Image: Kevin Williams
When the Ford F-150 Raptor dropped way back in 2010, its rousing success had everyone wondering when all the other truck-makers would follow suit. Eventually, Ram gave us the TRX, yet another Baja-inspired jack-of-all-trades trophy truck for the home. But where was GM? It seemed like Chevy finally stepped up to the call with the Silverado ZR2. But not exactly.
I’ll just let y’all know right now: The 2023 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 isn’t a Ram TRX or Ford Raptor. But you know what? After a week driving it on the crowded streets of LA and traversing an off-road park in Santa Clarita, I’ve realized the ZR2 might be the better truck. Or, at least, better at its designated purpose than the Raptor or TRX.
2023 Chevy Silverado ZR2: What Is It?
Photo: Kevin Williams
The ZR2 is sort of the boss-daddy of the Silverado lineup. Where the Silverado High Country is luxurious and comfort-oriented, the ZR2 is aimed at the off-road crowd. It’s similar to the lower-trim Z71 package, especially when paired with the Trail Boss trim, but this one kicks it up a notch with an even more hardcore off-road attitude.
I mean, just look at the thing. The Silverado’s naturally imposing lines and super-tall hood have been made even taller with a suspension lift and chunky off-road tires. For 2022, the Silverado got a thorough facelift, with boomerang DRLs that integrate into the front fascia a lot more smoothly than before. That’s still here, but the front bumper has been swapped out for a Baja-style unit complete with red tow hooks. It’s definitely meant to give a mean look, but it’s functional too.
2023 Chevy Silverado ZR2 Bison interior shown.Photo: Chevrolet
As imposing as the ZR2 is, it’s actually rather narrow compared to the top-dog competitors from Ford and Ram. Well, as narrow as a big-ass full-size truck can be, I guess. The ZR2 doesn’t have the same can’t-fit-in-a-car-wash width of the F-150 Raptor and Ram TRX. If you’re not a Chevy enthusiast, I could see how the ZR2 could seem like merely a regular Silverado with a lift kit and different tires. It certainly doesn’t have the visual machismo of the Ford or Ram.
Inside, the Silverado ZR2 is about the same as the rest of the Silverado lineup. The refreshed interior features improved materials and a Google-based infotainment system. Like the High Country I drove recently, the ZR2’s interface was easy to use but very slow. Generally, it’s a nice place to be — the seats are comfy, the plastics feel good, and the only real issue is getting in and out of the damn thing because it’s so high. Even as a full-grown 5’9″ man, hopping in and out of the ZR2 was a graceless chore for me, involving grabbing hold of the seat or door jamb and sort of climbing inside like a four-year-old hoisting himself onto the kitchen counter to sneak cookies before dinner. Oh well, ‘tis the price of off-road performance, no?
2023 Chevy Silverado ZR2: Mechanical Details
Photo: Kevin Williams
Chevrolet’s representatives told me the ZR2 is meant to be a direct competitor to the Ford Raptor and Ram TRX, but stats-wise, it seems like a fundamentally different truck.
The ZR2 comes standard with GM’s excellent 6.2-liter V8 making 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 10-speed automatic. The V8’s torque comes early, and the transmission is adept at always picking the correct gear for the situation. And yet, in context, I can’t help but wonder, does the ZR2 need more power? The answer is yes, but also no.
Over my week with the ZR2, I never felt as if it was short on power. But on paper, it just doesn’t seem like it has the brute strength to go toe-to-toe with the domestic supertrucks. By comparison, the Ram TRX comes standard with a bewildering 702 horsepower, and even the base-model 450-hp Ford F-150 Raptor has a horsepower and torque advantage over the Chevy. Those numbers aren’t just a stats-sheet flex, either: the TRX will sprint from 0-60 in under 4 seconds, and the V6-powered Raptor does it in around five-and-and-a-half. The Silverado ties up the back of the pack with a mid-6-second-ish 0-60 time.
It’s not slow by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just… different. Whereas the Raptor and TRX are trophy-truck-inspired, the ZR2’s narrow body and terrain modes feel more aimed at technical, low-speed off-roading. The Silverado ZR2 is comparatively demure, less brash and assertive than the flashy TRX and Raptor. It’s quiet, and although it accelerates quickly, the pace isn’t as brutal and rapid as its theoretical competitors.
Even the equipment underneath the Silverado ZR2 seems more “crawl-ready” compared to the high-speed Baja-style dune-bashing promoted by the other two. For example, the ZR2 has Multimatic DSSV spool-valve dampers, designed for increased wheel travel. It has a trick two-speed transfer case and one-pedal driving when you’re in a low-speed terrain mode. The Raptor and TRX are built to use horsepower and heft to bash their way through anything. The ZR2 doesn’t have the equipment or power to play with those two trucks.
The Silverado ZR2 is a crawler. It’s a well-executed version of the lifted pickup every suburban midwesterner dreams of, with added clearance and capability and a factory warranty.
On the road, the ZR2 is shockingly manageable, even in bumper-to-bumper LA traffic. The 10-speed automatic and 6.2-liter engine work well together, easily darting through traffic on the 405 without issue. GM engineers did an excellent job making sure the 10-speed automatic is always in the right place at the right time, and because the engine is naturally aspirated, there’s no annoying turbo lag as the powertrain attempts to get its act together when you demand more power and speed. The standard-width body makes the ZR2 maneuverable in city traffic, and although the chunky tires and lifted ride height make it less ideal for corner-carving, a quick blast up the Los Angeles Crest highway was no problem.
2023 Chevy Silverado ZR2: Off-Road Chops
Photo: Kevin Williams
Blasting up the ACH was fun, but it’s silly to expect a rough-and-tumble truck to corner like a sports car. So I took the ZR2 to an off-road park in Santa Clarita to give it a workout in its intended environment. In this element, the ZR2 absolutely excels. Its knobby tires and adept automatic transmission make the thing a goddamn truck-shaped billy goat.
The DSSV shocks, low-range gearing, and good approach and departure angles all make for a set-it-and-forget-it off-road experience. Strong low-end torque makes it feel like you could scale the face of a mountain. Most notably, though, the Silverado’s sensible width is an asset in the off-road park. It seems like most off-road trails are inherently biased toward compact or midsized SUVs, especially in Santa Clarita. The Silverado actually physically fits on these trails; I doubt a TRX or Raptor could follow without threatening paint or sheetmetal. It’s so easy to go anywhere in the Silverado, even when you’re not very experienced at all.
2023 Chevy Silverado ZR2: Final Thoughts
Photo: Kevin Williams
My week with the ZR2 had me thinking: What exactly is this truck? The ZR2 I drove stickered at just over $77,000 — about $10,000 cheaper than a Ram TRX, but about $1,500 more than the cheapest Ford Raptor. If you’re looking for a Chevy to give you a TRX or Raptor experience, you’ll be disappointed. The ZR2 can’t match the brutality of those two trucks. (I think the most direct GM competitor to the TRX and Raptor is the GMC Hummer EV, a vehicle that’s both larger than the Ford or Ram and quicker to 60 mph than either.)
Instead, the Silverado ZR2 is a solid all-rounder, a jack-of-all-trades off-road truck. It may not have as loud of a bark, but it can do so many other things than just be loud and accelerate quickly. It’s comfortable for everyday driving and a deft off-roader, in ways that are a little more nuanced than just pretending you’re playing 4×4 Evolution.
2023 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 4WD Crew Cab 147″ ZR2 Specs
Automatic w/Paddle Shifters