– Johnson Valley, California
I’m behind the wheel of the 2024 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD ZR2 Bison in Johnson Valley, California, and I’m about to do something fairly dumb. Ahead of me stretching into the sky is the trail known as Short Bus. Part of the infamous King of the Hammers race course, the incline approaches 30 degrees and it’s littered with rocks embedded into the ground, ready to shred a tire at the slightest provocation.
I shift into four-wheel drive low, lock the rear differential, and start crawling. My tester has 975 pound-feet of torque thanks to the Duramax turbodiesel 6.6-liter V8 and I’m using all of it to get this 8,500-pound beast up the hill. I’m seeing nothing but sky as we climb, so I keep my eye on the view from the forward-facing camera. The 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler tires are aired down to 23 psi and they bring this nearly 21-foot-long behemoth to the top with hardly a wheel spin. Victory is mine!
|Quick Stats||2024 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD ZR2 Bison|
|Engine||Turbodiesel 6.6-Liter V8|
|Output||470 Horsepower / 975 Pound-Feet|
|Towing Capacity||18,500 Pounds|
Engineering The Unthinkable
Heavy-duty trucks aren’t necessarily known for their off-roading ability, but Chevy wants to turn the tide by putting the ZR2 treatment on its biggest workhorse – with the option of going even further with the Bison package. While the Silverado HD ZR2 models are only offered with a crew cab and a standard bed, buyers get a choice of the aforementioned diesel or a 6.6-liter gas counterpart with 401 horsepower and 464 pound-feet of torque.
Regardless of engine option, the ZR2 and the ZR2 Bison add the excellent Multimatic DSSV spool-valve shocks. Blather on all you want about suspensions from Fox or Bilstein, the Multimatics are the best-riding shocks out there. They don’t turn the HD into a go-fast machine – there isn’t enough wheel travel for that – but they keep the ride compliant in the whoops with no heavy impacts at either full compression or rebound. If I could get these for my own off-road car I would.
Check the ZR2 box and Chevy also adds a rear e-locker and an off-road driving mode to keep the stability nannies at bay when the road turns rough. The whole truck is lifted an inch and a half for over 11.6 inches of ground clearance. The Heavy Duty ZR2 also sports an impressive approach angle of 32.5 degrees, breakover angle of 21.2 degrees, and departure angle of 25.7 degrees. The ground clearance and breakover angle get a scootch better when equipped with the Bison package, too.
However, the approach angle in the Bison is reduced to 29.8 degrees thanks to the AEV winch-ready steel front bumper with recovery points. It’s a bummer to lose a smidge of capability, but the steel bumpers – there is one in the rear as well – are clutch when it comes to navigating the rocks. The final keys are skid plates under the engine and transfer case (steering rack and exhaust too, in the case of the Bison), as well as ZR2-specific upper and lower front control arms and steering knuckles. As I’m about to find out, those are incredibly important.
But first, let’s talk truck stuff. I love a good rocky trail as much as the next gal, but a heavy-duty truck needs to work before it can play. Chevrolet sets me loose with a 30-foot trailer that tips the scales at 11,000 pounds. I usually tow much shorter, lighter loads so I’m a bit nervous, but the rig has all the cameras in the world to help out.
Between the cameras on the hitch and those dedicated to driving views, there are 14 different feeds I can access on the HD. However, it’s the rear side view that I find most helpful. This turn signal–activated feed shows up on the 13.4-inch center touchscreen so I can see not only if anyone is in my blind spot but if I’m going to cut the curb on my turn. The HD also has the cool transparent trailer camera option, but it’s not hooked up on my tester. This allows drivers to see what’s directly behind their trailer, eliminating any what-if worries when reversing.
My test loop is short, but I get the gist. In this spec the diesel has a conventional tow rating of 18,500 pounds; the gasser sits just a bit lower at 16,000 pounds. I’m well within the bounds here and the truck pulls the load easily, the 10-speed Allison transmission shifting smoothly and helping accelerate to highway speeds quickly enough. I don’t have the occasion to panic stop, but the brakes feel firm and confident under my right foot.
Gallery: 2024 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 ZR2 Bison First Drive Review
Hot And Heavy Chevy
Back on the dirt, the Chevrolet engineers ask if I want to see the truck tackle some really hairy terrain. We head out to the backside of a trail known as Chocolate Thunder – I can’t make these names up, people – and look down. The line is steep and incorporates a left hand turn, so the truck will need to creep oh-so-carefully down 2-foot drops, only to end up a field of rocks before scooting up the other, mercifully rock-free side.
There aren’t enough trucks for each person to have a go, but frankly I’m happy just watching. A rig this big has no business being out here. Yet here we are. There is no way to get through this section without using the Bison’s goodies. The steel bumpers take a bit of a rock kiss in the rear when dropping off ledges and I can hear the scraping from a large stone making its point somewhere underneath the truck. The Chevy folks don’t seem too worried. That’s why we have a Bison.
However, it’s the ability of this thing to crawl slowly in low gear, with all the weight of that diesel engine over the front components, that is most impressive. The control arms, steering components, and brakes are all fighting with physics and they are winning. What will happen to these components after years of hard wheeling like this is tough to say, but on first glance, it is very impressive.
But like, who is going to buy this thing?
I see two use cases here. First, the overlander crowd. These folks love their gear and the 2500 has the capacity to carry it. Payload ranges from 2,811 pounds in a diesel ZR2 Bison to 3,397 in a gas truck without the Bison package. Fill up your 36-gallon tank, hook up a solar panel, and you’re ready to travel off-grid for a fair amount of time.
The second grouping consists of desert race teams. These folks need something that can tow their race vehicle – often weighing over 6,000 pounds – to the starting line, then function as a chase vehicle during the race, hauling people and tools to remote parts of the desert. The ZR2 Bison handles either job with ease.
The 2024 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD starts at $45,995, but the ZR2 trim pushes the price to $72,595 for the gas engine or $82,085 for the diesel including a $1,995 destination charge. The Bison package adds another $9,000 or so and when all is said and done, my tester for the day sat at $95,500.
If you’re in the market for a full-size, off-road truck you can also look at the Ford F-250 with the Tremor package. This adds 35-inch tires and a rock crawl mode, but you won’t get the steel bumpers or the same number of skid plates. The Ram Rebel Heavy Duty rides well on pavement thanks to its coilover five-link suspension in the rear, but tire size is down two inches to the ZR2 Bison. Sure, you could look to the beefier Ram Power Wagon with front and rear lockers standard, but it’s down on both towing and payload capabilities.
The 2500 ZR2 Bison certainly did surprise the heck out of me. Never in my wildest dreams would I have taken such a beast out to the rough trails of Johnson Valley, yet the Bison took everything we threw at it and kept on going. This, my friends, is one tough truck.
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