2022 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 ZR2 Rises to the Ring

What do Joshua trees and Chevrolet Silverados have in common? It seems that these two need time to mature. A skinny-looking tree, for example, can only grow a foot in 12 years, which is roughly the amount of time we’ve been waiting for Chevy to build a truck with serious off-road performance. With the 2022 Silverado 1500 ZR2, the wait is finally over.

Our recent trip up, down and around Joshua Tree National Park provided the perfect setting to find out what the ZR2 is all about. Motivating the new model is General Motors’ lover of the 6.2-liter V-8 pushrod. While there’s a strong argument to be made that the low-end grunt of a GM 3.0-liter inline-six turbo-diesel would be a better fit, the 420 horsepower 6.2-liter on gas and 460 pound-feet of torque feels right at home here. The fast-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission pairs with a two-speed transfer case with traditional two-wheel drive and high and low-speed four-wheel drive modes, plus an Auto mode for those who prefer to let the electronics pop. out when the front axle needs to be activated.

The ZR2 takes the existing Trail Boss Silverado trim level to the next level via some major off-road hardware. The front and rear differentials incorporate electronic lockers, with the earlier electronic lockers also requiring a half axle upgrade for the front axle to manage the additional load when the diff is locked. Underneath, fat skid plates help keep obstacles from hitting vital truck components, and protruding 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory tires are wrapped around the standard 18 wheels.

Chevrolet designed the ZR2 to be a weapon on any terrain—not just the open desert. By not widening the fenders as much as the Ford F-150 Raptor and Ram 1500 TRX, the width of the ZR2 remains relatively narrow. Measuring at 81.2 inches, the Chevy has a beam width of 5.4 and 6.8 inches smaller than the Raptor and TRX. While hiking the narrow canyon trails and dry riverbeds that meander through the national park, the slimmer profile of the ZR2 easily clears the surrounding rock walls that wider trucks need to navigate with care. The Silverado’s direct yet easy-to-drive steering lets you position your Goodyears ZR2 precisely to avoid punctures from sharp-edged stones.

With its locked differential, the ZR2 makes quick work of climbing rough rock cliffs. Setting the three-position drive mode selector to Terrain mode allows a one-pedal trail ride setup that operates more smoothly than we expected. Simply press the gas pedal to go and release to stop, the ZR2 automatically engages the brakes to keep it from accelerating. Hill descent control allows an additional 1 mph speed adjustment using the truck cruise control switch. These two electronic aids reduce head banging that can come from two-pedal off-road driving. Luckily, both systems can be disabled if you prefer to work alone. However, you don’t want to overlook the truck’s various high-resolution camera views, which essentially provide a virtual rangefinder to choose your way through technical terrain. While not high-tech, we also welcome the deep baritone growl provided by the $1399 Borla exhaust system upgrade installed on the trucks we drive. Unlike most players in this segment, Chevrolet has opted not to install a canon-sized exhaust tip at the rear of the ZR2. Instead, it cleverly guides the truck’s exhaust pipe upwards to prevent costly damage as it leaves obstacles.

However, despite efforts to keep the exhaust out of harm’s way, the ZR2’s angle of departure is 23.3 degrees shorter than its closest competitor. But when it comes to preventing the center of the truck from sliding over boulders, its 23.4-degree breakover angle is only surpassed by the F-150 Raptor on the optional 37-inch tires. Similarly, the ZR2 model’s special three-piece steel front bumper — a glossy black finish that’s a magnet for trail scratches — helps allow for a 31.8-degree angle of approach, again only bettered by the very tired Raptor.

As with Chevy’s smaller Colorado ZR2 pickup, the Silverado ZR2’s three-chamber Multimatic spool-valve dampers are its most notable upgrade—they inspire a truck with an impressive split personality. On the road, this passive damper contributes to a supple ride by eliminating the harshness we previously complained about in the current generation Silverado. Even body roll remains largely under control while rushing through corners. However, in the deep sand, they expertly managed the jumping motion attached to the ZR2’s leaf spring rear axle. But it’s in the bumpy high-speed parts of the desert where the dampening trick shines, softens impact, and deftly adjusts wheel movement so the ZR2 never feels out of control. And with 9.8 inches up front and 10.6 inches rear—2.0 inches bigger than on the Trail Boss—plus added hydraulic shock absorbers, this Silverado ignores hard touch with few issues.

Starting at $69,295, the ZR2 isn’t cheap. But with a high base price comes the upscale of the newly revised Silverado’s interior. There’s now an upscale feel and modern look inside, highlighted by the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 13.4-inch touchscreen running a Google-based infotainment system. The side bolsters and shoulder support of the ZR2’s leather-wrapped and custom sports seats do an excellent job of keeping your body in place, with the only drawback being the bottom cushioning which can be a bit on the softer side. However, we were less impressed with the Silverado’s new electronic joystick shifter design on the console. Feeling bulky and awkward to operate, the Park button mounted on it is very easy to activate accidentally with a resting hand.

Unlike its tougher rivals, the ZR2’s off-road power doesn’t come at the expense of everyday performance. With a maximum towing capacity of 8900 pounds, it will tow more than the TRX and Raptor. Of course, you’ll still want to shop in a different segment if fuel economy is a priority, as this Silverado gets an EPA estimate of just 15 mpg, 14 city, and 17 highway combined. A sort of multitool among off-road-oriented pickups, the ZR2 is a supercharged V-8—and perhaps a set of slightly larger tires—far from anywhere near the performance found in the upper echelons of its segment. Given the slow rate of evolution of the Silverado, we wouldn’t be counting on such an upgrade to happen any time soon. But we expect the future growth of the ZR2 to outpace the Joshua tree.

specification

specification

2022 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 ZR2
Vehicle Type: front engine, rear/4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door pickup

PRICE
Base: $69,295

MACHINE
V-8 16-valve pushrod, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 376 inches36162 cm3
Power: 420 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 460 lb-ft @ 4100 rpm

TRANSMISSION
10 speed auto

SIZE
Wheelbase: 147.5 inches
Length: 232.8 inches
Width: 81.2 inches
Height: 78.7 inches
Passenger Volume: 136 feet3
Restraint Weight (CD approx.): 5800 lb

SHOW (CD EST)
60 mph: 5.6 seconds
1/4-Mile: 14.1 sec
Top Speed: 100 mph

EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 15/14/17 mpg


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