First Drive: 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe RST

FORT WORTH, Texas – It’s said that everything’s bigger in Texas, and that applies to what’s under the hood of the 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe I’m driving. It’s the new Tahoe RST, for Rally Sport Truck, an available package that adds the Tahoe’s first 6.2L V8 engine, along with a ten-speed automatic transmission and performance suspension.

The ten-speed automatic is an athletic match, shifting effortlessly and keeping the engine in its sweet spot.

For those who find the Tahoe simply not big enough, the option is also available on its larger sibling, the Suburban.

The RST actually involves two packages, one of which only makes it look more gnarly, and one that backs it up with extra performance along with a couple of add-ons.

In Canada, the packages can be added to the Tahoe 2WD in LT trim (starting price $62,250) or in 4WD to the LT ($65,550) or Premier ($73,275), and they can rack up the coins in a hurry.

The first, the RST Edition, chimes in at $2,995 and is strictly an appearance package. It’s all about the black: 22-inch gloss black aluminum wheels, black grille and bowtie emblems, black mirror caps, mouldings and roof rails, and body-colour door handles and headlamp accents.

The go-fast stuff comes courtesy of the RST 6.2L Performance Edition package. It’s technically $3,395, but the actual price is really $6,390, since you can only add it in conjunction with the appearance bundle.

Monster motor shared with police version, mostly

The package includes the 6.2L, churning out 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. The new 10-speed Hydra-Matic transmission first launched in the Camaro ZL1, and has been re-calibrated for this heavier vehicle. You also get Magnetic Ride Control, a slick system first used on Cadillac and programmed here for the truck’s size and performance. In simplest terms, its dampers contain metallic-particle-filled fluid, and computer-controlled magnets continually act on it to stiffen or soften the ride.

Finally, on top of that, you can add six-piston Brembo front brakes for another $4,130, and/or a Borla performance exhaust for $1,620 that the company says provides a 28 per cent improvement in exhaust flow that translates into an additional seven to 10 horsepower gain at the wheels. Go for everything at the top 4x4 trim line, and you’re just a squeak under $85,000.

The 6.2L V8 is also offered in the Tahoe PPV (Police Pursuit Vehicle) package, and since the starting point for my drive was at the Fort Worth Police Department’s training centre, I had a chance to take the new 2018 version around one of the autocross courses that cop trainees have to master, both in forward and reverse (hey, I only killed a single cone going backwards).

The PPV gets some extra tweaks to ensure that even if you spring for the consumer RST Performance Edition, you’re still not going to outrun the law.

As with the 5.3L V8 that powers the Tahoe otherwise, the 6.2L includes cylinder deactivation, which seamlessly shuts off half the cylinders when full power isn’t needed for better fuel efficiency, along with direct injection and continuously variable valve timing. Canadian fuel consumption numbers weren’t available, but the US figures translate to approximately 13.4 L/100 km in combined city/highway driving. Towing tops out at 3,800 kg (8,400 lb) and acceleration is pegged at just under six seconds for zero to 96 km/h.

It’s not easy to modulate the throttle for moderate acceleration from a standing stop, such as when you’re creeping in traffic, but once this engine gets going, it’s a sweet performer. Not surprisingly, there’s a whack of torque available over a wide range, and when a lane unexpectedly swung off swiftly into an exit ramp (because not everything is bigger in Texas), it didn’t take much throttle to spin everything up and get me far enough ahead of traffic to get back over. The ten-speed automatic is an equally athletic match, shifting effortlessly and keeping the engine in its sweet spot without excessively hunting for a gear.

The steering is smooth and handling is crisp, but this is meant to be a performance truck, and if you’re used to comfort, you’re going to be disappointed. The ride is very firm, and every bump and pothole and highway expansion joint (all of which are indeed bigger in Texas) shudders their way up through the suspension and into the cabin. It’s not always a bad thing – when you do want to carve it up a little, it’s an integral part of the experience – but it did get tiring after several miles on the interstate.

The meaty 285-series tires hug tight on curves, and the Tahoe’s firmer underpinnings do a decent job of keeping up with them, but the laws of physics can be powerful masters on a tall, heavy truck. While it doesn’t feel tippy on curves, you do feel its weight.

Interior remains unchanged

While the packages change some of the exterior trim pieces, the interior is untouched. I drove the Premier, which is handsomely kitted in leather seats, stitched door and console accents, and wood and metallic accents. The centre stack’s plastic buttons and dials look dated, but on the other hand, they’re dead-simple to use, and function always triumphs over form for me. In any vehicle, but especially one that’ll get to legal speeds this quickly, keeping distraction to a minimum is paramount.

(Of course, people will still find a way: it was easier to count the Texans alongside who weren’t tapping on their phones than the ones who were, and on the forty-minute van ride from the airport to the event, we passed four – four! – major crashes, two of them with burned vehicles, the most carnage I have ever witnessed in a single day.)

The Tahoe’s front chairs are all-day-drive supportive, and the second-row captain’s chairs are equally comfortable and with considerable legroom. That ends at the third row with its hard, flat seats, and there’s very little cargo space when they’re up, although both the second and third rows power-fold in the Premier trim to form a flat floor. If you want to move three rows of people and still put their luggage for a long trip in behind, you’ll have to move up to the longer Suburban.

Conclusion

Given the price, it’s unlikely you’re going to see many Tahoe RSTs on the road fully loaded with the full suite of upgraded engine and transmission, brakes, and exhaust (a future collectible, perhaps?). I think the package’s real reason for being is to introduce such features as that ten-speed automatic, which will undoubtedly play a part in the all-new 2019 Silverado that’s coming down the pipeline, and heavier-duty calibration for the magnetized ride. And should you do something wrong, the cops in their PPVs can nab you even faster now as well.

A more intimidating exterior with the muscle (and price tag) to match. 12/18/2017 6:30:00 AM