The American appetite for pickup trucks is insatiable.
Millions are sold every year across various sizes and price points, but it always seems like there's room for another new one.
See the diminutive Maverick, which Ford released last year with modest expectations, but that became one of the hottest vehicles on the market.
I don't think my test truck this week, the new 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2, will reach Maverickian sales heights, but it shows how niche trucks can thrive.
General Motors offers more than a dozen different pickup truck trims between Chevrolet and GMC, each serving a slightly different customer. From the entry-level Work Truck up to the ultra-lux GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate, you'd think there are trucks for everyone. And yet.
These days, the premier off-road trucks are the Ford F-150 Raptor and the RAM TRX, and GM hasn't had an answer — until now. The Chevrolet Silverado ZR2, a new trim for 2022, makes a compelling argument for many potential off-road truck buyers.
I spent a day in the desert on off-road trails at Joshua Tree National Park, and the ZR2 sports some excellent 4x4 chops. We ripped along a sandy track for miles at more than 50 mph and then locked the front and rear differentials to climb some imposing rock faces.
The 2022 Silverado ZR2 has upgraded suspension with MultiMatic DSSV dampers, all-terrain tires, skid plates, and rock rails to protect things in case you get particularly adventurous (I used them extensively). There's an all-new steel bumper that improves approach angles and has removable and replaceable end-caps in case you bash them up.
If you don't know what all that means, it's ok. This truck is competent and built for far more than most people will use it for.
The ZR2 starts under $70,000, making it a bit cheaper than the Raptor and the TRX, which is nice. It also has a brand new interior that finally makes the GM trucks competitive with Ford and RAM.
When the latest-generation Silverado came out in 2019, its competition had already installed large, tablet-esque touchscreens in a modern, well-designed dash, while Chevy offered a more inferior interior. The new 2022 trucks (as long as they don't have the word "Limited" in the name) add a beautiful 13.4-inch digital touchscreen and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, dominating the dash with screens.
The new trucks run Android Automotive, a Google platform that enables native Google Maps, Google Assistant, and the car version of the Google Play Store. Your new truck will be almost as smart as your smartphone, using Google tech instead of the inferior systems designed by automakers.
Having real Google Maps in a beautiful fullscreen format on that wide panel is fantastic and is the closest any car has come to supplanting Apple CarPlay. If you do want to use your phone, it supports Wireless CarPlay and Android Auto as well, however.
Along with the new screens, the center console has been redesigned with terrific storage, a console-mounted shifter, and the most ingenious smartphone storage spot I've seen in a car: there is a hole in the front of the center console storage bin that your phone slips into, charging it wirelessly and keeping it close at hand should you need to grab it. It's a terrific piece of design.
Also terrific is the standard 6.2L V8, mated to a 10-speed transmission and two-speed transfer case, making 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. Most importantly, it sounds incredible. The optional $1,300 Borla performance exhaust is glorious and should be mandatory for any ZR2 buyer — I can only assume that it was made optional to keep the base price under $70,000 because it's just too good.
And that's where the ZR2 excels. The Ford F-150 Raptor is the gold standard in off-road trucks, but many buyers are turned off by its (excellent) 3.5L twin-turbo V6 simply because it doesn't have eight cylinders.
Those buyers might not be going so far off the beaten trail, but they want it to look like they do. The ZR2 is terrific at the three most important parts of truck ownership: It looks fantastic, with red tow hooks and aggressive bumpers and wheels; it sounds incredible, thanks to that performance exhaust; and it has a V8 motor which is extraordinarily important to some segment of truck buyers.
The ZR2 also offers a terrific platform to build upon. The hood is massive, which both looks excellent but also leaves plenty of room underneath to turn the truck into a choose-your-own-adventure off-road rig — want to add an enormous supercharger to the top? Just coincidentally, there's plenty of room for that.
It seems inevitable that Chevy will launch upgraded versions of the truck (perhaps a Silverado version of the Colorado ZR2 Bison), making for an excellent starting point.
The new 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 offers a compelling off-road option, simultaneously wildly capable, well-designed, and reasonably priced. The new interior is fantastic, and I can't say enough about how great it sounds.
It's not going to beat the Raptor or the TRX in a drag race, but it doesn't have to. The ZR2 is its own truck, and it stands tall and proud.
One Cool Detail: The Sound
One all-important feature of big, V8-powered trucks is the sound. A constant criticism of the Ford F-150 Raptor, which is otherwise an amazing truck, is that the exhaust sound isn’t nearly as good as it could be. Ford used an exhaust note clip (and basically nothing else) to promote the upcoming F-150 Raptor R, an upcoming V8-powered version of the Raptor.
The 6.2-liter V8 in the Silverado ZR2 has a glorious exhaust note, especially if you opt for the $1,300 Borla Performance Exhaust. If nothing else, ZR2 buyers will have endless fun burning gasoline (and cash) to create glorious noise and explosions.
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Chevrolet covered the lodging to review the Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 on location, as is common practice in the auto industry. Automakers or their affiliates have no oversight when it comes to Inverse editorial content, which remains wholly independent and from the brain of our extremely opinionated car analyst and critic, Jordan Golson.