Expert Reviews

2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 First Drive Review

No one likes to feel left out – least of all automakers.

That makes the arrival of the 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 wholly unsurprising, although the amount of time it took to get here certainly is. Ford’s head start in the segment, as well as Ram’s own entry a year ago, meant Chevy needed to try something a little different, and that’s exactly what it did with this off-road-ready half-ton.

Rather than chase its rivals over sand dunes or engage in a battle of brute strength, the Silverado ZR2 is a sort of jack-of-all-trades. It’s also not too extreme that it wouldn’t work as a trades truck, for those who might be so bold. Because for all the desolate places this rig can roam, it remains a satisfyingly civilized machine everywhere else.

The Mandela Effect

Believe it or not, this is the first time the ZR2 moniker has been bestowed upon the Silverado. Stash your surprise with the same false memories as the whole Berenstain Bears debacle and move on. While there’s the Trail Boss trim that came before it – and still exists alongside this machine – the 2022 Silverado ZR2 ratchets the entire experience up at least a few levels.

Much like its smaller sibling, the Colorado ZR2, this half-ton employs spool-valve dampers at all four corners that achieve a sort of equilibrium between compression and rebound in high-stress environments – like, say, ripping along washboard desert roads at something in the neighbourhood of highway speeds. Those work in conjunction with uniquely tuned springs that provide about 50 mm (two in) more suspension travel up front and 25 mm (one in) more in the back than the Trail Boss.

Of course, four-wheel drive is standard fare, with both high- and low-range gearing for off-road excursions, plus a set-it-and-forget it automatic setting. There’s also a new terrain mode that allows for one-pedal driving when either of the engageable four-wheel drive modes are in use, plus front and rear electronic locking differentials to keep the wheels at each axle turning at the same rate regardless of whether one lacks the traction to get torque down.

Staying Civil

And about that torque. The only engine offered here is a hearty 6.2L V8 that generates 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. That’s a far cry from the supercharged 702 hp made by the Ram 1500 TRX, but not too far off the 510 lb-ft of twin-turbocharged torque made by the Ford F-150 Raptor’s motor. More importantly, though, this is an entirely different truck than either of those entries.

While this Chevy’s exhaust note certainly sounds boisterous, its looks – not to mention the overall attitude it carries itself with – are far more mellow. It still comes across as capable, thanks to the 33-inch all-terrain tires it rides on, plus the front bumper complete with cutouts à la the Colorado ZR2, or the exposed aluminum skid plate and shiny red tow hooks. Otherwise, where its rivals boast massively wide bodies that emphasize their status, this truck occupies essentially the same footprint as any other Silverado model of this configuration.

Far from troublesome, this 2,063-mm (81.2-in) wide truck can go places the Raptor and TRX simply can’t on account of their bulging fenders. Take the crevice carved neatly into the desert just outside southern California’s Joshua Tree National Park; there’s simply no way a larger pickup would be able to slip through unscathed, which is entirely by design. So, too, are the turndown exhaust tips tucked up and under the rear bumper. Where other 6.2L-powered Silverados feature simple cutouts to show off their pipes, the ZR2 simply couldn’t accommodate the look. (Just ask the engineering folks how they found out.)

Delightful to Drive

The ZR2 may sound a little clunky across washboard roads, though it’s anything but – even at speeds cresting 80 km/h. In truth, at least audibly, it seems like it has more to do with the steering rack than the spectacular suspension setup, which at the very least deadens such surface impurities before they unsettle those in the cabin.

Back on paved roads, this off-roader rides like any other Silverado on the market, and that means it’s one of the smoothest half-tons on the market despite the lack of air suspension. In truth, it was never lacking those fundamentals in the first place despite the dreary interior it’s been saddled with for the last nine years or so. With an entirely new interface inside, nothing will feel familiar to Silverado faithful – and that might well be the best compliment going.

Running through a 13.4-inch touchscreen stuck to the front of the dash, a new Google-integrated system brings the kind of functionality you might find with your smartphone right to the centre stack of this Chevrolet. (Fear not – wireless Apple CarPlay, as well as Android Auto, are also standard.) With a full suite of physical switchgear for climate, infotainment, and truck stuff mounted just beneath the screen, plus on the steering wheel, this is no longer a distant third amongst half-ton trucks for user-friendliness.

A new 12.3-inch digital instrument screen can be used to call up various functions and features, including pitch and roll angles, plus a couple different off-road-specific settings to ensure you’ve got the Silverado ZR2 set up the right way for whatever lies ahead. Take the undulating gravel climb through that narrow crevice, or the rocky terrain that followed shortly thereafter; all the information thrown up in front of you – transfer case setting, drive mode, differential locks, and more – are augmented by the forward-facing camera that acts as a virtual spotter in place of the real deal.

Either way, the capability of this truck is unquestioned, with generous approach, departure, and breakover angles – 31.8, 23.3, and 23.4 degrees, respectively – plus the wildly game-changing one-pedal system, and all sorts of wheel travel make the Silverado ZR2 virtually unstoppable. While it’s a big vehicle, as all modern half-tons are, which limits the number of narrow trails it can traverse, the Silverado ZR2 is the kind of dynamo that impresses when the going gets rough. And yet it’s also just as competent and composed when all is well, bringing together the best of this truck before its update with a modern user interface and an impressive overall drivability.

Final Thoughts

There’s no hiding that this is a half-ton, from its footprint to the almost clunky way all its weight climbs up, over, and down obstacles. But what else is obvious is an off-road aptitude that makes the 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 a worthy entry in this niche corner of the market. It’s not a question of whether this truck is capable past where the pavement ends – it’s a matter of how far owners of an $80,000 rig are willing to go. But rest assured this Silverado ZR2 has what it takes to get there, back, and then some.