• Bison builds on ZR2, making its Chevy’s most off-road capable Colorado
  • Adds bevy of high-strength steel skid plates to protect vital components
  • Marks Chevrolet’s first collaboration with American Expedition Vehicles (AEV)
  • 2019 Colorado ZR2 Bison pricing starts at $47,050, plus $995 destination
  • On sale in January 2019


At this moment, the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is arguably the most capable midsize pickup truck available, at least if your idea of “most capable” involves getting down and dirty in off-road adventures. From a hardware perspective, it packs features not seen in rivals like the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro or Nissan Frontier Pro-4X. Class-exclusive features on Chevy’s midsize truck include front and rear locking differentials, Multimatic suspension dampers, and an available diesel engine with stump-pulling torque.

But Chevy knows it can’t rest on its laurels, especially with new competitors like the reborn 2019 Ford Ranger and 2020 Jeep Gladiator arriving next year. It is answering those rivals – and attempting to pre-empt them – with its most off-road capable version model yet: The 2019 Colorado ZR2 Bison.

Builds on ZR2

The Bison edition is the same mechanically as the ZR2: All models are 4-wheel drive, available in extended cab or crew cab, and powered by either the standard gasoline V6 engine with 308 horsepower/275 lb-ft of torque tied to an 8-speed automatic transmission, or the optional 2.8-liter 4-cylinder turbodiesel that makes 186 horsepower/369 lb-ft of torque connected to a 6-speed automatic.

What it adds is armor, courtesy of Chevrolet’s first collaboration with American Expedition Vehicles (AEV). The bolstering includes five boron steel skid plates that protect the engine oil pan, fuel tank, transfer case, and front and rear differentials. Also on the roster are steel front and rear bumpers, the former of which has provisions for a winch and the standard fog lights. If you’re especially committed, you can opt for a desert air intake, aka a snorkel, mounted into the hood sheet metal on the passenger side.

The Bison is slated to go on sale in January, but we had a chance to preview it recently. Our test started near Scottsdale, Arizona, and took us east, deep into an off-road area off the Superstition Freeway.

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On-road – surprisingly compliant

The Chevy Colorado Bison is billed as an off-roader through and through. That’s what makes this ZR2’s on-road ride quality such a pleasant surprise – that’s because it’s surprisingly pleasant. On the freeways and byways to our off-road destination, the new Colorado ZR2 Bison proved comfortable and compliant.

That same suspension and lifted body that is made to absorb rocks, ruts and dirt has the added benefit of soaking up road undulations and asphalt imperfections. This is truly an off-road machine that will get you to your dusty playground in comfort, not to mention the office on weekdays. Also helping the cause are amenities like a strong infotainment suite with 4G LTE connectivity with Wi-Fi hotspot, 8-inch touchscreen that’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible, and heated seats and steering wheel.

Our test vehicle was bestowed with the optional turbodiesel engine. As is the case with diesels, it’s not the quickest off the line, but has plenty of grunt in the torque department. It doesn’t feel as quick off the line as the gasoline V6, but isn’t a slouch. Once up to speed, it chugged away comfortably and relatively efficiently (in non-ZR2 models, this engine is rated up to 28 mpg in 4-wheel-drive variants or up to 30 mpg for rear-drive).

Off-road – where it’s built to be

Not a surprise is the ZR2 Bison’s off-road performance. Again, the standard ZR2 is exceptional, and the Bison’s additional armor benefits drivers who are willing to bash and smash their new truck. There’s a certain guilt and panic one feels when hearing metal on rock, as we did several times while crawling over boulders, but this is what that extra plating is for. Better to scrape that steel than the sensitive mechanical bits it protects.

Furthermore, you can use these parts. For example, when properly getting up and over rocks, instead of trying to keep such obstacles directly below the center of the truck, its best to keep them at the edges, first climbing over them with a wheel. From there, you can use the rocker panels protect the chassis, and even slide over a rock if needed.

The one time we were close to getting stuck, the ZR2 Bison’s locking diffs worked like off-road magic. Combined with the truck’s low-range 4-wheel-drive, once engaged the locking diffs made short work of the loose dirt to easily extract us.

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The value equation

From our time in Chevrolet’s newest and toughest Colorado, there’s little need to question the Bison’s capabilities. It’s a real-deal off-roader that has the chops to take most buyers farther off the grid than they’ll probably ever dare go.

This is indeed a midsize pickup for the serious off-roader, and it has a price tag to match. A 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison starts at $47,050 for an extended cab model, or $48,650 for a crew cab model, each before the $995 destination charge. At those prices, the Chevy Colorado Bison’s extra armor adds $5,750 to the price of the ZR2.

Is that worth the cost? The answer to that depends on what you plan to do with the truck. Everyone knows a guy who drives a big, off-road-outfitted truck that has never seen a day of dirt in its life. If you’re that guy, you can probably save your money. Don’t worry: You’ll still look macho even in a ZR2. But for the Colorado buyer who truly plans to use this truck for its intended purpose, the extra cost pans out.

First of all, you’d spend at least this much outfitting it yourself. Second, doing it this way means you don’t have to outfit it yourself, either by buying the equipment or installing it, as both are already taken care of. Third, and potentially most noteworthy, is that everything is backed by Chevrolet’s standard factory warranty. And if we can throw a fourth point in, it’s this: The parts and mechanisms that extra armoring protects are anything but cheap. Rip a hole in the oil pan, fuel tank, transfer case or diff locks, and you can be out serious money for repairs. In that regard, you can think of the extra cost as insurance – and all the more reason to take advantage of the ZR2’s awesome capabilities. 

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