In the police vehicle world, a triangle exists between three key players. The first is the law enforcement agency, which provides demand for police-oriented vehicles. The second is the automotive manufacturer, which hopefully listens to the needs of law enforcement agencies and produces appropriate vehicles. The third is the aftermarket “upfitter,” which bridges the gap between what the automotive manufacturers provide and what officers need. When these players synergize their efforts, the result can be a law enforcement vehicle that properly addresses the needs of officers in the field.
The New Tahoe
One such vehicle is the all-new 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe Police Package (PPV). Touted as an industry-first police package from its inception, Chevrolet says the new Tahoe PPV was designed from the ground up to be a police vehicle. According to Dave Spence, GM’s director of Commercial Product and Specialty Vehicles, with so much electronic gear in police vehicles, particularly specialized units that carry high levels of equipment, the need for a performance-oriented SUV was clear. Spence says that while previous incarnations of the PPV were essentially production vehicles with modifications added, the new 2007 model “was on the drawing board as a police vehicle from the beginning.”
First, the Tahoe PPV had to be pursuit capable. Spence says that while Chevrolet envisions the Tahoe as a “special needs” vehicle for agencies, the company wanted to produce a vehicle that also possessed the acceleration, handling and braking prowess needed for code-3/pursuit situations. Second, Chevy wanted to simplify and standardize the installation of aftermarket items, such as light bars, cages, radios, etc., to cut costs for agencies and improve equipment interchangeability between individual police units. Having the plug-and-play capability with a standardized wiring harness, for instance, allows for multiple duty-equipment life cycles without the headache of rewiring. Spence places the cost of the all-new Tahoe PPV at around $35,000; various dealer and manufacturer pricing rebates and strategies will likely move that number around.
The problem with truck-based SUVs in the past is that, well, they drove like trucks. They were ponderous, stiff-legged, with vague steering and a thirst for fuel. Those traits were forgivable if you were hauling a boat or trundling a ton of hay through the backcountry, but it wasn’t too enjoyable if you had to spend 10 hours a day in one navigating city streets and highways. Thankfully, the 2007 Tahoe PPV benefits from new corporate DNA across the entire GM pickup and SUV family. GM had been lagging in the “look, I’m new, too” department vs. other manufacturers, so its new Tahoe platform had to deliver in the areas of ride, handling, fuel efficiency and refinement.
My drive in the PPV confirms that GM did their homework. It starts with the engine/transmission combination. All PPVs come with the Vortec 5.3 liter V-8, which features GM’s Active Fuel Management and E85 Ethanol capability. The engine is rated at 315 horsepower and 338 lb.-feet of torque, and moves the Tahoe along with brisk authority. Throttle response is good, and while the Tahoe PPV weighs in at a hefty 5,265 lbs., it gets up to speed at a pace that feels more than adequate. While I didn’t have a chance to instrument-test my Tahoe PPV, recent tests conducted by the Michigan State Police squarely place the Tahoe alongside the Crown Vic and Impala in the acceleration and top-speed departments. The Tahoe PPV’s wear special Goodyear Tires rated to 135 mph, and the Tahoe PPV is limited to that speed.
The Tahoe PPV’s Active Fuel Management system sets it apart from other vehicles. This system essentially shuts down four of the eight cylinders when throttle demand is low, allowing for better fuel economy. While this may not be as big a factor for urban departments, rural departments and state agencies where officers often drive many miles at non-emergency speeds could benefit. GM says the system is seamless in operation, and I have to agree. During my test drive, I traveled the flat area of urban Phoenix, and climbed the nearby mountains. If the Active Fuel Management system was working, I couldn’t tell, which is what GM wants. All told, GM says the system can provide up to a 20-percent fuel savings, significant for some departments.
The engine is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission refined for 2007. The transmission shifts smoothly and didn’t hunt for gears on long grades. In town, it downshifted quickly, allowing me to use available power easily to move my way through traffic. During numerous laps at the nearby GM Proving Grounds, this engine-transmission combination performed without complaint. All told, while the Tahoe PPV isn’t the fastest police vehicle on the market, it more than holds its own, which is remarkable considering its size.
The Tahoe shines most in the chassis and interior improvements. In the past, a pursuit-capable SUV was an oxymoron. Think of it as asking a football lineman to teach your daughter to ballroom dance—he could do it, but it wouldn’t be pretty, and you wouldn’t want to watch. With the new Tahoe PPV, think of it more as a ballerina in hiking boots: reasonably graceful with a utilitarian flavor. The implementation of a new rack-and-pinion steering system replaces the older recirculating-ball setup, while an independent front control arm, coil-over shock setup replaces the old torsion-bar system. The rear employs a multi-link suspension with coil springs, offset shocks and a stabilizer bar. The rear axle has a limited-slip differential, and all four corners benefit from enlarged four-wheel disc brakes with a four-channel anti-lock braking system. Each brake controls a special steel wheel wearing an H-rated 265/70 17" Goodyear tire. Special touches abound—even the front fog light openings were replaced with functional air ducts that cool the front brakes. Nice. The end result is an aggressive looking Tahoe that sits a full two inches lower than the four-wheel-drive (4WD) model.
This brings up an important point: GM didn’t feel 4WD users would want a pursuit-rated vehicle, so only the two-wheel-drive (2WD) model benefits from the suspension tweaking that warrants the pursuit-capable label. I think that’s a shame because there are many areas in the country—mine included—where agencies rely heavily on 4WD SUVs for daily patrol, including code-3 and pursuit situations. Ground clearance isn’t really a factor because we need the 4WD mostly for on-road inclement weather situations, so I feel that GM is missing a key area by not offering a 4WD or AWD Tahoe PPV with the lower stance, wheels, tires, etc.
I’d also like to see GM’s StabiliTrak stability control system in the 2WD model. Currently, it will be in only the 4WD model, along with Proactive Roll Avoidance technology. The 4WD model is also available with an off-road suspension package, electronic transfer case control and upgraded oil coolers. Both models have a 26-gallon fuel tank.
On the Road & Track
All that said, for an SUV, the 2WD PPV flat screams around the track. Steering is crisp and direct, with the springs, stabilizer bars and shocks controlling the two-plus tons of sheet metal with relative ease. The Goodyear tires begin to slide progressively when pushed with no hint of oversteer in the chassis. The brakes are strong, progressive in feel with good feedback, and multiple laps on both the autocross and road courses produced minimal brake fade. In hard cornering, you won’t ever confuse the Tahoe PPV with an Impala or Crown Vic, but then neither of those cars can carry an entire CSI inventory.
On the road in normal traffic, the Tahoe PPV is firm riding with good suspension control. On Phoenix’s smooth roads, the ride was acceptably smooth considering the pursuit-rating. As I transitioned to the rougher mountain roads ringing Phoenix, the ride stiffness grew more apparent. This makes me wonder how drivers of the PPV would feel after 10 hours on the potholed streets of, say, Houston or Detroit, but for those out West and in the South, I think officers will be all-smiles.
GM also made vast improvements inside the Tahoe. Because GM revamped all of its truck line-up for 2007, the Tahoe PPV benefits from a new dash and controls light-years ahead of previous generations. Switch controls are logical with large dials, and ergonomics and interior plastics are much improved. Dual-zone climate control is standard, as well as rear ventilation systems. Our test models were equipped with center radio consoles, overhead light bars and spotlights.
There is ample room for equipment, and wind noise was minimal at speed. With a lower dash line, forward visibility is improved. Rear visibility is adequate; the C and D pillars are fairly thick, so I’ll reserve opinion until I drive one equipped with a cage setup. There are several power outlets and an under-dash, standardized wiring harness for easy installation of radio equipment and other gear. All PPVs also come with cloth seats up front and rear vinyl seats for ease of cleanup. Another nice touch: an ebony interior color, which doesn’t show wear or stains as easily.
2WD models use a certified 140-mph speedometer in 1 mph increments, while the 4WD is certified to 120 mph. Dual-stage front air bags with the Passenger Sensing System is standard with optional roof-mounted head curtain side air bags for first and second row seats. Build quality is excellent, with nary a squeak or rattle during any of my tests. This makes the Tahoe PPV, dare I say, a refined place to conduct police duties on a daily basis.
With the 2007 Chevy Tahoe PPV, GM has demonstrated its commitment to building purpose-built vehicles for the law enforcement use. This vision, combined with an all-new SUV that would be an excellent choice in itself for personal use, adds up to a capable, high-performance option capable of hauling tons of equipment to a crime scene, or hauling butt after a violator.