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2019 Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison first drive review: An off-road animal

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When I hear the word “bison,” two things come to mind. Naturally, there’s the big, beefy animal. But there’s also M. Bison, the final boss in the Super Nintendo game Street Fighter II, who cleaned 8-year-old Jon Wong’s clock more times than I care to remember. Either way, “bison” evokes thoughts of strong and tough specimens. Very fitting for this off-road-ready 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison.

Tougher truck

The ZR2 Bison is the most rugged version of Chevy’s Colorado, wearing an array of pieces that better prep it for serious trail duty. Chevy didn’t develop the parts in-house, either, instead looking to the off-road experts at Wixom, Michigan-based American Expedition Vehicles.  

The result is five heavy-duty, hot-stamped, boron steel skid plates to shield the radiator, front and rear differentials, transfer case and gas tank from taking damage when crawling over rocks. That’s all the better for serious overlanding trips.

A bit more noticeable are the steel bumpers with the front featuring mounting points for a winch. The rear gets integrated recovery points for the times you need pull a stuck compatriot’s vehicle out of a mud bog or get tugged out of one yourself. AEV also offers an optional snorkel that’s compatible with any Colorado model to provide clean, filtered air to the engine when churning through dust and sand.

Completing the meaner look is a new grille that forgoes the traditional Chevy bowtie for a bolder in-your-face “CHEVROLET” grille, standard fog lights, Bison-specific 17-inch aluminum wheels wrapped with 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler tires and AEV badges. All of that joins the ZR2’s tubular rocker protective side rails and wheel flares.

The Bison’s exclusive grille and steel bumper gives it a meaner mug.


Jon Wong/Roadshow

Untouched mechanicals

Outside the beefier exterior bits and more substantial underbody armor, the Bison is identical to the regular ZR2. It’s available in Extended Cab or Crew Cab forms, powered by a 3.6-liter V6 making 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. This engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that helps the ZR2 return an estimated 18 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. For an additional $3,500 you can upgrade to a 2.7-liter diesel I4, pumping out 186 horsepower and a delicious 369 pound-feet of twist. A six-speed automatic handles shifting duties here, and the diesel engine’s fuel economy matches that of its gasoline equivalent.

The ZR2’s chassis carries over largely unchanged, as well, with standard front and rear electronic locking differentials and a 3.42 rear axle. The suspension has a 2-inch lift kit over normal Colorado pickups, with a 3.5-inch wider track, Multimatic spool valve dampers and cast iron control arms.

Off the beaten path

In order to give the Bison a proper workout, Chevy took me to an off-road trail east of Phoenix, Arizona. The truck laughs off the first part of the expedition, easily scurrying up and down the course’s hills, across washouts and over the smaller rocks littering the path.

The boron steel skids plates come in handy for rock crawling.


Jon Wong/Roadshow

When it came time to go up and over some big boulders, our guides tell us to activate the four-wheel drive system’s low range and lock the rear differential. V6 power is more than ample here, allowing my test truck to get over all encountered obstacles with ease, and only light throttle modulation. I try my best to ease the Bison gently down drops, but the skid plates announce that they are earning their keep on a few occasions with loud screeches.

At no time does it feel like the limits of the ZR2 are approached. Granted, the Arizona trail isn’t an extreme Moab run, but it’s far from a Sunday drive, too. Overall, the Bison’s level of off-road prowess is likely more than the majority of folks will ever truly need.

On the beaten, paved path

On roads leading me back to civilization, the Bison behaves in a truck-like manner. Steering response isn’t the quickest, there’s controlled body tip around turns and some noise when cruising down the highway, thanks to the meatier tires. It’s by no means sloppy and perfectly fine to rock around on a daily basis in relative comfort.

The Bison’s infotainment system is on point, but safety tech is lacking.


Chevrolet

The interior is of typical sub-par Colorado quality, with large swaths of hard plastic making up the dash and door panels, and intuitively laid out switchgear. There are no frills here. It’s just a simple pickup truck interior that should stand up well to regular abuse.

Chevrolet’s Infotainment 3 system is housed on an 8-inch touchscreen atop the center stack, controlling navigation, a seven-speaker Bose audio setup, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and Bluetooth. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functions are also supported. Hat tip to the ZR2’s numerous 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.

Looking for the latest safety tech? You best keep moving. Besides a high-definition backup camera, the Bison’s options list doesn’t include things like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring or forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking.

You’ll be able to go almost anywhere in the Bison. 


Jon Wong/Roadshow

Ready for adventure

The Bison is a massively capable off-road midsize pickup, though it isn’t the only game in town. The Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro serves as this truck’s direct competition, but next year, a new Jeep Gladiator Rubicon will be joining the fray.

When the 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison hits dealers in January, it’ll be priced at $48,045 for the Extended Cab, including a $995 destination charge. Crew Cab models, meanwhile, will start at $49,645. That’s a $5,750 up-charge over the standard ZR2, which may or may not be worth it. If you aren’t scaling over rocks on a regular basis, the Bison’s added hardware might be overkill.

Editors’ note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it’s far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow’s editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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