Road Test: Chevrolet Silverado ZR2

Road Test: Chevrolet Silverado ZR2

Story and photos by Gerry Frechette

You could not overstate how competitive the full-size pick-up market is, with this type of vehicle providing the manufacturers with profits commensurate with the out-sized dimensions of the trucks themselves. No one wants to be left behind in this battle.

At the high-end of each of the manufacturers’ half-ton offerings are the off-road-capable super-trucks, a category started by Ford’s Raptor some ten years ago, joined by the Ram TRX in the last couple of years, and in the last year by the Chevrolet Silverado ZR2. The ZR2, though, is a different approach, with less power and panache than the other two. Can it compete with them?

The ZR2 is based on the Crew Cab (only) with 5-foot 10-inch bed. Think the Trail Boss model, with numerous enhancements to give it real off-road chops. Bigger tires? Check – 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory 275/70-18 size. Lifted? Check – about two inches. An increase in vertical wheel travel over ordinary Silverado’s? Check. Maximum mechanical grip? Check – front and rear electronic locking differentials. Specially-designed front bumper that reduces the chance of damage through contact with terrain? Check. Hill Descent Control? Check. All good stuff.

But the clincher is the shock absorber system that we have seen on the mid-size Colorado ZR2 for a few years, the Multimatic DSSV spool-valve dampers that have an entirely different internal construction that controls up-down movement much more effectively than normal dampers. This is the ZR2’s ‘ace in the hole’ against regular Silverado’s and the above-mentioned rivals, as it provides both a reasonably composed ride on the road, and maximum control in the rough stuff.

Or at least, we hear from reliable sources that it is good off-road. In the middle of a rainy mid-winter week in Vancouver, and in the face of the inaccessibility of the small off-road area that many used in Richmond, we did not get the ZR2 muddy. As for on the road, considering the big gnarly tires, the ride was indeed somewhat civilized, which could be partly attributed to the very firm body structure of the Silverado. No squeaks or rattles on this one. What we can attest to is that we were able to take speed bumps of all sorts at any darned speed we felt like, and that the suspension just soaked them up with hardly any sensation of change in the road surface.

Under the hood is the biggest gasoline V8 in the GM truck arsenal, the proven 6.2-litre unit with 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. It provided more-than-adequate forward thrust with that pleasing V8 rumble, although moving nearly 6,000 pounds of big boxy truck around the city exacted a great cost in fuel consumption (premium recommended but not mandatory). We saw barely into the 17 litres per 100 kilometres range in very light-footed operation at 60 km/h, but with any sort of speedy acceleration and lots of traffic lights, the number was more like 20+. All this despite active cylinder de-activation and stop-start function. This makes the official NRC Energuide number of 16.7 look quite optimistic. And highway consumption is only a couple of litres better. This big beast did not endear itself to this driver as a vehicle you’d want to drive in the city any more than you have to..

Having said that, the ZR2’s interior made the drive a more-than-tolerable one. It’s certainly attractive to look at, with two-tone grey upholstery of a type that is said to be easily washable, at least the parts that aren’t leather, trimmed with yellow stitching that went well with the exterior’s “Sand Dune Metallic” (most will think of it as being military) paint colour.

Of course, there is much room in all directions, particularly in the back seat, under which had been installed, as a $355 dealer-installed option, an under-seat storage bin that will fit a few small carry-bags. An $83,000 truck ($89,718 as tested) with no covered storage should have that as standard. There are plenty of options in the interior for storage of small items, like a large centre console and big door pockets.

The dashboard had a serious re-design for the 2022 model year, and it is much closer now to the quality  and functionality of the Silverado’s rivals. Of particular note, the big 13.4-inch touchscreen is effective and easy to use. The technology features include Bose audio, Bluetooth streaming audio, voice recognition, wireless Apple Car Play and Android Auto, and wireless charging. It’s an impressive package of tech, added to in our tester by the $2,355 Technology Package, which has head-up display and a camera-based rearview mirror, as well as adaptive cruise control and power tilt/telescoping steering column.

Actual driving comfort will depend on the size and shape of the driver, because the seat, with eight-way power adjust plus lumbar, still felt like it could use a longer cushion and more under-thigh support, for this longer-legged driver. One has to think that this might especially be a concern in off-road use. But for those a bit wider of beam, there is certainly a lot of seat width to work with in the ZR2.

Out back in the cargo bay, you’ll find spray-on bedliner, 12 cargo tie-down points and a 120-volt AC outlet, which the interior also has one of. The feature that GM pioneered a few years ago is the small tailgate within the larger regular tailgate, which flips open to either give you a little longer and lower load surface (like for lumber), or a step to climb up into the pickup bed. That last function is made even easier by the CornerSteps built into the rear bumper.

So, back to our initial question. How does the ZR2 compete in the high-end off-road market? It seems to me that it is more suited to the kind of off-roading we see here in the mountains and river valleys, and not as much to the higher-speed, desert-type terrain that the Ford and Ram seem to be aimed at. The ZR2 is certainly more narrow than the others, without the “wide body” look, so that would be to its advantage in tight confines, too. On the other hand, it has quite a bit less power than the top models of Ford and Ram, although the 460 lb-ft of the 6.2 V8 is nothing to sneeze at. And one has to think that GM could install a more powerful engine in it if they wanted too….

The Silverado ZR2 is a bit more low-key visually, more understated, with a more traditional  interpretation of off-road performance, made possible by the DSSV shock absorber set-up. Among the domestic brands, this might be the best full-size 4×4 to kit out for overlanding. If you spend much time driving in the city, though, the mid-size Chevy Colorado ZR2 with the same off-road suspension might be more manageable.