By Jeffrey Ross, for GM Authority
That’s not to say that Chevy’s latest and greatest full-size SUVs aren’t capable of tackling rugged terrain, it’s just that customers in this segment are probably more concerned with navigating mall parking lots or school drop-off lanes. While the days of off-road vehicles like the big Broncos and K5 Blazers are long gone, Chevrolet is hoping it can still appeal to these types of buyers with the introduction of the 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 (and its Suburban Z71 counterpart).
It’s been 26 years since Chevy first introduced the Z71 package on its full-size pickup trucks, and the latest application of this moniker brings an added sense of ruggedness to Chevy’s all-new 2015 Tahoe and 2015 Suburban. The decision to offer this package on the new Tahoe and Suburban was a no-brainer, as the Z71 accounted for about 10 percent of the SUVs’ sales last year. So, Chevy unveiled the 2015 Tahoe Z71 in September at the Texas State Fair. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long to get behind the wheel of the new Tahoe Z71, as we were able to spend some quality time with it recently at the historic Knibbe Ranch (just outside of San Antonio, TX) during the 2014 TAWA Texas Truck Rodeo.
Unlike the Silverado, which for some insane reason offers a two-wheel-drive Z71 model, the 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 is only available in four-wheel-drive, and this package can only be added to the LT trim level at a cost of $1,695. As that package price suggests, don’t expect any crazy off-road capabilities a la Hummer. In fact, in the case of the 2015 Tahoe Z71 and 2015 Suburban Z71, Chevrolet didn’t even include the Rancho shocks seen on the Silverado Z71. That said, Chevrolet did manage to combine a handful of small changes to make the Tahoe Z71 better suited for the trails. Instead, think of it more as a styling package… only much better.
Perhaps the biggest overall improvement to the Tahoe Z71 is its new front fascia. Sure, it takes a keen eye to even notice the difference, but the key component here is that the aero-minded lower air dam has been eliminated. That’s right, at least six inches of black plastic has been removed from the lower fascia, making it less likely that the SUV will get hung up on rocks, branches or muddy ruts. It definitely improves upon the stock Tahoe’s dismal 15.5-degree approach angle, but Chevy doesn’t specify what the new approach angle is for the Z/71-spec models.
Similarly, the 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 wears the same five-spoke 18-inch wheels as the Silverado Z71, swapping out the standard Goodyear Assurance CS Fuel Max all-season tires for a meatier set of Goodyear Wrangler SR-A all-terrain rubber. Oddly, the standard tire and the Z71 tire measure the same size at P265/65R18, but while smooth tread of the Assurance is aimed at maximizing ride quality and reducing road noise, the Wrangler SR-A provides better traction in sandy and muddy conditions. The Z71 Tahoe and Z71 Suburban also offer an electronic locking differential.
The tires and the better approach angle allowed the Tahoe Z71 to have few problems driving through moderate obstacles at the ranch, which included a couple water crossings to go with some muddy and rocky hill sections. In terms of difficulty, the course was no Rubicon Trail, but it did provide a good mix of conditions that Tahoe Z71 owners (and many other casual off-road drivers) are more likely to encounter. The most telling section of the Tahoe Z71’s capabilities was the rock hill, which by the end of the day had some serious ruts that forced some drivers to back down and take a different line. But the 2015 Tahoe Z71 motored up the hill with absolutely no hesitation and without having to test out the standard front skid plate.
Equally impressive as the the Tahoe Z71’s off-road prowess are its manners on local highways, which underscored why this SUV is still, without a doubt, one of the best on the market. Even after climbing over rocks and driving effortlessly through small creeks, the Tahoe Z71 provides a smooth and ultra-quiet ride at higher speeds… once the tires shed themselves of all the mud and rocks, of course. The Tahoe’s standard 5.3-liter EcoTec3 V8 L83 provides plenty of power with 355 hp and 383 pound-feet of torque on tap, while the interior provides a refined atmosphere. This combination helps the Tahoe Z71 drive just as good as it looks.
When it comes to the styling, the front end is still where the changes to the 2015 Tahoe Z71 are most noticeable. In addition to the removal of the lower air dam, the fascia has been restyled from the non-Z71 Tahoe trim levels, with sculpted lines above the rectangular fog lights, a protruding front skid plate, and the distinctive chrome grille. Other standard features on the Z71 package include front tow hooks, rectangular chrome side steps and a handful of “Z71” badges. The only styling change made inside the Tahoe Z71 is the instrument gauge cluster that features the Z71 logo, complemented by a background pattern that resembles carbon fiber.
The redesigned 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe hit dealerships earlier this year, but the new Tahoe with the Z71 package just went on sale in October. With a base price that starts at $56,185 (for the 2015 Tahoe LT plus the $1,695 Z81 package), the new Tahoe Z71 is by no means a cheap vehicle. For that price, you can buy a Jeep Wrangler, Ford F-150 SVT Raptor or one of Toyota’s new TRD Pro products. But you won’t get anywhere near the level of on-road comfort, cabin tech, or interior space that the new Tahoe provides.
If we had a say, it would have been nice to see the Tahoe Z71 add a lifted suspension or the Rancho shocks from the Silverado. But for a big SUV that will probably be used for grocery store runs or soccer practice rather than trail raids, it’s good to know that the capabilities are there when needed.
For buyers who still wish to get a little dirty in their family-friendly SUV, the 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 is an excellent choice. It provides more rugged styling that helps improve off-road abilities enough to warrant the Z71 badge, but it doesn’t sacrifice any of the on-road ride quality that SUV buyers demand. At the end of our short time with the 2015 Tahoe Z71, it was easy to see that this package has helped the best-selling full-size SUV get even better.