Welcome to the super-truck era.
If you didn’t already get the memo, every American manufacturer is now in the business of building bigger, badder versions of the 4x4s that used to be simple, tool-like transportation. Ford has the Raptor. Ram has the Hellcat-powered TRX. And over at GM, there’s a range of usable factory-lifted rigs that will take you places that your standard 4×4 needs aftermarket help to attempt.
Special-interest vehicle production has found a home in the truck market. It’s not just about towing capacity, leather and cupholders anymore. No, now the factory is building the trucks that off-road enthusiasts have for years been building themselves, and they’re selling a lot of them. There’s treasure in them thar hills.
But while Ford and GM are spending their time and money to build and sell what are essentially off-road racers for the daily commute, Chevrolet is working on solutions that seem more well rounded, at least at first.
With that, I give you the 2023 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2.
The first thing you’ll notice about the ZR2 is its overall height. The hood sits right at nose level with your average American consumer, which is to say it’s tall. The factory has fitted the most serious off-road suspension GM has ever offered to the ZR2, which includes Multimatic DSSV Spool-valve dampners. Those dampners, which have connected chambers for better fluid flow, combine with special springs to add even more wheel travel over the similarly-styled but cheaper Trail Boss. In English, that means the ZR2 does a better job of smoothing out bumps at speed, as well as flexes further in crawling situations for max traction.
The ZR2 also has special skid plates to protect vital components. It’s fitted with a special two-speed transfer case and has electronic locking differentials both front and rear. It also has impressive approach and departure angles, thanks to specific body panels, and massive 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory tires to get you into and then back out of trouble.
In terms of power, the ZR2 comes standard with GM’s 6.2L direct-injected V8 and 10-speed automatic. The V8 is a great fit for an off-road truck, and the transmission is smooth overall, especially compared to the clunky 8-speeds from just a few years back. With over 460 lb-ft of torque, the truck is potent but it’s not exactly fast — at least not compared to the TRX.
Inside, the ZR2 is a familiar place to be. GM’s trucks all share the same basic layout, and this one has the addition of an exclusive Jet Black/Graystone leather interior and dark trim. Crucially, the stereo and heater still has the buttons and knobs that they should have, but the truck also has a big 13.4-inch touchscreen on the dash and great cable-free CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces. My test truck was fitted with the optional rock sliders, which look like but aren’t side steps (beware shin damage), as well as a dealer accessory folding tonneau cover. Overall, this truck feels like a serious place to do business, and it certainly gives you a commanding view while you’re doing it.
To that end, expect anyone in any pre-2000s import car to hate your headlights, which will hit them right in the mirrors at stoplights (ask me how I know). The tires tend to growl on pavement, which is a plus or minus depending on your sensibilities, and the mileage, well, it’s not great at 14/17. But do you care? This thing will take you well off the beaten path without any drama and will get you back home in time for dinner.
Regarding daily use, there’s one major benefit here to the Z over its force-fed competitors, and that’s usability. This Silverado isn’t as wide as either of those two options from Ford and Ram, which means it’s easier to drive and easier to park than the burly twins. Sure, that may mean it’s not quite in the same level as those others in terms of specialization, but the real world is where we all live, and there’s something to be said for being able to find a parking spot when you’re not flying over rocks out in the desert.
The only downside here is the price: $77k as tested. That’s a lot of money — more than $10k above the similar looking Trail Boss — but it’s a lot of truck, too. I consider this concept creep from the muscle car world, which helps make sense out of both this truck’s development and the asking prices for performance-optioned rigs. It’s a new market. And it’s booming.
High Point: View, swagger, capability.
Low Point: Price matches the ride height.
Final Word: Maybe the most reasonable of all the modern performance off-road trucks.
Fun factor/appearance: ***
(***** is best)