There’s a story in old Nevada lore about the discovery of the massive silver strikes of the late 1800s. Miners in Gold Hill, Nev., just outside Virginia City, had been toiling in gray muck while in search of gold in the nearby mountainsides. The gray goop was the bane of the miners—that is—until someone decided to test the mineral content. It turns out the real treasure was the muck itself as it contained a bonanza of silver ore, thereby leading to one of the greatest silver discoveries and subsequent fortunes of the modern age.
The 2015 Tahoe PPV 4WD carries that flavor too. For years, the main focus in the big SUV marketplace has been the Tahoe PPV 2WD. It’s been the main attraction, and you didn’t have to dig too deep to see why. With its massive size, pursuit rating, adept handling—did I mention its size?—departments have snatched them up, as it represented their “mother lode.” However, it turns out that hidden in the catacombs of that Tahoe is an even better surprise that finally surfaced for 2015: A Tahoe that now sports honest-to-God, real 4WD with a third-party pursuit rating that the previous Special Service Tahoe 4WD could only dream of.
This is significant because it means that those agencies that dearly need 4WD capability in those winter months no longer have to forgo the 2WD PPV to tackle Mother Nature’s worst. Discovering it makes it your own secret, and has you throwing down claim strikes to ensure further exploration. While we have discussed the 2015 Tahoe PPV previously, the arrival of one for a full road test meant we were going deep into the tunnels in search of the riches within.
According to Chevrolet, the 2015 Tahoe PPV features an all-new interior, exterior and EcoTec3 powertrain, while offering the same basic dimensions, a stronger body-on-frame architecture and versatility that made it the best-selling Chevrolet police vehicle for the last several years. This is clearly evident the first time you lay eyes on it. Our test model, smartly dressed in silver with tinted windows, retains the hallmarks of previous Tahoes, but styling refinements make it even more robust and add an authoritative profile that the previous Tahoe was lacking. Projector-beam headlamps flank the chrome dual-port grille and sweep into the front fenders. From its HID headlights and LED daytime running lights to its squared off rear haunches, the 2015 model is more slab-like in appearance, making it appear sleeker and simultaneously more menacing. It also makes it more handsome, which, in the scheme of things, isn’t as important as other criteria, but looking good while doing your job doesn’t hurt either. What isn’t at all apparent is that it’s also 4WD, as the lowered suspension and aggressive street tires give nary a clue that a transfer case is on board. We will touch on that aspect later, but first glances at the Tahoe produce impressions that this is one big-ass truck that looks ready to rumble with plenty of space on board.
Sometimes, less is more, and it definitely shows up as easily as silver glimmering off the end of a miner’s pick axe in the hot Nevada sunshine. Like that liquid gold, the interior of the Tahoe is spot-on in my opinion. Climbing into the driver’s seat, you are met with the proper array of easy-to-read analog gauges that make it a cinch to check operational status. Unlike too many vehicles these days that projectile vomit layers of electronic gobbledygook all over your driving experience, the gauges on my test Tahoe were simple and easy to read, not at all confusing, and gave me just the right amount of information. In short, unlike a myriad of SUVs I regularly drive that require a deep dive into the owner’s manual and a PhD in computers to navigate the layers of driving “enhancements,” this Tahoe’s old school lack of glaring electronic nannies and infotainment overload was very refreshing. The audio system and included-for-2015 Bluetooth was a snap to operate, and space between the front seats is as expected: massive with plenty of room to mount operational equipment. While my test model didn’t have a center storage bin, I believe it when Chevrolet says that it will easily hold a laptop or iPad. However, don’t let its traditional flavor belie you into thinking it isn’t sophisticated, because the included wiring architecture makes it a snap to install equipment. My test Tahoe had the optional Driver Alert Package, which includes optional adjustable pedals, lane departure warning, forward collision alert and Chevrolet’s Safety Alert Seat, rear park assist and backup camera (read: necessary because cops routinely crash in reverse and this thing is pretty damn big). Thankfully, having these on board didn’t beat me over the head with technology. In fact, coupled with a beautiful dash design that drew a number of positive comments and comfortable cloth seats up front (vinyl in the middle row), I found the ergonomics to be my favorite of the Tahoe lineup to drive in recent times, highline civilian models included.
Since room is why these vehicles are around in the first place, middle seat leg room has increased by two inches though the wheelbase of the new Tahoe remains unchanged at 116 inches. In comparing the 2015 model to the 2014 2WD PPV Tahoe, headroom up front has increased by an inch with legroom increased by a sizeable four inches. Visibility is also excellent from the driver’s seat, with all switches easy to reach. In short, the formula works and the interior of the PPV is one I could see spending time in every day without a hitch.
Road & Track Evaluations
While we have talked about the 2015 Tahoe PPV 4WD in past issues, this article represents our first opportunity to examine how design translates to function on both the street and the track. In my time with it, I spent a considerable amount conducting both freeway and city driving cycles, taking time to evaluate ride and handling, NVH, steering and engine, braking and dynamic chassis behaviors on roads ranging from smooth high speed freeway driving to back country, pocked and irregular farm roads.
Because this new Tahoe is expected to serve a wide variety of agency environments, I wanted to discover what its road manners lent itself best too. This carried true on the track portion of the testing. To accommodate this, the great crew at Arizona Motorsports Park, located in Litchfield, Ariz., just West of Phoenix, along with the expert instructors at Team Safety Driving School, generously offered their facility and evaluation time, respectively. The particular weekend I was there, the track made their demanding 2.5-mile road course available to me while, on the adjacent 17-acre skid pad area, Team Safety’s owner, Norm Hamden, offered up the schools coned autocross course, being used that day for teen driver training. Collectively, along with additional feedback from several Team Safety instructors—all of them experienced pro racing instructors, racers and current and past racing champions—we were able to gather a great overall impression of the handiwork by the Bow Tie crew.
There’s no denying that the asset that makes the Tahoe so appealing is the same one that makes motivating it more challenging. Like a mining pit truck, the Tahoe is the biggest LE SUV in the stable, so that means taking a trip deep into the horsepower and torque well to get the approximately 5,300–5,500-lb. (2WD vs. 4WD models) up to speed when hammering the “go” pedal. For 2015, Chevy engineers squeezed some more grunt out of the Vortec 5.3L, bumping horsepower to 355 and torque to 383 lb.-ft. vs. the previous Tahoe’s 320 HP and 335 lb.-ft. of torque. This newfound power is mated to a Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic transmission with a unique police-service calibration that supports pursuit performance featuring TapShift control, Tow/Haul mode and Auto Grade Braking. The final drive ratio is 3.42 vs. the current Tahoe’s 3.08, which means the shorter gear (higher numerically) helps in acceleration.
Translated to the street and track, acceleration actually surprised us considering the sheer mass involved. The PPV 4WD isn’t quite as quick feeling as its 2WD brother, but combined with the smooth and appropriately programmed shifting of the 6L80, it still accelerates on par with many of today’s sedans that are much smaller. In fact, certified acceleration testing by the Michigan State Police in its most recent test revealed the same thing with a 0–60 average of 7.85 seconds and a top speed of 121 mph. These don’t touch the times of the Interceptor SUV, but given the size difference, the PPV doesn’t have to hang its head in shame either. I found throttle response to be linear and immediate, and never found myself stuck out looking for a different gear, or in need of more power to complete a maneuver. The transmission does offer the option for manual shift mode, though I doubt many officers will use it. In keeping with what most officers will do, I just left it in drive and let the transmission do its thing. As for top speed, according to the MSP testing, the 2WD Tahoe PPV runs away on the upper end with a 139 terminal speed, but again, that can be expected given the differences in driveline although nothing about the 4WD PPV’s behavior screams transfer case. On the track, engine and transmission response allowed for easy dips early into the power pool and power delivery was very well controlled. Impressions by the Team Safety crew were very positive, with instructor Steve Marlow’s comments of, “This thing really surprises you given its size” repeated by several instructors.
Outside incidents requiring go-fast manners, the 2015 Tahoe PPV also offers FlexFuel capability, improved engine mounts, electronic throttle control, adaptive exhaust systems, improved aerodynamics and other technologies help the engines operate in four-cylinder mode more often with Active Fuel Management, further increasing efficiency that fleet managers and bean counters really care about.
Braking, Handling & Dynamic Response
The best thing I can say about this Tahoe PPV 4WD is that it really doesn’t sacrifice much in the way of driving dynamics to include a front drive axle and transfer case. The 2015 Tahoe PPV continues to be built as a body-on-frame vehicle. It uses the same size 265/60-17 Goodyear RSA tires and steel wheels attached to a PPV-tuned independent coil over shock, or twin-tube shock front suspension piece, with a solid axle with semi-elliptic, variable-rate, two-stage multileaf springs and splayed shock absorbers out back. This suspension set up means that the 4WD PPV really is better evaluated through the lens of the 2WD model than that of its 4WD Special Services cousin.
This is because the 4WD PPV is just that, a pursuit-tuned SUV that just happens to have 4WD capability that will most likely be only used on paved or light dirt roads in inclement weather. The same firmness and roll control that makes it really do well on the road and track makes it lack the suspension articulation required from more traditional 4WD SUVs, whose primary job role is off-road. However, in this instance, that’s ok because I would predict the greatest majority of use this vehicle will get will be on-road with some light off-road duties anyway.
First impressions on the road with the Tahoe PPV: controlling the mass has meant a judicious application of spring rate, shock valving and some hefty anti-roll bars. Translated, while this is a boon on the table smooth freeways and secondary roads here in Phoenix, travel on rural and unimproved roads takes some getting used to as there is no getting around the fact that this thing is stiff. With about 5,500 lbs. to control, it has to be, and to be fair, my test model was missing a few hundred pounds of equipment that patrol models will have. Perhaps the addition of driver-selected shock valving would provide some options for rural officers to free up some spring travel. That said, I was impressed overall with the suspension control and ease of which I could place the PPV wherever I wanted in traffic. Body roll is minimal and pitch and dive are well controlled. Steering is precise due in part to an all-new variable assist electric model, as it feels well-weighted with the appropriate amount of boost. After getting used to the stiffer ride, I found myself thinking that the PPV feels and drives like a much smaller vehicle. I also never got the feeling that having the additional 4WD hardware on board was a detriment.
This sentiment was echoed at the track as feedback by instructors adding, “Wow, feels way smaller than it is,” and “Can’t believe something this big handles this well.” This continued with braking as multiple passes through the school’s ABS brake-and-turn maneuver revealed stable chassis manners under heavy braking, excellent pedal feel and minimal perceptible brake fade. Much of this was due to new power-assisted, four-wheel disc, four-wheel ABS, with Duralife rotors; vented front and rear rotors that have been tuned for police use. This, too, impressed the Team Safety crew, and this is a crowd that routinely drives anywhere from 10–20 different current street vehicles on the same course on a given school day. If there was any hiccup in the PPV’s behavior, it surfaced during slalom testing where the stability control system, despite being a police-specific StabiliTrak tune with Proactive Roll Avoidance and traction control, repeatedly interfered with smooth transitions when pressed. Partially disabling the system via the button on the dash lessened the intrusion, but didn’t eliminate it. Granted, a slalom course being run by a seasoned pro racer is much more severe than anything the PPV 4WD will ever see on the street, but the ESC system’s limitations prevented us from truly sampling the full potential of the Tahoe’s dynamics, which is a shame given how well it handles on the street and milder track conditions. So, other than that hiccup, the Tahoe PPV 4WD continued to impress on both tracks, earning new admirers with the pro driving crew.
Some people see “gold” in silver, and we did with the 2015 Tahoe PPV 4WD. The pursuit-rated 4WD option offers the same strong handling characteristics of the well-sorted 2WD PPV, while allowing for operation in inclement weather that would leave the 2WD version scratching for traction. Whether on the track or the street, the PPV impressed me and made some believers out of a number of pro drivers and instructors.
Still, seeing as how a full-size 4WD PPV vehicle hasn’t been offered by any manufacturer in recent memory, Chevrolet could have chosen a different route by just tossing on some added suspension bits and calling it a day. But they didn’t, as the 4WD version of this uber-sized SUV delivers on all fronts.
Special thanks to Daniel Maloney and Jim Baus at Arizona Motorsports Park (ArizonaMotorsportsPark.com) for their generous assistance in offering up their beautiful race track, and to Norman Hamden at Team Safety Driving School (TeamSafetyDrivingSchool.org) for offering up his track and instructors, including ace-driver Steve Marlow to serve as my driver for the photo ops.
JP Molnar is a former state trooper and has taught EVOC since 1991 for various agencies. He has raced for for almost three decades and has taught at numerous high performance racing schools.