General Motors clearly doesn't believe that every off-road pickup needs to be a Ford Raptor fighter. If it did, it would have built one years ago. Instead, it teams up with companies like American Expedition Vehicles to build trail-armored trucks like the 2023 Chevy Silverado ZR2 Bison. It doesn’t have a widebody or forced induction—just front and rear lockers, a 6.2-liter V8, and plenty of steel underneath.
I feel the same way as GM, which might be why I tried thinking of a few side hustles I could pick up so I could afford one. It’s really that good if you’re less into theatrics and more into rough-and-tumble four-wheeling that takes place on a wooded trail instead of wide-open desert. There’s definitely a rub, though, and it doesn’t come from the meaty Goodyears.
It’s the $85,900 price tag. With a sticker like that, you almost have to hate the F-150 Raptor at its core to spend more money on this Chevy, which admittedly isn’t as attractive on paper. There are real reasons to choose the Silverado ZR2 Bison over Ford’s turned-up F-150—that V8 is chief among them—but I’m not sure they’re enough to sway many people who are cross-shopping the two.
2023 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 Bison Specs
- Silverado ZR2 Bison base price (as tested): $81,240 ($85,900)
- Powertrain: 6.2-liter V8 | 10-speed automatic | four-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 420 @ 5,600 rpm
- Torque: 460 @ 4,100 rpm
- Seating capacity: 5
- Max payload capacity: 1,520 pounds
- Max towing capacity: 8,800 pounds
- Off-road angles: 32.5˚ approach | 23.4˚ breakover | 23.4˚ departure
- Ground clearance: 11.2 inches
- Quick take: A traditional 4x4 that's made for modern-day wheelers who can (hopefully) afford a top-shelf rig.
- Score: 8/10
The Silverado ZR2 Bison is the absolute top dog half-ton in Chevy’s lineup. It offers a short list of advantages over the non-Bison model, including steel front and rear bumpers, steel skid plating front to back, and steel rocker guards to protect everything on the truck’s bottom half. It stays true to the regular ZR2’s ethos and adds the features that true wheelers usually spring for first.
It takes a trained eye to spot the Bison’s exterior design differences. There are no corner cutouts on the front bumper like you find on the normal ZR2, as it now houses LED fog lights there. Out back, there are super solid tow hooks that encourage you to use the truck as intended, as well as turn-down exhaust pipes which sit nearly flush with the rear bumper. Those come in handy—I’ll explain why later.
Inside is the same great cabin with a crispy 13.4-inch infotainment display that acts as the truck’s command center. There are quality-feel toggles everywhere, and when you aren’t messing with those, you can flip through the various screens on the 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. AEV’s logo is embroidered onto the headrests, but aside from that, it’s largely unchanged.
Finally, the powertrain is completely identical to that of a regular Silverado ZR2. The 6.2-liter V8 makes 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, and having driven one with a Borla exhaust at the truck’s press launch, let me just tell you–it ought to come standard. Anyway, it’s a proven package that should keep going for a long time, even though it won’t win every drag race.
Driving the Chevy Silverado ZR2 Bison
While I put quite a few highway miles on my grey-and-black test rig—including some with a trailer—it feels right to focus on the time I spent off-road. That’s what you’re here to read about, isn’t it?
The Silverado ZR2 Bison and I headed to Rush Springs Ranch, an expansive 4x4 park that’s only eight minutes from my house in the Missouri Ozarks. The trails there range from mild to way-too-wild-for-a-truck-that’s-not-yours, so I stuck to the green and yellow routes marked here on the map. They still provided plenty of opportunities to test out the truck’s traction, articulation, and ground clearance.
I quickly found a mud pit about 100 feet long. If you’re from the middle of the country like I am, this is the type of wheeling you grew up around. That said, you probably weren’t raised with a truck this fancy with cooled seats and a TV screen capable of running OnX Offroad. Still, the Silverado ZR2 Bison plunged right in and never struggled for grip, even as I forged through water that reached the bottom of the doors.
Just up from there was a steep climb that proved a little too loose for 4HI. After rolling back to the bottom, I selected 4LO and engaged the front locking diff. This is where you get a healthy dose of V8 grunt—which, again, would be way better with an aftermarket exhaust. I inadvertently tested out the Chevy’s breakover angle here, which is par for the course when you run a full-size truck. Because of the skid plates, though, I didn’t even flinch.
Where I did close my eyes and clench my teeth was on a descent into a dry creek bed. It was a whole lot steeper than I expected and I promptly stuffed the front end into the gravel. This sort of thing happens when you’re off-roading, but it sinks your gut a little farther when you’re in a borrowed rig. I got out to assess the situation and… it was fine. No damage. I hopped back behind the wheel and finished the obstacle, collecting some dirt in the receiver hitch for good measure. That’s what made me grateful for those turn-down exhaust pipes.
Toward the end of my time at the park, I embarked on a long hill climb mostly made up of rock shelves and football-sized fragments. This was maybe the Silverado ZR2 Bison’s toughest test for traction, mainly because it was super bumpy and thus low-speed. It would spin out on occasion, shifting the rear of the truck one way or another. My expectations were high with this being such a high-dollar, purpose-built pickup, but I felt like it should have made it up the hill with no qualms. It got me to the top, obviously, though I don’t feel like it should have been a 4LO obstacle.
I was less bothered when I had to drive around the shelf rock on this short but steep ascent. Maybe a side-by-side or lifted Jeep would have the ground clearance and approach angle to tackle it head-on, but I don’t see any stock full-size pickup doing that. I was able to hang to the right and place my rear-driver tire on the ledge to climb up and over.
The Multimatic DSSV dampers performed well in every scenario, providing a smooth ride on the bumpy stuff that was always consistent. That’s the Silverado ZR2’s big draw: it’s the only full-size off-roader with triple spool valve shocks. For more on that specific feature, you can read my review of the non-Bison model here.
The Highs and Lows
It’s hard to beat the comfort and confidence the Silverado ZR2 Bison gives you. Of course, that means you have to trust all that steel to stop whatever from puncturing through, but that’s pretty much the point. It may not have the ground clearance to straddle every boulder, but as long as you take it slow, you can slide right over rocks that would mess up a lesser-equipped Silverado. And not only that, but you can do it while cold air blows on your back. There’s no beating it.
I’m just not sure it’s special enough. The normal Silverado ZR2 already has the most important equipment—the Multimatic DSSV dampers, the front locker, and the 6.2-liter V8—and it starts at $73,345, $7,895 less than the Bison. It’s just as capable in every scenario; you just have to be more careful with it.
Chevy Silverado ZR2 Bison Features, Options, and Competition
Bison-exclusive equipment includes bumpers constructed of hot-stamped steel, which is apparently three and a half times stronger than cold-pressed steel. The five skid plates underneath that protect both differentials, the transfer case, and the fuel tank are also made of the stuff. Then you have the steel rocker guards and 18-inch AEV wheels that look pretty good, especially wrapped in those 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory MTs.
My tester had a few more options added on. The priciest was the $1,970 Technology Package with adaptive cruise control, a rearview camera mirror, head-up display, and a power tilting and telescoping steering wheel. Next was the hard-folding REV tonneau cover for $1,250 and a power sunroof, which was $995 extra.
The Ford F-150 Raptor starts at $78,770 delivered. Its 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 makes 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque, both of which are well ahead of the Silverado ZR2’s V8. It also offers 0.8 inches more ground clearance at 12 inches flat. Tow capacity is a little lower at 8,200 pounds for the Ford, and its max payload rating is 1,400 pounds. If you want higher performance, the Raptor is the ticket; if you want a more practical weekday worker that’s capable of hitting the trails every Saturday, then the Silverado ZR2 probably makes more sense.
The EPA doesn’t provide fuel economy figures for the Silverado ZR2 Bison specifically, but the non-Bison model gets 14 mpg in the city, 17 mpg on the highway, and 15 mpg combined. That’s a little worse than the F-150 Raptor’s boosted V6, which manages 15 mpg in the city, 18 mpg highway, and 16 mpg combined. I also compared it against the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, which uses a hybrid twin-turbo V6, just for reference. Unsurprisingly, that one nets the highest fuel mileage of them all, according to the EPA, with 18 mpg in the city, 20 mpg on the highway, and 19 mpg combined. Electrification—what a thing.
Value and Verdict
I would own a 2023 Chevy Silverado ZR2. Might as well come out and say it. I’m a fan of what it stands for and I can see myself, a normal guy that lives nowhere near the dunes, using it the way it’s meant to be used. I can’t say the same of the F-150 Raptor, even though it’s competitively priced and more capable in several areas.
I’d have a harder time pulling the trigger on a Bison. You could make the argument that once you’re spending that much money on a truck, what’s the problem with getting exactly what you want? Well, nearly $8,000 extra is a considerable amount, and it doesn’t actually make it more capable. Maybe if I were a cash buyer with plenty to spend, it’d be an easier sell. In a perfect world, I’d own one of these with a Borla exhaust and I’d smile every time I walked out the door to my driveway. In reality, though, it’s a lot harder to justify the premium.
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