One of the things that can scare some people away from really getting into cars as a fan is the substantial amount of vernacular and jargon that’s frequently used. Even pretty routine terms like “horsepower,” “torque,” and “payload” can all result in someone feeling quickly lost in a conversation about vehicles. Of course, for fans of brands like Chevy, there are even more esoteric terms and phrases that frequently get thrown around, especially when you’re talking about used Chevy trucks and similar models. The Z71 package and everything it brings to the table is just such a term, which lets it act as a sort of password for people who are in the know.
Fortunately, the term–and most phrases or codes used in the auto industry–really isn’t all that complicated. If anything, it simply acts as a sort of shorthand to refer to Chevy vehicles that are built with going off-road in mind. Not every vehicle has the Z71 package available, which probably helps lead to even more confusion, and it’s available in two different forms–again, more confusion. So let’s jump into what this term is all about, what it offers when it comes to practical functionality, and why Chevy fans love these three digits so much.
What Does “Z71” Mean?
If the letter and numbers “Z71” seem fairly nonsensical and you’re not sure why Chevy would choose them for marketing their off-road performance package, then you have good instincts. The Z71 code was not something that Chevy’s designers and marketing people dreamt up as a way to advertise their model’s off-road performance. It was an internal code used by Chevy and their dealerships to indicate the off-road suspension available on vehicles like the Chevy Silverado and the Colorado pickup trucks.
There are lots of these sorts of codes used within the auto industry–every manufacturer has codes for the various packages and options available for a vehicle. When someone goes to buy a car or truck, if they want to special order options that aren’t standard, then the salesperson will take the order and fill out information to indicate what the customer wants. Codes are used to simplify this whole process, and they’re basically quick shorthand.
A couple of decades ago, “Z71” was just another one of these codes; it specifically indicated that someone wanted the off-road suspension package for a vehicle. That’s still what it means, generally, but at some point, people started to catch on that Z71 was the term used for this off-road suspension. Chevy enthusiasts began using the term more frequently when talking about trucks and off-road builds; as Chevy caught on, they started using the term publicly, and it worked its way into advertising and brochures for vehicles. The meaning hasn’t really changed, but as people started asking for it and looking for it by name, Chevy realized they could put it at the forefront, and their fans would get it.
A Tale of Two Packages
It’s interesting to note that there are often two different Z71 packages actually available on trucks, though they’ll frequently be combined. The Z71 package that most people think about and really care about is the actual suspension package, which changes the performance of a Chevy truck to make it better when going off-road. There is also a Z71 appearance package available, which adds things like a “Z71” decal to the exterior of a truck and can include other aesthetic touches too.
Depending on what you’re looking at, especially with used trucks, you might find one, neither, or both of these packages on a pickup. In theory, someone might simply get the Z71 appearance package because they like the looks of it but not spring for the actual suspension. More likely, however, is that you’ll find a pickup with the suspension package but without any details in the appearance to indicate it. Some models group them both together, but it has varied a bit over the years and across Chevy’s lineup.
The Silverado Z71
Although the Z71 package has been available on a number of different models, the Silverado is probably the truck it’s most often associated with. Since its first generation, the Z71 package has been available for the Silverado, but the details of it have changed a bit over the years. Looking at a brochure for the 2002 Silverado, for example, you can barely find any sign of the Z71 – it’s mentioned here and there, but it’s certainly not a highlight. Even at the end with the spec breakdown, there’s mention of an off-road suspension package that includes 46mm shock absorbers, a skid plate package, and Z71 decals, but it’s not a focus.
If you jump ahead to the 2009 brochure for the Chevy Silverado, however, you’ll find an entire page dedicated to the Z71 Off-Road Package, with the caption, “Off the beaten path comes standard.” Of course, this package wasn’t standard, but it was available on all Silverado models and included an automatic locking rear differential, off-road-tuned suspension, skid plate package, and 18-inch wheels with on/off-road tires. Just in the span from 2002 to 2009, the difference in how big the “Z71” name was for Chevy is already clear.
Going even further, the 2015 brochure for the Silverado not only features an entire page showcasing the package, but has the title caption, “Paved roads are only a suggestion. Z71 Off-Road.” In this case, “Z71 Off-Road” is the largest text on the page and is featured in a different color. You can see that Chevy’s marketing department had recognized that their fans were looking for the Z71 specifically, and they really leaned into it at that point.
The Colorado Z71
Of course, the Silverado is not the only Chevy truck to feature the Z71 package, though things become a bit more confusing when it comes to the Colorado. For the Silverado, Z71 refers to an off-road package, yet the Colorado instead features a Z71 trim rather than a package available for other trims. This makes it a little tricky to figure out what someone’s talking about when referring to the Z71, so it’s important to keep track of context.
Even with this truck, however, the Z71 features an off-road suspension that sets it apart from other trims for the Colorado. Just in case that wasn’t confusing enough, starting with the 2022 Chevy Colorado, there’s now a “Trail Boss” package available that adds a 1-inch suspension and performance skid plates, which is offered on the Z71 trim. So the Silverado has a couple of Trail Boss trims available with a Z71 package offered–while the Colorado has a Z71 trim and a Trail Boss package available. Apparently, Chevy is not one for clearly establishing their naming conventions and enjoys keeping us on our toes.
How Important Is the Z71 to You?
Whether you’re looking at a Silverado or Colorado model, if you see the Z71 suspension package, then you’ve got a great truck for going off-road. Chevy’s engineers haven’t stopped there; building on the Z71 is a ZR2 trim that’s now offered on both of these trucks, and it takes off-road performance even a step further. In the past, the ZR2 was the pinnacle for a Colorado designed to hit the trail, while Silverado models relied on the Trail Boss trims with a Z71 suspension package. With the ZR2 trim available for the Silverado, however, the “Z71” could end up fading into the background in terms of Chevy’s marketing. But for now, this simple combination of a letter and two numbers remains a sign of a truck ready to tear up the trail.