2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Aug 10, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Chevrolet deals!

Chevrolet dominates the large SUV segment, its Tahoe and Suburban models accounting for about half of all sales even though some competitors are better at carrying people, hauling cargo, and towing trailers. 

The redesigned 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban attempt to address these shortcomings by growing larger and taking a different approach to engineering. At the same time, they are more technologically sophisticated than before and boast a handful of “industry firsts.”

Essentially identical to one another aside from the Suburban’s added length and size, these new Chevy SUVs come in base LS, popular LT, sporty RST, off-road Z71, upscale Premier, and luxurious High Country trim levels with a choice between three engines and rear-wheel or 4-wheel drive. 

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 Shadow Gray Front View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a 2021 Chevy Tahoe Z71 equipped with a Z71 Off-Road Package, an Off-Road Capability Package, a Luxury Package, a Rear Media and Navigation Package, and a Max Trailering Package. Additionally, the test vehicle had a power panoramic sunroof, second-row captain’s chairs, a power sliding floor console, and trailer tire-pressure monitoring sensors. The price came to $76,225, including the $1,295 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Chevrolet deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2021 Tahoe, it is helpful to understand who buys this large SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, 56% of 2020 Chevrolet Tahoe owners are male (vs. 59% for the segment), and the median age of a Tahoe owner is 55 years, matching owners across the segment.

Owners say their favorite things about the previous-generation Tahoe were (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving feel, powertrain, feeling of safety, and interior design. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle ranked highest in comparison to the large SUV segment:

  • Fuel economy/driving range
  • Exterior styling
  • Operating vehicle remotely (in a tie)
  • Vehicle feel when started up (in a tie)
  • Ability to hold personal items

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the previous-generation Tahoe were (in descending order) the setting up and starting, driving comfort, infotainment system, getting in and out, and fuel economy. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle ranked lowest in comparison to the large SUV segment:

  • Getting in and out of the third row
  • Driver’s seat comfort
  • Getting in and out of the front seats
  • Vehicle protection
  • Ride comfort

In the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the previous-generation Tahoe ranked 3rd out of six large SUVs.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Chevrolet deals!

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

Adopting somewhat controversial design cues from full-size Chevy pickups, the new 2021 Tahoe looks like it’s all grille, all the time. The body-color bumper is essentially flush to the front end, and the small LED headlights appear to be extensions of the upper grille slats.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 Shadow Gray Rear View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Slab-sided and featuring a new concavity between the rounder wheel wells, a new kink where the rear door windows meet the roof pillars, and less definition to the body detailing, the new Tahoe appears plain in comparison to the previous model’s tailored flanks. Around back, Chevy appears intent on making up for this with bi-color taillight lenses, shiny trim, and, on some trims, four exhaust outlets.

With Z71 trim, the front end is modified to improve the approach angle and adds both red tow hooks and a skid plate. These changes preclude Chevy from offering the optional diesel engine in this model.

Interior

Inside, Chevrolet adopts a layered dashboard look with a completely reworked center console and storage area. Materials quality for the upper portion of the cabin is good, but plenty of hard plastic remains in other areas. Nevertheless, the Tahoe’s interior is much nicer than what Chevy offers in the Silverado full-size pickup.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 Gideon Very Dark Atmosphere Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Practical storage space is improved, especially when you equip the Tahoe with the optional power sliding center console. This innovation is perfect for family road trips, sliding the console toward the rear to place cupholders and the rear climate controls closer to rear seat occupants while adding a large tray and secured hidden storage area for front-seat occupants to use.

Physical infotainment controls and the climate controls are relegated to the lower portion of the dashboard, where they are harder to see and use especially on a bright and sunny day. Residing in shadows, the markings on the controls are not bright and bold enough to reference at a glance. This relocation made room for new electronic transmission controls and an oddly narrow and deep storage slot to either side of a wider 10.2-inch navigation screen, and air vents placed below the infotainment screen.

Chevrolet claims the new Tahoe and Suburban offer the most interior space in the segment, but official measurements and how the vehicle feels in terms of seat-of-the-pants evaluation could be two different things.

Getting In and Out

Thanks to a 4.9-inch wheelbase stretch, an overall increase in length of 6.7 inches, and big gains in rear legroom, the new Tahoe is much easier to get into and out of than it was before. You still need to climb up and into this SUV, but that’s to be expected with any vehicle in the class.

One way you can make that easier is by opting for the 4-corner air suspension, which lowers the Tahoe for easier passenger entry and exit, and cargo loading. Chevy also offers assist steps or rails to help with getting in and out of the new Tahoe.

Second-row accommodations include both a 3-person bench seat or dual captain’s chairs. The latter offers a wide pass-through to the substantially roomier third-row seat. Otherwise, you’ll need to tumble and slide the second-row seats to access the third-row. This is a manual process unless you get the power release option, and if a child safety seat is installed in the outboard second-row seat, it will only slide forward rather than tumble-and-slide.

Adults can pass between the seat and the roof pillar with little effort, and as long as the second-row occupants are willing to slide forward a bit, taller people can sit in the third-row seat for longer periods of time. However, Chevy’s primary rival, the Ford Expedition, still feels more accommodating in this regard.

Chevy says the new Tahoe offers best-in-class cargo space. Behind the third-row seat, the 25.5 cubic feet of volume easily accommodates a couple of full-size suitcases standing upright. Fold the third-row seat down, and 72.6 cubic feet is available. Maximum volume with the second-row seats folded down measures 122.9 cubic feet.

The test vehicle had the available power-folding third-row seats. With the second-row captain’s chairs in their rearmost position, the third-row got caught and would not fold completely until I adjusted the second-row seat. Also, note that with all seats folded down, the load area is flat and, in comparison to the previous Tahoe, lower in terms of height. 

Setting Up and Starting

To set up the new Tahoe, you’ll use the steering wheel controls to cycle through menus for the driver information system. The infotainment system is a separate thing, with a much larger standard 10.2-inch screen. (An 8-inch screen comes in basic fleet-sale Tahoes.) The user-experience is intuitive, but the on-screen main menu shortcuts are hard to use if you have bigger fingers because the bottom of the screen is recessed into the dashboard.

Below the center air vents, a power/volume knob and a selection knob flank four infotainment shortcut buttons. I call the second knob a selection knob because its operation is dependent on which screen is displayed on the touchscreen up top. If it’s the radio, this knob tunes stations. If it’s the navigation map, this knob zooms in and out on the map.

Start the Tahoe, and a standard V-8 engine rumbles to life, making a sound that many people really liked about the previous-generation model.

Infotainment System

One of the more important upgrades to the redesigned 2021 Tahoe is its all-new digital platform boasting five times the processing power of the previous technology plus support for over-the-air updates and new cybersecurity protection levels. This new technology is accompanied by a 10.2-inch tablet-style touchscreen with a familiar user interface.

Highlights include wireless versions of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Chevrolet Connected Services with a Wi-Fi hotspot. Navigation is available, and in the test vehicle it was paired with a sophisticated Rear Seat Media System with dual 10.6-inch display screens. Two different Bose premium sound systems and wireless device charging are also available.

Pairing a smartphone to the Bluetooth is easy, and I had no trouble using the wireless Apple CarPlay functions or streaming music from my phone. The test vehicle’s 9-speaker Bose audio system also produced decent sound quality.

Perhaps most impressive, the infotainment system’s voice recognition technology is excellent, easily understanding all of my usual test prompts. Better yet, a request to find the nearest hospital did not pull veterinary services into the resulting list of options. The technology was so good that I tried a new test prompt: “I want to listen to reggae music.” The system changed the station to SiriusXM 42, which plays reggae.

Chevrolet has not tied the Tahoe’s climate system into the voice recognition system. You can’t request cabin temperature changes, or seat heater activation, or adjustment to the rear-seat temperature by voice. Asked why, Chevrolet essentially responded that customers are not asking for that.

Though I did not get a chance to use the Rear Seat Media System, in addition to its dual high-definition tablet-style screens mounted to the front seatbacks it includes wireless digital headphones, HDMI ports, and Wi-Fi wireless device projection. Users can view different content, share content, and even send navigation requests to the main screen in front.

Keeping You Safe

Towering above most other vehicles, and weighing more than 5,800 pounds in Z71 specification, the new Tahoe feels rock solid and secure. And thanks to the test vehicle’s remarkably tight turning radius, it was easier to maneuver than expected both on the pavement and off. However, you’re going to want the new-for-2020 high-definition surround-view camera system.

In need of coffee, I stopped at a shop with a parking lot that had narrow lanes and small slanted spaces. Pulling into an end space framed by a curb, I found the Tahoe’s front end hard to judge. After shifting into Reverse to straighten the SUV out, and then back into Drive to pull forward again, the forward-facing camera finally came on. Chevy needs to offer a manual, quick-access front camera activation button, and there is space for just such an addition right next to the hazard flasher button.

With a fresh source of caffeine in hand, I discovered that when reversing from slanted parking, the rear roof pillars and second-row head restraints completely block your view, forcing use of the backup camera. And in this particular situation, in a super-cramped parking lot with a full-size pickup truck directly behind me and sticking out of its space, the top-down vantage point was critical in helping me to avoid scraping the front wheel on the curb while preserving the rear bumper’s cosmetic flawlessness.

On the safety front, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, a rear seat reminder system, Teen Driver driving report card technology, and OnStar Safety & Security subscription services including automatic collision notification and SOS emergency calling are standard for the new Tahoe. 

Upgrades include blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assistance, and rear pedestrian detection. And if you select Premier or High Country trim, you can get adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking that works at speeds over 50 mph, a blind-spot warning system that also includes trailer coverage, and Chevy’s vibrating Safety Alert Seat technology.

During more than 150 miles of driving, the Tahoe’s driving aids delivered no false warnings and worked as expected. However, by the time the pedestrian detection technology issues its warning chime and the driver looks down at the instrumentation to see the little warning light glowing, the SUV has already passed the pedestrian. Plus, it seems like a really bad idea to issue an alert that prompts a driver to look away from the road just as the vehicle is approaching a pedestrian.

Perhaps the optional head-up display, which features a large 15-inch viewing area, solves for this. Again, this feature is restricted to Premier and High Country trim, so the Z71 test vehicle went without it.

Powertrain

Chevy offers three engines for the all-new 2021 Tahoe, but most will come with a 5.3-liter V-8 making 355 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 383 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,100 rpm. Exclusive to High Country trim, a 6.2-liter V-8 supplies 420 hp and 460 lb.-ft. of torque at the same points in the rev range. Both engines employ a 10-speed automatic transmission with new electronic controls located on the dashboard.

Later in 2020, all but the Tahoe Z71 will be offered with an optional 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline 6-cylinder engine generating 277 hp and 460 lb.-ft. of torque. Explaining why the diesel isn’t offered with the Tahoe Z71, Chevy says the revised front end and other components won’t accommodate the torquey six. Fuel economy ratings for the Tahoe diesel are unavailable, but in the Chevrolet Silverado this engine improves fuel economy by 7 mpg in combined driving. 

During the evaluation drive, the Tahoe Z71’s 5.3-liter V-8 supplied ample acceleration, and the transmission proved itself a model of decorum. Switching from 2-wheel drive into 4-wheel drive using the electronic controls on the lower left side of the dashboard was easy, and the Tahoe tackled dirt hills and short freeway on-ramps with equal enthusiasm.

The new transmission controls, a mix of buttons you push and switches you pull toward you with a fingertip, require an acclimation period. The recesses necessary to use Reverse and Drive will no doubt also collect all manner of dust and whatever you might have on your fingers. 

When it comes to towing and hauling, the new Tahoe offers up to 8,400 pounds of trailering capacity and as much as 1,834 pounds of payload capacity. Those figures are with 2WD. The Tahoe Z71 is limited to 8,200 pounds of trailer and 1,746 pounds of payload.

Several useful trailering technologies are available for the Tahoe, including nine different camera views, trailer pressure and temperature monitoring, and Chevy’s Hitch Guidance system. On upper trims, the blind-spot warning system includes coverage for a trailer. Chevrolet does not, however, offer its “see-through” trailer camera view system from the Silverado on the new Tahoe.

Fuel Economy

Dynamic Fuel Management, a sophisticated cylinder deactivation system with 12 different operation modes to maximize efficiency, may be for naught. The EPA says the Tahoe 4WD should get 18 mpg in combined driving, which is 1-mpg better than the previous version of the SUV. I averaged 16.4 mpg running the Tahoe Z71 in 2WD except for a short off-roading jaunt.

Based on this result and the Tahoe’s 24-gallon fuel tank, you can travel about 393 miles between stops at the gas station. Since you’re unlikely to run the tank dry, real-world range is more like 350 miles. No doubt, the upcoming turbo-diesel engine will supply bladder-busting range.

Driving Comfort

Cloth seats are standard with LS trim, while all other Tahoes are equipped with leather covering the first and second rows of seats. The third-row seat is upholstered in leatherette. The Z71 test vehicle had heated front and second-row seats and a heated steering wheel. Front seat ventilation is offered only with Premier and High Country trim.

Thanks to 10-way power adjustable front seats, the Tahoe Z71 is comfortable once you climb aboard. The test vehicle had the power sliding center console, and the padded armrest slides forward so you can use it when the bottom portion is moved back toward the rear seats. The upper part of the front door panels is padded, too, but the sill isn’t wide enough for you to rest your forearm there while driving.

The second- and third-row seats are much more comfortable than before. In fact, the added legroom and greater thigh support are probably the two most important improvements to the new Tahoe aside from its added cargo space.

With triple-zone climate control and air vents in all three rows, everyone should be comfortable. During testing in Southern California on a sunny August day, the air conditioning blew ice-cold, as expected. However, with the system set to Auto, it had trouble consistently regulating temperature, varying between too cold and slightly swampy.

In spite of its 20-inch all-terrain tires, the Tahoe Z71’s cabin proved remarkably quiet at a range of speeds and over a variety of pavement types.

Driving Feel

Multiple changes for 2021 make the new Tahoe much better to drive. The longer wheelbase helps with the ride quality, as does the new independent rear suspension design that’s also responsible for the dramatic improvement in passenger comfort and cargo space. No doubt, the Z71’s standard P275/60R20 tires helped to absorb impact harshness, too, along with the SUV’s more robust vehicle architecture.

The test vehicle, however, also had two options that make a world of difference. The adaptive damping Magnetic Ride Control suspension and the Air Ride 4-corner adaptive suspension were part of the test vehicle’s Off-Road Capability Package, and while the upgrade costs $2,450 it certainly is worthwhile if a smooth, unfettered ride and beautifully controlled handling are at the top of your must-have list.

In my experience, the combination filters out nearly all impact harshness while at the same time eliminating nearly all unwanted body motions. For example, this setup allowed the Z71 to blast over the speed humps in my neighborhood at 35 mph as though they weren’t even there, to drive over broken pavement without a loss of composure, and to soak up the ruts and moguls of an off-roading area like a sponge. Additionally, the 4-corner air suspension offers 4 inches of suspension travel to lower the Tahoe for easier loading and to raise the vehicle when off-roading.

Otherwise, during an afternoon spent on a wide range of roads both paved and unpaved, the Tahoe Z71 drove as expected. The steering has some heft to it and offers consistent feel and response throughout the range of motion. The tight turning radius makes maneuvering in parking lots, making U-turns, and negotiating mountain trails easier. Occasionally, the brake pedal felt a little soft, but otherwise its operation and braking system performance drew no notice, and no criticism.

Final Impressions - Find the best Chevrolet deals!

With the 2021 Tahoe (and by extension, the Suburban), Chevrolet gives its full-size family haulers much of what they need to not only compete with the best vehicles in the segment, but also to continue dominating in terms of sales. And while room for improvement remains, there is no doubt that existing customers already happy with the previous-generation Tahoe’s quality and appeal will be even more satisfied with the all-new 2021 model.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2020 J.D. Power

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