The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 ZR2 is ludicrous. Hold on, bear with me for a second. How else are you going to describe a truck that weighs more than 5,000 pounds, can tow almost 9,000, but can drive at 40 miles an hour down a road too rocky for me to walk on without spilling my coffee? Exactly. It’s the best kind of ludicrous, though — the kind that lets you get into all sorts of fun and trouble.
If we’re being fair to the folks at Chevrolet, this isn’t even that absurd of a truck. If you really want ridiculous, check out the Ford F-150 Raptor R or the Ram TRX — big-dollar trucks with forced induction to help make obscene power and let you launch over dunes that are taller than your house. In comparison, the Silverado ZR2 is downright reasonable.
In short: The 2023 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 ZR2 is a highly capable off-road pickup fitted with what might be the best dampers for all-around use in the business. It’s also a lot more subtle than its competition, for better or worse.
2023 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 ZR2
- Engine 6.2L V8
- HP/Torque 420/460
- MPG 14/17/15 city/highway/combined
- Towing 8,900 lbs.
- Payload 1,440 lbs.
- Multimatic shocks
- Special Goodyear MT tires
- Twin locking differentials
- Factory rock rails
- Multitudes of camera views
- Irritatingly loud exhaust
- Wanders on the highway
- Some cheap interior bits
- No factory side steps
- Not as flashy as Raptor and TRX
Silverado 1500 6.2L V8 Power
We’ll start with the engine. Chevrolet makes its 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque the old-fashioned way via a naturally aspirated 6.2L V8.
This is a more modern engine than it sounds, though. The latest 6.2L V8 has dynamic fuel management, so it can run on just a single cylinder to save fuel. Or it can simply dump in gas to make loads of power and pump air through the downright childish Borla exhaust.
On the highway, this truck should be able to get 17 miles per gallon. In my testing off-road, which was mostly blasting down old logging roads and not rock crawling, the figure was more like 9 miles per gallon. Which maybe isn’t so bad?
Chevrolet adds a 10-speed automatic to the back of that V8, along with a low-range transfer case. The two-speed unit is attached to just a few select grades of Silverado, and unlike the lesser Trail Boss, only the ZR2 gets the EV-like one-pedal Terrain drive mode. It’s great for simplifying getting up and over rocks and logs, no matter your off-road driving prowess/experience.
Twin Electronic Lockers
Both the front and rear axles on the ZR2 are selectable electronic lockers. This is the only version of the Silverado that gets that feature. The rest are limited to an auto-locking rear.
Selectable lockers are great for balancing traction needs and being able to steer. Trying to make a tight turn with the front diff locked is a task you don’t want to have to do off-road, but the one-touch control lets you go back and forth between steering ability and maximum traction as needed.
Chevy lets you lock the rear differential in two-wheel drive as well as 4Hi, which is perfect for getting out of a bit of snow without taking the time to shift to four-wheel drive. Or, you know, for making sure you’re spinning both rear tires when you show off at the local car meet.
Silverado 1500 ZR2-Specific Tires
Big off-road intentions need big tires, and the Silverado has some good-sized rubber. The 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory MTs have big, mean tread lugs and even lugs on the side to help protect them from trail damage and help dig you out of a hole.
They aren’t as big as the 37s Ford offers on the Raptor, but GM’s little bit of extra sanity makes up for it. See, these particular Territory tires are specific to the ZR2. Chevrolet had Goodyear tweak the tread to keep the traction and durability but drop the highway howl.
The tires are hardly silent on the highway, but they are a lot quieter than your typical mud terrain tire. This is the reasonable full-sized off-roader, right?
Then again, that big exhaust does a pretty great job of covering up any other sounds … like your radio, your kids, or your local law enforcement unhappy about those two-tire burnouts earlier. At least it’s optional.
What the Silverado ZR2 doesn’t do with those tires is as notable as what it does. They aren’t pushed out under massive fender flares that make ZR2 impossible to park. Maybe the look isn’t as cool as the more extreme competition, but it’s also a lot nicer in everyday life. Again, it’s more reasonable.
Chevy has packed some more off-road kit into the 2023 Silverado ZR2, like beefy skid plates for the engine and transfer case. There are some big red recovery hooks as well, and rock rails to protect the edges of the cab.
Magic Shocks for the 2023 Silverado 1500 ZR2
Now we’re at the place where Chevrolet has been entirely unreasonable and where the big pickup has a distinct edge over any off-road competitors.
Just look at those gold shock absorbers poking out from behind the wheels. The big reservoirs that read Multimatic DSSV. To me, they say “magic.”
I’ve gone in-depth into how these shocks work before, but here’s your summary: Instead of traditional shock valving, they use spool valves. The valve system offers incredible levels of tuning by engineers, and the shocks do exactly what they’re told. They’re not adaptive or electronically adjusted; they’re just made better.
These shocks let the Silverado ZR2 ride more smoothly than any crossovers on the highway but then soak up almost anything that the trail has to throw at it.
The heavy weight of this truck shows that there are limitations to the magic. The body simply isn’t as well controlled as it is on the much lighter Colorado ZR2. But it does blow away anything else when the bumps get big, and the trail gets gnarly.
Silverado ZR2: Built for Off-Road
Chevrolet’s low-range gearing and locking differentials give you plenty of traction for climbing obstacles and big piles of dirt. The front-facing cameras and the clever cut-outs in the front bumper give you maximum control and more clearance when you’re getting close to those obstacles, making sure you hit them with the tires (or not at all) and not the bumper. All the while, impressive wheel articulation keeps those tires touching in some pretty amazing situations.
But it’s that rough road ride that I love so much in this truck. Like I said, driving down roads where lesser trucks would be wagging their tails like a corgi, the Silverado ZR2 is smooth enough for me to sip my double-double without spilling a drop. (That’s a coffee, not a burger, for those who don’t speak Canadian.)
The tail stays planted, the tires remain connected with the ground, and you don’t see a twerking bed in your rearview mirror.
Not Bad On-Highway Either
Highway performance isn’t perfect, of course. The tall mud terrain tires play the biggest part in that, with sidewalls that flex and a tread pattern that wanders from side to side just enough for you to notice. Steering that doesn’t kick back at you on the trail is also vague on paved roads. So you get a bit more of that wandering on the highway.
The ZR2 is going to take a bit more work to steer on the road than a standard Silverado. But as the only real consequence of the off-road capability you gain, it’s well worth it.
On the inside, this feels more like a luxury truck than something you want to bash down a back road. It almost needs to, though, since this is the most expensive Silverado trim by around five grand. At this price, you want comfy, and ZR2 delivers.
Silverado ZR2 High-Tech Interior
The seats and dash are finished in a mix of black and grey leather. The colors and patterns are specific to the ZR2, along with the neon green contrast stitching. Not sure if we love that color, especially against the blue paint, but at least it is different.
ZR2 gets Chevrolet’s new 13.4-inch center screen and new Google built-in infotainment system. I like that it has Google Maps and other available apps. But it doesn’t have the breadcrumb trail Ford’s off-roaders offer. And the system was slow to play audio when I started the vehicle. Specifically, it often took up to a couple of minutes before SiriusXM would start playing those TikTok tunes.
The dash is also a digital 12.3-inch screen that’s highly configurable. I liked the off-road pages that showed more than just the usual pitch and roll angles. The screen has a small display showing the status of the differential locks but also lights up a wheel icon to let you know which tire has lost traction.
That low traction alert feature worked both going and stopping and was very handy when the snow-covered dirt roads got slick. It’ll show that off-road info in the head-up display, too.
Silverado ZR2 has most of the same good bits that the rest of the Silverado lineup has. The massive cabin was loaded with cubbies to hide cargo, there are about 100 cargo tie-down loops in the bed, and it has GM’s slick multi-purpose tailgate, for example. It also has some of the same downsides as the standard truck, like a headlight switch that I somehow pushed into the dash each time I got in the truck.
Like the other off-road pickups, Silverado ZR2 sacrifices a bit of towing and payload capacity. The Chevy can tow 8,900 pounds and has a payload of 1,440. Compare that with up to 13,100 pounds and 1,750 on non-ZR2 crew cab Silverado models.
Ram TRX can handle 8,100 pounds of towing and has a payload of 1,310. Raptor’s max tow is 8,200 pounds, and the payload peaks at 1,400 pounds. So ZR2 wins, but it’s really more of a draw.
2023 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 ZR2 Review: Summary
Starting from $73,395, the Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 is far from cheap, but it does represent a bit of a bargain. A Raptor starts from about three grand more, and TRX starts from $10,000 more (if you can find one). If you want faster, you can push a 6.2L Silverado to 650 horses a lot cheaper and easier than adding Multimatic dampers to either one of the other trucks.
Silverado ZR2 might not be as flashy or showy as the extreme off-road competition, but there’s more to life than strutting around like a peacock. The Silverado ZR2 is immensely capable, especially considering its size. This big truck can turn unmaintained washboard into highway pavement, and it can tow or haul your toys into the woods with you.
It might be easy to overlook, but it’s one you should not ignore. And if you want a little more flash, there’s always the Silverado AEV Bison.