Not Just Any Colorado ZR2…

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

How do you improve the breed?

In the case of the pickup truck, there are many opportunities to customize one to ratchet up the cool factor. Any truck with four-wheel-drive can get a lift or level of its suspension, knobbier tires with custom wheels, skid plates for the frame, accessories for the exterior and inside, and then some. Some have even tweaked the engine for more performance and swapped out the transfer case and differentials to match the increased performance from underneath the hood.

You can now a lot of these enhancements right off of the showroom floor. The Ford F-150 Raptor is ready to tackle the desert or an open muddy field. The Raptor comes with an engine with increased performance, off-road shocks and tires, skid plates, and so forth. Some Raptor owners will add more modifications and accessories to make their trophy truck the baddest vehicle on their block.

Down the block from the Raptor is a Chevrolet Colorado ZR2. That person also found his truck already enhanced with off-road suspension, skid plates, and a front end designed to handle a steeper angle of approach, along with higher ground clearance. He also had a choice of engines between the 3.6-liter V6 and the 2.8-liter turbocharged Duramax diesel.

This Colorado ZR2 owner is not satisfied with his stock truck. However, that person has a choice. They can either load up on enhancements and accessories to make their mid-sized Chevy into something more badass. Or, they can trade it in for a ready-to-run enhanced version of the Colorado ZR2.

How enhanced?

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This is where the aftermarket off-road specialty firm American Expedition Vehicles comes in. General Motors and AEV collaborated on an upgrade package to turn a Colorado ZR2 into a rough and ready off-road beast. They call these trucks Bisons.

What makes a Colorado ZR2 a Bison? In addition to the off-road-ready Chevrolet, AEV adds a Winch-compatible, stamped-steel Front Bumper with integrated fog lights, five hot-stamped Boron steel underbody skid plates protecting the front end, engine oil pan, transfer case, gas tank, and rear differential, a stamped-steel Rear Bumper with robust A356-T6 cast-aluminum recovery points and chassis-mounted tubular corner protection, a set of Bison-specific injection molded fender flares for additional tire coverage and an aggressive look, a set of AEV-designed, Bison-specific cast-aluminum wheels, and add an interior and exterior AEV branding package.

To top it all off is a unique flow-through grille with "Chevrolet" emblazoned across it – instead of a bowtie badge. There is also the option to add an AEV snorkel to be installed at your Chevrolet dealer.

How does one get a ZR2 Bison? This model is a specially ordered upgrade to the Colorado ZR2 that a Chevrolet dealer can place for you. Once a customer orders a ZR2 Bison, the Wentzville, Missouri plant will prepare that pickup truck with the install holes for the fender extensions and optional snorkel – if added to the Bison package – and ship it to the dealer with the kit including all of the upgraded parts from AEV. The kit is then installed onto the specially ordered ZR2 before delivery.

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

The result is the toughest mid-sized pickup in the USA.

It becomes even tougher when you choose the 2.8-liter turbocharged Duramax diesel engine. Our tester had this ball of torque – all told, it is rated at 369 pound-feet. The "small" Duramax turns this enhanced Colorado ZR2 Bison into an off-road beast. The Duramax also turned in some decent fuel economy, averaging 23.5 MPG in my care.

The rest of the driveline is straightforward. A six-speed automatic transmission sends the Duramax's power to all four wheels through a two-speed transfer case. There is an automatic setting, but most off-roaders would probably want to turn the knob to 4-Hi or 4-Lo. You also have differential locks for the front and rear axles on the bank of toggle switches down on the lower center stack.

When you switch it to any of the 4WD settings on the knob hidden behind the steering wheel, the power of the Duramax comes alive, as it took on a wet, grassy slope without backing down, bit down on some mixed surfaces for traction, and made every gravel road an easy drive on the countryside.

The ZR2 Bison was put to the test in helping a friend bring a car down from Duluth to just outside the Twin Cities. This car came with a set of mounted winter tires. To compensate for the lowered suspension of the car my friend picked up, we wedged the second set of tires and wheels inside the box to make sure they do not fly off. The good news is that all four tires made it to my friend's home intact. It may not be a scientific test, but it also proves one thing: When you have a pickup truck, be ready to help a friend at some capacity.

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

This test was not just about hauling tires in the box. It is about testing out the ride quality as it dealt with different road conditions with construction zones throwing things for a loop. Because it is an off-road beast does not necessarily mean it is an on-road nightmare. Quite the contrary. The one thing off-road packages does to a pickup truck is to soften and smooth out the ride. While they are designed for articulated approaches through rocky passes and uneven desert floors, the ZR2 Bison also handled terrible sections of road, despite some slight pitching and bouncing. Once on smoother sections of the Interstate highway, the ZR2 Bison made things easier to manage.

What surprised me was the rest of the driving dynamics. Perhaps because I've worked with a lot of full-sized pickups for some time. Maybe because the Colorado had some tricks up its sleeve.

One of those tricks was Chevrolet's Multimatic DSSV suspension system. This set-up not only softened the ride up but also enabled the Colorado ZR2 Bison to take corners and manage evasive maneuvers with ease.

The steering offered a tight turning radius, which was accomplished with a good electric steering system. One thing I noticed was on-center feel. If you drove the Colorado ZR2 Bison on those newfangled grooved highway surfaces – such as the ones here in Minnesota – the combination of the big Goodyear Wranglers and the road will cause the truck to slightly shift all over the lane. It is not a bad thing, but something to consider.

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The big surprise was the brakes. Normally in a pickup truck, I would have to do some pre-braking in order to make it stop. You should not have to but understanding that a lot of trucks yield a longer stopping distance than a lot of vehicles. Not the Colorado ZR2 Bison. The pedal feel was great, and the stopping power was terrific. I did not have to pre-brake or measure my stops in this truck, Mark one for GM!

As far as sitting behind the wheel of the Colorado ZR2 Bison, it was just fine. I hoped for more bolstering, but there was some comfort in those ZR2 seats emblazoned with the AEV Bison logo on the headrests. I had to find a seating position that enabled my legs to work the pedals, as well to ensure that I do not compromise my thighs over the miles.

The rest of the cabin was just fine. I wished the lights and 4WD knobs were within view and touch from me. Otherwise, the rest of the controls were within reach and worked just fine. The instruments were clear, including the information screen in-between the two main dials.

The newest Chevrolet Infotainment System was on board and worked quite well. The standard speaker system entertained me as I rode. Though, I wished there was some more sound deadening to quell the noise from the off-road tires and the engine. Not that I don't mind the sound of masculinity from outside this rough and ready truck…

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All of this is pertinent information. However, there is one thing to address. When I wrote about my second stint in the Raptor, I mentioned how Ford's trophy truck would be too big for most of Minnesota's sanctioned off-road trails for Jeeps and similar vehicles. The good news is that you can fit a Colorado on those trails, especially when it is 76.7 inches wide with the mirrors folded back. However, be mindful that you have over 212 inches of truck to manage on a 128.5-inch wheelbase when it comes to tight maneuvers through the woods.

Pricing for the 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 starts at $42,900. The AEV Bison upgrade costs $5,750 – without the optional snorkel. With the available Duramax diesel, this truck came with a sticker price of $53,245. And, if you're lucky, you might find one ready to go at your Chevrolet dealer. I certainly did – and very happy to see one on that lot!

To truly get whether the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison is the kind of truck you want to get dirty in, I need the break this down to the brass tacks. First off, the Colorado is a competent mid-sized pickup. I know that the Toyota Tacoma is the segment leader, the Ford Ranger was re-introduced to our market, and people are still buying Nissan Frontiers and Honda Ridgelines. However, GM's mid-sized pickup truck offerings have the option of a robust diesel engine and are showing overall improvements in quality and reliability.

Secondly, the ZR2 goes further in offering the off-road enthusiast what they want over the Tacoma TRD Pro and Frontier PRO-4X. Instead of just switching out the shocks and raising the ground clearance, the Colorado ZR2's package includes an improved visual package with a better angle of approach and departure, along with the Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires. Now, the ZR2 has some company, in the form of the Jeep Gladiator.

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

This is where AEV's Bison package comes into play. If you look underneath the Gladiator, you start asking whether it comes stock with the type of protection AEV adds to the frame and the bumpers specific to the Colorado ZR2 Bison. There is a huge difference between being protected by standard lightweight materials and a tougher material, such as boron steel. I believe AEV can sell you an aftermarket kit for your Gladiator similar to what is delivered in the Colorado ZR2 Bison.

In all, the AEV upgrade to the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 improves the breed, as long as you are doing "off-road things" that require more protection underneath your truck. It also makes you stand out at the trailhead.

Is this the truck you want to impress your off-roading neighbors? As long as you got the Duramax underneath that hood, you can play with the deer, the antelope, a Raptor, a TRD Pro, a Jeep…and make it a party!

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by General Motors

All Photos by Randy Stern

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