When it made its splashy debut at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show, the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 proved General Motors wasn’t planning on ceding the tough-guy off-road pickup space to Ford’s F-150 Raptor, Toyota’s TRD-tuned Tundra and Tacoma TRD Pro or the (then) forthcoming Jeep Gladiator. Equipped with a high-end suspension that added height and compliance, locking differentials fore and aft and flared fenders, it gave Chevy a chance to grab some of the growing overlanding market — and the huge potential for sales found there.
Most hardcore off-roaders don’t leave their trucks stock, though; they kit them out with all sorts of replacement parts and add-ons, functional and cosmetic alike. Rather than let the aftermarket have all the fun, GM adopted an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach; the carmaker reached out to American Expedition Vehicles — which, up until that point, primarily specialized in parts for Fiat Chrysler trucks and SUVs — and offered them a chance to upfit the ZR2 and sell the completed product through Chevy dealers.
AEV, not surprisingly, said yes. The resulting product was dubbed “Bison,” in homage to the horned North American mammal on the company’s logo — and the Colorado found its place amongst the great off-roaders on sale locked down even tighter.
The Good: The ZR2 Bison adds even more off-road capability to the already-mighty ZR2. AEV adds on no fewer than five hot-stamped Boron steel skidplates to protect from underbelly attack, stamped steel bumpers front and rear, a winch mounting spot up front, a recovery point in the rear. unique wheel flares and rims wrapped in 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires, a pair of fog lights and a new grille that trades the brand logo for its name in all caps, just like a certain other off-road truck.
All that also adds a hefty dose of handsomeness. The basic ZR2 is capable, but a little bland from some angles and awkward from others; the cut fenders up front look oddly incomplete, while the stern view looks a little too similar to a Home Depot work truck rental for the money. AEV’s updates give the ZR2 the sort of aggro appearance it deserved from the get-go.
Of course, all the inherent goodness of the Colorado ZR2 is still here: the Multimatic DSSV dampers that perform miracles when it comes to balancing ride and handling (fun fact: Multimatic DSSVs are also used on the likes of the Aston Martin One-77 and Ford GT), full-time four-wheel-drive, the choice of a gasoline-powered V6 or a turbodiesel inline-four, the option for either an extended cab or crew cab layout, a simple, thoughtfully laid out interior and the ability to tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Who It’s For: Off-roading enthusiasts who dig AEV’s vibe; overlanders looking for a brand-new truck with diesel power; Bowtie fans who want a badass rig of their own to keep up with their Mopar- and FoMoCo-fanboy neighbors.
Watch Out For: Merging from a stop into high-speed traffic can be a bit more nerve-racking than in most modern vehicles. The ZR2 isn’t slow by rock-crawler standards, but its hefty weight means the V6 has to work a little harder than you might be used to, both from a stop and when trying to accelerate at highway speeds. (Expect to get to know the sound of that engine at high revs quite well.)
Perhaps to compensate for that, Chevrolet gave the truck particularly aggressive throttle response once you clear the first inch of pedal travel — which, in turn, can make the delicate inputs needed for careful off-roading a tad difficult at times. Don’t be afraid to resort to left-foot braking to moderate your progress.
Verdict: $50,000 may seem like a lot for a midsize pickup truck. This Chevy, however, is far more than just the sort of simple rig that defined the class back in the 60s; it’s equally adept shuffling kids to school and hauling mulch from Home Depot, just as happy crawling over rocks as it is cruising across a state. Considering the broad spread of capabilities that come with the ZR2 Bison at that price — or, by contrast, how far north of it a Gladiator Rubicon can shoot if you go wild with the options list — its price tag makes it seem like something of a bargain. Especially if you were already planning on slapping off-road accessories on your new truck.
2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison: Key Specs
Powertrain: 3.6-liter V6 or 2.8-liter turbodiesel inline-four; eight-speed automatic; four-wheel-drive
Horsepower: 308 (gas); 186 (diesel)
Torque: 275 pound-feet (gas); 369 pound-feet (diesel)
Ground Clearance: 8.9 inches
Curb Weight: 4671–5012 pounds (depending on extended cab vs. crew cab, and gasoline vs. diesel — the latter engine is heavier)
Chevrolet provided this product for review.
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