First Look Review: 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2

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Brandan Gillogly

It seems that an automaker’s confidence in a new vehicle is inversely proportional to the amount of marketing jargon used to sell the car, truck, or human-mobility solution on offer. When Chevrolet gave us its big pitch before we drove the Silverado ZR2, the technical details included the major highlights: a 420-hp V-8, front and rear locking differentials, and lots of skid plates. The truck also uses some trick shocks, Chevy said, to keep those 33-inch tires where they can do the most good.

After that, we were told we’d be driving off-pavement, and that it would be best for all involved if we didn’t do anything stupid. That was it, the whole pitch. A good sign.

In Chevy-speak, ZR2 means off-road. For the past five years, Silverado owners have had to sit back and watch as Colorado buyers got the trim all to themselves. We’ve driven several versions of the excellent Colorado ZR2, and each time, we came away impressed with the dirt prowess of Chevy’s mid-sizer. By the time we got the Silverado ZR2 onto some washboard roads and rutted, rock-strewn trails, the bar was high. The short version: The truck absolutely delivered.

Brandan Gillogly

Our test time came at a Chevrolet media event in Palm Springs, California, and we spent all our time in one specific truck. Our Sand Dune Metallic tester came equipped with the Technology Package ($1970), which includes a multicolor head-up display, a rear-camera rearview mirror, adaptive cruise control, and a steering column with power tilt and telescope. There was also a power sunroof ($995) and Chevy’s Multiflex tailgate ($445). The burly rocker guards ($1150) are a dealer-installed option. Base price is $69,195 including mandatory destination charge. Our tester’s final MSRP came to $73,310.

The sole powertrain is Chevrolet’s stellar 6.2-liter V-8, paired to a 10-speed automatic and making 420 hp. This same engine is available in other Silverado 1500s. (GM’s lauded 3.0-liter diesel inline-six would seem to be a good fit here, but Chevrolet reps say the ZR2 is best served, for now, with the 6.2, the most powerful V-8 in the lineup.) The 6.2 offers nothing to complain about and is quintessentially Chevrolet. It has ample power, and the throttle response in two-wheel-drive is just right for city and highway driving.

Chevrolet

Cosmetically, the ZR2 sets itself apart with only a few touches. The front lights are integrated into the grille, and the truck also offers high-clearance steel bumpers, a black hood insert, and 18-inch wheels, all ZR2 exclusives. Harder to see are the skidplates protecting engine and transfer case, a high-mounted exhaust system, and new, beefier mounts for the front Multimatic shocks.

Like all 2022 Silverados at trim level LT or above, the ZR2 benefits from a revised interior. This layout probably should have been in the truck since its launch, for the 2019 model year. The new digital instrument cluster uses a highly customizable, 12.3-inch display, and a wide, 13.4-inch infotainment screen lives in the center of the dash. The display is wide enough to use the typical Apple CarPlay aspect ratio and retain enough room to display a clock or audio settings on the right-hand side, which reduces switching between display modes. We liked the system’s speedy response, and how the screen is large enough to be legible but not so large that it dominates the dash.

Other ZR2 exclusives include the well-bolstered leather seats and the leather-trimmed black and gray interior. The leather and fabrics are unique to the ZR2, and the same goes for the contrasting stitching. A textured material with interlocking diamond shapes, which Chevrolet calls “Pursuit,” can be found on the door panels and upper glove-box door. Be forewarned though—if you or someone you know is a serial dash fondler, the cabin isn’t all soft-touch materials. Hard plastics sit below knee-level on the dash and center console, and on the lower half of each door.

Unlike the Ford Raptor or Ram TRX, Chevrolet’s top half-ton off-roader doesn’t feature flared fenders and bed sides or the wider track that would necessitate either. What it does have is a straightforward suspension with added travel, a setup perfectly tuned to both scramble over rocks and tackle rutted trails at speed with confidence.

Brandan Gillogly
Brandan Gillogly

The stars of the show here are the Multimatic DSSV spool-valve dampers, which Chevrolet first implemented on the fifth-generation Camaro Z/28. The tech is also used on the Colorado ZR2. These shocks use three independent spool valves and three fluid chambers to provide progressive damping across a range of piston speeds, and they’re nothing short of phenomenal. They allow the ZR2 to float over unmaintained washboard roads that would otherwise be miserable at low speed. The Chevy can be coaxed to oversteer with enough throttle, but the long wheelbase makes slides predictable and easy to manage. The rear axle doesn’t dance around or feel like it could dart away mid-corner.

Chevrolet

At slow speed, a forward-facing camera works with an array of cameras around the truck to construct a 360-degree view, helping the driver select the right route and keep the bodywork from being rearranged by immovable trailside obstacles. If those obstacles are unavoidable, the ZR2’s optional rock rails can help keep the lower rockers and pinch welds intact. We had a run-in with what initially seemed like a rather stubborn chunk of sedimentary rock—it was actually a two-foot-slab of concrete—and the Silverado made it through with nothing more than a bit of scratched paint on the rails.

Brandan Gillogly

There are not a lot of fancy off-road modes to be found here. You get Normal, Off-Road, and Terrain. You could think of them as On-Road, Everything Off-Road Except Crawling, and Crawling, in that order. (Now you know why GM didn’t hire us to name things.) Terrain remaps the throttle and engages a one-pedal driving mode designed for slow technical work, like climbing a rocky hill. With both front and rear lockers engaged, climbing a deeply rutted, sandy hill was a simple, drama-free endeavor, the 33-inch Goodyears finding grip even when the opposite side of an axle was dangling in the air. Standard factory-suggested air pressure is 35 psi, but for our trail drive, we aired down to 25, which made a noticeable improvement in off-road ride without turning the steering to mush.

That said, the ZR2’s biggest surprises came on the road. Wind noise was virtually unnoticeable, and we only noticed a bit of turbulence at the A-pillar while heading into a quartering gust at highway speed. On dry pavement, the extra suspension travel and relatively soft tune didn’t result the sort of wallowing you’d find in a Ram TRX. Equally impressive was the Goodyear Wrangler Territory MTs—despite their rather aggressive tread, these tires were as quiet as an all-terrain tire at every speed we tried.

Chevrolet

The loudest part of our ZR2 tester was the 6.2’s optional Corsa exhaust. It’s pleasantly raspy on cold-start and comes alive at mid-throttle over 2500 rpm. As is typical of Corsa products, there’s no drone, and the exhaust note is barely there at the kind of throttle needed to maintain high-desert freeway speeds of 70-plus mph. For a truck as rowdy as the ZR2, the Corsa is a pretty good fit, and it may prod you to spend more time on the throttle.

Now for the not-so-great news: The Silverado ZR2 has an EPA rating of 14 mpg city, 17 mpg highway, 15 mpg combined. That’s nothing to brag about, especially when other, less thirsty half-tons can see 20-plus mpg on the highway. (That said, the ZR2 does go 33 percent farther per gallon than the supercharged Ram TRX, and it matches the combined rating of Ford’s 3.7-liter EcoBoost Raptor.)

The ZR2-exclusive steel front bumper features end caps designed to optimize the truck’s off-road approach angle. The unit is built in three pieces, allowing sections to be replaced individually in case of severe damage. Brandan Gillogly

Back to the good news: Chevrolet plans to build as many ZR2s as buyers want. Going forward, the division expects this truck to represent as much as 10 percent of new Silverados, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the actual take rate ends up higher. Aside from a rather steep entry price, there aren’t many drawbacks. The only question is, why didn’t Chevrolet do this sooner?

 

***

 

2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2

Price: $69,195 / $73,310 (base / as-tested)

Highs: Comfortable on-road, comfortable off-road. Plenty of power. Loads of capability but doesn’t look too audacious.

Lows: Only one available powertrain, and it’s thirsty. Comes nearly fully optioned. Not everyone lives near the desert and can take the weekend to go Baja prerunning.

Summary: Everything we loved about the Chevy Colorado ZR2, just with 100 more horsepower, more cab space, and more utility.

 

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