What better way to zig-zag across the American West than in a champagne-coloured Chevrolet Tahoe LT?
The LT is a step-up from the basic LS, with heated leather seats and a Bose stereo (amongst many features), but is below the range-topping LTZ that boasts standard features you would expect to find in a Lexus. The handsome exterior was matched with a 5.3 litre Vortec V8 motor that produced a surprising 240kw of power and 450nm of torque.
I shot off down the freeway with a big smile on my face, setting the cruise control to a comfortable 120kph as I familiarised myself with the car. My iPhone cable plugged into the USB port and streamed some roadtrip playlists as I pointed the car north towards the Grand Canyon. I was happy to be sitting there. I arrived at the Canyon just as the sun was on the horizon. That golden light cast shadows across that amazing place. I soaked it in before jumping back in the Tahoe setting off again.
The drive from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas was spectacular. The light at dusk was some of the prettiest I've ever seen and kept going for hours as I chased the sun. I kept my eye on the fuel gauge of the Tahoe, thinking that this American SUV would be sucking down the petrol like Coca-Cola, but the needle barely moved during the many hours of driving. Late into the night and without much left in me, the car drove over a peak and revealed a carpet of lights in the valley of Las Vegas.
In the context of the Australian market, the Tahoe makes a lot of sense. The car can be optioned with the 6.2 litre V8, which not only has a lot more power, it also makes servicing the car at your local Holden dealership a lot more convenient. They come in 2WD or 4WD, depending on what you need. They can be optioned with up-to eight seats and with a towing capacity of 5.5 tonnes. But the thing that makes the most sense is that the Tahoe is significantly easier to drive and (I suspect) live with than most Japanese seven-seater SUVs.
Like most Aussies, I expected the Chev to be an oversized, uncouth Yank Tank. But I couldn't have been more wrong. As the smaller sister to the celebrated Chevrolet Suburban, the Tahoe still boasts more than enough space for most people. But because it's smaller, it's easier to park and has better visibility. It has more useable space than a Toyota Kluger, but doesn't feel too big for the road like a Toyota Prado can. The cabin is comfortable and has excellent build quality.
The following day I drove from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, cruising through the enourmous cuttings that are a marvel to modern engineering. Normally after a few hours of driving, my years of bad posture tend to bite me in the lower back, but I was perfectly comfortable in the Chevy. The seats were big, not too soft (or firm), and had beautiful black piping trimmed throughout the leatherwork. Just over the border I had to fill-up for the first time since I'd started. Impressive considering I'd been driving for days through a combination of city and freeway traffic.
The reason for my trip was Speed Week. Each year, the Bonneville Salt Flats hosts mad people from across the globe, trying to go faster than they ever have before. I arrived the following afternoon. With the summer heat radiating off the brilliant white salt flat, I was thankful for the powerful climate control in the Tahoe.
My ambitious plan was to leave Bonneville that afternoon and make my way to San Diego, at the very bottom of the Californian coast. About 700 miles. I dialled in Pahrump, Nevada into my GPS and set off. Once again, the car performed flawlessly. It ate up the miles as I passed through Pahrump and charged towards San Diego through the warm night air. I hit my destination and visited a friend the following morning before heading to Los Angeles Airport, reluctantly handing back the keys to the Chevrolet. I'd absolutely loved the versatility of the car, being just as comfortable on the highway as it was around town. It would be a perfect family car or dedicated tow rig for touring. This car changed the way I think about American cars, and I'm thankful for it.