What do a Joshua tree and the Chevrolet Silverado have in common? Apparently, it takes them a while to mature. The scruffy-looking tree, for example, may only grow a foot in 12 years, about the same time we expect Chevy to build a truck with serious off-road performance. With the 2022 Silverado 1500 ZR2, that wait is finally over.
Our recent climb, descent and around Joshua Tree National Park provided the perfect setting to understand what ZR2 is all about. The motivation for this new model is General Motors’ lover of a 6.2-liter pushrod V-8. While there’s a strong argument to be made that the low-end grunt of GM’s 3.0-liter turbo-diesel inline-six would be a better fit, the 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque of the 6.2-liter gasoline engine feel right at home here. A quick-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission mates to a two-speed transfer case with traditional two-wheel-drive and high- and low-range four-wheel-drive modes, plus an automatic mode for those who prefer to leave the electronics figure when the front axle must be engaged.
The ZR2 takes the Silverado’s existing Trail Boss trim level to the next level with key off-road hardware. Both the front and rear differentials incorporate electronic lockers, with the former also requiring improved half-shafts for the front axle to handle the extra loads when the differential is locked. Underneath, heavy-duty skid plates prevent obstacles from impaling the truck’s vital components, and knobby 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory all-terrain tires have been wrapped around the standard 18 wheels.
Chevrolet designed the ZR2 to be a weapon for any trail, not just open desert. By not grossly flaring its fenders in the vein of the Ford F-150 Raptor and Ram 1500 TRX, the width of the ZR2 remains relatively narrow. Measuring 81.2 inches in diameter, the Chevy has a beam 5.4 and 6.8 inches narrower than the Raptor and TRX, respectively. Climbing the narrow canyon trails and dry riverbeds that meander through the national park, the ZR2’s slimmer profile easily cleared the surrounding rock walls that the wider trucks would need to carefully navigate. The Silverado’s direct yet low-effort steering lets you precisely place the ZR2’s Goodyears to avoid flats from sharp-edged rocks.
With its differentials locked, the ZR2 climbs gnarly rock ledges quickly. Setting the three-position ride-mode selector to Terrain mode allows for a one-pedal trail riding setup that ran smoother than expected. Just press the accelerator to go and release it to stop, the ZR2 automatically engages its brakes to prevent it from picking up speed. Hill Descent Control allows for 1 mph incremental speed adjustments using the truck’s cruise control toggle. The two electronic aids reduce head movement that can come from two-pedal off-road riding. Fortunately, both systems can be disabled if you prefer to operate the pedals yourself. However, you won’t want to overlook the truck’s various high-resolution camera views, which essentially provide a virtual spotter to navigate your way through technical terrain. While not quite as high-tech, we also welcomed the deep baritone growl provided by the $1399 Borla exhaust system upgrade installed on the truck we drove. Unlike most players in the segment, Chevrolet chose not to install barrel-sized exhaust tips on the rear of the ZR2. Instead, it cleverly routed the truck’s exhaust pipes upwards to avoid costly damage when overcoming obstacles.
Yet despite efforts to protect the exhaust, the ZR2’s 23.3-degree departure angle falls short compared to its immediate competitors. But when it comes to keeping the midsection of the truck from sliding over rocks, its 23.4-degree rollover angle is only topped by the F-150 Raptor on its optional 37-inch tires. Likewise, the ZR2’s model-specific three-piece steel front bumper – whose gloss black finish is a magnet for trail scuffs – allows for an approach angle of 31.8 degrees, again. improved only by the very tired Raptor.
As with Chevy’s smaller Colorado ZR2 pickup, the Silverado ZR2’s Multimatic three-chamber spool shocks are its most notable upgrade – they give the truck an impressive split personality. On the road, these passive dampers contribute to a smooth ride by removing the harshness we’ve previously complained about in the current-gen Silverado. Even body roll is generally kept under control when jostling around corners. Yet in deep sand, they masterfully handle the jumping motions inherent in the ZR2’s leaf-sprung rear axle. never feels out of control. And with 9.8 inches of travel up front and 10.6 inches in the rear—2.0 inches more than in the Trail Boss—plus the addition of hydraulic bump stops, this Silverado shrugs off hard touchdowns with no problem.
Starting at $69,295, the ZR2 doesn’t come cheap. But with its high base price comes the superior quality of the Silverado’s newly revised interior. There’s now a premium feel and modern look inside, highlighted by a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 13.4-inch touchscreen running a Google-based infotainment system . The ZR2-specific leather-wrapped sports seats’ side bolsters and shoulder support do a great job of holding your torso in place, their only downside being a lower cushion that could be a bit softer. However, we’re far less enamored with the design of the Silverado’s new electronic shifter on the console. Feeling both bulky and clunky in operation, its top-mounted Park button is particularly easy to activate unintentionally with a hand at rest.
Unlike its tougher rivals, the ZR2’s off-road prowess doesn’t come at the expense of everyday capability. With a maximum towing capacity of 8900 pounds, it will pull more than the TRX and Raptor. Of course, you’ll still want to shop in a different segment if fuel economy is a priority, as this Silverado gets EPA estimates of just 15 mpg combined, 14 city and 17 highway. As a kind of multi-tool among off-road-oriented pickup trucks, the ZR2 is a supercharged V-8 — and maybe a slightly larger set of tires — nowhere near the performance found in the upper echelons of its segment. . Given the Silverado’s so far slow pace of evolution, we don’t expect any such upgrades anytime soon. But we hope the ZR2’s future growth will exceed that of a Joshua tree.
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