I squinted, as I looked up into “Locker Hill,” the entry point to the 150-mile track inside Joshua Tree, California. I pondered the hill for a moment. The mid-morning sun had just broke over the cliff high above. This illuminated the golden earth, creating an inviting, almost heavenly glow.
Despite the inviting visage, my heart raced — nearly the same beat kept by the Silverado ZR2’s lopey 6.2-liter V8 at idle. I looked further up into the hill. Pockmarked with elephant tracks, I knew it would be no easy feat for any rig, let alone a full-size pickup. With this realization in my mind, and images of panel damage in my head, I felt a twinge of adrenaline hit my stomach.
I glanced at the wall lining the trail. I thought about how I wouldn’t mind having my own ZR2, a 2018 Colorado, there to make that final tight turn a bit easier. The two models share many of the same features, and even some aesthetic similarities. But, obviously, the Silverado is 19 inches longer, and five inches wider than its mid-sized cousin. At that moment, I couldn’t help but feel like the smaller truck was better suited to the technical trail before me.
Confident Chevy’s trail guides wouldn’t point me or their $67,600 truck at something it couldn’t handle, I dropped the truck into four low and engaged the rear locker. The guide encouraged the use of the front locker, but I didn’t want to push all of the easy buttons right out of the gate.
I rolled up over the first berm, then the second. That’s when I felt the rear-passenger tire lift. With just the slightest additional throttle the truck continued on, with hardly a jostle. My spotter came into sight. With a full cut to the right, the truck spun around the turn, and leveled out at the top.
On the other side of the hill, I was shown a video of my drive over the obstacle. I couldn’t believe how much tire lift I got, and the amount of suspension travel was even more impressive. From the driver’s seat, the truck seemed to hardly exert itself. At that point, I was missing my Colorado ZR2 a little less. In fact, I was eager to see what its full-size cousin could do.
Over the course of the day, we covered 150 miles of trails and roads that included steep climbs, soft sand, hardpack, technical rock sections of varying difficulty, and some on-road driving. This was the perfect route to see how the Silverado ZR2 performed across a variety of conditions. It didn’t disappoint.
However, this trip was far from the only off-road test the Silverado ZR2 has under its belt. Before hitting production, Chevrolet took the ZR2 to the mountains of Tennessee, slick rock trails in Utah, and the dunes of Michigan, for a total of 31,000 test miles. After checking out one of the test trucks, it was obvious that the Chevrolet Performance Truck team searched out every potential failure point during the testing phase.
Under the hood, the ZR2 is powered by the 6.2-liter V8 paired with a 10-speed transmission. This combo provides 420 horsepower and 460 foot-pounds of torque. This was more than enough to break away on hardpack desert roads, and pushing through soft sand was never an issue. The 6.2 provided plenty of power for climbing steep mountain trails and it kept pace with freeway traffic with ease.
Our test trucks were outfitted with the optional Borla exhaust system. At startup, there was no doubt about the number of cylinders under the hood. It provided a satisfying rumble when accelerating on the road, but at cruising speeds, the exhaust was significantly quieter and never grew obnoxious. In my opinion, this is a must-have option. While it only offers marginal technical performance improvements, the grin-inducing rumble serves as a frequent reminder that the Silverado ZR2 is a performance machine.
One of the features that makes the ZR2 the ZR2 is its Multimatic DSSV suspension. Initially developed for the fifth-generation Camaro Z/28 in 2014 and then adapted to the Colorado ZR2 in 2017, this unique spool-valve suspension system provides both on and off-road performance. This system was resized and calibrated for the larger Silverado ZR2, and it provides truly amazing on- and off-road performance. Compared to Chevrolet’s Silverado Trail Boss, the ZR2 has an additional two inches of wheel travel.
Even at higher speeds on pavement, the trucks had very minimal body roll. Off-road, regardless of speed and terrain, the system never left us wanting. After a 10-mile run on packed sand roads, the DSSV dampers were surprisingly cool despite the difficult conditions and 100-degree temperatures.
The Multimatic DSSV provides 11.2 inches of ground clearance, but when that isn’t enough, the Silverado is ready with a number of skid plates and other protective features. The aluminum skids cover the front, underbody, and transmission. In addition, the transmission skid runs from cross member to cross member in order to provide optimal protection.
It’s difficult to select the most impressive trail feature packed into this truck. Terrain Mode that allows one pedal driving was impressive on slow rutted climbs and steep descents. This feature takes the traditional four low to the next level, and it would be especially useful to new overlanders that aren’t familiar or comfortable with left-foot braking.
While rear lockers aren’t necessarily rare in stock trucks, a front locker is, and the Silverado ZR2 has both. However, with the overall capability of this truck paired with the rear locker, using both can be reserved for all but the most challenging situations. On rutted climbs up soft sand hills, rocky off-camber mining roads, and technical sections, I chose to start each obstacle with only the rear locker engaged.
The Silverado ZR2 never hesitated, so I only engaged the front locker when testing the controls. It’s worth noting that the rear locker is available in any drive mode, and the front locker requires 4 low to engage.
On dirt and pavement, the truck was exceptionally easy to steer. It only required a light touch that was reminiscent of a much smaller rig. Even at medium speeds on hard-packed sand, dodging the occasional rock only required the slightest adjustment to the steering wheel.
Chevrolet obviously wanted the interior design and functionality to match trail capability and on-road driving experience. The ZR2 shares many interior elements with the upper trim levels within the Silverado line.
A 13.4-inch-diagonal touch screen and a 12.3-inch-diagonal digital instrument cluster are standard equipment. This screen size and orientation perfectly match the dash lines, and it’s a great format for using both the 360-degree and front-facing cameras simultaneously.
The heated and ventilated seats have extra-wide padded side wings that keep the driver and passenger secure and comfortable when the road gets rough. Both the front and back seats provide ample legroom and upright seating positions.
An apt overlander?
While the Silverado ZR2 is undoubtedly an impressive rig, it may not be for everyone. The 147.5-inch wheelbase paired with the 23.4-degree breakover angle means that rolling over short steep obstacles may put the armor to the test. It’s also a relatively long rig, and regardless of capability, geometry on tight trails is a worthy opponent.
Alternatively, the front bumper cutaways give the Silverado ZR2 an impressive 31.8-degree approach angle, and it’s followed up with a 23.3-degree departure angle. These are both within single degrees of the specs of the Colorado ZR2 and some other off-road focused full-size models.
On narrow two-tracks or tree-lined trails, a driver would need to rely on all of the cameras, and they should be aware of turn-around points before it was too late. While this truck is capable of tackling challenging terrain, no full-sized truck will fare well in areas that don’t offer many options in choosing a line.
While the rocker guards will protect the truck, they aren’t true rock sliders, and they don’t have any kick-out to pivot around obstacles. It’s definitely better to damage one of the guards before damaging a rocker panel, but it’s best not to expect them to support the full weight of the truck.
After a fast-paced, 150-mile journey through the desert and mountains of southern California, I was still comfortable and ready for more. The upright seating position, attractive and informative displays, and luxury quality styling all contribute to a great driving experience on and off the road. On a multi-day overland trip, I fully expect the ZR2 would deliver you to camp ready for the next day’s adventures versus collapsing into a camp chair to recover from a jostling ride.
Silverado ZR2 includes a 1,440-pound payload rating and 8,900-lb towing capacity, making it a class leader. Paired with a rooftop tent, a wedge-style camper, or even an off-road trailer, the ZR2 can easily handle equipment, passengers, and provisions while still staying well within manufacturer ratings. When considering the amount of armor, the selectable lockers, and the quality suspension, this Silverado is an excellent choice for a full-sized overland rig. In all reality, it only requires a bit of camp equipment and recovery gear before you hit the trails.
When I was shopping for a new rig, before I bought my Colorado ZR2, I wanted the best off-the-lot features for the best price available.When looking at the market objectively, the Colorado ZR2 won out.
The Multimatic suspension, factory armor, and lockers created a wide gap between my truck and offerings from other makers. It didn’t hurt that I think the Colorado, especially with the ZR2 front bumper and wider track width, is one of the best looking trucks on the market.
All of these sentiments are echoed for the Silverado version, and rightfully so. If I were looking to upgrade to a full-sized truck, the Silverado ZR2 would be at the top of my list. I would find an off-road rated pop top camper, and hit the backcountry.
When you aren’t venturing into the backcountry, this truck would be a great daily driver or road trip machine. The interior borrows many features from the more luxury-based models, and the ample space provides plenty of room for equipment or passengers. For an off-the-lot, trail-ready rig with space and payload to spare, the 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 is an excellent choice.
What to Know:
2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 Features and Options:
Engine and Powertrain:
• Standard 6.2L V8 with 10-speed automatic transmission
• 2-speed Autotrac transfer case and 3.23 axle ratio
• Horsepower: 420
• Torque: 460 lb-ft
• Payload: 1,440 lb
• Towing: 8,900 lb
• Multimatic DSSV dampers
• Standard front and rear e-lockers
• 18-in wheels with 33-inch tires
• Standard full-size spare tire
• Approach angle: 31.8 degrees
• Departure angle: 23.3 degrees
• Front suspension travel: 9.84 in
• Rear suspension travel: 10.62 in
• Ground clearance: 11.2 in
• Standard integrated front skid plate
• New high-approach steel front bumper
• Grille-integrated camera
• Terrain Mode with one-pedal driving
Customer Convenience Features:
• Available multi-flex tailgate
• 12 bed tie-downs
• Standard 13.4-inch-diagonal touchscreen
• Standard 12.3-inch-diagonal digital instrument cluster
• Standard electronic shift control
• Sweeping horizontal instrument panel
• A fully redesigned interior and exterior
• Price: $67,600 + $1,695 delivery fee