First Drive: 2024 Silverado 2500 ZR2 Bison is Chevy’s new HD halo truck
Chevrolet’s performance truck development engineers are due for a vacation. After developing and validating a full lineup of off-road performance trims for the Colorado, Silverado 1500, and Silverado 2500 by creating Z71 and ZR2 models of each truck, they’ve upped the ante with ZR2 Bison versions of each of them as well. You can even credit these engineers for making the case for the biggest, most powerful Bison yet and proving to the execs that the brute could deliver on the Bison brand’s promise of off-road capability. To prove it to us, Chevy invited us to Johnson Valley, California, home of King of the Hammers, to try for ourselves. We spent a day in the desert that included both highway and trail drives in the Silverado 2500HD ZR2 Bison.
At first glance, the biggest Bison might seem like a completely different beast than its lighter-duty Bison brethren, and it is, but it certainly deserves the moniker. To create the Silverado 2500HD ZR2, Chevrolet gave the truck’s independent front/leaf spring rear suspension chassis a small lift and 305/70R18 Goodyear Territory mud-terrain tires. That makes them the largest tire among its competitors, with the same 35-inch height (actually 34.8 inches) as Ford’s Super Duty Tremor, but with a bit more width. It’s also taller and wider than Ram’s Power Wagon offering. Like its competitors from Ram and Ford, the ZR2 is only available in crew-cab, short-bed configuration.
As with the rest of the ZR2 lineup, the stars of the show are the Multimatic DSSV dampers that work their magic to keep the truck from being loose or wallowing on the street, without being too firm or jarring when venturing off-road at speed. It also gets an electronic-locking rear differential. Unlike the rest of the ZR2 lineup, there is no front locker. The Bison package takes the ZR2 hardware and expands on the theme with front and rear bumpers from American Expedition Vehicles (AEV), which have a provision up front to mount a winch. The $9,135 Bison package also includes a power-locking Multi-flex tailgate, unique 18-inch AEV wheels, including the spare, and three skid plates to protect the underbody and transfer case. Inside, it adds AEV floormats and embroidered headrests to the ZR2 interior, which is unique in the Silverado lineup. We found the recently updated Silverado interior to be very comfortable and functional.
Like its smaller stablemate, the biggest ZR2 Bison is perfectly comfortable on the highway. The 35-inch tires don’t drone or whine on pavement, and the cabin is well insulated from the mighty Duramax. Listen carefully and you can hear the whine of the turbocharger spooling up like a distant air-raid siren, but it’s not as rowdy as you might expect from a 470-hp V-8. Throttle response is quick, and the 10-speed is tuned to fit the powerband of the engine, delivering immediate power when asked. None of that was a surprise. Once we ventured off-road, the heavy-duty suspension still gave the truck the sturdy feeling of an HD truck, yet that made its off-road performance all the more shocking. It’s less punishing than one might suspect on the occupants as it navigates rutted dirt roads. The Duramax diesel V-8 has tremendous pull everywhere it goes, and where it can go might surprise you.
We picked our way over a rocky trail in the HD ZR2 Bison and the big tires easily found grip. The trail, not as technically challenging as the trails picked for the Colorado we were also testing, was still formidable and would have left plenty of pickups behind with battered body panels. Unfortunately, we managed to chalk up some trail damage of our own. While picking a line down some vertical ledges, we misjudged our descent and dropped more than a foot, landing the truck’s power running board bracket right on the unforgiving rock and breaking the linkage. If you plan on taking your HD ZR2 Bison on these kinds of trails—and you should, it’s several tons of fun—consider tubular rocker protection like the set found on the Colorado ZR2 Bison. Or, you could opt to take better lines like the rest of the HD ZR2 Bisons that survived the trail with all of their parts intact. It must be said, the deployable running boards, one of many optional side steps available on the Silverado, were a help climbing into the tall cabin.
HD versions of the ZR2 start at $72,595 for the naturally aspirated 6.6-liter gasoline V-8, or $82,085 for the 470-hp Duramax turbodiesel V-8, like the one we drove. Add up the $9135 Bison package, towing options, and the $2295 side steps as equipped on our tester, and the MSRP, including destination, topped $95,000. That’s steep for an off-road toy, although the ZR2 Bison is far more than that, bringing real heavy-duty payload (3013 pounds, gas/2811 pounds, diesel) and towing (up to 18,000 pounds) to compete in a tough segment where buyers are fiercely loyal. We’re sure that the HD ZR2 Bison will win over some conquest sales from Ram and Ford thanks to its potent diesel powerplant and unique combination of off-road capability and on-road driving comfort. However, it seems that the HD ZR2 Bison will serve as a sort of halo vehicle for the Silverado HD lineup, so its success might be harder to quantify with just sales numbers. Chevrolet seems confident that its recent growth in the retail pickup market will continue, and the Silverado HD ZR2 Bison seems capable of leading that charge.