Have you ever seen a bison run? It’s not a graceful gallop like a horse, more skipping like a goat. It’s appropriate, then, that American Expedition Vehicles, development partner in the 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison, has one as their mascot, because this things skips over rocks like a billy goat.
I imagine most readers won’t be familiar with how bison run. I myself am, only because one charged my car once. I don’t know if it was personal or if bison just don’t care for Volkswagens, but he gave up after a short chase. The ZR2 Bison, unlike its namesake, doesn’t give up so easily.
If you’re into trucks, you’re likely familiar with the standard Colorado ZR2. It makes the already solid Colorado 4X4 an incredibly capable off-road truck with locking front and rear differentials, beefy tires, underbody protection, hacked-off bumper ends (for clearance), and Multimatic DSSV shock absorbers. A jack of all terrains, it’s equally happy running fast in the desert and crawling slow in the muck. Still, not all terrains and trails are equal, and certain types of off-roading require specialty equipment. Enter AEV.
Known for selling factory-quality aftermarket truck and SUV parts for hardcore off-roaders (not to mention complete vehicles), AEV specializes in overlanding, a subset of off-roading for those who prefer to travel long distances off-road and camp along the way, completely self-sufficient. If you’re not planning on returning to civilization at the end of the day or weekend, and you’re thinking about traveling alone, you need the right equipment.
For the ZR2 Bison, that means new bumpers with tubular steel protection for the corners of the truck. The front bumper gets a winch mount and the rear gets recovery points. The ZR2’s rock sliders remain to protect the rocker panels, but the Bison gets additional Boron steel skidplates under the truck to protect all the critical bits. The looks are updated with AEV 17-inch aluminum wheels in 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires, a new Silverado-inspired black grille with punched-out “Chevrolet” lettering, and AEV Bison badges. A snorkel is optional, and Chevy says it’s adjusted the DSSV shocks for rock crawling.
From the upgrade list, you can tell the ZR2 Bison is about getting into (and out of) places other trucks don’t go. Your standard 4X4 pickup isn’t much good at unmaintained trails, deep water crossings, or rock crawling, and specialized trucks like the Ford F-150 Raptor and Ram 2500 Power Wagon are way too big for the real backwoods stuff. The ZR2 Bison happily goes places normally reserved for Jeep Wranglers and custom-built off-roaders while providing you a bed you can fill with gear, attach racks to, and set up a tent on.
As I’ve alluded to, this is no mall-crawling brodozer. To prove it, Chevy took us out into the Sonora Desert east of Phoenix and let us bang their $48,045 truck (to start for an extended cab V-6, $49,645 for the four-door Crew Cab V-6) off all the rocks we could find. This was no bunny slope, either. The rock garden Chevy turned us loose on required spotters on every element just to limit the damage to the parts meant for it.
And damage we did. The rock sliders below the doors got the biggest workout, followed by the underbody protection. Most of it doesn’t show, and even the dings you can see didn’t look that bad, a testament to the strength of the guards. No matter how strong the skidplates are, you never quite get comfortable with the noise they make when you drag them over rocks. Not faring nearly as well was the massive exhaust tip on the diesel models, which was smashed into the shape of a peapod on every diesel truck. If you’re doing this at home, you’re just gonna want to cut that thing off. The gasoline models, with their shorter, smaller-diameter exhaust pipes, were fine.
In most cases, the grip from the Goodyears and the torque-multiplication provided in low range was enough to get the Bison through, but the locking rear differential was more than a little helpful. It was a rare obstacle and a bad driving line that necessitated the use of the front locker, but when it did, the truck went through, no winching required.
Don’t think its newfound strengths have left compromises in their wake, however. Skidplates thoroughly bashed, we disabled the lockers, popped the Bison back up into four-high, and bounded out the trail and dirt access road no differently than we would’ve in a standard ZR2. Back on the highway, any extra weight from the protection or changes in tuning were invisible. The noise of the off-road tires was the only indication of the truck’s specialty.
The back-to-back trail and highway driving put into perspective the biggest decision you’ll have to make when buying a Colorado of any kind: gas or diesel. In general, we’re fans of the diesel’s low-end torque, on-road and off. With the Bison’s penchant for rock crawling, it’s a no-brainer. The gasoline V-6 has always been a bit soggy on the bottom end, making all its power up high in the revs, and that’s not what you want off-road. On the other hand, the diesel is quite a bit slower getting up to freeway speeds, and it costs an extra $3,730. It does get significantly better fuel economy, which is something to consider if you’re going to spend a lot of time away from a gas station. Chevrolet would do well to consider offering its new 2.7-liter turbocharged gasoline four-cylinder, which combines the diesel’s bottom end with the V-6’s speed.
The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison isn’t a better ZR2; it’s a different ZR2. It does all the things a ZR2 can, but it also specializes in getting out of the worst situations you can put it in. What’s more, it offers you an excellent platform to build the off-roader of your dreams. At nearly $50,000 to start it’s no Craigslist special, but if you’re planning to base your off-road build on a new truck rather than a used one, you’re going to dump some serious money into it regardless. Why not start with the best?
2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison
Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck
3.6L/308-hp/275-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6; 2.8L/186-hp/369-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 16-valve I-4
8-speed automatic; 6-speed automatic
4,800-5,000 lb (mfr)
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT
212.4 x 76.7 x 72.2 in
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY
134-211/109-187 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB
ON SALE IN U.S.
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