2024 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 ZR2 Bison Is Prince Of The Hammers

This truck is the right tool for getting the job done, whatever that job may be.

Something great is happening at Chevrolet if you’re into off-roading or the kind of pursuits that require a vehicle to go into the wild. Over the past few months, we’ve got to sample the ZR2 family of trucks, starting with first drives of the Colorado ZR2 and the giant Silverado HD ZR2. Finally, we get the regular Silverado 1500 in ZR2 form for a full week’s test drive; it fits in right in the middle of the others we’ve tested since the Colorado ZR2 is the smallest and most agile of the trio, and the Silverado HD ZR2 is an absolute monster that could tow almost anything into the desert. The Silverado ZR2 should fit most people looking for a balance between work and play with their truck.

The Silverado ZR2 is powered by a 6.2-liter V8 that makes 420 horsepower, paired with a 10-speed transmission, all-wheel-drive, Multimatic damped suspension, and bodywork designed to avoid getting caught by rocks or tree stumps.

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Exterior: Cut The Corners

The Silverado 1500 ZR2 has a grumpier face than lesser trims, but below the grill is where the business starts. The bumper’s corners are trimmed back to aid the approach angle (32.5 degrees), while the rear gets the same treatment for the departure angle (23.4 degrees). The bumpers also get red tow eyelets, while the rear bumper loses exit holes for the exhausts as they are re-routed to reduce the chances of getting snagged on obstacles. The fenders are no wider than a regular Silverado’s, although there’s some extra cladding on the edges for protection.

33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory mud-terrain tires are standard on the ZR2, and help with grip but also to raise the ride height. The Silverado ZR2 has 11.2 inches of ground clearance – three inches more than standard Silverados.

Our tester for the week was the ZR2 Bison Edition, which boasts steel AEV stamped-steel bumpers fore and aft, gloss black 18-inch wheels, and steel skid plates for the front and rear differential, transfer case, and fuel tank. The ZR2 Bison Edition also gets a Multi-Flex tailgate.

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Interior: Very Chevy

While the interior is very Chevy, the brand has upped its game, and inside, the Silverado ZR2 is a pleasant place to spend time. The materials are mostly par for the course in a higher-trim truck but somewhat let down by the cheap-feeling electronic console-mounted drive selector. It’s not a deal-breaker and made up for with an intuitive 13.4-inch infotainment screen that’s quick to respond to inputs and a slick and configurable 12.3 digital gauge cluster.

A wireless charging pad and wireless Apple Carplay and Android Auto are standard, along with ZR2-specific seats. The Bison trim gets a few aesthetic updates, including AEW brand stamps on the seat headrests and branded floor liners.

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Under The Hood: All Of The V8

Although the 3.0-liter Duramax Turbo Diesel engine was made available to the ZR2 for 2024, our tester had the familiar V8 under the hood. The Silverado’s 6.2-liter naturally aspirated pushrod engine has been tried and tested and not found wanting, so we were glad to find it fitted to our ZR2, providing a hefty and reliable 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. It doesn’t read as impressively as the Ford F-150 Raptor or the RAM 1500 TRX, but it’s a workhorse delivering more power than the majority of buyers will ever need, particularly when it comes to off-roading that isn’t desert-running, where the torque matters.

When we first drove this generation of Silverado ZR2, we beat it up on a first drive into the trails of Joshua Tree in California. For this test drive, we ventured out to the home of the now legendary ‘King Of The Hammers’ in Johnson Valley to find some different terrain. We knew the truck and torque could eat rocks and spit them out, but how would it deal with twisting trails with sections of deep sand and higher-speed areas? After all, if you go to Johnson Valley, it would be a crime not to do a little hurtling around one of the dry lake beds.

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Off The Road: Sometimes You Need A Hammer

When we attended the first drive event organized by Chevy, the highlight of the day was getting to test the truck’s rock crawling and rock climbing ability. The engineering highlight of the ZR2 is the adaptation of the Multimatic DSSV dampers. We say adaptation as they were originally developed for open-wheel race cars and have since made their way into all sorts of racing and road cars, including Chevy’s epic Camaro Z/28. For off-road use, the dampers feature three spool-valve chambers with newly designed seals, and they work in conjunction with new springs that add to the ZR2’s ride height.

Our first run in Johnson Valley was out on a fast sand trail that we attacked recently in a Bronco Raptor. Without that extra width, the Silverado ZR2 won’t stay as stable at the same high speeds you can get to with one of the desert runners, but that doesn’t mean you won’t trigger a smile without risking limb and life. The suspension and diffs keep things ridiculously smooth and predictable, and even without deflating the tires a bit for that section, there was no fear of getting stuck in the sand.

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Further out, the sand gets softer, and the hills rise steeper, which is where sensible people will air down. We weren’t feeling particularly worried and had made friends with some close-by off-road campers who could pull us out if we needed it. Still, nobody wants that embarrassment, so we kept up the momentum and put our trust in the torque available when it got steep. We powered through and up to some exceptional views and only needed to lock the diffs once – a function that’s just a button press away at all times.

We don’t want to harp on about the desert trucks from Ford and RAM, but the comparisons are natural, and it’s worth noting that we were able to slip through gaps in rocks and explore areas that a Raptor or TRX wouldn’t fit through.

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Then, as it would be rude not to, we tooled around on the dry lake bed – not to prove anything, but just to have fun. Turns out this makes for spectacular and entertaining photos. Our final real test was to run the sand whoops parallel to the track leading out of that section of Johnson Valley. Again, the suspension managed to surprise us, this time by allowing us to roll through at speed without crashing us around in the cabin.

Finally, we got the perfect end to a day in the desert just as the sun started to dip below the horizon. We weren’t planning to get any more photos, but the setting sun dropped light perfectly while illuminating the clouds behind. It was as if California wanted to show off that this was a natural home for the ZR2.

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On The Road: It’s A Truck

We put some highway miles down on the way home and, if anything, the ZR2’s ride quality is an improvement over the regular Silverado. Inside, there’s extra road noise from the tires but they’re designed to soak up lumps and bumps and don’t even notice the occasional pothole or the broken surface of California’s worst paved freeway.

Throughout the week, we appreciated just how nice the ride is and how the extra road noise is still well within our comfort zone. Having recently done the same thing with a Bronco Raptor, we also appreciated the normal width around town and, in particular, parking.

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Verdict: Done Right

Chevy isn’t playing the headline-grabbing trophy-truck game Ford and Dodge are with their F-150 Raptor or the RAM 1500 TRX, meaning there’s a no-nonsense approach to building the best off-road trucks the brand can put into production. The Silverado 1500 ZR2 doesn’t suffer from excessive width that hampers off-road and garage parking ability or over-the-top power figures, yet it can tow big loads without fuss.

The Silverado ZR2 doesn’t sacrifice everyday usability while delivering exceptional off-road performance. It’s as much the tool a truck needs to be and makes the F-150 Raptor and the 1500 TRX look like the toys they are – amazing toys, yes, but they’re far from ideal for double duty as daily driving trucks.

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For something at the top of its range with so much ability and utility, the $80,035 price isn’t startling here in 2023, making it, relatively speaking, an affordable and more realistic alternative to the supertrucks. It’s also an extremely capable off-roader that will go places and take a beating doing so without complaint.

However, if you’re looking for a more agile off-roader and don’t need something bigger for hauling stuff around, the Colorado is more agile due to its lighter weight and shorter wheelbase and has a more comfortable ride quality in general. Either way, any of the smaller ZR2 trucks are easy to recommend for an out-of-the-factory off-roader that will hang with the majority of modified trucks out there.

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