We have to confess: we don’t quite see the point in a Chevrolet Tahoe RST without the available 6.2L EcoTec3 V8. At 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft, the Tahoe’s regular 5.3L motivates the three-row SUV expediently enough, but it doesn’t measure up very well next to the 375 horsepower and 460 lb-ft delivered by the Ford Expedition’s standard twin-turbo V6.
That’s just as well, because the 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe RST that we test-drove recently was fitted with the bigger 6.2L V8 – part of the “Rally Sport Truck’s” Performance Package. That package is only available on the Premier-trim Tahoe RST, and it also includes a performance-tuned MagneRide suspension system, a 3.23 rear end (vs. a standard 3.08 rear), and a 10-speed automatic transmission.
That transmission is, incidentally, shared with the all-new Ford Expedition, in which it comes standard across all trims. Ford and GM teamed up to share the costs of developing the 10-speed automatic for longitudinal (RWD-based) applications, and an all-new 9-speed automatic for transverse (FWD-based) powertrains.
But we digress. In addition to the aforementioned gizmos, our Chevrolet Tahoe RST Premier with optional Performance Pack also included the optional Borla performance exhaust system, capable of letting lose an extra 7 to 10 horsepower at the wheels thanks to 28 percent more flow, and 6-piston front brake calipers from Brembo. The brakes offer 84 percent more swept area, and 42 percent more rotor area, than the standard brakes, resulting in better heat dissipation.
We don’t imagine too many buyers will be taking their Tahoes to the race track, but the calipers look cool, anyway.
All that content, plus numerous other options like a $295 Cocoa and Mahogany interior treatment, and the aptly-named “Sun, Entertainment, and Destinations Package”, push the final price tag beyond $80,000 for the example we tested. Granted, one can get all the most important defining bits – the 6.2L EcoTec3, 6-piston calipers, and Borla exhaust – for far less.
But we made do, driving the loaded 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe RST around Fort Worth, Texas to get a feel for just how well Chevy’s engineers have managed to transform the heavy, full-size SUV into a “sporty” machine.
An Odd Duck
When you think about it, the Performance Package-equipped Chevrolet Tahoe RST is really sort of an unusual product. The 6.2L EcoTec makes matting the throttle great fun, but its greatest utility lies in its torque, which helps the RST PP to achieve an 8,400-pound tow rating – 1,800 pounds better than the next best tow rig in the lineup. Towing is about the only conceivable real-world use for the optional 6-piston front brake caliper upgrade, too, which doesn’t cut down on stopping distance, but does afford better heat dissipation – quite handy when you’re pulling several thousand pounds downhill.
So the question becomes: Why should the Tahoe customer who wants the best available equipment for towing be forced to accept a flashy, premium package in order to get it? We don’t know the answer.
Chevrolet says that in order to get the styling of the Tahoe RST, they spent a lot of time looking at what the aftermarket was doing. That’s how come they’ve ended up with the black grille, bowtie badging, and mirror caps, with flashy black-and-silver wheels. It’s probably also why they decided it would be prudent to reach out to Borla for a rowdy factory exhaust option.
The result – whatever demographic Chevrolet was targeting – is quite dramatic. The regular Chevrolet Tahoe already has a fair deal of presence, but when you give it the sort of blacked-out appearance a mobster might fancy, plus a shiny, chrome-tipped exhaust from Borla, it becomes nearly impossible to ignore.
Even harder to ignore is the noise out the tailpipe with said Borla performance exhaust installed. It sounds terrific, suiting the menacing, mafioso character of the Tahoe with a mighty V8 bellow that’s very rewarding from the captain’s chair – though if we’re honest, it seems the sort of racket that might become rather wearisome if you’re in any other seat. If you intend to use the Tahoe RST as a vacation-mobile, you might be better off without.
The 10-speed automatic transmission that comes with the Performance Package is a peach, matching your right foot’s whims with just the right gear for the occasion with briskness. There is a manual mode, but it’s best to just forget about that; gears have to be selected with the column-mounted stalk, and ten forward gears is simply too many for the human brain to keep track of anyhow.
Equally peachy is the performance-tuned magnetic ride control suspension, which comes included as part of the Tahoe RST Performance Package. It’s not easy to get a vehicle weighing more than 5,000 pounds to behave itself under braking, acceleration, or cornering, but the magnetorheological dampers work wonders, cutting body roll and pitch substantially while still delivering a plush, gentle ride. The body squats down nicely under braking, and you can barrel around corners with a bit more reckless abandon than most three-row SUVs can afford, confident that you’ll still be right-side-up when you come out of the turn.
Things are quite serene in the cabin, where there isn’t much road or wind noise to disrupt the drive. Indeed, just about the only prominent source of noise beside the (admittedly mediocre) stereo system is the Borla-enhanced roar of the V8. The steering effort is nice and high off-center without demanding too much of a workout, and up front, the selection of interior materials is remarkably nice and soft to the touch, with barely a hard, abrasive plastic to be found on any of the surfaces. Everything looks and feels just a bit more special and sumptuous in the RST than even the Premier model.
How We’d Spec One
Were we in the market for a three-row SUV and we’d settled on the 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe RST, the 6.2L EcoTec3 V8 and 10-speed auto would be must-haves. Since the optional Performance Package is the only way to get that powertrain, we’d happily take the magnetic ride control suspension, too.
And then, we’d probably end up selecting very few optional extras. Unless you plan on doing a great deal of towing through the mountains or driving your RST in an autocross, the optional Brembo 6-piston front brake calipers are a vanity purchase, plain and simple. “Look how great they look behind my 22-inch alloys!” you’ll say, as your friends all quietly start to wonder whether your marriage isn’t starting to crumble. The Borla performance exhaust looks tremendous and rewards the driver, but it’s a tad too loud for a daily commuter for our taste.
Illuminated door sill plates? Too showy. Adaptive cruise control? We had that in my day; we called it “your right foot.” Rear seat entertainment? Forget it; the kids will have to make their own fun. In fact, just about the only other options we might spring for are the premium all-weather floor mats, front and rear splash guards, and roof-mounted cross rails – practical things that might help when on holiday, or simply commuting around Southeastern Michigan during winter.
All things considered, the 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe RST with the optional Performance Package is a sharp-looking three-row SUV with enough muscle to get you and yours wherever you need to go with gusto. Chevrolet’s shorter-wheelbase full-size really needed a 6.2L option, and at last, it has one, complete with a marvelous magnetic ride control suspension setup and more style and pizazz than you can shake a stick at.
As three-row SUVs go, you could do a lot worse – and a lot less fashionable.