The days when the Ford Raptor was the only option in the full-size performance truck segment are long past. In fact, ever since the introduction of the Ram TRX last year, the Raptor has almost become an afterthought as truck buyers everywhere drool over the idea of having a Hellcat engine stuffed under the hood of their off-road rig. While the obvious answer for other brands to compete with Ram’s 702-horsepower monster is to aim for even bigger numbers (I’m going to be disappointed if Ford’s rumored Raptor R doesn’t sport a Predator V8 from the Shelby GT500 and at least 750 ponies), Chevy has gone a different route with the new Silverado ZR2. While the standard 420-horsepower L87 engine may seem underwhelming when stacked against a Hellcat, the off-road performance features Chevy has added to this truck may just be enough to make hard-core adventurers flock to their local Chevy dealer.
Power Is Nice… But It Isn’t Everything
Now before we get started going into all the ways Chevy has transformed the somewhat lackluster Silverado into a real off-road beast as part of the model’s 2022 revamp, we have to address the elephant in the room – power. There are simply no two ways around it. The Ram TRX is the latest expression of what Stellantis does best and remains the most powerful production pickup around. Anyone who’s had the chance to get behind the wheel of this truck and experienced its 4.5 second 0 to 60 launch knows what I’m talking about (and also knows that the official 0 to 60 time is decidedly on the conservative side).
However, while I certainly wouldn’t say no to a Silverado Blackwing sporting GM’s own supercharged V8 and somewhere north of 650 horsepower (interestingly, GM’s engine actually has the highest torque and flattest powerband of the Big 3 offerings, making it the best-suited to a supertruck… but I digress), I can’t say that Chevy made the wrong call when it chose to concede the power game to Ram and focus its efforts elsewhere. High horsepower is something everyone can appreciate, but unless you are entering the Baja 1000, you probably won’t get many chances to really use that sort of power off-road – and on-road, even the most powerful truck is going to be quickly left behind by any sports car.
Ford tried to capitalize on this with its 2021 Raptor, offering a truck with larger wheels, better dampers, greater suspension travel, and superior angles than the TRX. But the arguments of Ford fans everywhere went unheard beneath the whines and growls of that Hellcat engine, and the Blue Oval ultimately decided that the only way to beat them was to join them with the last-minute Raptor R. With the new 2022 Silverado ZR2, Chevy is also arguing that power isn’t everything – and unlike Ford, Chevy has a few advantages that might just make this gambit work.
If Not Power, Then What?
The biggest issue that Ford has was that the TRX was designed from the ground up as a Raptor killer. The Raptor has always been a powerful high-speed desert runner, and all Ram had to do to steal its thunder was shove a bigger engine under the hood – something that Stellantis already had plenty of experience with from its quest to stick a Hellcat into every model in its lineup. However, Chevy is a new player in the full-size performance truck segment (although it has plenty of experience to draw on with the midsize Colorado ZR2), and that allowed it to launch the Silverado ZR2 without any preconceived notions.
Chevy capitalized on this advantage by sticking with the Silverado’s standard 6.2L V8 engine. It might seem like a mistake not to give the ZR2 a power bump, but unless Chevy was going to go whole-hog and put its supercharged V8 into play, competing on power was a game that it was destined to lose. By taking the focus completely off the engine, Chevy was able to emphasize all those off-road features that got lost in the noise for the 2021 Raptor. Chevy wasn’t exactly holding back either when they started throwing performance parts at their new off-roader.
From the Multimatic DSSV dampers that deliver a smooth ride across virtually any terrain at any speed to the upgraded frame with a 31.8” approach angle, the Silverado ZR2 was designed to be taken seriously. However, the feature that I think best demonstrates Chevy’s commitment to a different type of performance than the Raptor or TRX is the ZR2’s class-exclusive front and rear locking differentials. In fact, there are only three other trucks on the market that offer this feature: the Chevy Colorado ZR2, the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon, and the Ram Power Wagon. The Raptor and TRX have locking rear differentials, but when it comes to the front axle, the Raptor only has an optional torsen limited-slip differential, and the TRX uses traction control to simulate a limited-slip differential.
Now, if your aim is high-speed desert running, then the setup in the Raptor and TRX makes a lot of sense – most lockers don’t even work above 25 mph or so. However, if you want a full-size truck that can take on real rock climbing and other technical off-roading, then front and rear lockers become a necessity. This sums up the ZR2. It is certainly not the fastest or most powerful truck that you can buy, but it doesn’t try to be. Instead, its aim is to provide the sort of traditional off-road capability that can be counted on to get you anywhere, even on trails that would defeat the Raptor or TRX.
Is It Enough?
Will Chevy’s different approach with the Silverado ZR2 be enough to compete in a world that includes the TRX? Maybe. Personally, I think the different approach was necessary and offers the ZR2 the best chance of success. However, I don’t think that Chevy went quite far enough. While the truck’s expected starting price in the $55,000 area ($10k less than the Raptor and $20k less than the TRX) will help it compete on price, it wouldn’t have cost much to really enhance its off-road abilities. Simply giving it 35” tires and lifting the suspension a bit more would have made it clear that the ZR2 was going head to head with the other giants of the segment and allowed it to decisively claim best-in-class ground clearance without dramatically increasing the cost.
I expect the aftermarket will quickly resolve any shortcomings with the new ZR2 (not that there are many real shortcomings, to begin with), but with just a little more effort, Chevy could have put out a truly phenomenal truck rather than a “merely” excellent truck. Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to get behind the wheel of a 2022 Silverado ZR2 for any sort of off-road adventure – even somewhere a Raptor or TRX might be questionable. While nothing can replace the feeling of having over 700 horsepower on tap or the sight of 37” wheels, the ZR2 checks all the boxes for a serious off-road truck (and having another $20k in your wallet for mods definitely evens the playing field). Overall, Chevy has knocked it out of the park with the ZR2, offering a legitimate alternative to the class-leading TRX even if the price difference isn’t important to you.