When only an SUV will do: 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD Hybrid

2009_chevy_tahoe_hybridThese quintessentially American vehicles, based on pickup truck platforms and powered by voracious V-8 engines, seem like creatures from another era. At a time of economic distress, they symbolize Americans’ predisposition to over-consume – buying vehicles we want rather than vehicles we need. With their enormous weight and insatiable appetite for gasoline, they are definitely not cool anymore.

Yet there are times when the sight of one of these monsters sitting in your driveway is comforting, and there is nothing else you would rather drive. Take the weekend before Christmas, when the temperature in my neck of the woods dropped into the single digits and successive snowfalls left a foot or more on the driveway.

After I climbed into the Chevy Tahoe hybrid, the engine cranked immediately, without hesitation. Even though snow covered every window surface, spending a few minutes warming up the cabin and running the front and rear defrosters was no burden because the wide-open interior spaces induced no claustrophobia.

When the time came to put the car in gear and get it rolling, the on-demand four-wheel-drive pulled the truck effortlessly through the snow. On the road, there was nothing to fear from slush thrown up from passing vehicles because we sat up so high, the windows were never blocked.

My only concern was the large front spoiler that hung down from the front bumper, making it easy to clog with snow or dent in a parking lot snowdrift. Nothing worrisome materialized, however.

The Tahoe also proved its worth hauling household goods to and from New York City on back-to-back trips. Its carrying capacity is significant and the abundance of creature comforts for the driver – such things as seat heaters and satellite radio – kept fatigue and boredom to a minimum.

Where the Tahoe falls down is on the value side of the equation. A couple of thousand dollars of options like the rear-seat entertainment system and a $950 delivery charge pushed the as-tested price up to $56,500 – though beleagured Chevy dealers will surely sell you one for thousands less.

And the electric motor that turns the Tahoe into a hybrid did little to slake its thirst for gasoline. The hybrid Tahoe is rated at 20 miles per gallon by the EPA, vs. 16 mpg for the standard one. I was able to get only a little better than 19 mpg over some 400 miles of driving.

The hybrid Tahoe was a welcome weekend houseguest guest during some especially inclement weather, but I’d have a hard time finding room for it to move in on a full-time basis.

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