The 2007 Chevrolet Police Tahoe

Living where I do, smack in the middle of the frozen North, I have a great appreciation for vehicles that will get me where I want to be, when I want to be there. For years that meant struggling through snow drifts or deep mud with a standard patrol unit that would bottom out on a regular basis.

Way back when, surplus jeeps, and eventually pick-up trucks were the answer, followed by police adaptations of civilian sport utility vehicles, or SUVs. I even know a couple of departments that adopted minivans as their primary patrol vehicles. Finally, some manufacturers began seriously looking at public safety needs, and started designing modifications to their heftier vehicles in order to meet those needs.

Now, however, we have a vehicle designed specifically for law enforcement, from the ground up. The 2007 Chevrolet Police Tahoe is that vehicle. The engineers at General Motors Corp. were given three basic criteria for designing this police-specific SUV: space, performance and utility. They did well on all counts.

The company has created a pursuit-capable vehicle that handles well, is environmentally and fiscally responsible, can carry a lot of gear, and won't break the bank. That's a pretty tall order.

First impressions
From the outside, a casual observer might not notice much difference between the civilian and law enforcement version of the Tahoe. The Police Tahoe is a big, beefy vehicle, with nicely rounded corners, and a strangely solid, compact look for such a large vehicle. It seems to squat on the road, ready to pounce.

That's partly due to the fact that the Police Tahoe is lower to the ground than the civilian version. Couple that with wider front and rear tracks, and a lower center of gravity, and you have a big vehicle with a very positive, controlled feel that seems to hug the road.

Driving the vehicle bore that out at the Media Drive and Ride hosted by Chevrolet November 29 to December 1 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Changes to the frame (fully boxed), and a tight, coil-over-shock front suspension, keep the vehicle stable in cornering. Positive rack-and-pinion steering adds to the feeling of control. The day of our test drive was very windy, and the road was a bit rough, but the vehicle handled well, and the ride was quiet, thanks to that new boxed frame, which is stiffer, thereby reducing vibration to the passenger compartment.

Under the hood
The new Tahoe's engine is a 5.3-liter V-8, newly enhanced for 2007. The Vortec engine delivers 320 horsepower and 340 foot-pounds of torque, a significant improvement over the 2006 version. Even so, the 2007 model gets great fuel economy, with initial ratings in the 20.5-mpg range for the two-wheel drive (2WD) model. This is due, at least in part, to the fact that under normal cruising conditions, the engine runs on only four of its eight cylinders, only kicking in the other four when the need arises.

The Police Tahoe is an E-85 vehicle, meaning that it can burn fuel that contains 85 percent ethanol. That's environmentally responsible, while at the same time providing the power needed for a police vehicle. When the 5.3-liter V-8 engine is connected to a four-speed transmission (with overdrive), officers should get the type of performance they need to deal with modern highway driving conditions.

Performance and handling
Many other elements of the new Police Tahoe are designed for police performance as well. As a police EVOC (Emergency Vehicle Operations Course) instructor, I appreciated the high speed rating on the standard tires. The Tahoe rides on H-rated (135 mph), 17-inch Goodyear RSA steel-belted radial tires, mounted on steel rims. These tires are designed to "slip sideways" before a roll-over point is reached (sometimes a skid is a good thing - or at least the lesser of two evils).

The vehicle is equipped with tire pressure monitors, including the spare tire, so officers will know if they're losing pressure. That's an important piece of information during precision, high speed driving, or when operating in inclement conditions.

By the way, the 2007 Police Tahoe is a 2WD model; the four-wheel drive (4WD) version is still a modified "retail" model. Most departments classify the 4WD version as a special service vehicle, so pursuit capability is not essential.

Of course, the Police Tahoe is equipped with a heavy-duty cooling system, high capacity radiator and engine cooler, as well as heavy-duty brakes. The electrical system is beefy, too, with a 160-amp alternator, a heavy-duty battery, and extended-life spark plugs. In fact, while the engine is a 5.3-liter, the capacity of the cooling and electrical systems are matched to the specifications of a 6-liter engine. Dual batteries are an option, if your department has the money - probably almost a necessity in cold weather climates.

The Police Tahoe also has a skid plate that starts just behind the front bumper, and runs back to the first frame cross-member. After all, one reason your department has this vehicle is to access areas that are pretty much impassible.

In testing the vehicle at the General Motors Desert Proving Grounds, law enforcement drivers noted they were impressed with the stability of the vehicle, and its ability to hold the road, even when stressed in a turn. Having driven a variety of SUVs over the years, I was a little guarded during the first lap or two, but it was readily apparent that the vehicle could take a lot more. It just feels solid and controlled. Given the strong winds on test day, I expected our test drive through the low mountains would be a little rocky. Not so! The mushiness that sometimes accompanies a ride in a "comfortable" SUV just wasn't there. We seemed to really grip the roadway.

Occupant safety
Much of what we've already discussed impacts on safety, especially the ability of the vehicle to be controlled easily during the less-than-ideal driving conditions faced by many officers. Additionally, the Police Tahoe now incorporates standard, dual-stage driver and front passenger airbags. As an option, departments can add roof-mounted head curtain side airbags, with rollover protection for all occupants.

Don't forget the safety advantages of the larger vehicle. The 2007 Police Tahoe frame is designed to be stiffer, and will absorb energy very efficiently, reducing the degree of "crush" experienced by the front seat passenger compartment.

Other good stuff
This vehicle has a huge transport capacity, with approximately 60 cubic feet of cargo room. Fold down the second row seats, and that rises to almost 110 cubic feet. Given that many departments will classify the Police Tahoe as a special service vehicle, this cargo capacity is sure to be important in many regards.

Because the Police Tahoe was designed from the ground up as a police vehicle, engineers were able to address a common source of frustration - the vehicle's wiring harness. The Tahoe is wired with a standard harness, similar to that of the Chevrolet Impala patrol vehicle. This allows for more standardization of ancillary equipment, and should reduce installation and maintenance costs.

The vehicle comes standard with electric seats for both front seat passengers, and each front seat is equipped with a lumbar support. Lots of head room, and plenty of room for mounted gear translates to a comfortable passenger compartment for long night shifts.

All in all, Chevrolet has put forward a pretty nice package with the 2007 Police Tahoe. While the vehicle's size might make it difficult for the average "big city" department to adopt as a standard patrol vehicle, there will certainly be many uses for it in special service roles. And, for those of us that face winter's annual blasts, or who work in challenging terrain, the 2007 Police Tahoe looks to be the ideal vehicle.