2003 Chevrolet Tahoe Reviews and Ratings

Utility 4D LS 2WD

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2003 Chevrolet Tahoe
Mitch McCullough, Editor-in-Chief

The 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe is packed with new features and engineering improvements. America's best-selling full-size SUV, the Tahoe is just the right size for many folks. Big enough to haul busloads of people and boatloads of cargo, the Tahoe is more manageable than a Suburban. Chevrolet claims the 2003 model brings more than 40 major changes. Some of the new features are dazzling, some of the changes are subtle, and some are quite technical. It all adds up to a safer, more convenient, and more enjoyable vehicle that builds on the Tahoe's excellent platform.

Safety improvements abound: GM's StabiliTrak electronic stability program is available for improved control on slippery surfaces. New airbag systems are designed to better protect children and adults of various sizes. Adjustable pedals are available for improved safety for drivers of smaller stature. The brakes have been improved.

New features dazzle: XM Satellite Radio delivers CD-quality music, radio, sports, and other programming coast to coast. A rear DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones keeps the kids busy. Second-row bucket seats are available. Improved controls for audio and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) along with an enhanced driver information center make life in the Tahoe a little more convenient.

The Tahoe is the perfect size for many people. It carries a lot more cargo than a compact or mid-size SUV like the TrailBlazer. It can carry a lot of cargo and four or five passengers at the same time. Third-row seats are available to increase the capacity to seven passengers. Pulling a trailer is no problem with the optional 5.3-liter V8 and the Tahoe's stable platform. Yet the Tahoe is far more maneuverable than a Suburban, important in crowded parking lots, underground garages, or when parallel parking. And it'll fit in more garages.

On the road, the Tahoe is smooth and stable, a rock. It has plenty of power and its brakes work well. The cabin in the 2003 model is comfortable and familiar, friendly and functional, better than the 2002 models. Turn off the highway and the Tahoe handles gravel, rugged two-tracks, mud, and snow. It's a great choice for someone who needs real carrying capacity.

Model Lineup
The 2003 Chevy Tahoe is available in LS and LT trim, plus there's a Z71 off-road package. Two V8 engines are available, the Vortec 4800 and the Vortec 5300. Two- and four-wheel drive is available. All models come with a four-speed automatic transmission.

LS ($33,605) comes standard with the Vortec 4300 V8, six-way power driver and passenger front seats, fog lamps, assist steps, heated outside mirrors with ground illumination, a rear heater and rear window defogger and Homelink universal transmitter for opening your garage door. The Vortec 5300 ($700) is optional. Tahoe LS 4WD retails for $36,305.

The LT package ($4,010) turns the Tahoe into a luxurious truck with leather seating surfaces, tri-zone automatic air conditioning, 60/40 split folding middle bench seat, Bose nine-speaker AM/FM stereo with six-disc in-dash CD changer, rear audio controls with dual headphone jacks, color-keyed door handles, power heated mirrors with turn signals and ground illumination.

LT comes standard with the Vortec 5300 V8 rated at 285 horsepower, which is 10 more than the Vortec 4800. More important is the difference in torque: The 4800 is rated at 290 pounds-feet of torque, while the 5300 is rated at 325 pounds-feet of torque. Torque is that force that propels you away from intersections and it is especially important for towing or hauling weighty stuff, like people.

Z71 ($5167) is a premium package specially equipped for off-pavement driving and is only available for 4WD models. Z71 includes the off-road suspension with gas shocks, off-road jounce bumpers, high-capacity air cleaner, Z71 badge, Driver Information Center, 60/40 split middle bench seat, Bose nine-speaker AM/FM stereo with six-disc CD changer, rear audio controls with dual headphone jacks, steering wheel audio controls, special air dam, tubular assist steps, front painted bumper, rear panted step bumper with pad, color-keyed door handles, round fog lamps, color-keyed grille, black roof rack with cross rails, dark gray lower rocker moldings, P265/70R17 tires, 17-inch cast aluminum wheels, power heated mirrors with turn signals and ground illumination, heavy-duty locking rear differential, 3.73 rear axle ratio, aluminum underbody shield, oil pan skid plate, differential skid plate, steel transfer case skid plate, wheel flares, Trailer Package with heavy-duty hitch platform, seven-lead wiring connector and external transmission oil cooler, OnStar, A95 leather seat package with front reclining buckets, adjustable head restraints, inboard armrest, heated driver and passenger seat cushions and seatbacks, power bolsters, two-position driver-side memory and storage pockets.

The 2003 Chevy Tahoe doesn't look any different from last year's models, which belies all the changes underneath. This is an attractive truck, though with its conservative and familiar styling, the Tahoe doesn't stand out. It is essentially a shortened version of the Chevy Suburban and shares much in common with it.

The Tahoe is 21 inches shorter than the Suburban and nearly 8 inches shorter than the new Ford Expedition. The Tahoe is nearly 10 inches shorter than the new Chevy TrailBlazer EXT, though nearly 6 inches longer than the standard TrailBlazer. However, the Tahoe is 4 inches wider than the TrailBlazer EXT. The Tahoe is the same width as the Suburban.

New exterior mirrors feature puddle lamps that light up the area around the Tahoe. These are nice at night in the woods, when getting out on nasty nights in your city best, and they provide some security in underground garages and other spooky places. The mirrors tilt down when you shift in reverse. Press a button and they fold in for parking in narrow places, though you'll still have to squeeze out the door. Heating elements keep frost and ice off. Turn signals are integrated into the mirrors to warn drivers alongside of your intentions. The left mirror automatically dims for headlamp glare. If that isn't enough, they remember his and hers adjustments just like the seats. Most important, the Tahoe's mirrors are big and afford an excellent view rearward.

Choose between a traditional rear hatch with a flip-up window or split panel doors, also known as barn doors or cargo doors. Choosing between them is a matter of lifestyle and personal preference. Cargo doors are standard on the base Tahoe and optional on the LS and LT models. Cargo doors are more convenient when towing and for other truck chores and they make it easier to control a dog. The traditional hatch is made of aluminum for light weight; being able to open just the glass is often more convenient when loading groceries or outdoor gear, especially since it can be operated with the keyless remote.

The door handles are well designed and easy to use; you do not need to flip your hand over to pull on them. One annoyance on our Tahoe: The doors were programmed to lock every time we shifted into Drive. The dealer can turn off the automatic locking feature.

The Chevrolet Tahoe is loaded with new features and interior improvements for 2003. It?s a comfortable, user-friendly, and attractive interior, and the improvements make it even better. New seats, a new center console, a new instrument panel, new HVAC controls, and refinement throughout result in an improved environment for driver and passengers.

We love the new electronically controlled three-zone HVAC system for its sophistication and ease of use. Change the driver's temperature, for example, and it displays the new temperature for a few moments, then display's the passenger's temperature, then displays the driver's temperature again. It's easy to operate the controls with big knobs and a clear LED display that's easy to understand. Rear electronic temperature controls improve comfort for second- and third-row passengers and pets.

Standard is a new manual control HVAC system with dual zones that allows temperature differentials of 30 degrees between driver and passenger. We can't guarantee that some of her heat won't venture over into his breathing space, however. Manual rear air conditioning is standard.

A new multiplexed electrical architecture makes the Tahoe smarter and more reliable. It allows the driver information center to warn you when ice may be on the road, for example. Eight-button steering wheel controls are now optional, adding convenience and enabling the driver to personalize functions.

The front seats are big, wide and, in our LT, fully adjustable. Optional seat heaters are easy to turn on and adjust. Switchgear is nicely designed and easy to operate. The map lights can be aimed. Rubber lined cubbies on the center console offer places to organize odds and ends. The ashtray can be removed to reveal another nice cubby for sunglasses and stuff. Cup holders are well designed. Double visors with extenders keep the sun out of your eyes. Three power outlets in front and one in back deliver electricity for accessories. Visibility is very good through big windows, but we'd like the option of an electronic park-assist feature to help maneuver this big rig in tight quarters.

Second-row seating in the Tahoe is quite comfortable. For 2003, Chevy offers individual bucket seats as an option, less versatile but more comfortable, more luxurious. Cup holders are close by no matter where you're sitting in the Tahoe. A pair of map lights flanks each dome light on the second and third row, a great feature when traveling or accessing gear. The Tahoe provides slightly more cargo space behind the second row than the Ford Expedition does (63.6 cubic feet vs. 60.9 cubic feet).

Folding the second-row seats down provides enormous cargo capacity, useful for outdoor activities and home-improvement weekends. Folding the second-row down is easy. Headrests stay in place, convenient and safer because you can't forget to put them back on. This reveals 104.6 cubic feet of cargo space, a bit less than the Expedition's 110.4 cubic feet.

The Tahoe is comfortable with four or five passengers, but it can seat seven with its optional third-row seat. However, getting in and out of the third row isn't easy, and once back there, it's uncomfortable for an adult. The seat height is low relative to your feet, sort of like sitting on the floor. So if you think you'll be using that third row on a daily basis, then step over to the other side of the showroom and take a look at the Suburban. The Suburban is more practical than the Tahoe for carrying six or seven people on a regular basis. The Tahoe offers just 16.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row, less than the Expedition's paltry 20.2 cubic feet and far less than the Suburban's 45.7 cubic feet.

In terms of flexibility, however, the Tahoe's third-row seats comprise one of the best designs in the business. They can be quickly folded and flipped out of they way. And they are easy to remove: just fold down, flip up, grab the release handle, and roll them out on their wheels. They're not light, but one strong person can remove each of the two seats. Storing them in the garage is a good idea as it opens up more cargo space. This leaves room for five people and lots of cargo.

With the third row flipped up, there's room for a dog, though the seat bottoms aren't too friendly with their mounting hardware bared. Remove the third row and there's lots of room for a big dog. Throw a rubber mat over the cargo area and you have a big cargo area. Reinstalling the third-row seats is a snap. If you have a lot of smaller items, you can get a lot of cargo into the Tahoe even with the third row in place: Just flip up the second- and third-row seats and you can put stuff between the second and third rows as well as behind the third row. Got that?

The new XM Satellite Radio system ($325 plus subscription) works great, delivering CD-quality sound nearly everywhere. Not having to change stations on a cross country trip has distinct advantages, but even in a radio market as crowed as Los Angeles we enjoyed being able to keep up with Fox News and CNN. We didn't have a guide, but switching among stations was easy because the radio's LED display clearly labels the programming. Turning a big knob on the Tahoe's new audio system moves you through 71 music channels, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s music, country, classical, jazz, all displayed as such in big letters on the LED. There's sports coverage of all kinds and children's programming. You get 100 digital channels with no dead spaces in between, just clear sound coast to coast. There is advertising on some, but not all channels.

Our 2003 Tahoe LT was also equipped with OnStar, which provides operator-assisted directions with the press of a button and brings the rescue squad if the airbag goes off. It was also equipped with the Panasonic DVD Passenger Entertainment System with wireless headphones.

Pressing a button moves the brake and accelerator pedals for better driver positioning. This allows a shorter driver to move farther from the steering wheel where the airbag is located. The tilt steering could use finer adjustments, but by adjusting the height and tilt of the seat it's possible for drivers of all sizes to find a comfortable position. There's plenty of headroom and legroom in the Tahoe.

Driving Impressions
The Chevrolet Tahoe rides smoothly on the open road and it's stable and comfortable at higher speeds. Big and ponderous, the Tahoe handles well for such a large vehicle. I found the improved brakes on the 2003 Tahoe smooth and easy to modulate.

The Tahoe is built on the full-size GM truck GMT 800 platform, which forms the basis for the Silverado and Sierra pickups as well as the Suburban, Yukon, and Yukon XL SUVs. It's a superb platform, perhaps the best in the business, and notable for the rigidity of its hydro formed frame. Chassis rigidity is the key to achieving good handling and a smooth ride quality, and the Tahoe delivers on both of those scores. It handles bumpy roads well, a good test of chassis rigidity.

Tahoe's front suspension is conventional in design, except for the springs. To save space, the Tahoe uses torsion bars instead of coil springs. The Tahoe comes standard with the Premium Ride suspension, formerly an option, which uses self-leveling rear shocks to maintain trim height for better handling when hauling heavy cargo or pulling a trailer.

Our 2003 Tahoe LT came with the optional Autoride suspension ($875), which electronically controls rear air shocks to provide real-time suspension damping. It provided a comfortable ride on I-405, a bumpy, busy interstate in Los Angeles. Autoride keeps the Tahoe from bounding around after running over railroad tracks when pulling a trailer.

The available Z71 package provides a good ride quality on gravel and washboard surfaces.

The 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe brings improved brake performance, better pedal feel and quieter operation. They represent a huge improvement over the brakes found on early Tahoe and Suburban models. They use four-wheel discs with dual-piston calipers for good stopping performance. We were impressed with the Tahoe's braking ability while towing a horse trailer. A dynamic proportioning system continuously balances the front and rear brakes for maximum braking without activating the ABS. Once activated, the ABS allows the driver to maintain control of the steering in an emergency braking maneuver.

The Tahoe is relatively easy to park, much easier than a Suburban. It's 20 inches shorter than a Suburban and its 38.3-foot turning diameter is 4 feet tighter than the Suburban's turning circle. With its shorter wheelbase, shorter rear overhang and taller ground clearance, the Tahoe traverses gullies and other rugged terrain where the Suburban scrapes bottom. Likewise, the Tahoe is shorter and more maneuverable than the Ford Expedition. Even though the Tahoe is an inch wider than the Expedition, I find it easier to judge the distance between the Tahoe's right front corner and a tree. The Expedition's fenders seem taller and the Tahoe seems easier to manage off road.

The recirculating-ball steering provides good control and feedback, even if it falls short of the rack-and-pinion steering found on the Ford Explorer. Tahoe's power steering system is designed for durability by operating at a lower temperature range.

Chevy's small-block overhead-valve V8s are excellent. They rival the overhead-cam engines from Ford for smoothness and efficiency, and deliver strong torque for towing. The 4.8-liter version cranks out 275 horsepower, while delivering decent fuel economy; a Tahoe 2WD with the Vortec 4800 earns 20 mpg on the EPA's highway mileage test.

A better choice, and the one you'll probably end up with, is the 5.3-liter engine rated at 285 horsepower. It delivers strong acceleration performance and burns regular unleaded fuel. Our 2003 Tahoe 4WD with the Vortec 5300 earned an EPA-estimated 13/17 mpg city/highway.

If serious off-road driving is your game, you should know the Tahoe doesn't offer the capability of a Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Land Cruiser, or Land Rover Discovery. The Tahoe will, however, get to most of the places most of us want to go, fording deep snow or mud. Its four-wheel-drive system provides four driving modes controlled by buttons on the dash to the left of the instrument panel. Two-wheel drive offers the best fuel economy on streets and highways.

Press the Auto 4WD button for inconsistent road conditions: It will send all the power to the rear wheels when there's good grip, but any loss of traction will cause power to be directed to the front wheels. This works well when patches of snow and ice are on the road, adding stability in inconsistent conditions. I like using Auto 4WD on gravel roads where it seems to offer the best handling balance. Press the 4HI button when standard four-wheel drive is needed for driving off road or on roads fully covered by snow and ice. The 4LO setting is used for creeping through deep sand, deep mud, deep snow, or up or down steep grades.

Two-wheel-drive models offer a limited-slip rear differential to give drivers better traction in slippery conditions. Optional traction assist cuts engine power as needed to help maintain traction to the rear tires. A second-gear winter start feature in the automatic transmission also helps get the Tahoe rolling without wheel spin under slippery conditions. These two systems should make the 4x2 Tahoe sufficient for all but those who live at the end of long driveways in snowy climates.

Tahoe's pulling power can be as much as 7,700 pounds when properly equipped. Press a button at the end of the transmission shift lever and GM's tow/haul mode holds the transmission in gear longer and shifts more abruptly to keep the transmission cooler. All models are equipped to accept a lighting plug for trailer towing, and have provisions for easily connecting a trailer brake controller. They also have a deeper oil pan on the transmission to provide a better supply of cool transmission fluid while towing. Our Tahoe LT came with the trailering package, which included a receiver hitch and an external oil-to-air transmission cooler. Chevy says the cooler is unnecessary, but we think it's good insurance.

Chevrolet Tahoe is perfect for drivers who want a full-size sport-utility, but don't want to herd a Suburban every day. New features for 2003 make living with the Tahoe more convenient. Numerous engineering changes make it a safer, more reliable vehicle. For many people, it's the ideal SUV.

Model as tested
Tahoe 4WD ($36,272)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Janesville, Wisconsin
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
LT ($3945) includes leather seating surfaces, Vortec 5300 V8 engine, AM/FM/CD with RDS, premium Bose speaker system, rear-seat audio controls, in-dash 6 CD player, folding outside mirrors with turn signals, six-way power heated bucket seats with driver memory, power adjustable pedals, electronic climate control; Rear Seat Entertainment ($875); Autoride suspension ($875); Personal Security Package ($875) includes front side-impact airbags, OnStar communications system with one-year Safe and Sound plan, steering wheel controls; third-row seating ($760) includes liftgate; second-row bucket seats ($490); XM Satellite Radio ($325); trailering package ($260) includes equipment and transmission cooler; locking rear differential ($252); Driver Convenience Package ($107) includes HomeLink; Cargo Package ($75) includes cargo net and luggage rack cross bars

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Tahoe 2WD ($33,605); 4WD ($36,305)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front air bags, four-wheel ABS, child-proof rear door locks
Safety equipment (optional)
5.3-liter ohv V8
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
tri-zone manual conditioning; auxiliary rear heat; programmable power door locks; AM/FM/CD/cassette; cargo cover and net; keyless entry system; cruise control; tilt steering wheel; power windows; electric rear window defroster; roof-mounted carrier rails; heated power mirrors; cast aluminum wheels; fog lamps; automatic headlamps; running boards; underbody mounted spare tire; Autotrac 4WD transfer case; automatic transmission with tow/haul mode; load-leveling shock absorbers; 16-inch tires and aluminum wheels

Engine & Transmission
5.3-liter ohv V8
Drivetrain type
four-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
285 @ 5200
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
13/17 mpg, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc w/ABS
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear
live rear axle

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

J.D. Power Rating
Overall Quality Not Available
Overall Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Overall Quality - Design
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Design
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Design
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Design
Not Available

Overall Dependability Not Available
Powertrain Dependability
Not Available
Body & Interior Dependability
Not Available
Feature & Accessory Dependability
Not Available

J.D. Power Rating Legend
Among the Best
5 / 5
Better than Most
4 / 5
About Average
3 / 5
The Rest
2 / 5

* The J.D. Power Ratings are calculated based on the range between the car manufacturer or car model with the highest score and the car manufacturer or car model with the lowest score. J.D. Power generates a rating of a five, four, three, or two. If there is insufficient data to calculate a rating, a dash (—) is used in its place.

J.D. Power Ratings may not include all information used to determine J.D. Power awards, visit the Car Ratings page to learn more about awards and ratings.

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