From the land of the double cheeseburger, ‘supersize me' and extra fries, comes an SUV to match. Chevrolet's popular Tahoe is vast - like driving your garden shed but with 20" wheels. It's more than 5 metres long, 2 metres wide and just as tall, which gives it a lot of presence and, at 2,500kg, quite an impact.
All the current Tahoes are built on GM's full-size SUV platform. It's a heavy-duty separate chassis that connects all the suspension and transmission components to a very strong and substantial frame. The advantages are safety, strength and durability but the downside is a lot of weight. But the Tahoe drives very well for a 2,500kg SUV and feels much more manoeuvrable than it should. A smallish turning circle helps and after a couple of days behind the wheel, Chevy's big bus feels just as chunky and fun to drive as your favourite Tonka toy.
Our test car, a top-of-the-range Tahoe LTZ, comes with a 320-horsepower, 5.3-litre V8 driving through a six-speed automatic transmission - a classic combination that makes you instantly feel at home. However, the engine is surprisingly modern, variable valve timing and E85 flex-fuel capability, along with Active Fuel Management, a clever technology that cuts power to half the cylinders in low demand driving. Very green! What's more, the engine's abundant 450Nm of torque makes it sufficiently sprightly - 100kph comes up in just 8.5 seconds, but you still get great fuel economy.
Inside it's also all pretty much as you would expect: simple, functional, and extremely comfortable. Up front there's a pair of large, supportive bucket seats and in both the first and second rows there's plenty of headroom and legroom. There's a third row of seats available as well but they're a bit of a scramble to get into. Save them for the kids, perhaps.
With such mammoth dimensions and solid construction, you might be inclined to think that the 2011 Tahoe is a very safe place to be and you'd be right. The big Tahoe has earned a number of top ratings from safety tests and boasts side-curtain airbags that cover all three rows.
The ‘wow' factor
Today's Tahoe has come a long way from its truck-like origins and is now a tough, well-behaved and comfortable luxury cruiser with plenty of real off-road ability to keep you out of trouble. Our LTZ model has a huge list of standard features, including a heavy-duty locking rear diff, Autoride load-leveling suspension, and 20" wheels, in addition to an upgraded Bose Centrepoint audio system and a satnav system with voice recognition among other things. These make up for a steering wheel adjustable for height, but not reach.
Bluetooth connectivity is standard, as are rear audio controls with two headphone jacks and floor console storage luggage rack rails, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with wheel-mounted audio controls and express-down windows. Out of breath yet? Ours even had the optional power liftgate, though you could argue that should be standard given the size of the thing.
Size defines the driving experience but in a good way. Once you've got used to the sheer bulk of the Tahoe, it very quickly becomes as familiar as a favourite armchair, and is just as comfortable. One of the most impressive aspects of the whole experience is the peace and quiet. The level of noise suppression is extraordinary - road roar is almost completely eliminated. The engine is a distant rumble, you can't hear the tyres and the sweetest music is that coming from the concert hall stereo. If you wanted to cross continents without being disturbed, this would be the place to do it.
It is never going to be a car that enjoys being hustled but it can carry a surprisingly decent amount of speed when you want to push on.
Given its size, there's no surprise that the driving position in the Tahoe offers excellent visibility. You spend your time looking over other cars rather than through them. This is a great help in anticipating traffic behaviour ahead, although the brakes are powerful and progressive when you need them.
The elevated driving position also helps when manoeuvring in small spaces, though driving into an underground parking lot can be a bit of a challenge - I had to constantly resist the urge to duck when looking for parking in our favourite malls. Size, too, has an advantage on the open road. Few cars have such an imposing presence as a full-size SUV and it was a real treat to watch the traffic parting in front of us as we approached. I've driven a lot of big 4x4s recently, but none had quite the same effect as the Tahoe.
At the end of the day, size is the Tahoe's trump card. The large dimensions make for huge amounts of interior space. Fold the third row flat and there's a vast luggage area for the IKEA run. And if you need even more accommodation, the Suburban version adds another 65cm of length in the rear for a truly cavernous ride.
Size also means weight and this helps with the surprisingly comfortable ride. With this beast you need a large engine but Chevrolet has been clever. The 5.3-litre engine produces a relatively modest 320bhp but a generous 450Nm of torque, which makes it decently responsive when called upon. Switching off four of the cylinders when they're not needed is a neat trick and results in wallet-friendly fuel economy.
Given the size and scale of the Tahoe you could be forgiven for thinking it will be a bit of a bus and of course that is exactly what it is. It's never going to be a sportscar, but as a roomy, quiet, comfortable car packed with intelligent technology, it is a very nice and drivable bus indeed. New school roolz!
Full-size SUV with seven seats
Capacity: 5.3 litres
Horsepower: 320 HP @ 5400 RPM
Torque: 450Nm @ 4000 RPM
Transmission: 6-speed auto, permanent 4WD