Bison are an icon from the American frontier, conjuring pictures of roaming herds grazing the prairies and plains all through Westward Expansion.
But when it is the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison – the loaded-up off-road offer to the Bow-Tie brand’s mid-size pickup truck – those pictures dissolve into rock crawling, hill ascending and water fording with a long-haul overlanding safari. Perfectly, I had only a night while using the Bison in Chicago, where the sole terrain to traverse may be the city canyon and congested expressways. So, I did another most reasonable factor … I drove it to Jollibee for an incredible Aloha Burger, Jolly Spaghetti along with a Halo-Halo for dessert.
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Here are five totally rando things I noticed all through my night behind the wheel of the 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison:
Co-developed in a partnership between Chevy and Montana-based AEV (or American Expedition Vehicles if you’re not into the whole brevity issue) to be “the most-capable off-road truck in its class,” the Colorado ZR2 Bison emerged in January with an arsenal of special features and equipment for off-the-asphalt exploits
The upgrade is immediately evident, from the abundant AEV badging inside and out, ZR2 Bison decals and “Chevrolet” in all caps stretched across the grille in place on the traditional bow-tie emblem. That’s in addition to the reimagined front bumper (which allows for a 25.3-degree approach angle that’s admittedly worse than the regular ZR2’s 30 degrees), the aggressivehood scoop adorned with a metal Duramax Diesel placard denoting the turbo-diesel 2.8-liter V-6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, stamped-steel front and rear bumpers, a quintet of steel underbody skid plates, dramatically flared fenders and model-specific aluminum wheels.
A base two-wheel-drive Colorado starts at $22,395 (including a $1,095 destination charge). My test car rang in at $53,245 – the Bison offer alone is $5,750 – more than twice the entry price. If you’re actually gonna go overlanding on the regular basis, consider it money properly spent, but if you’re mostly gonna use it for takeout runs to Filipino fast-food joints, commuting and the occasional loveseat move, you better get your money’s worth out in the humblebrag.
If, like me, you don’t drive a lot of trucks or do much (or any) off-roading or heavy hauling, you may not be familiar with diesel exhaust braking. So, when I saw the curious button on the panel under the climate controls labeled “Exhaust Brake” with a picture of a little trailer on it, I wondered, “What does this button do?” Exhaust braking allows the driver to preserve their brake pads while slowing the truck with a steep downhill grade by choking off the exhaust, forcing it back into the engine and causing it to run more slowly and even come to a stop. Now ya know.
After Jollibee, my wife and I picked up a few groceries, then I dropped her off at our building along with the shopping bags and went to park the car in the garage, forgetting that I’d left my backpack with a MacBook in the rear seat of the crew cab. Eventually, I would’ve remembered the oversight – at around 3 a.m. waking up with a jolt of total recall – but the Bison’s Rear Seat Reminder spared me the interruption to my slumber.
The feature detects when a rear door is opened up to 10 minutes before the engine is started, interpreting that as something being placed in the backseat; when the ignition is subsequently turned off, a chime sounds plus a message appears in the driver information display to remind you to check the rear seat. For me, it was just my backpack, but for a busy parent, it may just be your silently snoozing baby in their car seat (don’t judge, it happens to a lot of people, hence this handy feature).
Wireless charging in cars is arguably one with the most convenient tech features to come down the pike of progress in quite some time – if your phone fits in the charge port, that is. But the Bison’s port was, like, iPhone sizing, and my Galaxy Note9 (roughly 6.4 inches by 3 inches) just wasn’t getting in there. Bummer.
As I’ve stated, I don’t drive a lot of pickups, so advancements in tailgate technology, however old-hat to some, still tickle me. In this case, I’m referring to the soft-open feature with the Bison’s tailgate – you just pull the handle and let it go, and it lowers as if it is trying not to wake the baby. That’s a far cry from the tailgate of my first car as a teenager, a 1987 Dodge Ram, which opened in an unfettered freefall with a metallic groan like the hull with the Titanic buckling.
Bison belong on the open prairie running through tall grass, over hills and scrub. That’s the picture many of us have of your American High Plains thanks to countless western movies. Chevrolet concocts that imagery for your Colorado mid-sized pickup truck through a partnership with American Expedition Vehicles (AEV).
The folks at AEV basically took a standard Colorado ZR2, already replete with off-road gear, and added a bunch of boron steel plus a big buffalo logo and called it a Bison. It’s a factory-made rig, with parts being put on by Chevrolet but with all the added off-road gear being provided by AEV. It makes for an extremely capable off-road rig. Enough so that it can (almost) play using the big boys with “Rubicon” and “Raptor” in their names. It’s certainly a contender against the Gladiator.
Overlanding? No problem in the 2019 Colorado ZR2 Bison
Overlanding? No problem in the 2019 Colorado ZR2 BisonAaron Turpen/New Atlas
After seeing the Bison unveiled, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on one. We got the best setup we could have asked for: the ZR2 packaged AEV Bison in crew cab while using the diesel engine. Off-road enthusiasts will understand why having that low-lugging, high-torque diesel is ideal.
Of note are the changes made with the Bison offer. It adds about US$5,500 to the price of the truck and most in the upgrades are shielding. Basically, the Colorado gets boron steel skid plates protecting just about everything underneath the truck, including the transmission, transfer case, fuel tank, both differentials, etc. It also gets boron steel AEV bumpers, AEV-spec’d wheels, added badges, interior stitching and badges, wheel flares, along with a more aggressive grille.
That may not sound like much, but the ZR2 bundle with the Colorado already has larger 31-inch tires (265/65R17 Goodyear Wrangler DuraTracs), and also a much beefier suspension for the 4×4 setup that results in a longer reach, and locking differentials. Making it the only Chevrolet truck which has both front and rear locking diffs.
AEV says that the use of boron steel means that the skid plates and bumpers can take a bigger beating and still bounce back clean. They’re more resistant to gouging, have a high yield strength that allows them to return to shape after bending, plus a low mass. The lattermost point means that the AEV boron plates aren’t too much heavier than the aluminum-alloy plates they replace on the ZR2.
The whole AEV setup, wheels and all, adds only about 200 lb (90.7 kg) to the vehicle’s overall weight. The diesel upgrade also adds another 200-ish lb to the truck. Chevrolet tunes the Bison’s suspension spring rates to compensate with the added weight.
Going down the hill, the Bison “ass-smacked” a few times because of its less aggressive departure angle in the back, but otherwise experienced no problem getting down the rocks. Going up? Not so much. Its lack of breakover clearance meant it couldn’t get over people same rocks. The Gladiator Rubicon, we’ve since learned, also has a similar breakover issue on that same hill. It’s a matter of wheelbase and clearance.
The benchmark for this kind of off-roading will be the current-generation Jeep Wrangler, which has 37-degrees for breakover in addition to a ground clearance of 10.8 inches (27.4 cm). By comparison, the Bison has about 9 inches (22.9 cm) of ground clearance and the Gladiator has 11 (27.9 cm). Both have longer wheelbases, resulting in shorter breakover angles (23.5° with the Bison, 20.3° for that Gladiator Rubicon). The Bison was very close to being capable of going up our hill, but prudence said not to try for fear of high-centering the truck.
Pricing with the Colorado ZR2 Bison starts at $43,995. Getting up to the $50k mark is easy though, when adding options and the diesel engine. Given that the Gladiator Rubicon without a diesel but with top-end specifications can also easily approach those figures and the Ford Raptor is very well over individuals numbers in most builds, the price isn’t as much of a shocker.
The 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison is a wonderfully-designed midsize off-road powerhouse. It looks aggressive and lives up to all those looks when put to the test.
While attending the national media launch with the new Opens a New Window.2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 BisonOpens a New Window. in Scottsdale, Arizona a couple of weeks ago, we couldn’t help but wonder, why Bison? It had only been a year or so since we were on the similar event near the Utah-Arizona border for that then all-new Chevrolet Colorado ZR2Opens a New Window.. At that time ChevroletOpens a New Window. executives were touting it as the ultimate off-road Colorado. At our latest Chevy Arizona adventure we were being shown, what engineers and designers were calling, an even more capable ZR2. What gives?
Looking different, at least from the front, the ZR2 Bison is obviously not the same as the original ZR2, but how much more capable off-road than the regular ZR2 could the Bison be? And why bother anyway?
To bring some clarity to the question, we pulled aside Colorado senior creative designer Paul Arnone for a little chat. A 13-year General Motors veteran, Arnone spent four years with HummerOpens a New Window. before becoming lead creative designer of special vehicles. Special vehicles are just what they sound like: Vehicles modified with some degree of specialty parts and components. In fact, that’s how he found himself involved with all the ZR2 Bison project.
Over the 30 minutes we spent with him, Arnone summarized the spirit of ZR2 Bison and the design team’s goals established to fulfill that spirit. We’ll leave it to these writing our First Drive and New Car reviews for the ZR2 Bison to comment on how successful the product planners, designers and engineers were in meeting these goals. In the meantime, here are some insights to the thought process behind ZR2 Bison.
Since Chevy reintroduced the Colorado four years ago, the automaker has pushed roughly 430,000 units out the door since then. Wildly successful, this midsize pickup is available in three body configurations and with three engine options spread across multiple models. Colorado, and its GMC cousin CanyonOpens a New Window., have been so successful, in fact, that it motivated ToyotaOpens a New Window. and NissanOpens a New Window. to finally update their midsize trucks (TacomaOpens a New Window. and FrontierOpens a New Window.), and pushed JeepOpens a New Window. and FordOpens a New Window. to finally get midsize pickups into their pipelines.
Creating niche vehicles is part of Chevy’s DNA, as illustrated by the various versions from the CamaroOpens a New Window. and CorvetteOpens a New Window.. Arnone calls the pieces resulting from slicing a segment pie into smaller chunks, purpose built. And, purpose-built vehicles, he said, is the direction in which Chevy is heading. “And we’re finally bringing that to trucks,” he explained. “ZR2 and Bison live in two different camps, but they can survive in the same market segment.”
Although the ZR2 and ZR2 Bison fall under the broad Colorado umbrella, with the purposes of comparing the two, we should think of your ZR2 as the base truck. Yes, it’s capable, but in a very different way than the ZR2 Bison. Capability in the ZR2 is based more on performance at speed. Chevy bred ZR2 for Baja 1000-style off-roading. Although it can rock crawl (we’ve done it in one), it is more ideally suited for dirt and sand. On the other hand, the 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison is engineered to attack rocky terrain. Of Bison Arnone quipped, “It is slow roll.”
How did engineers and designers up the ante to transform the dune-blasting ZR2 into the bolder-cresting ZR2 Bison? They conspired with a top aftermarket off-road component designer/marketing company to create a turnkey factory-tested, factory-backed off-road beast.
AEV or American Expedition Vehicles specializes in off-road and overland parts and accessories. With plenty of experience in developing off-road/overland components, AEV was a sensible pick when Chevy began looking around for a Bison collaborator. At the outset, the main discussion revolved around which ZR2 components would be tasked to AEV. That is, which components could be changed and still keep the cost within the established Bison budget.
Steel bumpers topped the list. AEV designed stamped-steel bumpers that are cooled on the press for extra strength. Skid plates also made the cut. “What we wanted were components that were plug and play,” Arnone declared. “If a bumper did get damaged, it could easily be replaced.”
But that created problems.”We didn’t want it to look aftermarket,” Arnone said. “We wanted plug and play that looked integrated. It was more of an industrial-design sort of issue. It was 50-percent design and 50-percent problem solving.”
Integration of design would be the reason for Bison’s vastly redesigned front end and grille. When it was all said and done, the ZR2 Bison has AEV designed bumpers and five Boron steel skid plates. An integrated winch receiver is in the front bumper, while the rear bumper offers integrated recovery points. The Bison-specific 17-in aluminum wheels roll beneath beefier wheel flares.
Because the AEV components are baked into the ZR2 Bison, they have been factory tested and are covered by the factory warranty. “We crash tested 11 trucks using the AEV components,” Arnone stated. “You just don’t get that kind of validation in the aftermarket.”
The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison also gets all the ZR2’s equipment, such as front and rear locking differentials, segment-exclusive Multimatic DSSV dampers and Autotrac transfer case.