Big trucks are the best trucks if you ask most Americans. This is why pickups are consistently the most popular vehicles on sale. But even with half-ton trucks growing larger every generation, folks still want more. Those drivers end up in trucks like the new 2024 Chevy Silverado HD ZR2 Bison.
The idea of an off-road-focused heavy-duty truck is not new, but it is quite niche. The Ram 2500 Power Wagon was first, then the Ford F-250 Super Duty Tremor hit the market, and the Silverado HD ZR2 was just announced in April. Chevy is aiming squarely at beating both of those trucks with a little bit of special suspension sauce, some clever off-road tech, and help from American Expedition Vehicles (AEV).
The Bison takes the ZR2 to another level, ruggedizing it and making it even more resilient with lots of steel plating. In short, it knows how to party. But most importantly, it also knows exactly what the customer wants: Comfort and confidence.
|2024 Chevy Silverado HD ZR2 Bison Specs
|2024 Chevy Silverado HD ZR2 Bison Specs
|Base Price (as tested)
|6.6-liter gas or turbodiesel V8 | 10-speed automatic transmission | selectable four-wheel drive
|470 @ 2,800 rpm (diesel) | 401 @ 5,200 (gas)
|975 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm (diesel) | 464 lb-ft @ 4,000 (gas)
|29.8° approach | 22.6° break-over | 25.7° departure
|A supremely comfortable and extremely versatile heavy-duty truck with almost no compromises.
The Silverado HD ZR2 Bison is unique for a couple of reasons, two of which are related to its suspension. The Silverado HD is the only heavy-duty truck that uses independent front suspension (IFS); both the Ford and Ram use a solid axle up front. That is a point of contention for some truck enthusiasts who argue about durability, but there are distinct advantages to IFS that help the Silverado HD have much nicer road manners and off-road capability, while still maintaining plenty of ruggedness.
But the true trump card is the ZR2’s Multimatic DSSV spool valve dampers. More than anything else, the dampers define the experience of the HD ZR2 as truly one of a kind, especially for folks who are familiar with heavy-duty trucks and how they ride. The technology has been used in several Chevy Camaro models, the second-generation Ford GT, and most recently the Ferrari SF90 Assetto Fiorano and Ferrari Purosangue. This might be the only time in history a heavy-duty pickup has anything in common with a Ferrari.
The point is this: The DSSV damper technology is exceptionally good because it turns the idea of a damper on its head. Instead of rubber seals and flexible valving shims controlling oil flow (which is how dampers dampen), spool valve dampers use, well, spool valves. Rubber seals and shims in normal dampers are more prone to inconsistency and are sensitive to heat, which is where a spool valve excels.
Using a tiny bullet-sized spring-loaded mechanism and precisely shaped ports, engineers can define damping curves with orders of magnitude more precision than with even the best conventional dampers. They are also supremely consistent in their behavior, whereas a normal damper can change drastically with heat and wear. In practice, it’s how the Silverado HD ZR2 can tow 18,500 pounds, hit a double black diamond off-road trail, and ride home in serene comfort without adaptive dampers.
The HD ZR2 comes with the DSSV dampers as standard, but with your choice of 6.6-liter gasoline or diesel powertrains, as well as most of the normal Silverado HD options. In fact, most of the value is in the standard ZR2 package, which comes with a suspension lift, massive 35-inch off-road tires, serious underbody protection, some off-road cameras, and off-road bumpers.
What the Bison adds is a serious brace of AEV goodies. Different wheels, front and rear bumpers, AEV-stamped underbody protection, the Multi-Flex tailgate, and some AEV-branded interior trim complete the Bison package. Frankly, it’s not a revolution over the well-equipped standard ZR2, especially for the $9,135 it costs. Nonetheless, the Silverado HD ZR2 impressed on the road and on the trail.
On a sunny day in the legendary Johnson Valley OHV park, the HD ZR2 Bison felt more at home than it should have. From the drive to the park, to blasting across a dry lakebed, to a technical, ABS-punishing, side-step-claiming rocky descent, the 8,495-pound behemoth rarely felt out of its depth. Not only was it competent, but it’s one of the few trucks I’ve driven that knows how to party.
Maybe it’s the 975 lb-ft of torque on tap, but there was something particularly hooliganish about the diesel ZR2 Bison I got to romp around in for a day. On the road, you would be none the wiser. It’s sedate, quiet, and easy to drive. There’s a distant hum of tire noise, but it’s low volume and easy to ignore. It simply did not drive that much like a heavy-duty truck, with its true intentions only betrayed by the old-school hydraulic power steering and hydraulically-assisted brakes. Even the characteristic juddering ride quality of a stiffly sprung tow rig wasn’t there, thanks to the spool valve dampers.
Get the HD ZR2 on some dirt, and you’ll find that partying attitude I mentioned. The thing boogies. On the Johnson Valley dry lake bed, the dampers absorbed the rapid, small bumps with shocking ease. And the truck was not overwhelmed by any of it, mostly evidenced by the easy powersliding at speed. That colossal diesel power plant would spool quickly, light up the rears in two-wheel drive, and create a large enough dust cloud that it might trigger localized climate change.
But don’t get too carried away—this is no jumper. It can do a lot, and really smooth out a rough ride, but it’s not meant for the most extreme of stunts. With its mass, it’s a truck where things can go very wrong very quickly. It’s lucky then, that the next stage was a rocky downhill crawler trail.
This is where the HD ZR2 was as impressive as it was concerning. The underbody protection was working overtime with seriously large rocks on the trail, and some huge fixed rocks that simply couldn’t be avoided with the width of the HD. A few trucks in our convoy lost their power running boards, while I certainly gave them a few good blows. Meanwhile, the hill descent control was at its limit with the extreme terrain. It was astounding that the hulking truck could do the trail at all, but it was clearly beyond the envelope of any sane owner’s use case. Despite being down some running boards, the trucks ran the course several times throughout the day.
The Silverado HD ZR2’s element is very clearly in the less rocky and more flowy trails. It can certainly do a technical trail, but not one that is a true rock crawl. The electronic rear locker is a true locker, but the lack of front locking diff and overtaxed hill descent control make things less than relaxing. There were other, unavoidable issues like over-the-hood visibility and the weight of the truck making decisions for you on narrow trails. The limit is genuinely high for the truck, but it’s a concerning limit to reach. It was best enjoyed on a more casual level.
The Highs and Lows
The defining feature of the Silverado HD ZR2 is the Mulitmatic DSSV dampers. It’s the magic recipe, how the truck can work so well on-road and off-road without being compromised. Even if you don’t off-road the HD ZR2, it still pays dividends on-road with exceptional ride quality (even without a payload) and helps even more with lightly rough, washboard trails. And despite the IFS, the truck is as rugged as they come. It’s also relatively well-equipped compared to its competitors.
But it does have its limits. There’s no getting around the weight and size of the truck, which does make trail hunting trickier. And it could use more trail cameras with more views like the smaller Colorado to help with the visibility issue.
Chevy Silverado HD ZR2 Bison Features, Options, and Competition
The HD ZR2 comes with a long list of standard features and a fair few option packages. Adaptive cruise, heads-up display, and the rear camera mirror are part of an option package, but adaptive cruise really should be standard for the base price of the ZR2. As standard, you get a huge 13.4-inch infotainment display, electronic locking rear differential, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Goodyear Wrangler off-road tires. The gasoline engine is standard, while the Duramax diesel is a $9,490 option.
As mentioned before, the Bison package doesn’t really add capability, only confidence to use more of it. The underbody protection is replaced with AEV-stamped pieces, as are the front and rear bumpers, and wheels. It also costs $9,135 while reducing the approach angle to 29.8 degrees from 32.5. Breakover is improved to 22.6 from 21.2.
The competition isn’t exactly apples to apples although Chevy, Ram, and Ford all make heavy-duty off-roaders now. The 2500 Power Wagon was the top dog, but it’s kneecapped by not having a diesel option, but you can add the Power Wagon package to a base Ram 2500 Tradesman. The F-250 Tremor can be had with a diesel, though that’s because the Tremor is a package–not a trim. It can be applied to from a basic XLT model all the way up to top-flight Platinums, which can inflate the price of the Ford. The ZR2 starts at $72,595, which is steep considering the Power Wagon and Super Duty Tremor can be had with base-spec trucks that are in the $60,000 range, but the ZR2 has excellent standard equipment. Topped out, the ZR2 is $97,155, right next to the Power Wagon, while the Super Duty Tremor can go into the six figures.
The Early Verdict
The heavy-duty off-road truck market is something of an oxymoron. Big towing and payload capacities don’t often mix well with articulating suspension, and there are compromises to be made. Somehow, the Silverado HD ZR2 doesn’t compromise. Its off-road capability actually helps its everyday comfort and makes the truck easier to live with thanks to its exceptional (for a heavy-duty truck) ride quality.
The 2024 Chevy Silverado HD ZR2 Bison just about does it all. It tows a colossal payload, can get you out of a pinch on a difficult trail, and acts as a versatile luxury truck. This segment is growing and is only now reaching maturity. But Chevy might have set the benchmark for do-it-all, off-road workhorses.
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