A silver 2024 Chevy Suburban Z71 kicking up dust while off-roading.

Chevy Goes Off-Roading With the Z71 and ACTIV Trims

If you’ve stopped into your local Chevy dealer lately, you’ve probably noticed something interesting. There has been a literal explosion of off-road trims available for some of Chevy’s most popular SUV models. Chevy is now offering specialized off-road trims on many SUV models under the Z71 and ACTIV names. The Z71 is taken from a special edition that was originally offered on the Silverado and Colorado pickup trucks. Meanwhile, the ACTIV is an entirely new trim for many of Chevy’s SUVs. The key for drivers who are considering a Chevy SUV with off-road capability is deciding which trim will work better for them.

In order to gain an understanding of the Z71 and ACTIV options, it is crucial to understand the differences between them. This includes looking at the features that come with each trim, as well as the models that offer them. This will help you choose between them, and get a better understanding of what to expect if you choose a Chevy SUV in the Z71 or ACTIV trim.

Origins of the Z71 and the ACTIV

The Chevy Z71 actually predates the Silverado pickup truck. Chevy began offering the Z71 for off-road enthusiasts in 1988 on the C/K Series trucks, a full decade before the Silverado revolutionized trucking. Nevertheless, this letter and two-digit number have always stood for off-road features and performance that can handle some of the roughest terrain you will encounter.

The Z71 made it to the Chevy SUV lineup when the full-size Tahoe and Suburban were redesigned in 2021. For the Tahoe, this was its fifth generation, while the Suburban, which dates all the way back to 1935, started its twelfth generation. In addition to increasing the sizes of each model, Chevy also began offering a Z71 trim for drivers. This success of this trim saw it added to the three-row midsize Traverse SUV as part of its redesign for the 2024 model year.

The ACTIV is similar to the Z71 in its goal and how it is being rolled out. The ACTIV first appeared on the all-new Trailblazer in 2021. Chevy’s goal with the Trailblazer is to offer a subcompact SUV with a difference. Unlike so many other models, the Trailblazer is designed to be more adventurous, so it is natural that there is an off-road trim available on this model. Chevy extended the ACTIV trim with the 2024 Trax. Most recently, Chevy has announced that the 2025 Equinox will offer the ACTIV trim level for the very first time.

The black and brown front seats in a 2024 Chevy Equinox ACTIV at a Chevy dealer.

All-Wheel Drive vs Four-Wheel Drive

The key difference between the Z71 and the ACTIV is the type of drivetrain. Every ACTIV model comes with all-wheel drive, while most Z71 models feature four-wheel drive. The only exception is the Traverse Z71, which splits the difference with a more advanced twin-clutch all-wheel drive system. Understanding the difference between the drivetrains is crucial to deciding between the Z71 and the ACTIV.

The all-wheel drive system on Chevy SUV models is a full-time AWD system that engages automatically depending on driving conditions. If the system is off, the ACTIV models will operate using front-wheel drive to reduce fuel consumption. When AWD is engaged, the engine torque will be directed to both axles, powering all four wheels. If the system detects any wheel slippage, it will direct more torque to the other axle to reduce the chance of skidding, improving overall traction. In general, AWD works best in inclement weather conditions when driving on a road.

Four-wheel drive is completely different. This system splits torque equally across both axles through a transfer case. The Z71 versions of the Suburban and Tahoe feature an Autotrac two-speed transfer case to handle this. This specialized transfer case includes an automatic mode that will detect wheel slippage just like an all-wheel drive system and also includes a low range for extra torque. In addition, the Tahoe and Suburban Z71 include a standard mechanical limited-slip differential or an available electronic limited-slip differential to keep both rear wheels turning even if one of them loses traction.

You should keep in mind that the Traverse Z71 has a twin-clutch all-wheel drive system, which is slightly different and functions similarly to the electronic limited-slip differential available for the Tahoe and Suburban. Instead of only splitting torque between the two axles, this uses an additional computer-controlled clutch on the rear axle that can deliver torque to each rear wheel separately based on slippage.

A close-up of the red recovery hooks on the front of a 2024 Chevy Tahoe Z71.

Specialized Off-Road Features

The two trims offer a number of key off-road features. For example, all of the Z71 and ACTIV models feature an off-road-tuned suspension, except for the Trax. However, the Z71 trim is more comprehensive than the ACTIV. If you decide on a Suburban, Tahoe, or Traverse with the Z71 trim level, you will get a great deal of standard off-road features.

All three models ride on a set of all-terrain tires. These are designed to provide you with more grip on the trail than you will find if you go off-roading on all-season tires. Only the ACTIV trims of the Trailblazer and Equinox feature all-terrain tires. The Trax ACTIV is equipped with all-season tires instead.

The three Z71 models sport a front skid plate. This will shield the lower front bumper from any damage if you strike a log or other debris while you are out on the trail. The 2024 Trailblazer ACTIV also has a front skid plate that runs the length of the underbody of this model. This shields key parts like the oil pan from damage. However, it is unclear if the Equinox ACTIV will have a skid plate, and the Trax ACTIV does not have underbody protection.

Another important feature if you decide to go off-roading is recovery hooks. These hooks located at the bottom of the front bumper not only look cool, but they also have a key role to play. If you get stuck in the mud on a trail, you are going to need to get some help getting out of your predicament. Some off-road enthusiasts bring along a winch when they are out trail running. They can attach this to the recovery hooks and wrap the cable to a solid object like a tree or boulder. This will help them pull their SUV out onto firmer ground. The Chevy Z71 SUVs all have prominent dual recovery hooks, while the ACTIV models do not.

Finally, the Z71 models have Hill Descent Control. This is an important feature if you encounter steep inclines while out on the trail. When you are making your descent, you may find it hard to work the brakes, and you run the risk of losing control of your vehicle. With Hill Descent Control, you can make a controlled descent as the system uses the antilock brakes that come standard on these Chevy models. It also allows you to focus on steering to avoid any ruts, debris, or other obstacles, as you don’t need to constantly work your SUV’s brakes when this system is engaged. While you will find this technology on the Z71 versions of the Suburban, Tahoe, and Traverse, this is not currently offered on any of the ACTIV models.

Chevy Keeps You ACTIV While Offering Features From A to Z71

Chevy has made a commitment to offering drivers who love the great outdoors an excellent selection of SUV models to choose from. The ACTIV trims on the Equinox, Trailblazer, and Trax will come in handy for those who want to go fishing and camping. These drivers will need the peace of mind that they won’t do any damage to their SUVs when they make these fun outings. However, for serious off-roaders, the Z71 versions of the Suburban, Tahoe, and Traverse offer more in the way of off-road features. From more advanced drivetrains to specialized performance features, the Z71 will have you better covered for more challenging trails.