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Driven: The Ridiculous, Awesomely Loaded 2020 Chevrolet-AEV Colorado ZR2 Bison

It’s best not to mess with success, but if you’re going to do so, do it this way.

Aaron GoldWriterBrandon LimPhotographer

My Automobile colleagues have sung the praises of the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 and ZR2 Bison again and again and again, and with good cause. For those unfamiliar, the ZR2 is the Tonka-truck-durable, high-speed terrain-bashing version of Chevrolet's Colorado pickup. Most prominent among its beefed-up suspension bits are a nifty set of DSSV triple-spool-valve shocks which, among other things, ensure soft landings should your preferred mode of off-roading include brief departures from Mother Earth.

But what really makes the ZR2 magical is that it's equally good at ground-bound off-roading. The $5,750 Bison package fortifies the ZR2 with a bunch of parts made by American Expedition Vehicles (AEV): Boron-steel skid plates, rock rails to protect the cab, unique bumpers with an opening for a winch up front and towing points out back, fender flares, custom wheels, and AEV-branded industrial-grade floor mats. Chevy's contribution includes a unique grille, which does wonders to improve the Bison's looks over the stock ZR2, and fog lights. Because, really, what kind of nitwit goes off-roading without fog lights?

2020 Chevrolet-AEV Colorado ZR2 Bison: You Want More? AEV Has More …

If all of those extras aren't enough for your 2020 Chevrolet-AEV Colorado ZR2 Bison, then you'll be pleased that you've arrived here at the third paragraph. The truck you're looking at has been outfitted by AEV with even more of its goodies, including (deep breath): unique wheels and fender flares, light brackets, an intake snorkel, a transmission skid-plate, more bars on the bumpers, premium-leather seats, and a vertical spare-tire mount. From the Chevrolet Performance aftermarket department, this particular Colorado gets a suspension-leveling kit (which increases front ground clearance) and tie-rod reinforcement sleeves. But wait, as the late-night mail-order TV ads say, there's more: A bunch o' lights from Baja Designs (controlled by a nicely integrated AEV switch panel), 4:10 axle gears, a Warn winch, 35-inch BFG tires, custom green paint, and more AEV logos than we've ever seen in one place.

We had a fair bit of trouble figuring out exactly how much all this stuff cost. AEV actually built this 2020 Chevrolet-AEV Colorado ZR2 Bison truck from a ZR2 without the Bison package; since the company makes most of the Bison gear, it figured it was best to fit it in-house. With the $12,325 custom-color paint job factored in, AEV put an MSRP on this truck of $92,031. Yowza! When company reps realized the price had us choking up our coffee, they back-pedaled a bit, telling us that prices were still being set and that the extra pieces would bring the price of a diesel-powered ZR2 Bison from $53,445 up to $80,000 or so. We'll reiterate "yowza," but with a period instead of an exclamation point.

Not that you'd ever want to buy a 2020 Chevrolet-AEV Colorado ZR2 Bison exactly like this one. AEV built it to show off the possibilities for building a turn-key off-roader, and not everything (necessarily) goes together. A winch is, obviously, a great thing to have for those rare obstacles the ZR2 can't power itself over (and/or to rescue other off-roaders with less ability or sense than you have). A snorkel is useful for high-speed off-roading, as it grabs air from above the dusty wake of vehicles ahead of you. (It's really meant for dust, not water fording.) The spare tire mount pretty much rendered the rearview mirror redundant, but if there's one thing we know about off-roading, it's that you can't have enough spare tires. Leather seats? Yes, please. And as for the custom paint, well, we still think the Colorado looks best in red.

2020 Chevrolet-AEV Colorado ZR2 Bison: Off road, You're Better Slow Than Fast

We split our time with the 2020 Chevrolet-AEV Colorado ZR2 Bison with our colleagues at MotorTrend, and while they went for the high-speed off-roading bits, we took the slow stuff. With its grabby BFG tires and lower gears in the axles—not to mention 369 lb-ft of obliging torque from the four-cylinder diesel engine—the AEV Bison walked up our steep, deeply-rutted test-hill exerting no more effort than it did pulling into our driveway. We didn't even bother to lock the axles. Normally we steer carefully around ruts, but in the Colorado, we didn't even bother. The truck barely noticed them. Descents were just as easy, whether we used the hill-descent function or just shifted the automatic transmission into lower gear.

Christian Seabaugh from the MotorTrend team took the AEV Bison out for a little desert running, and he was less impressed. In his opinion, the higher weight (both sprung and unsprung) and increased ground clearance un-did most of the DSSV shocks' ability to even out the 2020 Chevrolet-AEV Colorado ZR2 Bison's high-speed off-road ride. "At any speed north of 15 mph, AEV's Bison was hopelessly see-sawing back and forth on its axles," he wrote. The off-road ride quality was terrible at stock tire pressures, and only marginally better with the tires aired down. Dropping air pressure is standard operating procedure for this kind of off-roading, but as Seabaugh pointed out, there's no need to do so in the off-the-shelf ZR2 Bison.

2020 Chevrolet-AEV Colorado ZR2 Bison: On the Road, Packin' on the Pounds

On-road, Seabaugh and I agreed: The street ride is exceptionally comfortable, a fact that is true of both the regular ZR2 and ZR2 Bison. The tires made the steering feel a little more wishy-washy. What really stood out to both of us was how much all of the added jewelry weighed down the truck and dragged down the engine. With the final-drive gears swapped from 3.42:1 to 4.10:1, we expected that we might have to cruise a little slower on the freeway (turns out we didn't), but those gears should have helped acceleration, and neither of us expected this 2020 Chevrolet-AEV Colorado ZR2 Bison to feel so sluggish—after all, diesels are supposed to shrug off weight. The 2.8 Duramax isn't exactly the Usain Bolt of truck engines, but all that AEV gear made it feel more like Artie Lange.

To be fair to AEV, and as noted previously, anyone who knows their off-roading stuff would most likely pick and choose from this equipment and add only the bits required to meet their individual needs. And there is an advantage to going with AEV above other companies: Not only is the equipment well-made, but also your friendly neighborhood Chevrolet dealer can install it. This means you can finance the mods with the rest of the truck, and you are less likely to get arguments about the parts or their installation impacting warranty coverage. (Legally, aftermarket parts generally should not affect your warranty, but that won't necessarily stop a dealer or manufacturer from putting up a fight.)

To be fair to Chevy, the 2020 Chevrolet-AEV Colorado ZR2 Bison also reminded us that the Colorado ZR2, with or without the Bison package, is pretty much perfect as it comes—and trying to improve on perfection is an iffy business, indeed.

What AEV Added to Its Chevrolet ZR2 Bison:

  • AEV snorkel, $859
  • AEV vertical spare tire mount, $600
  • AEV rear-differential slider, $325
  • AEV rear-differential cover, $310
  • Baja Designs rear-bumper LED light upgrade, $1,578
  • Baja Designs 20-inch light bar, $621
  • AEV premium leather upgrade, $2,870
  • Warn 9.5xp-s winch, $2,145
  • AEV winch mount, $249
  • AEV painted appearance package, $1,771
  • AEV custom paint, $12,325
2020 Chevrolet/AEV Colorado ZR2 Bison Specifications
ON SALE: Now
PRICE: $92,031 (est)
ENGINE: 2.8-liter DOHC 16-valve turbodiesel I-4/186 hp @ 3,400 rpm, 369 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic
LAYOUT: 4-door, 5 passenger, front-engine, 4WD pickup truck
EPA MILEAGE: 19 mpg (combined)
L x W x H: 212.4 x 76.6 x 72.2 in
WHEELBASE: 128.5 in
WEIGHT: 5,400 lb (est)
0-60 MPH: 9.1 sec (est)
TOP SPEED N/A