It's easy these days for people to laugh at the excesses of car buyers of years past. One wonders why tailfins were such a big hit, or chrome-encrusted two-ton family sedans with vinyl roofs were the ultimate in fashion statements. Quite
frankly, the same can be said of sport utility vehicles. Why everybody suddenly wants to drive a truck remains an elusive puzzle. Is it just that people want to sit up high? Do they really want to be able to get to work under any circumstance? Or is it
just like tailfins, the fashion of the moment? Some don't care about such arguments. They only want a big box. On that count, this Chevrolet Tahoe delivers what its biggest sibling, the Suburban, offers, but in a slightly smaller package. (Keep
in mind that smaller is a relative term here-- the Tahoe measures 76.8 inches wide, 199.6 inches long and 75 inches tall. If that doesn't seem that big to you, try fitting it in your garage. It'll go in -- barely.) It's available as a two-door
(something only GM offers in this size) and in three trim levels, the two-door base Tahoe, two- or four-door Tahoe LS and top-drawer LT. It's also available with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. The comfort factor of this vehicle is high. Start
with its interior. This is a big sanded-off box. It looks rugged and pays dividends in interior space. There's a Texas-sized amount of room and, on the whole, it feels roomier than its chief competitor, the Ford Expedition. But the seats aren't so comfy.
It's not due to lack of support -- this is one of the few GM seats that's truly comfy -- but to bad seat back angle. The backs of the front seats are positioned too far rearward and do not adjust, at least not in the test vehicle. The result is a bad
driving position. Not only that, it makes it difficult to reach things like audio and climate controls. The dash itself functions well, and the AM/FM-cassette/CD player (optional in the LS, standard in the LT) performs very well. But this vehicle is
so big, it would benefit from steering wheel-mounted controls -- it's quite a stretch to reach them on the dash. Ditto the climate controls -- three simple, easy to operate rotary knobs. Too bad they're housed in a dash made of hard, cheap-feeling
plastic. It developed an annoying squeak towards the end of the test. There are plenty of features to keep one comfy, such as heated leather seats, auto dimming rear-view mirror with temperature and compass read out, power doors, locks and windows,
rear seat heat ducts, illuminated entry, two auxiliary power points, built-in garage door openers, power driver's seat and so on. In short, all the features a car has. That's true of the ride as well. You'll never mistake it for a car while cornering
--there's too much body lean for that -- but it does have tremendous grip. It's very quiet as well. As a matter of fact, it's better than some of GM's cars. So this car is comfy.
So was a '59 Caddy. What's the big deal? It's the equipment. New this year is what GM calls 'Autotrac,' which is basically an automatic four-wheel-drive system that can be operated on dry as well as slippery pavement. It automatically switches in and
out of four-wheel drive. Other modes (two-wheel drive, low four-wheel-drive and neutral) can be selected, each one at a touch of a button, at any speed. If you need to stop, anti-lock front disc/rear drum brakes are standard. But they're on the small
side and only give this truck fair stopping power. Add in a numb brake pedal and stopping doesn't always inspire confidence. The test vehicle had a slight shudder when coming to a halt, too. Power sources are similar to what that Caddy would've had:
A big V8. These days, its Chevy's familiar 5700 V8 engine that's standard. This5.7-liter overhead-valve unit delivers 255 horsepower and 330 foot-pounds of torque. Also available is a 6.5-liter turbo-diesel V8 with 180 hor
epower and 360 foot-pounds of torque. If all this sounds like a recipe for a car that's perfect for livin' large, you're right. With sumptuous leather seating, some killer tunes and your favorite beverage in the cupholder, this rolling living room
will eat up the interstate with incredible ease. It's a 4,865-pound 4X4 that can haul 6,500 pounds of your favorite plaything behind it. Go for the two-wheel, rather than four-wheel drive, and you can add 500 pounds to that figure. Of course, with an
EPA rating of 13 mpg city and 17 mpg highway, the 30-gallon gas tank will carry you 450 miles between pit stops. That's something even your daddy's Caddy couldn't do. This big box can carry more than any car. Behind the rear seats is a whopping 70
cubic feet of cargo space. The vertically split rear door ruins the view out the rear view mirror, but is a nice switch from the horizontally arranged openings that most trucks have. All the interior roominess in concert with the numb power steering
makes this vehicle seem much larger than it is. So, some may be put off by its Nimitz-like feel, while others will squeeze into mall parking lot spaces, proud that their vehicles are so enormous. But car buyers in the '50s kept asking for ever larger
vehicles. Twenty years later, buyers in the '70s did too, until the oil spigot closed. Now, 20-years later, truck buyers are asking for bigger vehicles, something this Chevy fills well, with good power, nice amenities and that nice large size.
1998 Chevrolet Tahoe LT 4WD Standard: 5.7-liter overhead-valve V8, four-speed automatic transmission, speed-sensitive power steering, part-time four-wheel drive, front tow hooks, stainless steel exhaust, dual front airbags, front disc/rear drum
anti-lock brakes, intermittent wipers, keyless entry, six-way power driver's seat, chrome front and rear bumpers, AM/FM-cassette eight-speaker stereo, trailering harness, electrochromatic rear-view mirror with compass/temperature read out and rear
defogger. Options: LTDecor Group (leather seating surfaces, air conditioning, dual electric mirrors, aluminum wheels, AM/FM-cassette-CD audio system, power windows, tilt wheel, leather-wrapped steering wheel, floor mats),Comfort and Security Package
(heated front seats, heated outside mirrors, Homelink transmitter, Bilstein shocks, power passenger seat, rear air conditioning), Autotrac automatic four-wheel drive, heavy-duty trailering equipment, locking rear-axle differential, reclining bucket seats
with floor and overhead console, two-tone paint, P245/75R16 tires, 3.73 rear axle ratio, skid plate. Base price: $31,985. As tested: $37,289. EPA rating: 13 mpg city, 16 mpg highway.