2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 First Drive Review: Off-Road Brawler, On-Road Cruiser

First Drive / 5 Comments

A lot of rock, plenty of roll, and the perfect balance between it all.

In our modern culture of the latest and greatest, the Ford F-150 Raptor and Ram 1500 TRX are the headliners of the off-road truck world. If you have a deep enough bank account topped up with cash frequently enough to keep either of those trucks fully gassed, then it's true - they will handle almost any terrain and go faster than anything else you can get from a factory. However, for a more realistic off-road truck, the 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 is just the ticket. It doesn't have widebody fenders that make it unmanageable in day-to-day driving, and it doesn't have eye-bulgingly large power figures or suspension travel that can be measured in ladders. Instead, it has typical full-size truck dimensions, a 6.2-liter V8 making a more-than-reasonable 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, and suspension that can aggressively tackle challenging trails while still being comfortable enough to cruise about your daily business. On top of that, it can tow 8,900 pounds; something the halo off-road trucks can't do. The ZR2 package simply makes an already-excellent truck an off-road brawler without compromising why people buy a truck in the first place.

To get a rounded understanding of what the Silverado ZR2 is capable of, we joined Chevrolet to explore some of the more challenging trails in the Joshua Tree National Park in California, ranging from low-grip sandy roads to steep rocky trails ready to gash wheels and bend metal if approached without due caution.

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Exterior: It's All About The Angles

The first thing you notice is the ground clearance the ZR2 package offers. With its Goodyear Wrangler Territory mud-terrain tires and renowned Multimatic DSSV dampers, the Silverado boasts 11.2 inches of ground clearance. As well as clearing jagged rocks, the extra ride height helps improve the approach angle to 31.8 degrees, and the departure angle is now 23.3 degrees. The break-over angle of 23.4 degrees isn't crazy impressive but more than reasonable for a truck with a 147.5-inch wheelbase. The fenders are standard apart from the extra cladding, but the bumpers are upgraded - including stamped-steel bumper end-caps that can take a severe beating before needing replacement. The steel end-caps are designed to help clearance, but also part of why the Silverado ZR2 doesn't feature Chevy's excellent hands-free Super Cruise feature for the freeway. On the other trim levels, sensors hide behind the plastic on the corners of the bumpers.

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Drivetrain & Technology: Power And Control

The beating heart of the Silverado ZR2 is the ubiquitous and well-proven 6.2-liter V8 making the same power as in other Silverado models. That 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque are distributed by a 10-speed automatic transmission with an electronic console-mounted selector. Our test model then featured the optional Borla exhaust that increases the burble and growl of the V8 to perfection. The transmission is hooked up to a two-speed transfer case, and the driver can switch manually between two-wheel drive and high- or low-range four-wheel-drive modes. Or, just put it in Auto mode and let the technology make the decisions. The Silverado ZR2 also features front and center electronic locking differentials, and the half-shafts have been beefed up accordingly at the factory. Hill-descent control is also a feature, and one-pedal driving is a function that can be used. Cameras are now standard with off-road vehicles, and the ZR2 is no different. We found the high-resolution camera views came in useful when coming to the top of an incline where all we could see out the windscreen was the sky.

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Driving Impressions: Remarkably Adept

It's worth noting here that Chevy showed a lot of confidence in the Silverado ZR2 by handing it over to an independent trail guide in Joshua Tree to lead us on a day-long expedition into some of the more demanding areas to navigate. The ZR2 took on tight rocky crawls with little to no complaint and, through steeper climbs, showed that the V8 doesn't need any more low-end grunt than it has to power up and over obstacles. The long travel of the Multimatic DSSV dampers was put to use, and we only got a wheel off the ground once or twice. That wheel travel isn't class-leading, but it's plenty for low-speed off-roading. Any truck loses out in tight areas to dedicated off-road toys like Jeep Wranglers due to its length, but it evens out once you pick up speed on dusty and sandy trails where the front wheels become more like rudders. The ZR2 isn't twitchy, and the suspension greedily soaks up bumps, potholes, and corrugations and takes the thump out of over-enthusiastic moments where air gets underneath the tires. It's not recommended at all, but a couple of the trucks grabbed air through the day without bottoming out.

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Getting back into an even tighter rock-strewn area, we appreciated dropping the tires a couple of PSI and the direct and light steering through the slower gearing of the ZR2's rack. We got the axles crossed up and scrabbled over ledges, making use of the rock rails on the way before trying out the hill descent function. It can be controlled by the driver in single mph increments, but it would take something tougher than we experienced before hill descent becomes the safer option for most.

Back onto higher speed sandy trails, and we had a chance to marvel at the suspension again. It erases the jitter you would generally feel on a body-on-frame truck with a solid rear axle. Through corners with more confidence on the second run, the suspension and long wheelbase showed just how much it helps control things, to the point the back could be induced to break away gently and with only small, smooth inputs needed to keep things on track. While the ZR2 isn't a desert-runner, it's more than happy to pick up the pace when the trails and tracks open up.

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Back on the hour-long freeway and city road journey back to base, the Silverado ZR2 proved to be a consummate cruiser and more than happy pushing its way through traffic. Without the excessive width of the desert-runner flavored trucks, it's as easy to maneuver and park as any typical full-size truck in its class. The interior is also a nice place to hang out, and we took advantage of that to slip away for a couple of hours and find a photo spot in Palm Springs we like. Rush hour proved to be a breeze with a decent sound system, comfortable seats, and room to stretch out after a long day smashing the truck around in the desert.

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Interior: Above Standard Truck Fare

Let's face it, with a full-size truck, you pretty much know what it looks like before opening the door. Big firm seats? Check. Large storage bin between the seats? Check. Lots of hardwearing plastic? Check. Large center screen? Check. Plenty of other storage and cupholders? Check. However, take a closer look, and the materials, stitching, and colors are on the refined side of restrained. This thread, so to speak, runs through the interior of each upper trim level of the facelifted Silverado. Nothing screams ZR2 at you in the interior; it balances perfectly between being efficient and stylish and will likely give the same impression in ten years. There's enough room between driver and passenger for both to do a full animated impression of a chicken (we checked), and even the person in the center of the rear bench seat won't be too squashed. Legroom, like any Silverado, is what basketball players dream of. The front seats here are specific to the ZR2 and have extra bolstering for when it gets rough under the tires.

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Infotainment: Fully Connected

The large infotainment screen is a 13.4-inch unit with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, and a wireless charger means no cables need to clutter up the interior. Perfect for people who are in and out of their truck all day. The operating system is based on Google, including Google Maps and voice, but it also plays nicely with Apple phones. Our tester had the Bose sound system installed, and while we aren't usually impressed by Bose, it sounded great. On the freeway, road noise didn't get in the ways of mids and highs. The only complaint is the same as many low- to mid-range Bose systems - the bass is on the flabby and boomy side.

There's a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster for the driver that's configurable to show as much or little information as needed and is particularly useful when off-road. It can offer all sorts of relevant information, such as steering and lean angles.

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Verdict & Pricing: A Perfectly Measured Off-Road Master

Undoubtedly, Chevrolet knows its market for trucks and has taken great joy in measuring out the ZR2 package for the Silverado 1500. It would be easy to compare it directly to the Raptor or TRX in terms of power, but it wouldn't be fair. The ZR2 isn't designed as a competitor to those halo products or position itself as a desert runner. Instead, it's a substantial and practical off-roader getting into hardcore territory with a price tag starting at $69,295, including destination. It can be the daily driver or work truck used for moving heavy stuff around and towing, then get you out into the middle of nowhere and back at the weekend with the family. Or, of course, used for the pure fun of exploring new trails and places or reaching those adventure spots most wouldn't brave in a run-of-the-mill truck or SUV. The ZR2, in those terms, is a complete and welcome package to the Silverado range and sets a new bar with its suspension setup. While it's not a master of one thing, it's remarkably good at everything.

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