- The 2019 ChevyColorado ZR2 Bison is the hardest of hardcore offroading pickups from the bowtie brand.
- The Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison has about $US6,000 of upgrades from American Expedition Vehicles, all designed to improve the pickup’s ability to go where no midsize pickup has gone before.
- The offroading extras are probably too much for most weekend warriors – they will do fine with the regular ZR2. But for a tough, tough truck, the ZR2 Bison is remarkably easy to live with day to day.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Once you get into offroading, you invariably start to look for bulletproof vehicles capable of handling any terrain.
When it comes to midsize pickups, a versatile choice, few are more bulletproof than the Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison, an upgraded version of Chevy’s already robust Zr2. The Bison trim went on sale in early 2019.
Although the Bison is brilliant, it does raise a question: “Can a pickup that’s this ready for rock-busting deal with everyday life?”
I set out to answer that question when Chevy let me borrow the truck for a week. Proper offroad testing is somewhat outside our capabilities at Business Insider. But I have no difficulty dropping kids off at school and making weekend runs to rescue houseplants from relatives.
Here’s how it went down:
Say hello to the Bison! The 2019 Chevy ZR2 Bison, to be precise. In a “Red Hot” paint job — truth in advertising, by the way — this test truck stickered at $US49,745.
The Bison wasn’t our first ZR2. We tested the slightly less hardcore regular ZR2 last year.
We also spent some time with the performance-oriented Colorado Z71.
Our Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison tester came with a crew cab and a short box.
It was nearly identical to the previous ZR2 I sampled, at least on the outside.
One major difference was the front grille treatment. The Bison carries the proud Chevrolet name, while …
… The previous truck rocked a big ol’ Chevy bowtie badge, chrome-edged gold.
So what makes a ZR2 Bison a member of a special herd of pickups? Basically, it comes down to a collaboration with American Expedition Vehicles, a Montana-headquartered company with close ties to Detroit.
“For maximum protection of key undercarriage elements while driving over rocky, jagged terrain, Bison features five skid plates covering the engine oil pan, fuel tank, transfer case and front and rear locking differentials,” Chevy explained when the new ZR was launched.
“Designed by AEV, these skid plates are constructed of hard, durable hot-stamped Boron steel. AEV-designed stamped steel front and rear bumpers further shield the truck from obstacles. The front bumper contains winch provisions and standard fog lights, with recovery points integrated into the rear bumper.”
The upshot here is that while the ZR2 is extremely capable, the ZR2 Bison is capable and then some. If you spend your spare time busting over rocks, climbing hills, and fording rivers – in other words, if you consider pavement something for the weak – then you’ll be interested in what the Bison spec has to offer.
Effectively, the ZR2 Bison is a Colorado ZR2 with an armour-plated underside. Hot-stamped Boron steel! That sounds pretty impressive.
The ZR2 also has locking front and rear differentials and some other offroad goodies; the Bison upgrade adds about $US6,000 in extras, including some rather stout-looking floor mats.
The AEV shout-out is genuinely modest, given how robust the modifications to the ZR2 are.
The rear liftgate gets the Colorado V6 badging and the blacked-out bowtie from the Z71.
So, how about that bed? Well, it’s as versatile as you’d expect, even if it’s a short one (which actually helps with offroading, making the ZR2 Bison easier to handle). I made a long run from New Jersey to the East End of Long Island to fetch a pair of houseplants. As you can seem, I had plenty of room for a hammock, too.
These tires aren’t messing around. They also aren’t the best from highway cruising, but they weren’t outrageously rough or noisy in my testing.
Look behind the rear wheels and you’ll find Multimatic offroad-ready DSSV shocks, a leaf-spring suspension, and a full-size spare.
Getting into and out of the lifted ZR2 Bison is tricky. There’s no step, but there is a steel tube, designed to provide some assistance without being a mud-magnet or a component that could get ripped off by a boulder.
Let’s take a look at the engine!
The 3.6-litre V6 is all motor — no turbos. The engine makes 308 horsepower with 275 pound-feet of torque. A turbocharged four-cylinder, 2.8-litre mill is available, making 181 horsepower but a juicy 369 pound-feet of rock-crawling torque.
My tester sent the power through a stout eight-speed automatic. This combo yields less-than-great fuel economy: 16 mpg city/18 highway/17 combined. My jaunt to Long Island plus a week driving about town meant that I had to top off the tank at least once.
You want old school? How about an ignition key?
Like the ZR2, the ZR2 Bison has a nice — but not overly premium — interior. My tester’s was “Jet Black.” Front seats were heated, as was the steering wheel.
The infotainment system runs on an eight-inch touchscreen. It lacks map-based navigation features, but it can provide OnStar turn-by-turn directions. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available. Bluetooth connectivity is a snap, and there are USB/AUX ports for devices. The pickup has 4G LTE WiFi, too.
So what’s the verdict?
In my review of the non-Bisonic ZR2, I wrote, “You can sort of think of the ZR2 as a less intense, junior-ized version of the Ford Raptor or the Chevy Silverado Z71.”
And I added: “Not that it isn’t intense on its own. I think the smaller size and sportier demeanour would quite a lot of fun to take to the desert, maybe more so than bigger and far more powerful high-test pickups.”
The ZR2 Bison is the midsize equal of the Raptor – a sort of Raptor junior, with the most extreme offroad market for midsizes to itself until Ford brings out a Raptoradelic version of the new Ranger.
Obviously, I didn’t rock-crawl or even get off the pavement in my tester pickup, so I have to give the folks at AEV the benefit of the doubt and suggest that their mods would serve ZR2 owners well.
So how does the ZR2 Bison function for more mundane duty?
Like the Raptor, it handles freeway cruising and errand-running quite well. Climbing in and out is a pain, and the MPGs are woeful, but you have excellent small pickup versatility to go along with the offroading cred – and the ZR2 comes with enough creature comforts to take the edge off the truck’s rougher demeanour.
The Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, a major ZR2 and ZR2 Bison rival, can’t give you this. The Taco is a challenging truck to live with when you aren’t busting through uncharted territory. Awesome, to be sure, but also uncompromising.
That’s a good thing for ZR2 owners. But what about ZR2 Bison folks?
Well, comfort is an added perk. But then again, people who drop the $US6,000 extra are likely to spend more time offroad in their ZR2 than on pavement. If you’re trying to make a choice, be real: the ZR2 is plenty of truck for folks with day jobs that don’t entail daily dirt and jagged rocks.
The bottom line is that right now, Chevy and Toyota offer the most comprehensive lineups of midsize pickups. And in Chevy’s case, the brand has really taken the lead in reviving the segment. If you’re a serious offroader and you thought Toyota was the only small pickup in town, I’ve got news for you: the bowtie brand can loosen up and take to the trails – and then some.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.