Out here in the California desert, off-roaders don’t do anything by half. A truck has to climb, it has to scale rocks, and it also has to tear ass across the dusty, hard-packed trails that qualify as roads. If it can’t, it really isn’t considered much of a machine.
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Chevrolet has taken up the challenge. For 2022, its full-size Silverado gets a makeover that includes a more powerful turbo engine, refreshed styling, larger infotainment and instrument cluster screens, and the focus of my being here, its first-ever ZR2 off-road version — the second Chevy truck to be so-equipped, following the midsize Colorado ZR2.
It’s not quite as gnarly as Ford’s Raptor, and its power pales against the ridiculous 702 horses in the Ram TRX. But those two trucks start at $90,300 and $103,595, respectively; and while the ZR2’s tag of $75,248 is still a substantial chunk of change, that difference may pull more than a few off-roader eyeballs over to the Chevy showroom.
While the Silverado lineup also includes Regular and Double Cab configurations, the ZR2 comes strictly as a Crew Cab, and only with a 6.2L V8 engine that makes 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, mated to a ten-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel-drive is standard, of course, and includes a 4Auto mode that can be used on paved surfaces.
The ZR2 gets a new power-dome hood along with a three-piece front bumper, so if you ding a corner of it, you don’t have to replace the whole thing. My tester’s rock sliders were an add-on accessory, and the six-position Multi-Flex Tailgate can be added as an option.
The reworked interior is added to all trims from the LT up. The ZR2 gets the new 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 13.4-inch infotainment screen with Google Built-In, and an electronic push-pull gearshift lever that I’d much prefer as a conventional shifter or even a dial (one should never have to push forward for Reverse). The leather upholstery includes unique-to-ZR2 embossed seat inserts.
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But none of that alone creates an off-road warrior, and the ZR2’s magic is in the greasy bits. It features Multimatic DSSV (Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve) dampers with three connected fluid chambers, and front and rear electronic lockers. The 18-inch wheels wear 33-inch tires, and underbody protection includes an integrated front skid plate. It has 284 mm (11.2 inches) of ground clearance, with a 31.8-degree approach angle, and a departure angle of 23.3 degrees — similar to Raptor’s 31/23.9 angles with 35-inch tires. The ZR2’s front suspension has 250 mm (9.8 inches) of travel and the rear has 270 mm (10.6 inches). There’s a camera tucked behind the front grille, and when the truck’s set into 4Low and then into Terrain Mode for off-road, you get one-pedal driving that slows and stops it when your foot lifts off the throttle.
Thusly equipped to handle the tough stuff, I took off across the vehicles-allowed-here section of the Joshua Tree National Forest. Pretty much all of these off-road-specific trucks are smooth, and the ZR2 follows that pattern. The dampers do an exceptional job of turning washboard roads into just a flutter, and it takes a really big bump to send the tires on an easily-controlled sideways skitter.
The event’s off-road tour company took us up the sandy side of a foothill, with large chunks dug out to show off the suspension articulation. I thoroughly enjoy most off-roading, but for whatever reason, I thoroughly dislike the extreme sideways tip you can get on such a course. The Silverado’s wheelbase and track play a part, versus smaller vehicles like a Jeep Wrangler, but even so, the truck did an excellent job of staying fairly straight and keeping me in my comfort zone.
There was another climb to come, this one up a steep, rocky trail near an abandoned mine. The Silverado is needlessly oversized, as are all full-size trucks, and truth be told, the ZR2 makes more sense in the midsize Colorado on many trails — including this one, a narrow path with nothing alongside but the edge and the valley floor a long way down. The spotters who’d earlier guided us on the sandy trail seemed off on a smoke break somewhere, and I was glad for the ZR2’s forward camera when I couldn’t see enough over that exaggerated hood, and could instead watch the terrain on the screen.
For all the ZR2’s off-road chops, most will likely spend the majority of their time on pavement – at $75,000-plus, I’m thinking it’s the third or fourth owner that’s really going to thrash this truck to its limits – and it does an excellent job on the asphalt. There’s virtually no side-to-side sway, as can sometimes happen with a vehicle that’s meant to be flexible over tough trails. Instead, those dampers give it a very smooth ride; it’s well-planted and very confident, and the turning circle is surprisingly tight for its size. It’s as equally good on the daily commute as on a weekend-warrior expedition. It’ll also tow up to 8,900 lbs, and carry a payload up to 1,440 lbs.
The entire lineup benefits from the 2022 refresh. The 2.7L turbocharged engine gets tuned to 430 lb-ft of torque, up from 348 lb-ft; while trucks with the 3.0L diesel can be optioned with a maximum towing package for as high as 13,300 lbs of pull. All trims get Chevrolet Safety Assist, including emergency front braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, and automatic high-beam headlamps. And should you want a slightly-lower-priced option, the 2021 truck carries forward into 2022 as the Silverado Limited.
But if you want to tackle tough off-road, or even just want to know you can, the ZR2 is a very well-rounded truck that switches effortlessly from coarse country to civilized cul-de-sac. You generally have to drive on-road to get to the off-road, after all, and this machine does an equally good job on both.