2020 Chevy Silverado Trail Boss Off-Road Review | A niche vehicle among niche vehicles

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The hot trend in the pickup truck world is the off-road special. Since the introduction of the Raptor, most pickup trucks have sprouted more rugged variations with varying levels of off-road-ready equipment. One of the more mildly modified examples is the 2020 Chevy Silverado Trail Boss, available in lightly equipped Custom or pricier LT Trail Boss versions. Each looks tougher in their own way, but both get the same extra off-road credibility thanks to suspension and tire upgrades. The result is a stylish full-size truck that can be a solid off-pavement companion at the cost of on-road performance.

The Trail Boss trims come standard with off-road tuned suspension complete with Rancho shocks and a 2-inch lift over the regular Z71. Additionally, they get skid plates, hill descent control an automatic locking rear differential and 32-inch mud-terrain tires on 18-inch wheels. On either trim level, you can opt for 33-inch all-terrain tires on 20-inch wheels if you prefer. And for a bit of visual flair, the trucks get a black grille, bumpers, and vivid red tow hooks. On the rear fenders are “Trail Boss” decals.

The list of changes are certainly less extreme than what you would find on the Colorado ZR2, F-150 Raptor, or Ram 2500 Power Wagon, but they still make the Trail Boss a solid off-roader. We took our example, an LT Trail Boss, out to Bundy Hill off-road park in Jerome, Mich., where each Trail Boss-specific component came in handy.  The park is hilly and heavily wooded. Every path from access roads to hardcore trails are dirt, and on the day I went, it was overcast and wet. We had a decent amount of rain the days leading up to my drive, and the people at the gate specifically warned me to stay away from large water puddles. They said I would likely get stuck in such a large and heavy truck. They also seemed a bit skeptical of the truck’s size for actually going down trails. I could see why, since most of the vehicles that were actually wandering the park were bikes, ATVs, side-by-sides and Jeeps. Anything much bigger was a lot older and a lot more beat up. Usually more modified, too.

Digging out the park map further showed that I might not have picked the ideal tool for the job. Bundy Hill has five levels of trails, besides the fairly wide-open dirt service roads between areas. The lowest level is “Green,” which the park describes as being acceptable for stock vehicles with good ground clearance. The second-lowest “Blue” trail recommends at least 31-inch tires, a winch, locking or limited-slip diffentials. Above that, the “Black,” “Red,” and “Border” trails recommend even more off-road equipment, the ability to traverse extremely steep hills and large boulders are required, and roll over and body damage are possible, potentially even probable.

The Trail Boss’s upgrades only get it up to Green along with the ability to comfortably cruise the main service roads. The suspension provided great body control over big dips and ruts, keeping us from smacking the ceiling or bottoming out the suspension. The tires were also welcome, providing great traction in the muddy parts. In fact, we never had to use four-wheel-drive low, and only once could we feel the automatic locking differential activate. And as a bonus, the tow hooks made for a great spot to attach the mandatory antenna flag for visibility. Of course, had we become stuck from being overambitious, they would have been handy for getting hauled out of deep muck.

Worth noting, though, is that the Trail Boss has limits off road. The biggest one is simply its size. At Bundy Hill, there are loads of narrow and steep trails with trees at the edges that we didn’t dare take the Chevy down for fear of getting wedged somewhere or scraping something. And while the skid plates are there to protect the underside, there are some hills that have too steep a breakover to clear. As such, for serious off-roading, we’d recommend the Colorado ZR2 for its smaller size and even greater collection of off-road upgrades. But if you live where there are fewer trees, or are mostly crawling along service roads, fire trails and muddy fields, the Trail Boss makes an excellent case for itself.

If you aren’t doing any of the above on a regular basis, then you may want to skip the Trail Boss altogether. Just as the Trail Boss upgrades improve off-road capability, they diminish on-road comfort. The retuned suspension feels stiff on road. Rough pavement and potholes cause it to skitter and bounce about. The mud-terrain tires have little grip, requiring the driver to seriously reevaluate braking zones and cornering speeds. The chunky treads also generate a low whirring sound audible at both low around-town speeds and at full interstate speeds, which quickly becomes tiresome. Certainly the optional all-terrain tires would improve both these aspects, but you’ll still have a firm ride compared to other Silverados (which themselves are far from being the smoothest-riding trucks).

There are still some bright points on pavement, though. The stiff suspension means the Trail Boss doesn’t roll much in corners. With some actual grip, it could almost feel sporty. The steering is hefty, precise and responsive, which is particularly surprising considering the squishy tires. The powertrain is pleasant, too, particularly the 10-speed automatic. Each gear simply melts into the other, never disturbing the occupants inside. It’s not especially fast, but it’s forgivable for that amazing smoothness. Connected to the transmission is the 5.3-liter V8 standard on the LT Trail Boss that makes 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. It's smooth and provides adequate acceleration.

So on the whole, the Silverado Trail Boss is a niche vehicle, but if you’re that niche buyer, which version should you get? If you’re needing off-road equipment on a budget, the base Custom Trail Boss is the model to get. It’s the most affordable with a starting price of $41,095, which nets you the shortened four-door cab, full-length bed and a 4.3-liter V6 making 285 hp and 305 lb-ft of torque. However, Chevy offers the Custom with optional engine upgrades: the aforementioned 5.3-liter V8 for an extra $1,395 or the 6.2-liter V8 (420 hp, 460 lb-ft) for $2,870, which is new for this year. We'd definitely get one of those, especially since they don't come with a significant fuel economy hit, if any. You can also get the longer crew cab with a shorter bed.

But if you’re looking for comfort and convenience, you’ll need to step up to the LT Trail Boss, since the Custom Trail Boss doesn’t come with many creature comforts, nor does it have many available as options. Examples of features not included or not available on the Custom Trail Boss include a sunroof, power heated bucket seats, telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, parking sensors and LED lights. All of these are either standard or optional on the LT. Besides its standard 5.3-liter V8 and 10-speed automatic, the LT Trail Boss also gets the more advanced Dynamic Fuel Management cylinder deactivation, which can shut down any number of cylinders for fuel savings. The Active Fuel Management system on the Custom’s 5.3-liter engine just shuts off half the cylinders. The extra features and technology do come at a cost, since the LT Trail Boss starts at $50,095. It’s only available with the long crew cab and short bed, but the 6.2-liter V8 is still available as an option.

Of the two trims, I think the LT Trail Boss will make the most sense for most buyers. It's more efficient with the 5.3-liter, there's more available equipment and you get the same capability as the bare bones truck. It’s a better all-around choice, and most buyers will probably be using this for commuting, towing and hauling, and hopefully, going off-road. However, if you are looking for an off-road specialist, skip the Trail Boss altogether, and check out the Colorado ZR2 instead, with its even more impressive suspension and far more maneuverable size.

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