Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison is the Midsize Mud Crawler You Need

Do you remember that classic western folk song your mother used to sing to you as a child about the western frontier?

Home, home on the range,

Where the ZR2 Bison can play,

Where seldom is seen, but an off-road machine,

And the Bison can rock crawl all day.

If I close my eyes, I can still see the serene natural landscape I had pictured many years ago—the peaceful deer, antelope, and ZR2 Bison all living together in harmony.

Ok, so maybe we strayed from the original lyrics just a bit. But the new 2019 Chevrolet ZR2 Bison is certainly changing the narrative for the off-road capabilities of midsize pickups.

Once predominantly headlined by full-size trucks like Ford’s SVT Raptor, the Chevrolet Silverado Trail Boss, and Ram 1500 Rebel, the Colorado ZR2 Bison now joins the off-road elite much smaller in stature.

ZR2 Makeover

Credit: Chevrolet

Two years ago, Chevrolet partnered with American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) with the goal to transform its Colorado ZR2 into the brand’s most capable off-roader yet.

To be quite honest, we never believed the ZR2 needed much improvement, if any at all. It was already top dog amongst midsize mud crawlers, and the only truck GM offered with front and rear locking differentials. With its 2-inch taller ride height and a 3.5-inch wider track than a standard Colorado, the ZR2 certainly looks off-road ready—especially wearing its 265/65R-17 Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac rubber.

The ZR2 lone fault, if you can call it that, was its lack of protection for the powertrain and body if pushed to the limits on extreme terrains. Rocks could potentially be fatal to vital components and result in a premature ending to your day of trail riding.

AEV founder Dave Harriton realized this threat, and he set out to address the ZR2’s weakness with the addition of boron-steel skid plates that would protect the truck’s oil pan, fuel tank, transfer case, and locking front and rear differential.

The Bison retains the ZR2’s world-class Multimatic DSSV damping system with 8.6-inches of front and 10-inches of rear suspension travel. Paired with the protective skid plates, the versatile dampers should enable the Bison to handle even the most challenging terrain.

Stamped-steel front and rear bumpers, larger wheel-well flares, and a Raptor inspired “Chevrolet” grille also give the Bison a little more flair than the standard ZR2.

Powertrain Options

Credit: Chevrolet

The ZR2 Bison is available with two powertrain choices—the tried and true 3.6-liter V6 found in numerous GM offerings, or the 2.8-liter turbodiesel I-4 now deemed the “Baby Duramax.”

With 308-hp and 275 lb-ft of torque, the V6 moves the near 5,000-lb truck briskly for its heft with a 7.2-second 0-to-60-mph time.

However, for more fuel-conscious consumers who are willing to spend an additional $3,500 for a best-in-class 30 mpg highway, the diesel may be the better powertrain option.

The Duramax’s maximum 369 lb-ft of torque is available at just 2,000 RPM, which is ideal for low-speed off-road use. Acceleration does suffer with the diesel’s lowly 181 hp, and 0-to-60-mph sprints are two seconds slower than the V6. But let’s not kid ourselves. Nobody is shopping for a ZR2 Bison to be a stoplight warrior. They’re buying one for its aggressive styling and supreme off-road capabilities. The AEV Bison conversion adds more than $6,000 to the ZR2’s $43,995 MSRP. At $50,000, one has to wonder if the truck is the best value when a new Raptor can be had for just $3000 more. Its high sticker price aside, we are thrilled to see legitimate off-road midsize machines like the ZR2 Bison and we hope its success inspires more from the segment going forward.