General Motors needs some good news. Its corporate bonds have been relegated to junk status, and its staggering debt and pension obligations have been the ongoing grist of the financial talk shows. If there's one area where the General still shines, however, it's in fullsize trucks and SUVs. But, it doesn't dominate the category like it once did. Not only does GM have to keep an eye on Ford in its rearview mirror, but Nissan now has the Armada, and Toyota has had the Sequoia for several years now. Even the king-size Suburban has a 1/2-ton competitor now with the new Ford Expedition EL. So, needless to say, it was imperative that GM stay on the ball with this one.

To see how well GM succeeded (or how badly it failed), we signed up to get some seat time in GM's latest SUV offering. From a stylistic standpoint, Chevy played it safe. While clearly more modern and sleeker than its predecessor, it thankfully abstained from any Avalanche-like styling gimmicks. The nose is a hybrid of the older-style rounded nose on the early Silverados and Tahoes, and the more chiseled look of the current Silverado--rather generic-looking in our opinion, but utterly inoffensive, as well. In pictures, the new Tahoe looks a little smaller than the last model, but in person, by itself, and especially when parked side-by-side with the old model, there's no getting around the fact this is one big bruiser, noticeably bigger than the previous generation.

In terms of interior design, the lines and layout are generally a lot cleaner and more contemporary than the last model, looking far more like a car dashboard than a truck's. The visual texture of the materials is appealing, but upon touch, it's still just nicely grained hard plastic. We haven't had a chance for an up-close look at the Yukon and Escalade yet, and it's likely those up-market versions will employ better materials, we hope. Thankfully, the control knobs and buttons have a refined, quality feel to them. Function is generally intuitive, though the multi-function computer takes a couple of walk-throughs until it's second nature.

Whereas many of the other biggies, such as the Armada and Expedition, have gone to an independent rear suspension, the Tahoe sticks with a tried-and-true live rear axle. GM decided the marginal amount of room and third-row fold-flat capability the truck would gain with an independent rear suspension wasn't worth the additional cost and complexity. Consequently, in models so equipped, the third-row seats have to be manually removed from the vehicle. This didn't seem to be a major issue with current owners, so GM decided to carry the basic interior packaging over to the new model. From behind the wheel, the functional improvements to the vehicle are readily apparent. Whereas the previous models weren't exactly known for their precise road manners and car-like ride and handling, the new models come much closer to that ideal, though they can only be considered car-like in comparison to the previous-generation SUVs, and say, the Ford Excursion. The new rack-and-pinion steering setup has a solid heft and precision to it, bordering on heavy effort, but the upside is that you no longer have to resort to Roscoe P. Coletrane-like steering wheel theatrics to keep the truck on a straight path.