First Drive: Chevy’s 2019 Colorado ZR2 Bison is Rugged, Untamed

December 06, 2018 by Ryan ZumMallen, @Zoomy575M

Think of the 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison as a midsize truck with horns. Horns made of light-weight, extra-stiff Boron steel.

The Bison is equipped with heavy-duty equipment and ready to roam the American outdoors. General Motors took its already capable Chevrolet ZR2 and beefed it up alongside aftermarket specialists American Expedition Vehicles, or AEV. The resulting ZR2 Bison is as intimidating as staring down a 2,200-pound wall of muscle and fur.

GM expects the ZR2 Bison will appeal to buyers who are heading into the wilderness in record numbers. Overlanding, or self-reliant adventuring in four-wheel drive vehicles, is booming in popularity among outdoor enthusiasts. They are looking for capable vehicles and willing to spend for the privilege.

“It’s about attracting buyers you might not normally attract,” said Mark Dickens, executive director for Chevrolet Performance.

Bullish competition

The ZR2 Bison will face a tough row of competitors. Ford’s Ranger will soon launch with an off-road FX4 package, and the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon promises extreme capability. The Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro also offers impressive climbing with reliability to match.

The 2019 ZR2 Bison goes on sale in January 2019. Pricing starts at $48,045 for extended cab models and $49,645 for the crew cab, both with a $995 destination charge included.

Boron-Molded

The recipe for a ZR2 Bison begins with the same ingredients found in the ZR2. Take front and rear locking differentials, add high-performance Multimatic DSSV dampers and lift the suspension to 8.9 inches of ground clearance.

A 3.6-liter V6 engine with 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque is standard, while a 2.8-liter Duramax turbodiesel with 186 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque is optional.

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Next, GM turned to AEV. The outfitter is renowned for turning Jeep and Ram trucks into rugged off-roaders. For the ZR2 Bison – the moniker is a nod to AEV’s logo and Montana roots – the company developed a front steel bumper with winch provisions and a rear steel bumper with integrated recovery points. AEV also replaced the ZR2’s single aluminum skid plate with five plates made of high-strength Boron steel. A sixth is optional.

Larger fenders, 17-inch wheels and the stamped “Chevrolet” across the front grille also are Bison-exclusive. An AEV snorkel is available to feed air that is free of dirt, dust and water into the engine compartment.

When Chevrolet approached AEV to help create the ZR2 Bison, the automaker did not want the new parts to increase the truck’s weight by more than 75 pounds. That wasn’t feasible, however, if the ZR2 Bison were to become a truly capable truck, said Dave Harriton, founder of AEV.

Instead, one AEV employee suggested using hot-stamped Boron steel. The use of Boron allowed AEV to keep the skid plates light and thin: 3mm for the front axle plate, 2.5mm for the rear differential plate and about 2mm each for the oil pan, transfer case and fuel tank plates.

When finished, the ZR2 Bison gained 200 pounds over the standard ZR2.

Off-Road Chops

On an off-road romp through the Arizona desert, the ZR2 Bison and its new Boron goodies were put to the test. The trail posed real hazards. Drivers proceeded gingerly. Skilled spotters pointed them to the correct line. Medium-sized rocks would have punched holes in the underbellies of less-prepared trucks.

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The ZR2 Bison made it through. Its locking differentials and 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac all-terrain tires provided plenty of grip. Its direct steering made tire placement simple, and the V6 engine had enough torque to keep a steady pace.

But on a treacherous stretch of rocks, the ZR2 Bison needed every bit of its Boron armor. In a sea of scraggly rocks, the truck audibly scraped its AEV plates and bars. Harriton winced at the sound. Then he smiled.

“Well, that’s what they’re there for,” he said.

Assessing the Market

The Colorado ZR2 is already a capable off-road midsize pickup truck. Now the ZR2 Bison offers AEV protection rolled into its price with a factory warranty included.

The ZR2 Bison gives GM a presence in the overlanding community that it’s historically lacked. Chevrolet has struggled to capitalize on the trend. In a survey of Overland Expo West attendees from 2014 to 2017, more respondents said they owned Toyota, Jeep, Land Rover, Ford or Ram vehicles than Chevrolets. Even Nissan tallied a larger presence than the bowtie brand.

Executives hope the ZR2 Bison turns the tide.

Overlanding has exploded due to a strong economy, passionate social media audience and a millennial urge for exploration. The annual Overland Expo West in May saw a 30 percent increase in exhibitors compared with the 2017 event, according to organizers. Sales of day passes nearly doubled.

“The ZR2 gave us this great platform,” Dickens said. “And being able to have a diesel engine for overlanding – that’s huge.”

But the competition already has established followings and offers compelling packages. The 2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro costs $43,705 with destination. That’s thousands less than the ZR2 Bison and much less than a Bison with the $3,500 diesel option.

But the Rubicon …

Pricing is unknown for the upcoming Jeep Gladiator Rubicon. But it stands to succeed in the areas the ZR2 Bison struggles.

The Gladiator Rubicon will come standard with Fox shocks, Dana axles, 33-inch tires and more than 11 inches of ground clearance that combine to promise short work of trails that scraped the Bison and could have damaged it.

And the Gladiator Rubicon boasts a crawl ratio up to 84.2:1, a vast improvement over the ZR2 at 41.4:1 – meaning the former can modulate its power for consistent and gradual off-roading where the latter felt jumpy at times, demanding a stomp on the brake pedal to avoid crashing into the next set of rocks.

Adventurers hoping the 2019 Bison turns the ZR2 into a stampeding brute may be disappointed. Ultimately the Bison is a ZR2 with AEV aftermarket parts. Besides some AEV stitching in the headrests, its interior is also lacking, considering the price point.

But the 2019 Colorado ZR2 Bison offers protection where it’s needed: on the trails, and in the service department. That may be enough to convince overlanders to run with the Chevrolet herd.

Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, Trucks.com attended an event at which Chevrolet hosted travel and lodging.

Read Next: 5 Ways the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Is Better Than the Ford Raptor

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