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A throaty roar greets you as soon as you start up the 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe RST. "Does this have a stock exhaust?" asks my surprised passenger. After a quick explanation of the optional Borla exhaust -- and a couple more blips of the throttle -- he responds with a simple, but stunned, "Wow."
Louder noises are only one part of the Tahoe's new RST package. For $2,820, you also get a unique rear axle ratio and high-flow air filter, all part of a big powertrain upgrade. Yes, the big selling point is the bigger engine underhood: Chevy's 6.2-liter V8 with 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque.
The 5,600-pound Tahoe rapidly shoots forward as soon as you stomp on the right pedal, with plentiful and accessible power throughout the engine's rev range. The bigger engine is accompanied by a 10-speed automatic transmission, and it thankfully doesn't suffer from any gear hunting issues, instead performing crisp, well-timed shifts.
All those gears and a seamless engine cylinder deactivation system help garner fuel economy estimates that aren't comically low, too, with 14 mpg city and 22 mpg highway ratings. Over the course of two tanks of fuel in mixed driving environments, I averaged a low-but-not-horrible 16.1 mpg.
Customers can get the RST package on the Tahoe LT with a standard suspension, or on the range-topping Premier trim that comes standard with a Magnetic Ride Control suspension system with RST-specific calibration for the adaptive dampers. Along with the super-wide 22-inch Bridgestone Dueler tires, the Tahoe RST hustles through bends with respectable composure. Turn-in for corners is brisk with lightly-weighted, but responsive steering. There's plenty of grip through corners and the optional six-piston Brembo front brake calipers easily scrub off speed in a hurry.
Unfortunately, trade-off for this upgraded suspension is poor ride quality. Up front, it's not as noticeable, but for second- and third-row passengers, the rear suspension provides a decidedly choppy ride.
No special edition model is complete without visual alterations. The $2,630 RST appearance package -- yes, an additional cost over the $2,820 powertrain upgrade -- adds 22-inch wheels with gloss black-painted insets along with a slew of other black exterior accents including a grille, badges, mirror caps and roof rails. Combine all that with this test car's black paint job and you've got a wicked appearance befitting of the Secret Service or a famous music mogul.
The RST changes end when you head inside the spacious cabin, which is fine because accommodations are still plenty good. Contrasting cocoa brown and black soft-touch surfaces with mahogany trim offer a premium look and feel, while creature comforts like heated front seats, steering wheel and second-row captain's chairs will keep occupants toasty on cold days.
Like most full-size SUVs, the Tahoe is capable of swallowing a lot of cargo with 15.3 cubic-feet of space behind the third row, 51.7 cubic-feet aft of the second row and 94.7 cubic-feet behind the first row. However, with all seats up, the Nissan Armada edges the Chevy out with 16.5 cubic-feet of cargo space and 95.4 cubic-feet with both rows of back seats down. The new Ford Expedition betters it by even more with 20.9 cubic-feet behind the third-row and 104.6 cubic-feet with the second and third rows folded.
Even with fresher competition on the market, the Tahoe's technology game remains strong. The MyLink system with 8-inch touchscreen is simple and effective with intuitive menus, plus hard buttons in the center stack to quickly get to the home and audio screens. Navigation with real-time traffic updates, a crisp-sounding 10-speaker Bose audio system and OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot are all excellent during a road trip to Chicago from Detroit and back.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto users will appreciate MyLink because it's capable of running both, while there are numerous USB ports, 12-volt outlets, a wireless charging pad on the center armrest and a three-prong plug in the second row to juice up smart devices.
Safety tech isn't skimpy, either. Standard forward collision warning comes with automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist comes with lane departure warning, and there's blind-spot monitoring and a rearview camera with rear cross-traffic alert. Strangely, adaptive cruise control isn't standard even on the top-end Premier trim, but is available as an $895 option.
As a car enthusiast, my Tahoe would definitely have the RST performance package, and since I'd also want Magnetic Ride Control, I'd have to pony up for a Premier model. As much as I would love the optional Brembo front brakes, I would forego those to keep the price somewhat in check, but spring for four-wheel drive because I live in Michigan and am subjected to real winters.
With all that, my Tahoe would sticker for $71,945, which includes $1,295 for destination. That's a little more reasonable than my tester's $78,450 as-tested price with the upgraded brakes, sunroof and rear entertainment system, but still not an inexpensive truck.
Jeep's Grand Cherokee Trackhawk with the supercharged 707-horsepower Hellcat engine is among the most noteworthy go-fast utes today, but that's a midsize SUV. When it comes to full-size performance SUVs, the Tahoe RST really only has the Dodge Durango SRT as non-luxury competition, and with 470 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque from a 6.4-liter Hemi V8, the Chevy is outgunned. When optioned with similar equipment, the Dodge also checks in at the low $70K range to put both muscle trucks on a level playing field price-wise.
Either one of those SUV hotrods will plant a smirk on your face and likely draw some "wows" out of your passengers every time you mash the gas pedal. If you value bragging rights at the drag strip, you'll probably want to go for the Dodge, but if you want a still-fast people mover with a slightly nicer cabin and infotainment tech, the Chevy may be more up your alley.