2022 Chevy Silverado ZR2 First Drive Review: A More Traditional Take on Off-Road Performance

The most off-road-capable Silverado ever isn’t a Raptor rival, and it’s better for it.

byApr 12, 2022 5:57 PM
2022 Chevy Silverado ZR2 First Drive Review: A More Traditional Take on Off-Road Performance
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It's time to accept that General Motors isn't building a Ford F-150 Raptor fighter. If there ever was a time for that, it would've been about a decade ago when the first-gen Raptor came to be. Now, however, Chevy's engineered a top-shelf pickup for people who want an effortless daily that pulls double duty and slays trails. The 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 is that truck. And for better or for worse, it's exactly what you expect and hope for from a Bowtie pickup.

Now, I love the idea of an extreme Raptor rival just the same as any other self-proclaimed truck fan, so I won't play the part of a Chevy apologist here. Clearly, though, that already exists with Ram's 702-horsepower TRX, so it just doesn't make sense for Chevy to enter a third dog in the fight.

The Silverado ZR2 does slay trails, too. I wheeled one through some slow and technical as well as impressively fast sections of Joshua Tree National Park to make sure. Whether the rocks were big and sharp or the sand packed and slick, the truck responded dutifully with the help of its 33-inch Goodyears, because that's what it was meant to do. And no matter if you choose to believe it, the automaker says it's possible to create a fun truck that prioritizes real-world usability over stat sheet spectacularity. So did Chevy pull it off? Yes, but at a price.

2022 Chevy Silverado ZR2 Specs

  • Silverado base price (ZR2 as tested): $33,800 ($69,295)
  • Powertrain: 6.2-liter V8 | 10-speed automatic | four-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 420 @ 5,600 rpm
  • Torque: 460 @ 4,100 rpm
  • Seating capacity:
  • Max payload capacity: 1,440 pounds
  • Max towing capacity: 8,900 pounds
  • Off-road angles: 31.8˚ approach, 23.4˚ breakover, and 23.3˚ departure
  • Ground clearance: 11.2 inches
  • Estimated fuel economy: TBA
  • Quick take: A super off-road truck that's not as super as its rivals, but for the better.
  • Score: 8/10

Taking the Silverado Even Further Off-Road

The full-size ZR2 is the Silverado performance lineup's new top dog for 2022, bumping the tamer but still respectable Trail Boss to the second slot. It packs the same 6.2-liter V8 that's available in the Trail Boss with an identical 420 hp and 460 pound-feet of torque, but the powertrain isn't what makes this pickup better. That's where the Multimatic DSSV dampers, front and rear locking differentials, and four-wheeling tech come in.

There are a few visual exterior cues that would tip off passersby that the ZR2 is something different. The 2022 Silverado's front end is significantly reworked from the previous model as it is, and there's also a handy dandy pass-thru "Flowtie" on the front grille. Chevy first used this on the Camaro ZL1 a few years back and now likes to put it on a lot of its performance models, both to keep these rigs running and looking cool. Then you've got the three-piece bumper that's intriguingly cut-off at the corners, which gives it an approach angle of 31.8 degrees, plus red tow hooks and a gloss black hood applique.

Inside, the 2022 Silverado is so much more modern than the truck it replaces. The ZR2 capitalizes on that by intuitively folding in new buttons and controls that matter when you're not driving on the highway, though it's capable of doing that in comfort, too. The 13.4-inch infotainment screen is where you'll find a clear display for the Silverado's various cameras, which run along the sides as well as the front and rear for better visibility. This truck is full-size, for sure, and those cameras certainly earn their keep in tight spaces; if you're on a steep climb or decline, you can't just see through its high hood. Then there are piano-style physical buttons underneath the screen to engage the front and rear lockers, along with downhill descent control. 

The 6.2-liter V8 I mentioned comes standard on the ZR2 and right now, it's the only engine available. I'll keep trying to poke and prod Chevy until it builds one with the 3.0-liter Duramax diesel, but truthfully, the truck doesn't need it. Those engines make identical torque figures and the gas V8 makes a lot more horsepower—143 more, to be exact. It also sounds superb when fitted with a Borla exhaust that's not technically stock but is available through Chevy Accessories. The one I drove had it installed, and Chevy told me that without it, the ZR2 sounds like any 6.2-equipped Trail Boss or High Country. Anywho, power gets sent to the rear or all four wheels through a 10-speed automatic transmission and a two-speed transfer case.

Driving the Chevy Silverado ZR2 Through the Desert

Since I knew the engine wouldn't be the Silverado ZR2's main source of shock and awe, I was able to focus on those key suspension and tech components. That being said, a day in this pickup will leave you pining for more V8 exhaust noises that you won't get from a Raptor. It's all calm and quiet when cruising, too, which I found out after seeing "86 mph" on the heads-up display while driving back to my hotel. Whoops.

The off-roader is surprisingly high-geared—it has a 3.23 rear axle ratio. It really leans on the HI/LO transfer case off-road, then, which is exactly the point. Much of what makes the Silverado ZR2 an exceptional off-roader also makes it totally livable and dare I say cushy on the road, including the standard Multimatic dampers. When you’re cruising at low rpm, it’s also soaking up bumps you’d definitely notice in a normal half-ton truck.

Even though the Silverado ZR2 lacks the immediacy of acceleration you might get in a Toyota Tundra TRD Pro with its hybrid system, it's enough. Once we aired our tires down to 25 psi for the trail run, I actually had a tough time keeping up with the leader, which was more a sign of my tepidness in a truck that's not mine. The point is, you could stay right with your buddies in the slow to mid-speed stuff even if they're driving a more powerful 4x4.

You won't wish they'd slow down, either, as the dampers do their job in smoothing out the ride beautifully. I mean it when I say these are the difference makers, and as much as I love everything else Chevy has done with the Silverado ZR2, these are what you're paying that steep price for. Otherwise, you could probably get by with a Trail Boss, but that truck's Rancho shocks are brutal in comparison. Plus, they don't offer the same wheel travel as these Multimatics.

It's reassuring when you've got 11.2 inches of ground clearance, knowing you can drive right over the sharp rock that'd definitely mess your stuff up otherwise. And that front skid plate's there to save your bacon if it needs to; I checked at the end of the day and it looks like I used it once or twice!

Traction wasn't a problem on the gravel and sand, nor should it be on stickier surfaces because of those Goodyear Wrangler mud-terrains. It's pretty much a given that any off-road model will come with a rear locking differential these days, but thankfully, Chevy didn't stop there. An engineer told me that the front locker was actually a late addition, but it's another crucial feature if you ask me. I know for sure it came in handy when climbing a loose gravel hill with deeply dug pits.

That's also where I made use of the truck's Terrain mode, which enables smart one-pedal drive functionality. When you lift your foot off the gas, it utilizes the truck's ABS module to hold it tight so you don't have to worry about using two feet. It's not as immediate as, say, the one-pedal drive mode in an electric vehicle, but it does simplify the process while giving the driver ultimate control. Engage 4LO and turn the dial to Terrain mode and you're ready to go up or down much of anything at a crawl.

Flip it to 4HI and you'll be ready to sprint where the going is less than smooth. In another location, just outside 29 Palms in California, I kept it humming around 55 mph on well-packed sand with no drama to speak of. You clearly noticed when the surface got looser as the truck dug in, as you'd expect any of them to, but even then, everything stayed smooth—that part's important. Get slung left, right, up, or down too violently and you're asking for trouble in a vehicle that weighs more than 6,000 pounds.

And even after all this, in triple-digit weather throughout dusty Southern California, the truck's dampers never got heat soaked. That's yet another advantage of the hydraulic triple spool valve design; they stay cool even after serious abuse in ridiculous climates, like the 150-mile trip I went on. The "set it and forget it" attitude is what's great about this truck, and because the proven naturally aspirated V8 just works, you don't have to worry about the complexity that comes with forced induction or active suspension.

Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 Features, Options, and Competition

Refreshingly, the Silverado ZR2 is a pretty comprehensive package with little in the way of options. You can always add accessories from Chevy's extensive catalog, but even the truck's 13.4-inch infotainment screen and 12.8-inch digital driver display are standard. You'll be thankful for that, too, considering the truck's $69,295 base price. If you're wanting to spend a little more, you can add GM's Multi-Flex tailgate for $445.

That pricing is a skosh above the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, which slots in at $68,500 including destination. It's important to note that the top-spec Tundra off-roader comes standard with a twin-turbo V6 hybrid making 437 hp and 583 pound-feet of torque. Check back on the Silverado ZR2's figures and you'll notice the Toyota has a 17 hp and 123 pound-feet advantage. It also boasts a higher max tow figure—11,195 pounds compared to the Chevy's 8,900.

It's doubtful that Silverado ZR2 owners will need more power or towing capacity than stock, but it'd be foolish to ignore what the competition offers for about the same price. And while I'd still prefer the Chevy's Multimatic dampers, the Tundra TRD Pro packs Fox Racing suspension which is pretty solid in its own right.

Value and Verdict

Anyone with enough funds to shop this space is going to get a big, cool truck. You won't go wrong picking the Chevy Silverado ZR2, and you also couldn't be blamed for spending as much on a new Tundra TRD Pro. But having driven both of them, I find myself liking the ZR2 more.

It looks better than the Tundra does. It also sounds better than the Toyota V6 ever will simply because it's a 6.2-liter V8. I'd be okay with giving up the stat sheet performance for something that's less complex, even if the price is mighty high.

If you're mainly into wide-open desert running and the pumped-up pickup aesthetic, then a Raptor's the best choice. But if you're a little more realistic and want to hang onto natural aspiration and big displacement, the ZR2 is really your lone option. Luckily, it's a stellar one.

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