Ask Jack: Push Me, Or Pull You?

Tahoe and Traverse, Image: GM>

It’s called cryptic biodiversity and it’s the process by which genetically diverse species end up looking very similar. This is a big thing with salamanders; apparently the perfect design for amphibian quadrapeds is so obvious that it can be reached via several different pathways. It’s also the reason why I have successfully convinced several convenience store employees that I was, in fact, former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl.

As the automotive market not-so-gently pushes manufacturers towards producing identical-looking products on vastly different mechanical platforms, there’s a bit of amusement to be had in wondering which one of those platforms really serves a certain market segment best. It’s also a source of considerable purchaser angst, which brings us to this week’s question regarding cryptically-biodiverse mommy wagons.

Evan writes,

From reading your stories lately I see that you’re a Chevy owner now… I am looking at getting a three-row SUV for my family with two boys, one seven and one 12. My wife wants a Tahoe. I realized that the Tahoe and the Traverse are almost exactly the same size inside and out. But one is a truck and one is a crossover. And the Traverse is $20,000 cheaper. My wife doesn’t care. She says the Tahoe will last longer. What should we do?

This didn’t make any sense to me at first reading. How could a Tahoe and a Traverse be even remotely comparable? So I ran some of the numbers…

2018 TRAVERSE                  2017 TAHOE

Length: 204.3 Inches            203.9 Inches

Wheelbase: 120.9 Inches      116.0 Inches

Width: 78.6 Inches                80.5 Inches

Height: 70.7 Inches                74.4 Inches

Weight: 4362 lb                      5731 lb

These are two remarkably similar vehicles separated only by the minor fact of a three-quarter-ton weight difference. The reason for this is easy to understand. The Tahoe is basically a short-wheelbase Silverado with a cap on it, while the Traverse is a buffed-up sedan platform with a transverse engine. It would be hard to make a Tahoe any smaller; such a vehicle would have to be a two-door 110-inch-wheelbase Silverado with a cap on it, which would make it a K5 Blazer. Which would be cool, but that’s not the point. When you buy a Tahoe, you’re getting a stubby variant of my majestic Silverado LTZ Max Tow 6.2, powered by a less ambitious 5.3-liter small-block. The Traverse, on the other hand, is about as big as it could possibly get without running into major issues with body stiffness and drivetrain stress. So we have two massively different vehicles that just happen to meet in that three-row, 204-inch-long, 118-inch-ish wheelbase space.

Just how different becomes apparent when you look at pricing. A Traverse LS AWD starts at $34,995, while the equivalent Tahoe LS 4WD runs $51,720. The equipment list is remarkably similar for both vehicles. The Tahoe price difference is partially due to the heavier-duty V8 drivetrain, partially due to the extra materials used, and mostly due to the bulletproof white-collar credibility of the Tahoe badge.

It’s the price difference that makes this such a tough decision. On the face of it, Evan’s wife is absolutely correct. They should buy the Tahoe. It will last longer, cost less to maintain, and retain a far greater percentage of its resale value — particularly if they keep it for more than a decade or over 100,000 miles. It can really tow and it can really haul, should those qualities ever be desired. It’s easier to service, too. Most importantly, it in no way looks like a minivan, TTAC Tahoe Grande photoshops aside.

Yet when you start talking about $35K vs. $52K, some of those differences start to seem less significant. On five-year financing that’s about $275/month. Post-tax, of course, unless you’re gonna Sec179 the thing somehow. It’s unlikely that the Tahoe’s lower cost of ownership and higher value retention will ever claw back that kind of difference. There will probably never be a time when the Traverse would sell for $10k used and the Tahoe would sell for $27k.

If that’s not enough to swing Evan’s wife towards the Traverse, I’d recommend that she drive both of them for a day or so and try all of her usual tasks with each. Like it or not, the Traverse is simply going to be a better machine for family life. It has more interior space, a lower load floor, and better visibility. It probably won’t beat the Tahoe for overall fuel economy — my Silverado returns 16 mpg while pulling an MX-5 on a trailer — but around town it might eke out a tiny advantage. It’s a modern unibody with all the attendant safety, NVH, and rust-resistance advantages.

I’m going to put in my vote for the Traverse here. It’s the better 204-inch salamander and a better vehicle for people with multiple children. It’s not as flashy or upscale as the Tahoe, but $275 each and every month can improve your life in a lot of little ways that might cover the gap and then some. Or you could do what I did and get a Silverado. The equivalent LS 4WD Crew Cab Short Bed is $41,725. That’s a nice halfway point for a vehicle with more utility than either of the ones discussed above. Is that why so many American families are buying trucks? Or are we all simply evolving into a cryptically-generated nation of rednecks?

[Images: General Motors]

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