Z71 is the code that Chevy uses to tell you you’re looking at an off-road-ready rig. Like many of Chevrolet’s coolest trims (Cavalier Z22, Camaro Z28, Corvette ZR1, etc.), it was the factory code to tell workers the truck was getting an off-road suspension. Then marketing got hold of it. On the Silverado
, it means Rancho off-road shocks, all-terrain tires, skid plates, and more. On Tahoe, though, well, we’ll get into it.
The biggest exclusive for the 2023 Chevrolet Tahoe’s Z71 package is the front bumper and grille. The bumper is cut out to let you climb steeper obstacles without bashing up the nose. There’s also a small skidplate that might protect some of the underbody of the SUV, but not the really important greasy parts.
Yes, it also has a bigger air filter, recovery hooks, and step bars, but the Tahoe Z71 doesn’t come with an off-road-tuned suspension and it doesn’t have a lift. Just the same 8.0 inches of clearance as any other Tahoe. It does come with a low-range transfer case as standard equipment, the only Tahoe to get that, but the transfer case is optional on other trims as part of their Max Towing packages for about $725.
What Z71 really does is open you up to the option that it really should have as standard equipment: The Off-Road Capability Package.
With that $3,445 bundle, you get an adaptive air suspension system that adds two inches of ground clearance and improves the ride on and off-road. You also get magnetic dampers that make the ride even better. Plus an electronic rear LSD replaces the standard mechanical one. You can get all of these systems on other grades, but they are more expensive than the Z71.
So without that fancy suspension, am I telling you that the Z71 Tahoe doesn’t work off the pavement? Of course not. The Tahoe is based on the full-size GM truck platform but gets an independent rear suspension instead of a live axle. The coil springs do a much better job of smoothing out the ride than a pickup’s axle and leaf springs.
Tahoe moves around on the highway, wallowing over bumps like any three-tonne vehicle does, but it maintains that cushy ride on gravel and rocky routes. The suspension doesn’t have much articulation, but this isn’t a rock crawler like a Silverado ZR2. Or Toyota Sequoia TRD PRO.
Chevy lets you have the Z71 with its 5.3L or 6.2L V8s, but not the diesel. Thank the trim-specific front bumper for that; the shape cuts into the packaging needed for the Duramax.
I drove the smaller of the two V8s, but its 355 hp was more than enough for this hefty SUV. I thought it was the 6.2 based on the amount of shove, and you can give some of the credit for that to the 10-speed auto. All those gears make impressive use of the power and 383 lb-ft of torque on offer.
In typical GM small block V8 fashion, it's quiet, smooth, and makes a delightful rumble when you stomp on the gas. It's reasonably efficient, too, with an estimated 15.8 L/100 km city, 11.8 highway, with the 20-inch all-terrain Goodyear tires not hurting the Z71's rating. It's tough to call the fuel economy good, but I've driven much smaller crossovers that were worse.
The low-range gearing helps climb and descend tough hills, with the hill descent control helping out on the way down, but a quirk of the driveline was seriously exaggerated in 4Hi and 4Lo. Add a lot of throttle quickly, occasionally necessary in off-road road maneuvering, and the extra power didn’t go away as soon as your foot did. The Tahoe would continue to power forward for a few moments. While it wasn’t noticeable in pavement driving, it lead to some serious pucker factor off-road.
The point of the Tahoe is to be big, and GM maximized that when it redesigned the model in 2021. The wheelbase and overall length grew, and that gave it enough space for nearly anyone in any of the three rows of seating.
Tahoe's 722L of cargo space behind the third row is equally generous, with 2,056L if you fold the rearmost seats and a whopping 3,480L and an almost completely flat load floor with all the seats down.
If somehow it isn't enough then Chevy offers either a Suburban or 8,200 lbs of trailer towing to take up the slack.
Getting into the third row is easy too, but Chevy misses a beat with the folding second seat. It slides forward easily with the pull of a lever, but it won't return to the same spot. You'll need to slide it rearward in a second action. It also won't slide up with a child seat in place.
The driver and front passenger get loads of space too, with the extra-wide centre console separating them and providing a quartet of large cup holders. The centre console storage space is large enough to hold a small backpack, and there are even more clever storage spots sprinkled around including one with a door that hides where you might expect to find a dash vent.
Chevrolet includes automatic emergency braking, forward collision alert, and some other handy driver assists as standard, but adaptive cruise, blind spot monitoring, and some of the other best bits are buried in options.
The 2023 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 is a competent off-roader and an excellent heavy people-mover. But if you’re not going to tick the $7,000 or so for the extra off-road equipment (mandatory if you want the 6.2L), then you’d be better served for less cash by a Tahoe LT. Unless you happen to just really like that new bumper, in which case enjoy intimidating pedestrians and left-lane blockers.
2023 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71
: Three-row full-size body-on-frame SUV
: Front engine, 4x4
: 5.3L V8; Power 355 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 383 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm
: 15.8L/11.8/100km (city/hwy).
As tested 11.5L/100km (comb).
: 722L behind third row, 2,056 with third row folded, 3,480 with rear seats folded
: 3,719 kg (8,200 lb) when properly equipped
: Base $78,603 (Z71) As tested $84,353 before destination (major options include $2,295 rear media system, $1,725 panoramic sunroof)