If you’re in the market for a Chevy or GMC truck, chances are you’ve seen the term “Z71” come up as a selling feature.
We know that four wheel drive is a favorite, and necessity, if you want to go off-road. So why are many off-roaders choosing a Chevy Z71 over a 4×4? If you’re thinking it’s just the make or type of truck, then I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. There’s a lot more to a Z71 than just a sticker across the back!
Don’t worry though, because I’m going to break down exactly how a Chevy Z71 stacks up against a Chevy 4×4, and you might find it’s the right truck for you.
What Does Z71 Mean?
Z71 refers to a package option on GMC and Chevrolet trucks. Back in the day, “Z-71” was simply a product code that dealers used to order trucks with a specific off-road package. The package came with upgraded shocks, skid plates and a rear locking differential. Back then, this was considered the “off-road upgrade” for trucks that already came with four-wheel drive.
While this code was intended for use by dealers, it eventually became a full trim level due to demand from customers. Dealers began stamping “Z71” decals on their trucks in order to sell more, and most importantly, identify which trucks had the option.
These days, you can still purchase the Z71 as a full trim option on GMC and Chevrolet trucks.
Is Z71 a 4×4?
The short answer is, yes.
As I explained above, the Z71 is essentially an “upgrade” to the existing model of truck you are purchasing. Consider it like extra special features added to an existing trim level, or version, of a vehicle.
The Z71 is an off-road suspension package, not a drivetrain designation. Packages like the Z71 don’t have much to do with whether your drivetrain is 4WD or 2WD. Instead, whether a truck has 2WD or 4WD is dependent on what trim level you choose.
Most commonly, the Z71 package is offered on trim levels with four-wheel drive. This is because the entire purpose of the package is to enhance off-road performance, in which case a 4×4 suspension is important.
4WD simply means a truck has the ability to send engine power to all four wheels on the vehicle. This is incredibly handy when dealing with off-road terrain, since you’re more likely to end up in a spot where you’ve got a set of wheels in the air.
Can You Get a 2 Wheel Drive Z71?
The Z71 is an off-road package, so naturally you would think it could only be a four-wheel drive truck. Shockingly, there are more 2WD Z71’s on the road than you would think.
The Z71 package has been a hot topic among off-roaders for many years, and GM was not oblivious to this. At the beginning, Z71 was the name given to GMs four-wheel drive system, but that changed as the package became very popular. This led to many different package versions and trim levels that fell under the fabled “Z71” label.
Soon the connection between four-wheel drive and the title “Z71” became a little more muddled. GM began offering the Z71 package on their 2WD trucks starting in the early 2000s. While the package still offered Rancho brand shocks, skid plates, and a rear-locking differential, it was no longer synonymous with a 4×4 drivetrain.
Z71 vs 4×4
The Z71 package includes many extra features that do not come standard on base model GM trucks. These features are intended to offer superior off-road performance, and the package includes the following upgrades:
- Rancho brand shocks
- Hill Descent Control
- Underbody Transfer Case Shield
- Recovery Hooks
- High Capacity Air Cleaner
- Eaton Heavy-Duty Automatic Locking Rear Differential
- Brushed Metal Sill Plates
- 18” or 20” Wheels
- All-terrain Tires
As you can see, these are some pretty helpful upgrades for a truck that is intended for off-road use. This package provides more than the 4×4 model, since it includes features like skid plates, all-terrain tires and shocks which do not come standard on the 4×4.
With premium features comes a premium price, and the Z71 is no exception. Like any vehicle that comes with an upgraded package, a truck outfitted with a Z71 package will be a fair bit more expensive than just the straight Chevy 4×4.
The Chevy Z71 became a very sought after truck, and therefore the value increased. This doesn’t mean the 4×4 is an unworthy truck however. A Chevy 4×4 is still a capable truck, it just doesn’t come with all the extra features for off-roading.
If you’re looking for the cheaper option, then the 4×4 will be the more attractive choice.
One of the key differences between a Z71 and 4×4 Chevy is they ride on different shocks. Shocks are a big player when it comes to overall ride quality since they quite literally absorb the shock of large bumps and dips.
Off-road shocks are intended to lessen the impact of bumps and dips at higher speeds, which is attractive when bombing down trails in the wilderness. This is not so much the case for freeway driving or the casual trip to the grocery store, since you will feel every bump you hit. Your truck will be bouncing and taking you along with it.
A Chevy 4×4 will not have this problem since it comes with softer shocks that handle average road bumps and dips more smoothly.
Can you have a good time off-roading in either of these trucks? Yes. Both offer decent clearance, four-wheel drive capability, and enough horsepower to get you through challenging terrain.
However, the intention of the Z71 is to be better equipped for off-roading, and it is. The features included in the package, such as skid plates and tow hooks, are only going to matter if you intend to take the truck off-road. This added protection is why the Z71 comes out ahead in the off-road category.
A Chevy 4×4 won’t stop you from getting out on the trails, but you may find yourself with repairs you could avoid if you had a Z71.
The popularity of the Chevrolet Z71 as an off-road vehicle does not come without good reason. A Z71 will offer increased off-road capabilities thanks to it’s extra features.
If you aren’t interested in researching and installing off-road modifications yourself, then the Z71 is a helpful option. Since it comes pre-installed with enough to keep you safe and happy on the trails, it’s a great overall choice for off-roaders.
That said, the Chevy 4×4 is still a great truck, and can be upgraded and modified to be as good, if not better, than the Z71. That will set you back a pretty penny though, and will be a lot more effort than simply buying a Z71. Stick to a Z71 if you’re looking for an all-in-one starter package for off-roading.