The Ford F-150 Raptor and the Ram 1500 TRX are the off-road pickups of the moment. While They can handle virtually any terrain, and speed over broken desert roads quicker than anything else on the market… but they’re expensive, inefficient, and not very good at towing. And those widebody fenders? That means both are exceptionally difficult to maneuver through tight spaces. They’re big toys. And for people with big toy boxes, that’s awesome. Most of us, however, don’t have toy boxes at all. We have garages. Often small garages.
The 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 is a performance truck that can actually play the role of great daily-driver alongside being a capable off-roader. No, it doesn’t have bulging muscle fenders, or booked-on-Expedia suspension travel, or astral-projection power figures. Instead, The ZR2 package takes a more practical approach to improving how the Silverado performs without self-conscious over-decoration. The result is an affordable truck with a broader use case that should appeal to more people.
The Silverado ZR2 does get unique fascias to differentiate it from the rest of the 1500 range with angry headlights and C-shaped DRLs. The front is reminiscent of the Tahoe Z71, An easy-to-spot skidplate begins at the black-painted steel bumper and wraps all the way under the truck’s engine, protecting it from any particularly sharp rocks or ambitious dull ones. There’s also a set of bright red tow hook mounts to pull someone out of a ditch—or get stuck yourself. Out back there’s a reworked bumper without any exhaust cutouts. That’s because Chevy had to reroute the piping to make sure it wouldn’t scrape on trails. The exhaust exits under the bumper, tucked up high and away from harm.
Most importantly, the ZR2’s fenders are no different than a standard 1500’s, save for a set of thin stick-on cladding above the wheel wells. That means the ZR2 is essentially no wider than any other Silverado. So by sheer virtue of its thinner size, it can get places that neither a Raptor nor a TRX ever could. During a drive through some of Joshua Tree National Park, the ZR2 would just barely be able to squeeze through some of the more challenging trails, gigantic boulders on either side ready to mulch wheels and bend metal. The Dodge (er, Ram) or Ford would be impossible— they’re simply too wide.
The ZR2’s svelte body isn’t the only thing it has going for it on the trails. Goodyear Wrangler Territory mud-terrain tires measuring LT275/70 R18 mean more grip over loose and uneven surfaces, with more protection from sharp rocks versus standard all-seasons. They also mean 11.2 inches of ground clearance, allowing for an approach angle of 31.8 degrees, a departure angle of 23.3 degrees, and a breakover angle of 23.4 degrees—not bad considering the 147.5-inch wheelbase. There’s a camera in the front grille to give the driver a view of the trail in front of them, and a slower steering rack to improve low-speed maneuvering.
The real star here though, is the suspension. Like the much-loved Colorado ZR2 we drove back in 2018, the Silverado ZR2 comes standard with a set of Multimatic’s DSSV dampers. Originally formulated for use in the early 2000s CART series, these trick dampers have made their way into all sorts of iconic racing and road cars, such as the Camaro Z/28 and Ford GT. Adapted here for off-road use, they’re paired with independent suspension up front and leaf-springs in the rear, and feature three spool-valve chambers with newly designed seals. There’s also specific springs that Chevy says increase suspension travel over the Trail Boss trim.
Through challenging trails, the ZR2 is a masterclass. Because it’s a big pickup, it can’t do some things a Wrangler or a Bronco could. But a true two-speed transfer case and electronic locking front and rear differentials mean we never had an issue with traction during our time in Joshua Tree. Big boulders, loose sand, rocky inclines, you name it. The Silverado ate it all up. The revised suspension delivered solid articulation through the low-speed stuff and stability through quicker, less treacherous areas. We probably lifted a wheel off the ground only once or maybe twice the entire time. Chevy chose a path designed to show off the truck’s advantages, but still, we rock-crawled away impressed.
Where Chevy’s truck falls short of the Raptor and TRX is in the really high-speed stuff. Engineers were keen to keep us from going too quickly over some of Joshua Tree’s smoother, more open trails as we edged up to the suspension’s limits. Still, at 50-plus mph, the truck was poised and reacted well to bigger inputs and quick corrections alike. If your goal is desert running, this Silverado is more than capable enough to put a smile on your face without puckering your butt. It’s only when you step up to the truly high-speed open desert stuff and the highest skill levels that you might feel the ZR2 is lacking. We never went near fast enough to find that limit.
On the road, the Silverado ZR2 is nearly as pleasant as the standard 1500. Drive it back to back with a more street-oriented trim, and you can sense the slower rack, busier suspension, and louder tire tread. But comfort levels are well within every day reason. Because those DSSV dampers and Goodyears are designed to absorb massive impacts with rocks, they’re perfectly suited to smacking potholes and speed bumps without fuss. Through corners, the miracle dampers give the Silverado a taught, stiffer-feeling chassis without any of those typical body-on-frame jitters. And because the truck isn’t a massive widebody Baja weapon, it’s easy to place in lanes and not terribly difficult to park. We’re not saying the ZR2 is small, it’s just that the Raptor and (especially) the TRX are ridiculously large.
While the Silverado’s 6.2-liter naturally aspirated pushrod V-8 isn’t doesn’t feature any changes for the ZR2, it’s still worth highlighting because it’s that good. Like in the normal 1500, it’s rated at 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque—down versus the Raptor and TRX, but plenty for most real-world situations. On slower portions of the trail that low-end torque was a godsend, feeding more than enough twist for any obstacle we found ourselves driving over. Thrust tends to die off towards the top end of the rev range, but that didn’t stop us from the occasional highway pull. Our test truck had a throaty Borla exhaust, which gave the truck a rowdy growl to match its tough-guy looks. At $1399, it’s a must-have dealer-installed option.
The Silverado’s interior has been given a massive update for 2022, and it makes the ZR2 way easier to recommend. The dashboard is dominated by a 13.4-inch infotainment screen that’s intuitive to use and quick to respond. There’s wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, along with a wireless charging pad in the center console below the armrest. That means no fumbling with cables, ever. In front of the pleasantly undersized, thin-rimmed steering wheel you’ll find a 12.3 digital gauge cluster that can be configured to show as much or as little information as you’d like. There are ZR2-specific seats up front with extra bolstering, there to keep occupants from flying out of place through bumpier sections of trail—they certainly helped on our brief California desert adventure. We would’ve liked to see Chevy’s tried and true column shifter for selecting gears in the 10-speed transmission, as the electronic console-mounted selector felt cheap and underwhelming to use. But we can’t have everything, now can we?
Chevy says the ZR2 isn’t a direct competitor to the Raptor or the TRX. That makes sense considering the considerable gap in upgrades and power. But it’s tough not to compare them. Though the Silverado might not be as flashy, its more restrained nature, in some cases, actually makes it more capable off the pavement. For slow- and medium-speed off-roading, we have no doubt it would be able to keep up with either of the more expensive trucks. For most people and most trails, the ZR2 will go absolutely anywhere you want it to, as fast as you want it to go.]
Then there’s the on-road livability. Because it shares its size with the normal 1500, owners will have no problem commuting to work, squeezing through gaps, and finding parking spots that fit. At $69,295 including destination, the Silverado undercuts the other two trucks in price as well. Factor in the excellent interior, and it becomes the obvious choice for people who need a fun truck that can check every box. Even those toy boxes.