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Short Report: Chevy’s 2018 Tahoe RST is an attention-grabbing performance SUV for all the right (and wrong) reasons

Might as well get this out of the way: I did not want to drive this SUV anymore. Not because I didn’t enjoy its potent 6.2-liter EcoTec V8 or snarling Borla exhaust note or quiet and pleasant cabin. Because I genuinely enjoyed all of that. What I didn’t enjoy was all the angry attention the vehicle seemed to attract.

Certainly, a big black-on-black SUV in Las Vegas should easily get lost amongst all the other big black-on-black SUVs that roll about from the suburbs to the Strip and parts in between. But for whatever reason, every time I was behind the wheel of this 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe with maxed-out grunt in the form of the new RST 6.2L Performance Edition package, things would go terribly wrong. Everyone would forget their manners—even those not driving alongside me.

“Did that guy in the red Lincoln just flip you off?” laughed my childhood friend J.D. as we drove to lunch. “Why would he even do that? You’re just driving.”

Indeed, I was just driving. Not speeding. Not racing. With nary a lane change. And yet this, er, gentleman projected his middle digit toward us twice. I did eventually change lanes but only to get away from this assault-ready Lincoln MKX. I mean, I just wanted to get burgers with my buddy; I wasn’t looking for a fight.

Fast-forward to the strip mall with the burger joint and, again, I am tailed. Not by the MKX but by a white Ford Transit. With so much desert, parking lots in southern Nevada are generally pretty large yet this Transit followed me every turn, seemingly inching closer as we maneuvered our way through the parking lot.

“I really like the look of this Tahoe but, wow, does it make everyone around it combative,” observed J.D. “Thanks, Sherlock,” I retorted.

I pull over to let the van pass before parking in a nearby stall fronting the restaurant. After a hefty dose of beef (for both of us) and beer (for J.D.), the initial agitation from the 10-mile drive subsided, but not the perplexity.

Dressed in unassuming black with matching barely-there black insignia (including the Chevy bowties), my test vehicle was as nondescript as they come. In fact, upon closer inspection, the flashiest exterior pieces were maybe the silver-accented 22-inch gloss black wheels and distinctive red-painted Brembo brake calipers. Otherwise, plain Jane was the name of this Tahoe’s game, which makes it even more baffling why the vehicle would invite such ire.

The interior offered warmer sensibilities thanks to a cocoa and mahogany blend of hues. A carryover model, the 2018 Tahoe features the standard General Motors cabin: clean, functional, and intuitive.

Three-row leather seating is arranged theatre-style with buckets in the second row and a 60/40-split bench in the third. Heat and ventilation settings are available for the first row, heat only in the second, while third-row occupants are out of luck for either amenity.

How this Tahoe model makes itself known, however, is thanks to the aforementioned Rally Sport Truck (RST) street-performance bits. Starting at $48,795 (including a $1,295 destination fee), a base 2018 Tahoe LS 2WD comes equipped with a 5.3-liter EcoTec V8 providing 355 horsepower and 383 lb.-ft. of torque. But the bigger growler is the 6.2-liter V8 in my test vehicle, which is a Tahoe first and available only as part of a package for the top level Premier trim ($63,990).

Priced at $2,820, the engine package not only bumps up the power and torque to 420 and 460, respectively, but also increases the number of gears from a six-speed automatic to a 10-speed. Active noise canceling, a 170-amp generator, a 3.23 rear axle ratio, a two-speed transfer case (4WD), and a trailer brake controller are part of the bundle as well.

The RST Edition package ($2,630) is a required pairing and adds a performance-tuned magnetic ride control suspension, 22-inch wheels replacing the standard 20-inch, and black badging. A dealer-installed front-brake kit ($2,795) is a recommended extra.

So, after a few more options, the final tally of our loaner rose to a lofty $78,450 from the Premier RST’s starting point of $66,420. By comparison, the Dodge Durango SRT starts at $64,340 (including $1,345 destination) but scrambles from 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds versus the press release-stated “less than six seconds” of the Tahoe RST.

The Tahoe’s 8,400 lb. maximum trailering capacity also falls short of the Durango’s 8,800 lbs. Another punchy performance SUV is the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, but with a 707-hp, supercharged Hemi V8 and a window sticker that can climb into six figures, that SUV is really in its own world.

This is not to say the Tahoe RST is a slouch. Not once during the 503 miles I put on the vehicle did I feel the SUV wasn’t powerful, quick, or loud enough. Sounding a bit like a motorboat, with the windows up, the V8’s rumblings faded to a gentle murmur. Even the performance dual-exhaust spoke in a whisper.

But away from the Strip and in the mountain foothills, dawn and dusk in the desert are generally, well, deserted. With long, straight stretches of unlimited visibility, this is when I let Borla be boastful and Brembo be busy. During repeated runs, sometimes with the windows down, I had no trouble finding my smile as darkness came and went. The sound, the power—it was contagious.

But we’re going to need bigger brakes.

The 4WD model weighs in at 5,631 lbs. And this heavyweight would lunge all of its muscle forward, diving in a disconcerting way during hard, abrupt stops, like when short-tempered Lincoln owners cut you off. As such, I found myself braking earlier than usual, almost gingerly at times, to ensure I had enough distance due to my lack of confidence in its last-minute stopping power.

To be fair, these were the only times the Tahoe RST felt like a brute. The seating is comfortable and well bolstered, so I experienced little fatigue during an early morning drive from San Diego to Las Vegas. Also, GM’s magnetic ride suspension is absolute magic on any body-on-frame SUV, and made up for what normally would be a less than ideal ride considering the large wheels and low-profile tires.

After a wide-open throttle sunrise drive, I was in good spirits heading back to the ‘burbs. With little traffic, I was unconcerned with encountering another bad attitude driver. Also, given that it was my last day with the Tahoe, I gave it a good wash for its return to Chevrolet. With only a family barbecue left on the day’s itinerary, I took a nap. I shouldn’t have.

Because a neighbor, seemingly disgruntled by the lack of street parking, showered the newly detailed SUV with a hose. On a bright and sunny Sunday. When there were three other SUVs parked nearby. Why target the Tahoe RST? And did I mention the vehicle was black? Sigh.

Suffice to say, another car wash and generous usage of detailer spray couldn’t remove the hard water spots. I had no idea such a basic-looking black SUV—even while parked—could incite so much strife. Perhaps it was a bad week in the 702. Nevertheless, as fun of a romp as the Tahoe RST was, I was relieved to give the keys back.

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