By Lesley Wimbush, Driving.ca – Enormous size, stump-pulling power and comfortable trappings used to be enough for fans of these rolling behemoths. Who knew that a full-size SUV that sprints from 0-to-100 km/h in 5.7 seconds while still maintaining the ability to tow up to 8,400 pounds was what they really wanted?
Introduced at the New York Auto Show earlier this year, the Chevrolet Tahoe RST – which stands for Rally Sport Truck – starts with an appearance package and builds all the way up to a bad-ass performance truck with powertrain and suspension components borrowed from the Camaro ZL1.
With 49.3 per cent of the market share, the full-size SUV segment is an important market for GM: one out of every two sold is either a Tahoe or Suburban. A three-row, eight-passenger, body-on-frame vehicle available in either rear- or all-wheel drive, the Tahoe competes against the Nissan Armada, Toyota Sequoia, sister vehicle GMC Yukon and its biggest rival, the Ford Expedition. Tahoe sales are nearly double that of the Expedition’s in the U.S., but in Canada it trails the Ford by a few hundred vehicles. While the rest of the segment is powered by big V8 engines, the Expedition has a twin-turbo V6, and near-premium luxury features.
For 2017, the Tahoe lineup received more equipment and interior features, and a Premier model to replace the LTZ as the top trim level. New standard equipment includes the Teen Driver System (allowing parents to monitor their youngster’s driving habits), back-seat reminder, active grille shutters and an updated MyLink infotainment system. The options list was also expanded, with an upgraded rear entertainment system, more USB ports, automated emergency braking, the illuminated bow-tie grille emblem from its pickup siblings, new 22-inch rims and a Midnight Edition appearance package.
And now the most powerful Tahoe ever: the RST.
While the base RST starts as a dechromed appearance package available on mid-level LT trims, retaining the standard 5.3-L V8 and six-speed powertrain and adding blacked-out grille and 22-inch rims, the top-spec Premier model can add the 6.2-L Performance Package, available on both rear- and all-wheel-drive Tahoes. The package consists of the L86 6.2L V8 with 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque mated to the same 10-speed automatic transmission found in the Camaro ZL1. Available are six-piston Brembo brakes, and the Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension system, which can assess road conditions and respond within milliseconds.
A 30-mile loop of not-very-inspiring Fort Worth suburban landscape is all we’ve got to evaluate our fully loaded Tahoe RST. There’s no RST badging anywhere on the vehicle: a glimpse of red Brembo calipers peeping from behind the spokes of the blacked out, 22-inch wheels, and two steely black tips from the optional Borla exhaust (which reportedly offers a 28 per cent improvement in flow) are the biggest visual clues.
Inside is a low-key leather interior: functional, comfortable but not particularly memorable. There are other colours available that are more striking than our tester’s black. The infotainment screen is somewhat small in these days of panoramic display.
Seating is comfy, with room for seven or eight, depending on whether you opt for a second-row bench or available captain’s chairs. Our tester features the optional power release that easily drops the second-row seat for easier access to the third row, a rather cramped but admittedly useful space. In all, there is a maximum of 2,681L of cargo space.
Despite its bulk, the Tahoe has very good road manners. It is quiet and composed over bumps, without allowing any disturbances to enter the cabin. It’s fairly quiet until you tromp the gas pedal, when the small-block EcoTec3 V8 roars to life and the Borla exhaust answers with a deep-throated rumble. This is the first time this engine has been available in the Tahoe, and if it doesn’t quite offer Corvette-style performance, it does move the nearly 6,000-lb (2,720-kg) vehicle along with surprising swiftness.
We weren’t able to confirm the sub-six second 0-to-100 km/hr sprint time, but suffice it to say the RST is pretty quick.
The Brembo brakes do a great job of reining it back in. Once off the freeway, we travelled over some rather ratty pavement. Although the big rims were wrapped in performance rubber, the suspension absorbed most of it without any harshness, yet at the same time the vehicle felt nicely planted without exhibiting any wallow.
Our U.S.-spec vehicles were rated at 17 mpg city/22 highway (13.8L/100 km city/10.7 highway) but featured active cylinder management, shutting down half the cylinders when not under heavy load and effectively converting it into a more efficient four-cylinder.
So, is there really a demand for such a special-edition, high-performance utility vehicle? Well, in addition to the Tahoe RST we just tested, and its sibling the Suburban RST, Mercedes has been relentlessly churning out new AMG-badged crossovers, Chrysler has a 700-hp Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk powered by a Hellicat engine, and its new Dodge Durango boasts 475 hp, launch control – and a towing capacity of 8,600 lbs. Suddenly the Tahoe RST sounds almost reasonable.
Available now in Canadian dealerships, the 2018 Tahoe starts at $64,045 for the LT 2WD, $67,345 for LT 4WD and $75,070 for the Premier 4WD ($1,795 destination/freight charge included). The RST appearance package is $2,995. The RST 6.2-L Performance Package is an additional $3,395, for a total of $6,390. Add $4,130 for the Brembo Brake Package, and $1,620 for the Borla Exhaust.