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  • Full-size SUV Comparison: 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe vs. 2008 Ford Expedition vs. 2008 Nissan Armada vs. 2008 Toyota Sequoia

Full-size SUV Comparison: 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe vs. 2008 Ford Expedition vs. 2008 Nissan Armada vs. 2008 Toyota Sequoia

Snow Mobiles: Which Full-Size Sport/Ute Is the Best of the Bigs?

Ron KiinoMar 25, 2008
With the price of crude oil hovering around $100 per barrel, certain auto analysts are once again questioning the existence of the large SUV. And why not? Not everyone understands these big rigs, some of which can haul eight passengers and tow 10,000 pounds, that tout large-displacement, heavy-hauling V-s but tends to degenerate on-road motions. Add in steering that was judged too light and not particularly communicative--a "Twirl-O-Matic" feel, according to St. Antoine--and the Chevy's chassis was downgraded further. Per Truck Trend editor Mark Williams, "It's the most fun to take to the backcountry and romp around in, but next to these other family-friendly haulers, it just doesn't keep up."
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Further, by eliminating the possibility of a flat floor, the live axle compromises interior efficiency, forcing Chevy to utilize removable third-row seats rather than fold-flat units like the others. Not only is it burdensome to take out those heavy seats, but it's also a burden to sit in them, as they offer the least legroom, 12.3 inches less than that of the Expedition. And if you need to tote gear with a full passenger load, the Tahoe trails again, offering only 16.9 cubic feet behind the third row. And our tester didn't come equipped with the power-operated fold-and-tumble second row, a useful feature included with LTZ Tahoes.
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Of course, it's not like the Chevy is without merits. Despite the Z71 off-road suspension package, the Tahoe provided an impressively compliant highway ride as well as a surprisingly hushed cockpit, even at near-triple-digit speeds. Moreover, the interior, while comparatively Spartan and monotone, did offer the comfiest front bucket seats and the most front headroom. Plus, with Active Fuel Management that switches between V-8 and V-4 power, the Tahoe, at 13.4 mpg, tied with the Toyota for best-in-test fuel economy.
If you're looking for a solid off-road toy that's still laudable on-road, or a cavernous five-seat sport/ute that can swallow seven in a pinch, the Tahoe won't disappoint. But if you're looking for more from a three-row full-size SUV, like a higher tow rating than 8200 pounds, there are better options.
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Late Tahoe
The Tahoe entered this grouping as the second youngest to the all-new Sequoia; yet, despite its newness, it quickly impressed us as the most aged. Take the transmission. Paired with a 5.3-liter V-8, whose 320 horsepower trailed that of only the Toyota, the Tahoe's four-speed proved its Achilles' heel at the dragstrip, delivering the weakest 0-to-60 time (8.3 seconds) and the slowest quarter-mile trap speed (85.6 mph). Down one cog to the Nissan and two to the Ford and the Toyota, the Chevy struggled on mountain roads as well, its tall ratios making it difficult to find the ideal gear. Notes Motor Trend editor at large St. Antoine, "Where you particularly miss the extra cog is rolling briskly downhill, where second is too low and third is too high." Manual mode? Not offered. Note to Chevy: Install the Cadillac Escalade's Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed or, at the very least, its nifty gear-lever-mounted manual-shift buttons.
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The sole possessor of a four-speed, the Tahoe was also the only one to sport an old-school live axle, a feature that behooves off-road maneuvers but tends to degenerate on-road motions. Add in steering that was judged too light and not particularly communicative a "Twirl-O-Matic- feel, according to St. Antoine"and the Chevy's chassis was downgraded further. Per Truck Trend editor Mark Williams, "It's the most fun to take to the backcountry and romp around in, but next to these other family-friendly haulers, it just doesn't keep up."
Further, by eliminating the possibility of a flat floor, the live axle compromises interior efficiency, forcing Chevy to utilize removable third-row seats rather than fold-flat units like the others. Not only is it burdensome to take out those heavy seats, but it's also a burden to sit in them, as they offer the least legroom, 12.3 inches less than that of the Expedition. And if you need to tote gear with a full passenger load, the Tahoe trails again, offering only 16.9 cubic feet behind the third row. And our tester didn't come equipped with the power-operated fold-and-tumble second row, a useful feature included with LTZ Tahoes.
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Of course, it's not like the Chevy is without merits. Despite the Z71 off-road suspension package, the Tahoe provided an impressively compliant highway ride as well as a surprisingly hushed cockpit, even at near-triple-digit speeds. Moreover, the interior, while comparatively Spartan and monotone, did offer the comfiest front bucket seats and the most front headroom. Plus, with Active Fuel Management that switches between V-8 and V-4 power, the Tahoe, at 13.4 mpg, tied with the Toyota for best-in-test fuel economy.
If you're looking for a solid off-road toy that's still laudable on-road, or a cavernous five-seat sport/ute that can swallow seven in a pinch, the Tahoe won't disappoint. But if you're looking for more from a three-row full-size SUV, like a higher tow rating than 8200 pounds, there are better options.
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Despite its 320-horsepower V-8, the Tahoe, with only a four-speed auto and no manual mode, was slowest to 60 mph
Labored Expedition
Boasting the least horsepower (300) yet the most pounds (6104), the Expedition seemed a lock for slug of the group. But thanks to a six-speed automatic, 365 pound-feet of torque, and four-wheel vented disc brakes, the Ford managed to out-hustle the Tahoe to 60 and out-brake it back to 0. Nevertheless, even with 20-inch wheels wearing 55-series Pirellis, the Expedition was unable to cheat the laws of physics, at least in a curved line, posting the slowest figure-eight time (31.0 seconds) and the lowest lateral acceleration (0.68 g).
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Out on the twisty roads through Kennedy Meadows, the Expedition's moves supported these numbers, its soft suspension responding with plenty of roll and dive. And squat? Not enough oomph for that. "Feels sluggish right out of the gate," opines Williams. "You can tell there's a lot of weight here, and the engine doesn't seem interested in compensating." Sure, there are six speeds, but without a true manual mode, the tranny hunts with the same fervor as Dick Cheney.
Still, the Ford handles well for such a big girl. Says St. Antoine, "Although it rolls into corners, it doesn't plow like a tractor--it hangs on impressively and even shrugs off mid-corner undulations that can set the other rigs heaving up and down." The steering, while heavy in feel and slow on turn-in, delivered linear response, and the brakes felt strong and a match for the cumbersome curb weight. Off road, the Expedition handled the snow with aplomb. "This is where the massive weight helps push the tires to the ground for grip," Williams asserts. Motor Trend senior editor Loh adds, "It's reassuring over snowy roads--no slipping, no sliding."
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Inside our King Ranch tester, every editor was impressed by the luxurious "Chaparral" leather, the ultra-quiet ambiance, the rearview mirror with integrated backup video screen, and the capacious cabin, the last trumping the others' third-row headroom and legroom. For transporting Eddie and the entire Bauer clan, the Expedition is tough to beat. Plus, the third row comes with a power-folding feature, alleviating any back-breaking exercises, and the second row boasts a useful "Cargo Mode," which lays the middle r2w flat with the pull of a lever.
From the driver's seat, though, the view is somewhat disappointing. The instrument panel, with its mix of round and rectangular gauges and chrome, plastic, and wood trim, appears retro for the sake of being retro and at the expense of good function. And it looks rather cheap, to boot.
Speaking of cheap, the Expedition, at $52,340, is not. With its roomy interior, clever packaging, and commendable off-road performance, not to mention the only one with cooled front seats and power runningboards, the Ford makes a strong case for a justified price tag. Just not as strong as the next two.
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The Expedition's busy dash was scored least attractive, but its heated and cooled front seats were welcomed.
Fleet-Footed ARMADA
"An Armada of one? Is that even possible?" queries Motor Trend assistant art director Mike Royer prior to our departure from L.A. Well, after clipping 0 to 60 in a mere 6.8 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.3 at 88.9 mph, the Armada conceivably has more on board than the claimed 317. Not only is the Nissan quick, thanks to its 5.6-liter V-8 and five-speed automatic, it's also agile. The lightest by two pounds but the longest by 1.2 inches, the 5713-pound, 207.7-inch-long Armada, riding on 265/60R20 Michelins, consumed the figure eight in a best-in-test 28.8 seconds and the skidpad at a sedanlike 0.76 g. Says Loh, "The Armada offers the best balance of the pack, with great grip and no drama when cornering. It feels like a sports car in comparison--like a 560Z!" Through our test loop, it exhibited the most confidence-inspiring handling, moves heightened by the organic steering and ergonomically sound interior. "This is the nicest cabin of the bunch," claims St. Antoine, adding, "I love the big, clear gauges and controls, the nice matte finish with appealing chrome accents, the smart ergonomics, and, by far, the best/easiest nav system here."
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When it came time to drop anchor, the Armada, again, rose to the top. It needed only 128 feet to erase 60 mph, superior to the other SUVs here as well as its sedan sibling, the Altima 3.5 SE, which required 131 feet in a recent Motor Trend test ("Pier Pressure," February 2008). Unfortunately, you'll have to drop anchor often for fuel, as it recorded 11.9 mpg during our soiree in the snow. At least its parched Endurance V-8, like the Tahoe's flex-fuel Vortec, will drink regular unleaded or E85. Perhaps the Armada's unquenchable thirst was due to its wild time in Mammoth's winter wonderland. With a full-time automatic setting, not to mention its sporty chassis, the Nissan proved the most entertaining in the fluff.
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In any case, the Armada's handsome body makes it easier to accept its fat fuel fix. "The exterior is the most tidy--she hides her weight well," notes Loh. St. Antoine concurs: "I like this exterior the best--it's chunky, modern, and sporty, and the big wheels and tires look great." As we mentioned before, the Nissan's smart styling flows into the interior, a space that surprised everyone with its functionality and room. The fold-flat second row not only tumbles forward with the pull of a lever for easy ingress and egress, but also outclasses the others' in headroom and legroom, while the third row, which is split 60/40 and can be folded flat, delivers decent midpack measurements.
Need to tow a boat? This Armada is capable of adding a 9000-pound vessel to the end of the line, more than that of the Expedition. That feat, along with its athletic handling, strong acceleration, and striking styling, placed it ahead of the Ford. But there was one it couldn't outpace.
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Muscular styling, functional, enveloping cockpit, and gutsy V-8 made the Armada the sports car of the group.
Super Sequoia
Like its namesake, Toyota's Sequoia is big. Surprisingly, though, at 205.1 inches long, it's stubbier than the Ford and the Nissan, and, at 74.6 inches tall, it's the shortest of the bunch. Due to intelligent packaging and Toyota's usual dose of overengineering, the Sequoia's tidy exterior dimensions don't translate to tight interior quarters. In our second- and third-row useability tests, all four judges scored the Toyota, which provided the most shoulder room, as the roomiest and most comfortable, even though it trailed some of the others' dimensions for headroom and legroom. Moreover, the fold-flat second row not only features a relaxing recline function, but also a slide mechanism for effortless entry and exit. And the power-folding third row? Passengers can recline back there, too.
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Not that the Sequoia's seats really need a recline function. With 381 horses and 401 pound-feet emanating from a 5.7-liter i-Force V-8, the Toyota can push passengers into their seatbacks with what seems like enough energy to recline to the floor. Mash the throttle, and the Sequoia eclipses 60 in only 6.2 seconds and the quarter mile in just 14.7 at 93.7 mph. Remember the comparison-winning Camry SE V-6 from February? It wasn't any quicker to 60 and only 0.1 second speedier in the quarter. If we hadn't filled the Sequoia with 87-octane ourselves, we'd have thought it runs on Miracle-Gro. Amazingly, however, even with the largest, most powerful engine and the second heaviest curb weight (6003 pounds), the Toyota matched the Chevy for best fuel economy, a testament to the well-sorted six-speed automatic.
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That six-speed, by the way, was the only auto of the group to have a dedicated manual mode. "It lets you summon up- or downshifts with a proper fore-aft sport gate," notes St. Antoine. Even when running the gears to redline, the 5.7 remains smooth and seductive, unable to disturb the cabin, which, along with the Ford's, was deemed most serene. More important, the manual mode, which lets your right hand to keep a tight rein on all 381 horses, allows you to fully appreciate the sporty capabilities of the Sequoia's control-arm independent suspension. "The chassis is poised," adds St. Antoine, "with little roll unless you carry way too much speed into a bend." And should you carry too much speed, the Toyota's four-wheel vented disc brakes are the largest of the foursome and the only ones utilizing fixed four-piston front calipers.
Drawbacks? The Toyota has a few, namely, light and numb steering, an overwrought dash with questionable ergonomics, and the absence of an Auto four-wheel-drive mode, although with its center locking differential, the Sequoia never slipped-up through the snow and ice. And considering the Toyota tops the others in towing capacity (10,000 pounds), interior functionality and comfort, and acceleration, it's easy to see how it leads this snow patrol.
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Tundra-based Sequoia uses Tundra's six-speed automatic and 5.7-liter eight - good for 0-60 in 6.2 seconds.
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1st place:
2008 Toyota Sequoia Limited

Sport-sedan acceleration, luxury-car comfort, and tugboat towing make this new Toy the best of the bigs.

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2nd place:
2008 Nissan Armada LE

Poor fuel economy, a snugger third row, and slower acceleration prevent the Armada from docking on top.

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3rd place:
2008 Ford Expedition King Ranch

Quiet, roomy cabin and off-road adeptness overshadowed by cumbersome curb weight, soft suspenders, and a tacky dash.

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4th place:
2008 Chevrolet Tahoe LT

Clean looks and commanding Z71 package can't overcome unsatisfactory four-speed and substandard interior packaging.

  2008 CHEVROLET TAHOE 4WD LT 2008 FORD EXPEDITION KING RANCH 4x4
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD Front engine, 4WD
Engine type 90 Vv-8, iron block/alum heads 90 Vv-8, iron block/alum heads
Valvetrain OHV, 2 valves/cyl SOHC, 3 valves/cyl
Displacement 325.0 cu in/5328 cc 330.4 cu in/5414 cc
Compression ratio 9.9:1 9.8:1
Power (SAE net) 320 hp @ 5200 rpm* 300 hp @ 500 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 340 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm* 365 lb-ft @ 3750
Weight to power 17.9 lb/hp 20.3 lb/hp
Transmission 4-speed automatic 6-speed automatic
Axle/final-drive ratios 3.73:1/2.61:1/2.72:1 3.73:1/2.57:1/2.64:1
Suspension, front; rear Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, coil springs, anti-roll bar Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, load-leveling shocks, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 17.8:1 20.0:1
Turns lock-to-lock 3 3.2
Brakes, f;r 13.0-in vented disc: 13.5-in disc, ABS 13.5-in vented disc: 13.2-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 8.0 x 18 in, cast aluminum 8.5 x 20 in, cast aluminum
Tires, f;r 265/65R18 112S M+S, Bridgestone Dueler A/T 275/55R20 111H M+S, Pirelli Scorpion STR
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase 116.0 in 119.0 in
Track, f/r 68.2/67.0 in 67.0/67.2 in
Length x width x height 202.0 x 79.0 x 77.0 in 20635 x 78.8 x 77.2 in
Ground clearance 9.0 in 8.7 in
Apprch/ deapart angle 17.0/21.9 deg 22.6/21.5 deg
Turning circle 39.0 ft 40.8 ft
Curb weight 5715 lb 6104 lb
Weight dist., f/r 52/48 % 50/50 %
Seating capacity 7 8
Headroom, f/r 41.1/38.5/38.2 in 39.6/39.8/38.3 in
Legroom, f/r 41.3/39.0/25.4 in 41.1/39.1/37.7 in
Shoulder room, f/r 65.3/65.3/57.9 in 63.2/63.7/51.9 in
Cargo volume 108.0/60.3/16.9 cu ft 108.3/55.0/18.6 cu ft
TEST DATA
Acceleration to mph
0-30 2.8 sec 2.6 sec
0-40 4.1 4.1
0-50 5.9 5.8
0-60 8.3 8.1
0-70 10.6 10.7
0-80 13.4 13.8
0-90 18.2 -
Passing, 45-65 mph 4.5 sec 4.5 sec
Quarter mile 16.1 sec @ 85.6 mph 16.1 sec @ 85.9 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 140 ft 139 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.71 g (avg) 0.68 g (avg)
MT figure eight 30.0 sec @ 0.52 g (avg) 31.0 sec @ 0.49 g (avg)
Top-gear revs @ 60 mph 1700 rpm 1600 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
Base price $40,460 $44,265
Price as tested $45,310 $52,840
Stability/traction control Yes/yes Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, front side, f/m/r curtain Dual front, front side, f/mr curtain
Basic warranty 3 yrs/36,000 miles 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 miles 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Roadside assistance 5 yrs/100,000 miles 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Fuel capacity 26.0 gal 28.0 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 14/19 (gas) 11/14 (E85) lb/mile N/A
CO2 emissions 1.22 (gas) 1.12 (E85) lb/mile N/A
MT fuel economy 13.4 mpg (gas) 12.2 mpg
Recommended fuel Regular of E85 Regular
  2008 NISSAN ARMADA LE 4x4 2008 TOYOTA SEQUOIA LIMITED 4x4
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD Front engine, 4WD
Engine type 90 V-8, alum block/heads 90 V-8, alum block/heads
Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves/cyl DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 338.8 cu in/5552 cc 345.6 cu in/5663 cc
Compression ratio 9.8:1 10.2:1
Power (SAE net) 317 hp @ 5200 rpm 381 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 385 lb-ft @ 3400 rpm 401 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
Weight to power 18.0 lb/hp 15.8 lb/hp
Transmission 5-speed automatic 6-speed automatic
Axle/final-drive ratios 3.36:1/2.80:1/2.60:1 3.91:1/2.30:1/2.62:1
Suspension, front; rear Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; control arms, coil springs, load-leveling shocks, anti-roll bar Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 20.0:1 17.3:1
Turns lock-to-lock 3.6 3.7
Brakes, f;r 12.6-in vented disc: 12.6-in disc, ABS 13.9-in vented disc: 13.6-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 8.0 x 20 in, cast aluminum 7.5 x 18 in, cast aluminum
Tires, f;r 265/60R20 114H M+S, Michelin Latitude 275/65R18 114T M+S, Michelin LTX A/S
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase 123.2 in 122.0 in
Track, f/r 67.5/67.5 in 67.9/69.1 in
Length x width x height 807.7 x 79.3 x 77.2 in 205.1 x 79.9 x 74.6 in
Ground clearance 10.4 in 10.0 in
Apprch/ deapart angle 26.2/22.7 deg 27.0/21.0 deg
Turning circle 40.8 ft 39.0 ft
Curb weight 5713 lb 6003 lb
Weight dist., f/r 51/49 % 51/49 %
Seating capacity 7 7
Headroom, f/r 41.0/40.0/35.9 in 38.3/38.9/36.0 in
Legroom, f/r 41.8/41.9/32.2 in 42.5/36.4/35.3 in
Shoulder room, f/r 65.0/64.7/58.8 in 66.4/65.6/60.6 in
Cargo volume 97.1/56.7/20.0 cu ft 120.1/66.6/18.9 cu ft
TEST DATA
Acceleration to mph
0-30 2.2 sec 2.0 sec
0-40 3.4 3.2
0-50 5 4.7
0-60 6.8 6.2
0-70 9.2 8.3
0-80 12.2 10.7
0-90 15.7 13.5
Passing, 45-65 mph 3.7 sec 3.2 sec
Quarter mile 15.3 sec @ 88.9 mph 14.7 sec @ 93.7 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 128 ft 139 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.76 g (avg) 0.72 g (avg)
MT figure eight 28.8 sec @ 0.57 g (avg) 29.8 sec @ 0.55 g (avg)
Top-gear revs @ 60 mph 1700 rpm 1800 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
Base price $45,375 $49,135
Price as tested $52,350 $54,140
Stability/traction control Yes/yes Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, front side, f/mr curtain Dual front, front side, f/mr curtain
Basic warranty 3 yrs/36,000 miles 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/60,000 miles 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Roadside assistance N/A N/A
Fuel capacity 28.0 gal 26.4 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 12/17 (gas) 9/13 (E85) mgp 13/18 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.40 (gas) 1.30 (E85) lb/mile 13.1 lb/mile
MT fuel economy 11.9 mpg (gas) 13.4 mpg
Recommended fuel Regular or E85 Regular

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