hybrid model, but it does have several subtle modifications that improve aerodynamics and reduce weight, along with a number of Hybrid badges and, inside, a different display screen.
A 320-horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8 and six-speed automatic transmission provide power for most of the Tahoe lineup. It’s an excellent, seamless duo, with steady and smooth acceleration and a hint of muscle-car sound. Variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation help keep it smooth yet fuel-saving, plus it’s E85 capable, which some shoppers in farm states might appreciate. Hybrids instead get a big 332-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 is augmented with electric motors and battery power, using a version of the Two-Mode Hybrid system developed by GM with BMW, Daimler and Chrysler. As such, the Tahoe Hybrid can accelerate lightly on battery power alone or mix both, saving significant miles from each gallon, and the system isn’t delicate—it’s approved for towing and typical weekend-truck use.
Built on GM’s full-size SUV platform, with a fully boxed frame, coil-over-shock front suspension, and rack-and-pinion steering, the Chevy Tahoe shares its package as well as most running gear with the GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade. At its best, the Tahoe is as responsive as any 5,600-pound vehicle can be and feels much more maneuverable than it should. Base versions of the Tahoe don’t quite ride as well as top-of-the-line Yukon and Escalade models with the magnetic suspension, however, so check those out if you’re looking to splurge a little.
Simple and straightforward, yet supremely comfortable is the best way to describe the Tahoe’s interior. Most Tahoe models come with large, supportive front bucket seats, and in both the first and second rows there’s plenty of headroom and legroom. But getting back to the third row is a challenge, and even getting feet and knees past the thick B-pillar for the second row will be an issue for some. Suburban models get several more inches of third-row space, thanks to their added length, but access isn’t all that much easier.
The Tahoe lives up to its impression of security and solidity, with excellent four- and five-star ratings from the federal government in frontal and side impact. The IIHS hasn’t rated the Tahoe or the nearly identical Yukon. Side-curtain bags in the Tahoe cover all three rows.
Even the base Tahoe LS comes equipped like an entry-luxury model, and while the serious towing ability is there many Tahoes are used first and foremost as tough and secure yet comfortable transportation. LT and LTZ models add more features, with the top-of-the-line LTZ getting serious load-bearing upgrades like a heavy-duty locking differential, Autoride load-leveling suspension, and 20-inch wheels, in addition to an upgraded Bose Centerpoint audio system, a nav system with voice recognition, heated and cooled front seats, heated second-row seats, remote starting, and power-adjustable pedals. Bluetooth hands-free now comes in all models.
The Tahoe Hybrid gets many of the same features as the LT, and can be equipped with LTZ features as options.