Auto Review: The hybrid that tows

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Feature Article - posted Thu., Jul. 21, 2011
- Contributed Photo

When I filled up my gas tank recently, I paid right around $4 a gallon, and that seems to have become the norm rather than a spike in the price. Given this unpleasant and wallet-depleting situation, fuel economy is a big consideration when purchasing a new car, and Hybrid vehicles (that use both a gas engine and electric motor to stretch fuel economy) are becoming a prudent choice.

The thing is, though, most Hybrids are smaller cars that can only haul so much in the way of people and cargo, and if you need to tow a substantial trailer, you might want to look elsewhere. That is, unless you fancy a Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid. A solid truck from stem to stern, the hybrid version of this popular full-size SUV is designed to do everything the regular Tahoe can do, only deliver much better fuel economy (especially around town, where GM claims there’s a 33-percent increase in gas mileage). Yet this is still a vehicle that has three-row seating, an available four-wheel-drive system and a maximum towing rating of 6,200 pounds.

How is this stout towing rating possible? Usually, a hybrid system has a small gasoline engine that is supplemented with a powerful battery-powered electric motor (or motors), but the Tahoe is a big vehicle and everything is done in a big way. The gas engine is a 6-liter V8 that runs on four or eight cylinders, depending on demand, and has a maximum output of 332 horsepower. This is coupled with a two-mode hybrid drive, and a key part of this is an electronically variable transmission (EVT). Chevy explains its operation thusly: “A sophisticated Hybrid Optimizing System constantly receives torque-based data from the powertrain and other vehicle systems, and then determines the most efficient means of propelling the vehicle (either via electric power, gasoline engine power or a combination of the two). The EVT is like having two transmissions in one – continuously variable drive for light-load conditions and fixed-ratio drive for high-load situations.”

In practice, all this works with transparent integration, and our 4WD tester had a transfer case with 2WD, Auto, and 4WD Hi and Low modes to tackle any terrain. Acceleration is brisk, and with all that V8 power on tap, a big trailer and steep grades can be dealt with easily. But when all that muscle isn’t required, you can tool around in heavy traffic at low speeds with only the nearly silent electric motors for propulsion and save a lot of fuel. With the third row seats in place, you have room for around five passengers (provided the last row occupants are slight in stature), and if you remove these seats, you have 60 cubic feet of cargo capacity.

The Chevy Tahoe Hybrid is a very unique vehicle that combines the tried-and-true qualities of a serious truck-based SUV with modern hybrid gas-electric technology to ease your pain at the pump.

The 2011 Chevy Tahoe 4WD Hybrid is EPA-rated 20 MPG city/23 highway and has a base price of $53,540. With options, our MSRP came to $56,706.

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