Creating a vehicle that works exceptionally well off-road usually creates compromises on-road, not so the 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 bison. The standard ZR2 is already super capable off road, but Chevy takes it a step further and collaborates with American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) to create an ultra-rugged truck designed to tackle the toughest terrain possible.
It’s a tough truck
The ZR2 Bison is the most rugged version of Chevy’s Colorado, fully prepped for serious trail duty and it works, this vehicle shines off-road and goes places you wouldn’t expect it too, besting a Jeep Wrangler (maybe not the Rubicon) but still extremely capable. Since the standard ZR2 is so good, it comes with locking front and rear differentials, a stronger rear axle, beefier front control arms, and Multimatic™ shocks as well as some serious under body protection.
Chevy then sends it to AEV where they add five heavy-duty, hot-stamped, boron steel skid plates to shield the radiator, front and rear differentials, transfer case and gas tank from damage when crawling over rocks. The front and rear bumper are new creating less overhang, the front has mounting points for a winch and the rear gets integrated recovery points. A mean looking front grille replaces the original and the traditional Chevy bowtie is replaced with the word “CHEVROLET” instead. To finish off the package, standard fog lights, Bison-specific 17-inch aluminum wheels shod with 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler tires and AEV badges.
There are 2 power options, a 2.8 l Turbo-Diesel with 186 horsepower and a best-in-class 369 lb.-ft. of torque and my tester’s 3.6-liter V6 making 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. I’d choose the V6 option if I spent more time on road, but the turbo-diesel if I didn’t.
Surprisingly the Bison is pretty quick for a lifted truck with knobby tires. The dash from 0-60 takes a shade over 7 seconds and it’s really smooth riding to boot. The dampers prove their worth by ironing out almost every bump, pothole and expansion joint and it’s all done so quietly you’d never guess it was such a capable off -roader. The chassis maintains excellent body control and it will of course eventually under-steer but the body control is excellent as is the steering, which is as sharp and precise as I have tested on a truck.
Off the beaten path
In order to give the Bison a proper workout, I ventured out East to Otay Mountain and Marron Valley where most of the trails are decomposed granite well maintained by the Border Patrol. Venture off the main trails and things get more technical with some steep, narrow, rock sections to enjoy. Getting up there requires 4 wheel low and a slow and steady pace. On a couple of occasions over some bigger boulders I locked the rear diff and with light throttle modulation the Bison easily made it up to the top. Once there you have several choices and of course we opted for the most deeply rutted.
The best news is that while on this bumpy stuff the shocks react quickly to the changes in the terrain and your spine and teeth are much the better for it. Even washboard surfaces are no match for this suspension. The rocky portions of our drive helped to highlight the skid plates and while I was careful not scrape the underside of the truck when rock crawling, we did get a few scraping noises on the downhill sections on the way back.
The Bison makes you feel like you can go anywhere and everywhere and I spent most of the week look for any dirt road I could find and at no time did it feel like the limits of the ZR2 were approached. Of course you can find more difficult routes that would be impassable but for the most part you can scramble your way over most obstacles.
The interior is the only real let down, there’s nothing particularly great about it but it’s functional and despite a lot of hard plastic on the dash and door panels, the driving position and well laid out switchgear are above average. The front seats are comfortable and there is plenty of room for rear seat occupants and under seat stowage space as well. It really does what it says on the label.
Chevrolet’s Infotainment 3 system is has an 8-inch touch screen in the center stack, providing navigation, a seven-speaker Bose audio setup, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and Bluetooth. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functions are also supported. There are plenty of power points, with a pair of USBs, 12-volt outlet and wireless charge pad up front. Rear passengers have easy access to another two USB ports of their own and a 12-volt outlet on the back of the center console.
Does it offer the latest safety tech? Not really. Besides a high-definition backup camera, the Bison’s options list is quite small but I didn’t really care.
Are you ready for adventure?
If you like your trucks with a dash of bovine, that can skip over rocks like a proverbial billy goat then look no further. The Bison is an incredibly capable off-road midsize pickup, with few competitors save for the Toyota Tacoma TRD and the new Jeep Gladiator Rubicon. I loved every minute of my time with it but unfortunately GM is only building 2,000 units for the 2019 model year, and they are already “sold out”, so you’ll have to put your name down for the 2020 quota, but it’ll be worth it.
2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison Numbers
BASE PRICE: $42,900
AS TESTED PRICE: $49,745
VEHICLE TYPE: Front-engine, rear-/all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door pickup
ENGINE: 3.5 liter, DOHC 24-valve V-6, direct injection
POWER 308 hp @ 6,800 rpm
TORQUE 275 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
CURB WEIGHT: 4,950 lbs
Zero to 60 mph: 7.0 sec
EPA Combined/city/highway: 17/16/18 mpg
OUR OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 16.5 mpg
PROS: Great fun on and off road, goes almost anywhere
CONS: Gets pricey, interior could feel a bit more special