2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71
Chevy’s experience with full size SUVs runs deep. In fact, the oldest nameplate in automotive history is the Suburban. That said, the Tahoe Z71, being the Suburban’s slightly shorter sibling, has more pedigree behind it than nearly any other vehicle on the market. How does the latest model stack up to this incredible heritage?
The front end of the Z71 is clearly designed to be more rugged and off-road ready than other Tahoes. Starting from the bottom, the Goodyear Wrangler TrailRunner AT tires can be clearly seen below the front bumper cutouts. These cutouts allow the 33-inch tires to contact larger obstacles without hitting the bumper first.
In the center of the bumper is a plastic radiator skid plate that is there for aesthetics, but behind that is an actual skid plate that protects the front end. On both sides of the skid are red recovery loops. These are positioned such that they can be easily seen and accessed when the going gets tough.
Above the bumper we move into the grill area which is massive. There are reverse bracket shaped LED running lights on the outside edges of the grill, and thin LED headlights rest at the top of the grill, just below the hood. A Z71 badge is also located on the driver’s side of the grill indicating that it’s the off-road model, even though the rest of the front end already does that.
Moving down the side, we find that the Tahoe looks very similar to the Yukon. The obvious differences are that the Z71 clearly rides higher than the Yukon Denali we recently tested and the lack of chrome trim on the Tahoe. Low hanging step boards run the length of the side and really shouldn’t be on an off-road trimmed vehicle. This style of running board is likely to be damaged due to their low clearance.
Bringing up the rear, the LED taillights have a split T design. Unlike the Yukon, the taillights on the Tahoe don’t reach out onto the liftgate. Up top, the 3rd brake light is concealed behind the tinted rear glass, and there are two lower reflectors at the base of the bumper.
Steeping inside the Tahoe Z71, we find a spacious and comfortable cabin. The steering wheel is GM standard, and the switch gear compares with the updated Yukon.
Sitting in the driver’s seat puts all the switches and dials within easy reach. The center console is laid out in a simple and easy to use manner. The transmission buttons are located on the upper dash and are simple to use. Unlike the Yukon Denali, the infotainment screen protrudes from the dash which can make it seem a little out of place.
Everything changes when switching to the left-hand side of the steering wheel. There are roughly 20 buttons, switches, and knobs in this area. Many of these will only be used occasionally, however, the trailer brake controller is mounted here. This is an issue is because its location is directly behind the steering wheel for most drivers. In emergency situations where the trailer brakes need to be applied to stop a trailer from swaying or slow down safely for a variety of other reasons, the brake controller can be hard to find.
Despite having a very large cabin, the Tahoe comes up just short of being able to fit a 4’x8′ sheet in back. The width is there, but it lacks about 8-inches in length.
Driving the Tahoe Z71
Manufacturers must choose between off-road capability and on road handling. The Z71 lies somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. Vehicles like the Durango R/T Tow N Go will perform better on road, while the Sequoia TRD Pro performs better off road.
Chevy has made the Tahoe Z71 handle and drive really well for a vehicle this size, weight, capability, and towing capacity. This is largely due to the air suspension and the MagneRide magnetic dampers. The body leans very little when cornering and the steering is direct and precise.
Power is good from the 5.3-liter V8. When paired with the 10-speed auto, the 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque are enough for most people. The added benefit of the 5.3 over the 6.2 is that it returns a respectable 18 combined MPG rating.
Cruising on the highway is akin to riding in a large sedan. The interior remains quiet with minimal tire noise from the TrailRunners. The excellent suspension smooths all but the harshest of bumps without ever giving a floating feeling.
Moving from pavement to decently maintained dirt and gravel is no problem for the Z71 Tahoe. High speeds over dirt and gravel roads are a breeze. However, on bigger bumps the independent front and rear suspension quickly runs out of travel. When the suspension goes to full compression, the impact is relatively minor compared to most other vehicles this size.
Obviously, the most practical reason to get a Z71 package is for the off-road capability. In this case, Chevy has dropped the G80 rear auto locker and replaced it with an ELSD (Electronic Limited Slip Differential). Along with that Chevy offers the Tahoe Z71 with a clutch-based transfer case. These systems combine to create a 4wd auto system that can be driven on high traction surfaces and seamlessly transfer to slick conditions without any input from the driver.
Getting into rough terrain, the story is a little different. Once again, the limited suspension travel means that the Tahoe will lift a wheel without articulating too much. This also tests the ELSD. The G80 mechanically locking differential is quite capable and easy to use once mastered. However, the ELSD responds better when the difference in left and right wheel speed is lower than the required engagement speed of the G80. Because of this, the ELSD engages smoother and more quietly than the G80. Having said that, there were a few times in our testing where the ELSD wouldn’t fully lock the rear wheels together. A driver selectable e-locker, like the Expedition FX4 has, is preferable in these situations.
Tahoe Z71 Pricing
The base price for a 2021 Tahoe Z71 is $59,200. Our test model was equipped with the Z71 off-road package for $5735, rear media and nav package for $2490, power release 2nd row bucket seats for $370, and the power sliding floor console for $350. With the $1,295 destination charge and a $500 Z71 off-road package discount, the total MSRP of our tester was $68,940.
The Tahoe Z71 might just be the best all rounder full-size SUV on the market today. It can tow up to 7,700 pounds, has 10-inches of ground clearance, and still provides for an excellent ride on the road. While other competitors are better in certain areas, few will top the Tahoe as a single do everything vehicle.
Matthew Barnes is an experienced towing expert. He works as a mechanical engineer and his day job involves testing a variety of vehicles while towing trailers of all types and sizes. Matt shares his knowledge by writing for automotive news outlets in the evenings. When he’s not working he can be found spending time in the great outdoors with his family. He enjoys camping, hiking, canyoneering, and backpacking. Whenever possible he spends time riding in or on any power sports vehicle he can find and claims he can drive anything with a motor, which probably isn’t true.