"What car are we taking to school today?" our 15-year-old son called out to me one morning earlier this week.
"Let's take the Secret Service SUV," I shouted back from the bedroom.
"OK," he said, needing no translation to know that the "Secret Service SUV" of which I spoke was, in fact, the blacked-out Chevy Tahoe in our driveway.
If there was one vehicle at our house this week that would look at home with Secret Service agents wearing earpieces standing on the running boards, it was the big, black Tahoe — almost three tons of American steel that hearkens to a time when SUVs were actually converted work trucks, not citified, unibody "crossovers."
The Chevy Tahoe, which was last redesigned for 2014, is a full-size, eight-passenger SUV that shares parts and a pedigree with the GMC Yukon. The Tahoe competes in a segment that includes the Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada and Toyota Sequoyah.
Two Chattanooga Chevy dealers, Integrity Chevrolet (2110 Chapman Road) and Mountain View Chevrolet (310 E. 20th St.), together have about two dozen 2017 Tahoes listed in their digital inventories this week. Base Tahoe LS models start in the mid-$40,000s, and top-of-the-line Premiere models top out in the mid-$70,000s, making them among the priciest vehicles in the Chevrolet fleet. The Tahoe slots between the mid-size Chevrolet Traverse and the train-car sized Chevy Suburban, which is like a Tahoe, but with a 20-inch extension welded onto the back.
* Model: 2017 Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD LT
* Exterior color: Black
* Interior color: Jet Black
* Engine: 5.3-liter V-8
* Horsepower: 355
* Transmission: six-speed automatic
* Fuel economy: 22 mpg highway, 16 mpg city
* Local Dealer: Integrity Chevrolet, Mountain View Chevrolet
* Price (as tested): $65,085
Our 2017 Tahoe 4WD LT tester, supplied by the manufacturer, has a sticker price of $65,085 including about $10,000 in options such as the Z71 Midnight Edition Package ($2,630), which turns a mild-mannered people hauler into a menacing road beast.
STYLING AND FEATURES
The murdered-out Midnight Edition treatment — which includes black, 18-inch, painted aluminum wheels, black side-steps and a black roof rack — was a big hit in the car lines at my sons' schools this week. I made sure to wear ear buds and sunglasses to keep the other parents guessing: Who the heck is that?
The dividing line between merely big and jumbo in the auto business boils down to this: Is the vehicle taller than an average-size grown man? In the case of the 2017 Tahoe, the answer is yes. I have a friend who drives a Tahoe who swears that once you get used to the elevated seating height in a full-size SUV it's hard to step down.
Stepping up into the Tahoe, you climb a side step and then plop down into front bucket seats. The body-hugging contours of the front seats, combined with the jacked-up height of the Tahoe combine to yield a sense of comfort and security. The shear mass of the vehicle makes you feel safe, as if the laws of physics would be on your side in an emergency.
Our tester has parking assists that buzz your derriere if you are about to hop a curve or flatten a fire hydrant. That's nice, but a bit disconcerting.
If you opt for the Midnight Edition treatment, consider buying a membership card at your local car wash. Otherwise, you'll spend every weekend trying to rinse the dust off the mirror-black finish. That said, when this thing is clean and shined up, it's a beauty. The black wheels, which look like an affectation on some vehicles, actually amplify the masculine vibe of the Tahoe.
Inside, the key word is comfort. From the inviting leather seats to the padded touch surfaces and terraced dash, the Tahoe begs for a road trip. Actually, the big vehicle is much more at home on an Interstate highway than on downtown streets, where narrow lanes can make navigating a bit dicey.
The list of standard equipment on the Tahoe includes GM's MyLink telematics system which can support a vehicle-based Wi-Fi network, an 8-inch display screen, remote start, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A tri-zone climate control is designed to eliminate sibling wars in the back seats.
Our tester has a basket of option packages. The $3,210 Sun, Entertainment and Destination package bundles a power sunroof, navigation and a rear-seat entertainment components. The $2,995 Luxury Package includes remote start, heated second- and third-row seats, heated steering wheel, wireless charging and a host of safety-tech features.
How can something this big also be this quiet?
That was our over-riding impression during a week of mountain commuting and and driving to youth soccer practices. The Tahoe glides along at cruising speeds like a passenger compartment on a bullet train. The knobby tires do drone a little, and the big V-8 rumbles at times, but the cabin is so insulated that little noise intrudes.
The eight-cylinder, naturally aspirated engine makes 355 horsepower and pushes the Tahoe from zero-to-60 mph in a smidgen over seven seconds. Throttle response is about average, and it takes some time to adjust to the brakes, which require a stout foot to bring the big SUV to a quick stop.
The range-topping Premiere trim includes a sophisticated suspension set-up called "magnetic ride control" that is said to improve handling and dampen body roll.
The Chevrolet Tahoe is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get vehicle, a big muscular SUV with V-8 power and an 8,400 pound towing capacity. If moving a big family around in comfort and safety is your goal, then it doesn't get any better than a tricked-out Chevy Tahoe.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.