Every year the Perseid meteor shower dazzles the Earth with a light show like no other. The tiny debris, left behind when the Swift-Tuttle comet passed our planet way back in 1992, zooms into our atmosphere at 133,200 mph, according to the website space.com, reaching temperatures of more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
While I live near the prime viewing location of Joshua Tree National Park, I know it’s going to be overrun with tourists and I’m looking for a more remote location to lay back and watch the sky. Good thing I have a 2023 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 ZR2 Bison in my driveway, waiting to take me pretty much anywhere I want to go.
I’ve loved the midsize Colorado ZR2 since its birth in 2017, and I’m stoked to see the full-size Silverado getting the prime off-road treatment. Available only with a crew cab and a short bed, my tester includes a strong 6.2-liter V-8 engine pushing out 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque, front and rear differential lockers, and a 2.0-inch lift for a tall 11.2 inches of ground clearance.
However, it is the Multimatic shocks that really set the ZR2 apart from the crowd. Borrowing from F1 technology, these shocks have variable-rate spring valves for precise tuning. The keyhole—the opening that allows the shock oil to pass into the valve—is also tuned for a firm ride on the pavement, but instantly softens up once the truck hits the dirt. Forget about Fox or Bilstein; these shocks by far offer the best of both worlds.
Adding the Bison package takes everything up to 11. Produced in conjunction with off-road parts maker American Expedition Vehicles (AEV), my tester is outfitted with front and rear steel bumpers, rock rails, and steel skid plates on the front and rear differentials, transfer case, and fuel tank. AEV 18-inch wheels are wrapped with 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory tires, and the Bison also gets the six-way Multi-Flex tailgate. The cost: $7,895 for a 2023 model year Silverado. However, the consumer site lists the price at $8,440 for a 2024 model, which is now likely more commonly available.
I arrange to meet some pals at the Slash X Cafe outside Barstow, California. The drive on pavement is as I expected, smooth and easy. The V-8 pulls strong and at one point I notice I’m going way over the speed limit on a little two-lane desert road. My ZR2 is equipped with the optional Technology package with adaptive cruise control, so I let the truck take over for a bit, ensuring I don’t get thrown into Lucerne Valley Jail.
I’m also a fan of the rear camera mirror that pushes a video feed to my rearview mirror. In a truck this big it’s great to get a wider angle of view.
There is a standard 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster as well as a 13.4-inch infotainment screen with Google built-in along with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I’m glad for a row of physical buttons below the screen for active lane control, parking sensors, and the like. Chevy also provides buttons and dials for the HVAC controls. No worries messing around on the screen to find basic functions. I have the standard cooled seat going full blast to combat the 100-plus degrees blazing outside the cabin, and the tunes are pumping as I pull into the dirt parking lot in front of the Slash X Cafe.
Built in 1953, the Slash X Cafe was originally erected to provide food and entertainment for the ranch hands tending the 3,000 or so heads of cattle at the ranch across the street. It’s now a popular day trip rest spot for dirt bikes and side-by-sides, and often functions as the starting line for off-road races. If you’re not a desert rat, you might recognize it as one of the filming locations of the movie “Erin Brockovich.” Hats and t-shirts adorn the rafters while the walls are filled with off-road memorabilia. The food is basic but the atmosphere is stellar.
Burgers and fries eaten, my pals and I set off to find Ericksen Dry Lakebed. The first few miles pose no challenge—in fact, nothing on this stretch stops this Bison—but the sheer size of the thing necessitates paying close attention. The Bison is more than 81 inches wide without mirrors, and I have to dodge bushes left and right. Things don’t get really hairy until a steep and rocky downhill, but the hill descent control does its job quietly in the background and I make it to the bottom without slipping or sliding.
A few gnarly rocks test the Bison’s 32.5-degree approach angle and at one point I verify the strength of the rock rails taking up the slack where the 23.4-degree breakover angle isn’t quite enough, but by and large nothing touches the five skid plates under the Bison. I keep the truck in Off-Road mode to optimize the stability and traction control for the dirt, and it does a fine job. I can even lock the rear end and launch it on a smooth section of road since there is no speed limitation on the rear locker. Yeah, dirt shenanigans!
You may want to compare Chevrolet’s top-dog off-road truck to the likes of the Ford F-150 Raptor or the Ram 1500 TRX. Don’t. Those trucks are made for go-fast antics. They’ll fly through the whoops and sail through the air. I’m not saying the ZR2 Bison can’t do those things, but it doesn’t have the suspension travel to do them easily.
Instead, the ZR2 Bison is best for longer off-road journeys. It can haul 1,520 pounds of payload and tow 8,800 pounds, more than those other desert runners. I love the towing aids it has, including the side blind-zone camera, an automatic trailer light test, and a towing checklist to make sure everything is as it should before taking off with a load.
I do wish the Bison came with 35-inch tires instead of the 33s Chevy has deemed fit to sell us. The company says the truck is optimized to work with the smaller tires, but visually they don’t look proportional.
I also question the value of the Bison package. It’s great to have the steel bumpers. but the aftermarket can provide them cheaper. The hot-stamped boron steel skid plates on the Bison are nice, but the ZR2 has plain ol’ regular steel skids in the same places that work just fine. Further, you can option the rock rails and Multi-Flex tailgate as stand-alone features. I’d probably leave the whole Bison package on the table. As it stands, my tester comes in at $85,900, including nearly $2,000 for destination. A 2024 model would add $1,000 or more.
Sufficiently removed from civilization, I stop and settle into my chair as the sun sets below the desert mountains to the west. Soon the Milky Way is visible just over the bed of the Silverado. I crack an adult beverage just as the first meteor streaks across the sky. It’s gonna be a good night, and I know the Silverado ZR2 Bison will get me home with no problem in the morning.
Chevrolet provided a Silverado ZR2 Bison for Motor Authority to bring you this firsthand report. Nature provided the show.
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