It was one of those ideas whose time had come, yet once it happened, everybody asked, "Why did it take so long?" While the Suburban literally and figuratively fills a big spot in the SUV marketplace, not everyone wants or needs a rig that large. So GM whacked nearly two feet out of the Sub's overall length, took away the third-row seat, and created the Tahoe/Yukon twins for '95. Available in 1500 Series (1/2-ton) form only, they proved an ideal package for buyers who needed or wanted V-8 power and four-wheel drive in a slightly smaller package. The originals were replaced by all-new versions after the '99 model year, and though the current platform offers some advances, the earlier ones are plentiful in the marketplace and remain popular.

GM's 5.7L V-8/four-speed automatic combination is ultra-tough and good for long miles, though we recommend a '96-or-later model. They have the port fuel-injected Vortec spec engine, rated at 250 hp, as opposed to the throttle-body-equipped 200-hp '95; a 2WD version also bowed in '96. Those who tow a trailer might consider a rear-disc-brake upgrade, as the standard, drums-only rears are adequate at best for heavy loads. Those needing room for six or more still must look elsewhere. Otherwise, these trucks are well-equipped and long lived.

Want more lux? Consider the first-generation GMC Yukon Denali, sold from '98 to 2000. It has lots of leather, real wood trim, a plethora of power goodies, upgraded tunes, and unique sheetmetal from the A-pillar forward. Cadillac liked it so well it ripped off the package to create the first Escalade in '99. Whatever the badge, they're much the same underneath.

1995-1999 Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon
Body type 4-door, 5-pass SUV
Drivetrain Front engine, 2WD or 4WD
Airbag Dual front
Base curb weight, lb 4780
Base engine '95: 5.7L/200-hp ; V-8, '97: 5.7L/250-hp V-8
Optional engines None
Brakes, f/r Disc/drum, ABS
Price range, whlsl/ret $18,900/$25,835 ('98 Tahoe 4x4) (per Kelley Blue Book)
EPA mpg, city/hwy 14/17
Recalls 2: Steering box ('98); brake rotors ('98)
NHTSA frontal-imp rating, drv/pass 4 stars/3 stars
WHAT'S HOT
• Good reliability
• Sturdy V-8 powertrain
• Reasonable Value
WHAT'S NOT
• Five-seater only
• Rear drum brakes
• Heavy on gas

TEST-DRIVE CHECKLIST
A comprehensive test drive is more than a spin around the block. Make sure you:

• Inspect the vehicle in daylight, not at night. Look for rust or wavy body panels that might signify previous accident damage
• Check all fluid levels; dirty oil may mean neglect
• Start up from cold; listen for noises and look for exhaust smoke
• Make sure it fits you; adjust seat, mirrors, belts, wheel
• While the engine warms up, test all the controls: audio system, HVAC, lights, cruise-control, etc. Make note of anything that's inoperative
• Drive at least 10 miles at various speeds on a variety of roads. If the owner insists on "just a block or two," he might be hiding something
• Pay attention to any problems: abnormal engine noise, a front-end needing alignment, a slipping transmission, grinding brakes. None of these means you should automatically pass on the vehicle, but you need to identify potential problem areas, either for repair or price negotiation
• If you still like what you see/ drove, consider spending a few bucks to have a professional mechanic check it out further.

Time invested up front will minimize heartache later on.