2021 Chevy Tahoe Z71 Makes for a Great Snow Recovery Rig

Freda Walters

I knew I was screwed. My 1995 BMW M3 rally car has been sitting outside since last October. The car has a serious rear-end clunk that desperately needs to be diagnosed and fixed before the upcoming 100 Acre Wood Rally. It’s also begging for an oil change. But there was […]

I knew I was screwed.

My 1995 BMW M3 rally car has been sitting outside since last October. The car has a serious rear-end clunk that desperately needs to be diagnosed and fixed before the upcoming 100 Acre Wood Rally. It’s also begging for an oil change. But there was a big hurdle standing in my way: a driveway and massive front yard packed with over a foot of heavy snow, not to mention the wet soil under it. The E36 with its snow-hating gravel tires was going nowhere.

The M3 before temperatures warmed up. It was going nowhere.

Aaron Brown

Shoveling was a lost cause. I attempted to pull my family’s 2005 Land Rover LR3 out of the garage to dislodge the M3. That got stuck too. Even though it was wearing Blizzak WS-series snow tires and is equipped with (still-working!) air suspension, a low-range gearbox, and a locking transfer case, the LR3 was beached.

lr3 stuck

Stuck. Very stuck.

Aaron Brown

This called for reinforcements. A few days later, I returned with the right tool for the job: a 2021 Chevy Tahoe Z71.

z71

Aaron Brown

The Z71 is the off-road-friendly option in the Tahoe family. Compared to other trims, it has a more aggressive front-end with a shiny skid plate and red tow hooks, 20-inch Goodyear all-terrain tires, standard four-wheel-drive with low-range locking capabilities, hill-descent control, Magnetic Ride Control, and adaptive air suspension for clearing obstacles. The Tahoe Z71 not only looks the part for off-road duties, but it’s also capable of mild-to-medium-sized excursions.

Our tester was priced out to $68,940, packing the base 5.3-liter V-8 engine—the only option available for the off-road trim—and the $2,500 rear-seat entertainment and navigation package. The Z71 combo itself adds $5,700 to the base cost.

z71 snow test

The Z71 at the top of the driveway.

Aaron Brown

My driveway is a steep, gravel-filled decline off the side of a quiet country road. The pull-off and the property were still covered in about a foot of thick, water-packed snow and ice, even though temperatures have crept up. Without hesitation, I disabled the Tahoe’s traction- and stability-control systems, locked it into four-high, selected off-road height, and went for it. The massive SUV pushed through like a champ.

Once I made it to the bottom, near my M3’s resting spot, I used the Tahoe’s 20-inch Goodyear Wrangler TrailRunner AT tires to chomp at the snow and create an escape path. Getting silly with the throttle and steering angle, the Tahoe’s mechanical rear limited-slip differential would lock up and sprinkle power to both rear wheels. And, yes. Sliding a 5600-lb three-row SUV is just as hilarious as it sounds.

Once I fired up the M3, I hooked it up to the Tahoe and began our escape. Road & Track staff writer Brian Silvestro was helming the controls in the rally car, applying throttle, brakes, and steering to assist. When the tow strap loaded up, the Tahoe pulled the M3 through the snow without issue.

z71

All hooked up.

Aaron Brown

But this was just the beginning.

Exiting the property requires navigating a hairpin turn onto the uphill section of the driveway. While making that turn, you’re already climbing. Over snow and mud, it’s the perfect recipe for getting a car stuck. To prevent this from happening, Brian and I looped the M3 around, attached the tow strap to the hook on its front bumper, and mapped out a gameplan for where to precisely place both cars.

z71

This didn’t go well.

Aaron Brown

This was going well until I slowed down, leaving the M3 stuck on the incline, and the tow strap at an awkward angle. When I pushed forward, the front tow hook snapped.

tow hook

Don’t use these.

Aaron Brown

Oops.

Thankfully, the snapped tow hook didn’t damage anything else. We had to reassess our whole plan. First we tried getting the Tahoe on the other side of the M3 and pulling it backward. That didn’t work. The Z71 also started to show its weaknesses through some of the deeper sections of snow. While it would power through without issue by itself, the added dead weight from the M3 started to make things very difficult.

z71

Aaron Brown

With the off-road screen displayed on the gauge cluster, I could see which wheels were losing traction. With the M3 unhooked and four-low locked on, I was able to wiggle the Z71 free, using coordinated steering and throttle inputs. It just needed a little finesse. After re-hooking the M3 and aiming the Tahoe at a slightly different angle, we were moving again.

e36

Aaron Brown

In the end, we decided the only way to free the M3—and ourselves—from this snowy hellscape would be to remove the rally car’s front bumper and hook the tow strap up to a new point. Using my M3’s custom skid plate mounting bars, which are hooked up directly to the frame, the Z71 was able to pull it all the way up the driveway.

The Tahoe’s snowy success story is heavily attributed to its semi-aggressive all-terrain tires and its low-range-capable transfer case. A similarly large SUV equipped with a run-of-the-mill all-wheel-drive system and snow tires would’ve failed spectacularly at this. But for any off-road recovery task more aggressive, a proper locking rear-differential, or at least the electronic LSD from the Yukon AT4 would be welcome.

z71

Aaron Brown

And, in case you’re wondering. No. Snow tires on the M3 would not have saved the day here.

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