If you've been following the stories on our home page, you'll have noticed we've put up some quick reviews of the four full-size SUV competitors: the 2008 Chevy Tahoe, 2008 Ford Expedition, 2008 Nissan Armada, and the all-new Toyota Sequoia. The reason we have these four quick-tests all running near the same time is we've recently done a road trip four-way comparo with these mammoths to find out which one stands
above the rest.
These are all full-size, V-8, eight-passenger, 4x4 sport/utes that we tried to get as similarly equipped as possible. Unfortunately, we are often subject to the whim of the manufacturers who are more willing to send us what they have than build us what we want. And since it can take up to (and sometimes longer than) four months to build, for the sake of timeliness, we won't complain. Wheelbases are close, tire sizes are almost identical, and overall weights are in the same ballpark, with the Ford Expedition and Toyota Sequoia (not surprisingly) within 100 bloated pounds of each other.
It should be noted right up front that the American entries are showing off their "shorter" siblings in the category, while the import giants have a more "one size for all" approach. Both the GM and Ford offer a larger, longer-wheelbase, bigger-cubic-foot-of-volume option in the form of the Chevy Suburban (and GMC Yukon XL) and the Ford Expedition EL. For this they deserve a lot of credit; with GM deserving just a little bit more because it even offers two platforms of Suburban—one half-ton model and one heavier-duty 2500 model. Interestingly, the Suburban 2500 is offered only with the 6.0-liter V-8 that comes standard with the 1500, and does not offer a diesel. With the new GMT900 body style and platform (new two years ago), we've been told over and over that the Duramax 6600 turbodiesel and its Allison 1000 six-speed transmission does not have the room it needs to keep cool (although we've heard about several companies doing quite well swapping in new Duramaxs into old Suburbans). Also interesting, the current Suburban 2500, although they look like the new GMT900s inside and out, underneath is a different story. In fact, it's really the same old GMT800 chassis and suspension underneath (to be fair, though, with a few modifications). But don't get us wrong; the 2500 Suburban is a great vehicle for those who know how to use its extra towing and hauling capabilities. In fact, we've ordered one from General Motors and it's suppose to have one out to us soon to test and play with for a few weeks (look for that story in an upcoming issue).
As to Ford, it dropped its heavier-duty full-size Suburban-fighter (named the Excursion) three years ago and have since decided to offer the Expedition EL and Navigator L for those looking for a longer and more cavernous cargo hole. These longer-wheelbase versions do not offer a heavier-duty model and, in fact, use the same independent rear suspension setup their shorter-wheelbase brothers use. To date, this looks like it was the right decision because the Excursion, in its last year on sale, sold just 20,000 units, and with fuel prices headed up, the total number of EL and L models look to be headed in that direction as well—at least until Ford gets its smaller turbodiesel ready, or maybe even a diesel hybrid. A clean diesel in a clean Expedition could be a clean sweep in the segment.
Regardless what GM and Ford do about their powertrains in their biggest SUVs, at least they offer a choice, something neither the Armada nor Sequoia does. Still, each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few quick thoughts, and look for the full story in our next issue.
Chevy Tahoe: Some more fashion- conscious types (who think all SUVs should turn into crossovers) don't like the traditional live rear axles. No doubt there are some trade-offs, especially with interior packaging and during spirited driving, but there's something to the simplicity of the setup and rugged construction. Chevy's Z71 package is the best in the segment, and even with the old 4L65-E four-speed, it smokes the rest in serious off-road driving and keeps up nicely in fuel economy. If I were plopping down the money for one of these four, this would be the one. Great bang for the buck, but will be vastly improved when the six-speed comes in. Click here to see specs!
Ford Expedition: We got the King Ranch fully loaded version, which means this was the heaviest and second most expensive of our quartet. The interior is killer and offers the most astounding smell you'll ever get inside an SUV—real saddle leather. Handling is good, but the 5.4L V-8 does not impress beyond getting good fuel economy, and I attribute most of that to the six-speed tranny. Really like the four-wheel-drive-system sophistication—can go from 2 High, to AWD, to 4 Lock any time you need—and we needed it on our snow-country blizzard test, where the Ford nanny sensors kicked in earlier and more aggressively than any of the others on the test—even when we thought we were turning them off. Click here to see specs!
Nissan Armada: The clear surprise of the group. Oddly, it has the longest wheelbase and overall length, but the smallest interior cargo volume. And from inside, it feels it. They can do a better packaging job in the next generation. Still, I like the bulldog (squatty and hunched) looks and quick throttle response—and the thing really likes to hug the twisties. This was the handling winner of the test. Don't like the notchiness to the 4WD dial or five-speed trans, but the new interior is a huge upgrade. The first Armadas we drove were clearly rushed to market. This gen is well sorted and quiet, and the 5.6L V-8 pulls like a diesel. Click here to see specs!
Toyota Sequoia: Can't think of anyone who is doing a better job of interior packaging than Toyota right now. I'm not impressed with any of the exterior styling but with that backbone and monster motor, I can deal. But why not give the interior gauges and dash layout a uniquely Sequoia look? This is where keeping the barrel gauges and center stack like the doner-Tundra holds the Sequoia back. They could really have something here. Also, why in the world doesn't this motor in this giant SUV have something like the Chevy's cylinder shutoff modes? Last, coil springs are too spungy, but I've driven the airbag version (a $650 option) and that isn't much better, but at least it's adjustable. Still, there's too much here not to give it the win. Well done, Toyota. Click here to see specs!