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Shelby America was a legendary high-performance aftermarket automobile company that built some of the most sought-after muscle cars in history. When I finally got a chance to see the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison edition truck by AEV, I couldn’t help thinking: The Shelby America of off-roading is here. Here’s what’s so special about this 4WD midsize pickup.

What is special about a ZR2 Colorado?

The ZR2 is the off-road halo trim of the Chevrolet Colorado. It features a factory lift kit and a wider track. It also shares a 310 horsepower and 430 lb-ft torque trim of the 2.7-liter turbocharged I4 with other high trims.

35-inch Good Year tire standing up in the bed of a Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 AEV Bison pickup truck.
2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 AEV Bison | Henry Cesari via MotorBiscuit

The Z71 is the Chevrolet Colorado’s on-road performance package. The ZR2 is the off-road variant. While they share a tuned engine, the ZR2 adds all the off-road suspension goodies. It is lifted two inches with a 3.5-inch wider track than a stock Colorado. This lift includes longer control arms for tire clearance. It also sports 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires on aluminum alloy wheels. The modified suspension even integrates Multimatic DSSV position-sensitive shock absorbers.

Other standard ZR2 features include off-road rock sliders, aluminum skid plates, unique bodywork such as off-road bumpers and fender flares, a 220-amp alternator, a trailering package with an integrated trailer brake controller plus trailering app, leather-trimmed seats, and locking differentials in both the front and the rear. These lockers make it a rare unicorn in the world of factory-built off-roaders.

I was at the Detroit Auto Show (OK, technically the North American International Auto Show–formerly the Detroit Auto Show–but who has time to type all that out?) and I spotted a Colorado ZR2 in the Chevrolet booth. But as I walked toward it, like a moth drawn to a flame, I realized it was not any old ZR2. This truck was highly modified, sitting on huge tires, with a stand-up spare dominating most of its bed. I was looking at the 2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison by AEV–in person!

What does AEV stand for on a Colorado?

AEV stands for American Expedition Vehicles. This Montana-based company began building aftermarket off-roaders and overlanding accessories, but today it also puts its stamp on high-trim 4WDs, such as the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison.

Brown leather dashboard and wheel of a Chevrolet Colorado special edition.
2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 AEV Bison | Henry Cesari via MotorBiscuit

Very much like Shelby America, AEV started as a standalone private shop. Its customers could buy a Jeep Wrangler, ship it to AEV, and have it upgraded with overland-ready components. AEV does builds as simple as a couple of off-road bumpers and a winch. The shop is also happy to swap a HEMI V8 into a Jeep. It offered an aftermarket Jeep Wrangler pickup truck years before the Gladiator.

Over the years, AEV branched out to other makes and models, including the Ram 1500. It set up a second shop near Detroit as it grew. Like Shelby America, the next step for AEV is to lend its name to top-trim halo vehicles built by the OEMs. So AEV’s partnership with Chevrolet to build the Colorado ZR2 Bison is not a shocker.

What does the Bison package add to the Colorado ZR2?

The American Expedition Vehicles (AEV)-designed Chevrolet Colorado is a maxed-out ZR2. It has optional features such as the in-bed spare tire carrier. It also swaps out the ZR2’s off-road accessories (bumpers and fender flares) for AEV-engineered components.

Grille of a white 2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 AEV Bison pickup truck parked at an indoor car show.
2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 AEV Bison | Henry Cesari via MotorBiscuit

Unlike the muscle cars once built by Shelby America, off-roaders aren’t all about the horsepower. Many 4WD enthusiasts lift a car or truck, then upgrade its suspension and axles with aftermarket shock absorbers and lockers. But they often leave the engine and transmission stock.

In this tradition, AEV didn’t touch the Colorado ZR2’s tuned 310-horsepower turbo I4 when it engineered the Bison. Personally, I think a big naturally-aspirated V6 (or even an I6), would have been a really cool swap. Reviewers have complained that the ZR2’s tuned I4 may make a bunch of power but still feels like a “car engine.” But if this choice keeps its price under $55k, it’s probably worth it. This isn’t, after-all, a F-150 Raptor R.

Engine aside, the ZR2 Bison is quite an off-road rig. It has 12.2 inches of ground clearance. It retains the stock ZR2’s Multimatic DSSV dampers. But it does upgrade the aluminum skidplates to boron steel units. It also adds front and rear Jounce Control Dampers to prevent death wobble. This is important because the major upgrade you enjoy with the Bison package is the 35-inch OD Mud/Terrain tires on AEV’s 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels.

Tailgate and tail light of a white Chevrolet Colorado on 35-inch tires parked in an indoor car show.
2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 AEV Bison | Henry Cesari via MotorBiscuit

Yup. The Bison is a midsize truck riding on 35s! That’s pretty rad.

To be blunt, the rest of the Colorado Bison’s add-ons are essentially AEV accessories: It swaps the regular ZR2 bodywork (fender flares and bumpers) for AEV’s units. This includes a high-clearance rear bumper, a winch-capable front bumper, and “heavy-duty” fender flares. Honestly, if the success of your off-road adventure hinges on the strength of your fender flares…mistakes were made.

But AEV makes some of the best off-road accessories around. So the fact that the 2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison is an off-road truck fully loaded with an arsenal of AEV accessories–still with a factory warranty–makes it an exciting option.

Next, find out why the Tundra TRD Pro isn’t even in the F-150 Raptor’s class–and why Toyota fans don’t care, or see the Chevrolet Colorado Bison for yourself in the video below: