Chevrolet got fast and frivolous with SS badges, gluing them on questionable machines like the Malibu Maxx SS, the Impala SS, and the naturally aspirated version of the Cobalt SS. Those cars weren’t worthy of the legendary letters, which first appeared on a high-performance Chevy Impala back in 1961, and their existence only corroded the meaning of Super Sport. The 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe RST proves the gang at Chevrolet has learned from their mistakes. Although this is the quickest and most powerful Tahoe ever, with a strapping 6.2-liter V-8 similar to the one in the Camaro SS and Corvette Stingray, General Motors says the team didn’t even consider slapping SS badges on this SUV. That is a good thing.
Not Every RST Gets the Good Stuff
RST stands for Rally Sport Truck, and it’s an optional package available on the Tahoe’s upper LT and Premier trim levels. The RST is essentially an appearance package that adds black bow-tie badges, gloss black 22-inch wheels (up from 20-inchers) with silver accents, a black grille, black mirrors, black roof rails, and black window trim. Chevy says the RST is inspired by aftermarket tuning trends and calls it a street performance look. The package costs $2630–$2640 (depending on trim level) and does nothing to improve the performance of the full-size SUV. Under the hood, the standard 355-hp 5.3-liter V-8 remains backed by a six-speed automatic transmission.
However, on Premier-level Tahoes like our test truck, buyers can also opt for the RST 6.2L Performance package for an additional $2720 (or $2820 on 4WD models), which is the only way to get GM’s larger 6.2-liter V-8 with 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque in the Tahoe. The bundle is available on both rear- and all-wheel-drive models, with the latter carrying a $3000 premium. It also includes GM’s new 10L80 10-speed automatic, a shorter 3.23:1 axle ratio (versus a 3.08:1), and adaptive Magnetic Ride Control dampers with a performance calibration. 4WD models also get a two-speed active transfer case. Chevy backs off on the suspension’s spring rates, softening the fronts from 610 to 560 pounds and switching the rears from a variable-rate spring (250/445 pounds) to fixed 245-pound units.
Our example also was equipped with the dealer-installed $2795 Performance Front Brake Kit, which adds upgraded 16.1-inch front rotors (up from 13.0 inches) clamped by red-painted Brembo six-piston calipers. With a few other options, notably the $2435 Sun, Entertainment, and Destinations package (power sunroof and a rear-seat entertainment system), the price of our all-wheel-drive 2018 Tahoe Premier jumped from $66,495 to $79,789.
At the Test Track
With its 26-gallon fuel tank full of 91 octane, our test truck weighed 5782 pounds, which is 135 pounds less than the last Ford Expedition 4×4 we tested. The Tahoe’s balance is impressive, with only 51.6 percent of its weight over its front tires. The big aluminum-block V-8 is set well back in the chassis, with the entire engine behind the SUV’s front axle line. Chevy also uses an aluminum hood to shave weight, for whatever it’s worth in a giant rig like this one.
At the test track, the Tahoe hustled from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. That’s 1.5 seconds quicker than a Tahoe with the standard 5.3-liter V-8, and it’s the same performance we recorded in the Ford Expedition Platinum 4×4 powered by a 400-hp 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. The last Cadillac Escalade we tested, a 2016 model, was 0.1 second slower, but its 6.2-liter was paired with an eight-speed automatic; for 2018 the Escalade gets the 10-speed, as does the GMC Yukon Denali. The Tahoe RST also was quick through the quarter-mile with a run of 14.1 seconds at 100 mph. That’s 1.4 seconds better than the standard Tahoe and a few tenths quicker (and 3 mph faster) than the Expedition. Keep your foot down and the RST continues to pull away from the Ford, hitting 110 mph 1.9 seconds quicker. Remember, these two SUVs use the same 10-speed automatic that was co-developed by GM and Ford.
In the Real World
Despite the RST’s softer springs, ride comfort is compromised by its larger, heavier wheels and low-profile tires. It isn’t uncomfortable, but the ride can be busy. While body roll is well controlled, there’s a fair amount of dive under braking, and the rear suspension squats under acceleration like an old-school muscle car.
However, nothing is more old school than the Tahoe’s column shifter. You can shift the 10-speed automatic manually, but to do so you must feel around on the shift lever for a +/- toggle switch that manages the gear selection. Not the best when you’re hustling the big SUV on a mountain road, although, to be fair, it’s really just intended for managing rpm during towing and hauling. The transmission matches revs well on downshifts, but the gearchanges are slow to come. Also, the Tahoe’s 6000-rpm tachometer does not show a redline (the engine hits a rev limiter at 5800 rpm), and the gear readout in the instrument cluster is minuscule. Ford offers a Sport setting for the transmission in the Expedition, but Chevy does not in the Tahoe.
Wide and well bolstered, the Tahoe’s seats feel comfortable both in the city and on the highway, where the big pushrod V-8 lumbers along at 1800 rpm at 80 mph. The steering has good feel, but it’s a bit heavier than it needs to be and a little slow when you decide to exploit roadholding abilities.
While few people will ever push a Tahoe on a twisty road, it’s our job, and this thing does have Sport in its name, doesn’t it? In rear-wheel-drive mode, the Tahoe RST understeers at the limit, will spin its inside rear tire if you exit a tight bend hard on the gas, and gets thrown off line by midcorner bumps. But this big beast is well balanced and actually somewhat tossable; it turns in well under braking, it takes a nice set, and Chevy even allows you to shut off the stability control if you dare. It’s surprisingly fun to drive the RST at seven-tenths, but push it harder and there just isn’t much grip in reserve, and you’re always aware of its sheer size and mass. Driving it hard is ultimately more work than fun, and it will understeer off the road if you charge into a corner with too much speed. It’s a little easier to drive quickly in the 4WD Auto setting, understeering less and powering out of turns better. But if you’re lunatic enough to drive close to three tons of truck this way, you’re better off buying something German, maybe with an AMG badge.