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2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison Review: Is the Bison Worth It?

Desert fun in Chevy's most capable off-roader.

Conner GoldenWriter, Photographer

Aside from flashes of the hood's red paint that cut through thick motes of dust, all I saw through the windshield was the ice-blue California sky. Water bottles and half-empty bags of chips crashed around in the back seat of the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison, the sound of crunching plastic mingling with intake roar and tires slipping on loose dirt. Airborne silt and sand floated in through the open windows, down so that I might hear the approach of another four-wheeler or dirtbike.

What started as a 45-mph sprint up this deceptively steep hill tapered off into a low-speed, off-kilter scramble to break over the crest; 308 hp sounds like a lot—right up until it feels like you need 500. Suddenly, the right rear side of the truck dipped into one of the ruts that carved out the hillside, lifting the left front wheel slightly off the ground and slowing the truck to a near stop. Swallowing panic, I leaned on the throttle and hoped the rear would dig in before I stalled-out and risked rolling over, down the hill. After what seemed like an eternity, the tires dug in and I crept over the crest onto a small mesa.

ZR2 Bison: Performance Potential or Off-Road Reality?

This little offroad excursion was a test of potential—or rather, limits. Subconsciously or not, a lot of what we as enthusiasts enjoy about the cooler, more expensive stuff is potential. You're never going to hit the McLaren 720S's 212-mph Vmax or match the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ's 'ring time, but you sure can tell the looky-loos down at the valet stand that maybe, if only you had enough space and practice, you could. Probably.

It's because of this same "potential" that I find OEM-built off-road specials like this Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison so alluring. See, for all the extra skid plates, ground clearance, approach angles, bead-locked wheels, and remote-reservoir shocks bolted onto a truck, the limits of even the most weaponized four-wheeler are well within the grasp of your weekend off-road warrior. There are many trails and remote areas that even the most capable 4x4s struggle to overcome, with or without an experienced pilot. Go oberlanding  enough, and you'll encounter a mud pit that's too deep, a river too wide, a canyon too narrow, or a rock too big, no matter how badass the rig.

That's not to say these factory off-road specials aren't tremendously capable. The ZR2 Bison is conspicuously well-equipped for the rigors of the backwoods, considering it's a more rugged version of Chevrolet's most capable off-road vehicle, truck or otherwise. The ZR2 has long been one of my favorite new vehicles currently on sale, so when this Red Hot ZR2 Bison rolled up to the office, I packed a rucksack full of water, sunscreen, beef jerky, and external battery packs, and headed north to Hungry Valley, a sprawling offroad desert playground where I could reach for the Bison's lofty limits.

Is the Colorado ZR2 Bison Better Than The Regular ZR2 Off-Road?

In terms of raw capability, there isn't much difference between the Bison and a regular ZR2; both have the same four-wheel drive system and locking front and rear differentials, the same 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTracs, and both ride on the same sublime Multimatic DSSV spool-valve shocks. The truck's name gives the best hint; in the spirit of its hulking bovine namesake, the ZR2 Bison is stout and nearly impenetrable, thanks to an extensive armor package to protect vulnerable mechanicals from imminent destruction by way of an errant boulder. Aside from stamped steel front and rear bumpers, five hot-stamped boron-steel skid plates enclose the truck's oil pan, fuel tank, differentials, and transfer case, increasing puncture resistance when compared to the regular ZR2's aluminum shielding. Developed by the offroad experts over at AEV, the Bison's extras include several visual identifiers, including a new front Raptor-esque grille, beefier fender flares, AEV branding on the headrests and floormats, and unique 12-spoke wheels.

Aesthetically, the Bison is markedly more aggressive and brutish-looking than the desert-runner-chic ZR2, with that dark Raptor-style grille and tough-as-titanium wheel arches giving a purposeful appearance similar to that of the Hennessey VelociRaptor Ranger I tested recently. Out on the road, the Bison is no more aggressive or uncomfortable than the regular ZR2; I'm happy to report the DSSVs on the Bison continue to impart the same preternatural body control. It doesn't have the same cushy rebound as a Raptor, but aside from loud, knobby off-road rubber that gives up the limits of grip far too soon, no new truck handles on-road like the ZR2, Bison or otherwise.

Out in the desert wasteland of Hungry Valley, the Bison was absolutely untouchable—aside from the brief moment on the hill. No ruts, sand traps, rocky paths, drop-ins, or jutting rocks impeded my forward progress with any real difficulty, and if the going did get tough, the locking diffs were ready to pull me out with minimal fuss. Buyers have the choice of either the 3.6-liter naturally aspirated V-6 with 308 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque or the 2.8-liter turbocharged diesel four-cylinder, good for a paltry 181 hp but a thick 369 lb-ft of torque. Overall, the V-6 is the quieter, faster, and more versatile option, though the diesel is excellent for lower-speed stuff, towing, and for overlanding thanks to a longer fuel range. The only time the ZR2 felt down on power was charging up the aforementioned hills, though I'm sure a low-range approach would have made it a non-issue.

Does the Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison Compare to Ford's Raptor?

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Despite its prerunner looks, both iterations of the ZR2 are closer to the Wrangler and Gladiator Rubicon than a Raptor—in other words, it's built for fire roads and rocky pits rather than high-speed whoops out in the open desert, although you can get a Colorado ZR2 built for that, too. That said, the Bison's extra armor imparts confidence to crash through some of the rockier stuff with impunity, and attempt tight sluices without fear of cracking an oil pan or diff on a hidden boulder. Articulation is good, If you do throw the Bison down some dusty hardpack, that impeccable on-road handling shines through, and that light rear end is happy to whip out for some impromptu donuts.

How Much Does the Colorado ZR2 Bison Cost?

Really, the only real limits on the Bison is the hefty $48,045 price tag ($49,645 for the crew cab), though as we've said before, that's a relative bargain when you consider how much it would cost you to outfit a brand-new truck with similar modifications, and all that componentry you strap to your old truck doesn't have a factory warranty backing it up when you inadvertently ram that rear bumper into a pine tree. That's not so bad, considering the Bison is the king of the mid-sized trucks when it comes to off-road prowess—at least until the Ford Ranger Raptor comes along in the next few years.

2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison Technical Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $48,045 (ext. cab); $49,645 (crew cab)
ENGINE 3.6-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6; 308 hp @ 6,800 rpm, 275 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
2.8-liter DOHC 16-valve turbodiesel I-4; 186 hp @ 3,400 rpm, 369 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic (V-6); 6-speed automatic (diesel)
LAYOUT 4-door, 4-5 passenger, front-engine 4WD truck
EPA MILEAGE 16/18 mpg (gas, city/highway); 19/22 mpg (diesel, city/highway)
L x W x H 212.4 x 76.6 x 72.2 in
WHEELBASE 128.5 in
WEIGHT 4,639-5,011 (est)
0-60 MPH N/A
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