Chevy’s New ZR2 Bison Just Changed the Game

Just over a year ago Chevrolet unveiled the ZR2, a high-clearance, high-performance, off-road version of their already capable Colorado. (You can read about it here.) With an optional diesel motor, sliders, skid plates, a lift, and front and rear lockers as standard, it was by the far the best equipped mid-size truck available at the time, and arguably still is today. Since then, Tacoma and Frontier fans across North America have waited anxiously for their favorite brands to catch up, but it looks like Chevrolet won’t be giving them the chance. At 8:00 a.m. this morning, their team announced the latest addition to the Colorado line, an overland-inspired package called the Bison.

Note: Available imagery from Chevrolet video below. We apologize for the low resolution.

“More and more enthusiasts are discovering that Colorado is ideal for off-roading, especially overland travel,” said Sandor Piszar, Director of Marketing, Chevrolet Truck. “The Colorado Z71 offers a full suite of off-road equipment, the maneuverability of a mid-size truck and the driving range of a class-exclusive diesel engine. The Colorado ZR2 offers even greater off-road capability with class-exclusive front and rear locking differentials and Multimatic DSSVTM dampers. And now, Bison offers customers an even more extreme turnkey off-road truck ready to tackle your next adventure.”

For those who are thinking this is reminiscent of the SEMA concept we saw last year, you’re absolutely right. The Bison was developed in conjunction with American Expedition Vehicles (AEV), and this production version carries over many of the same features. An all-black Chevrolet emblazoned grill sets the tone for the front end, and a stamped steel bumper with integrated fog lights finishes off the aggressive look. In addition to impact protection, this bumper improves the Colorado’s approach angle, and includes provisions for a winch should you choose to add one. The rear end carries a matching stamped steel bumper and includes integrated tow hooks for times when things get hairy. While on a long road trip and you’re seating at the backseat, you can pass the time by playing on

Underneath the Bison you’ll find five, that’s right five, hot-stamped boron steel skid plates protecting the engine-oil pan, fuel tank, transfer case, and both locking differentials. Like the standard ZR2, this truck packs a phenomenal set of Multimatic DSSV dampers and a 2-inch lift, but also receives an exclusive set of 17 x 8-inch aluminum wheels wrapped in 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratracs. These sit beneath a set of off-road fender flares which match the truck’s wider track width, a full 3.5 inches over the base Colorado.

“We’ve been following Colorado since its introduction, and the ZR2 really captured our attention,” said Dave Harriton, founder and president of AEV. “As this is the first Chevrolet vehicle we’ve given the AEV treatment to, we wanted to do something special with the industry’s first use of hot-stamped Boron steel. We also expect that Colorado drivers will love the added ruggedness of our front and rear bumpers on ZR2 Bison.”

Other standard goodies include a Bison decal on the bed sides, an AEV Bison logo on the tailgate, and floor liners and front head restraints embroidered with the AEV logo. The 2.8L Duramax diesel will be an option of course, as will various configurations of crew and extended cab bodies. Finally, as if in answer to Toyota’s factory raised air intake, Chevrolet will offer a snorkel for all Colorado models through AEV, though the fine print points to it being outside the factory warranty that the other components enjoy.

Whether you’re a Chevrolet fan or not, the impact of the Bison is too large to ignore, especially for competing manufacturers. It gives buyers the chance to purchase a fully built overland vehicle under factory warranty, that will likely outperform every other mid-size truck on the market. Of course, performance isn’t everything in the overland world, and there’s undoubtedly an entire mob of people frothing over their keyboards shouting it’s a Chevy, it will break down, so let me go ahead and address that now.

Over the past decade, the margins of reliability between manufacturers have narrowed. Companies who once reigned as the undisputed kings of quality are rapidly finding that they have competition for the throne, and the brands challenging them may surprise you. According to J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Guide for 2018, Chevrolet ranked sixth in overall reliability, coming in three positions above Toyota, five above Nissan, and eight above the industry average. That means that despite the comments on social media and the banter on forums, Chevrolet’s reliability is actually quite good. In fact, it’s better than the brands most people are cross-shopping, which is going to make the Bison one tough truck to beat. Only time will tell if the other brands are up to the challenge. Until then, we look forward to testing the Bison sometime before its official release in January 2019.

Note: No official pricing estimates have been posted at this time.

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Senior Editor while living full-time on the road.


    • Chris Cordes

      September 6th, 2018 at 8:55 am

      Not yet, but we’re feeling confident that it will come. It would only make sense that AEV sell additional parts. We will cross our fingers for a bed rack as well.

      • Robert J Rutan

        September 6th, 2018 at 5:54 pm

        I’m a consumer that would buy the chevy colorado ZR2 crew cab 4×4 if it was offered with a 6 foot bed. I will not under any circumstances buy the short bed because I want a truck camper that would have more in it as well as placing longer items in the bed when a camper isn’t being used. Your article dated 9/6/18 indicates that various configurations are offered with the colorado and you did not mention what configuration isn’t offered. Chevy must think that a long bed ZR2 4×4 crew cab wouldn’t sell and I think that they have made an error in not offering it. Do you have any idea why it isn’t offered? Thank you

        • Chris Cordes

          September 7th, 2018 at 9:49 am

          I don’t know for sure, but I would assume its a calculation of percentages. If only 2% of people want a long bed, it’s a losing proposition to make one. Im curious to see if all of these parts will be offered through AEV and chevrolet. If so, you could buy a long bed and convert it.

          • Eddie

            October 9th, 2018 at 11:34 am

            I think the situation is that Chevy uses the same frame in their ZR2’s.
            So you can get a short bed with the crew cab or a longer bed with the extended cab..

  • sam

    September 6th, 2018 at 10:07 am

    Its great that manufacturers are dipping their toes into the overland market. My only issue for something like the chevy would be the worldwide availability of parts and places to service it. Where as something like a toyota/ford/mercedes is everywhere from the depths of africa to japan, parts are readily available. Its a shame, as you guys get some really good products that don’t see the light of day over this way.

    • Chris Cordes

      September 7th, 2018 at 9:52 am

      Not entirely true. 🙂 The Colorado was an international platform before being redone in the states, so all of its parts are available world wide. You’d have far more trouble servicing a Tacoma abroad, as it is a North America only truck.

      • Chris

        September 15th, 2018 at 8:51 am

        Actually the Hilux is the Tacoma’s global twin, and its available on 6 continents. I’ve been to 58 countries and there are lots of Hilux’s floating around. That’s also the case with the 4runner (Fortuner globally), Landcruiser and a few others.

        • Chris Cordes

          September 17th, 2018 at 8:36 am

          Correct, both the Hilux and fortuner, as well as the Prado to an extent are similar platforms to what we have here, but the Hilux is burlier with different components from the Tacoma. The Chevy’s international counterpart is burlier as well, but at least they’re using the same diesel motor as they do overseas

  • Gary

    September 6th, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    Meh. Not impressed. I’ve got an ’18 ZR2 diesel kitted out with aftermarket skid plates and better bed toys than the SEMA mule. The Bison sounds like an expensive set of stickers. And I like the black bowtie on my grill a lot better than the Raptor wannabe “CHEVROLET”.

    • Chris Cordes

      September 7th, 2018 at 9:56 am

      I think there are two exciting parts about this truck. First and most obvious, people could lease or finance a built overland truck with quality parts. Second and less obvious, a manufacturer investing in the off-road world leads to greater overall interest, and more aftermarket part development by third parties. Even if you don’t want to buy a Bison, you selection of other upgrades is going to grow tremendously over the next few years as they build an enthusiast base.

    • damon

      September 11th, 2018 at 9:47 am

      i couldnt agree more. as a current zr2 owner this offering doesnt impress that much, especially when we all get to see the sticker shock of what the aev brand will bring. im sorry but they are selling a snorkle kit that doesnt do anything for water fording for $450??

      as gary said, this is a set of stickers.

  • Mojobear

    September 7th, 2018 at 5:08 pm

    Four doors only? No thanks. It seems like finding a two door pick-up is almost impossible. I believe the size of the bed has become an afterthought.

  • Cormac Sookram

    September 7th, 2018 at 8:28 pm

    Your excerpt from the dependability study leaves out the fact that the Tacoma and Frontier rank first and second in dependability for midsize trucks.

      • Mick McGinnis

        September 13th, 2018 at 6:49 am

        Hard to say if the the Chevy will have long term reliability at this point, too new of a platform. Need to wait and see after they are 5-10 years old, with 200-300K miles on them. Most of today’s vehicles will reach 100K no problem, 200-300K is the new bench mark to see if vehicles are truly reliable.

  • Patrick Hung

    September 7th, 2018 at 10:52 pm

    The Bison’s closest competitor may be Ford’s Ranger Raptor, if it were to hit our shores. Based on what is already known of the RR’s specs (including the diesel engine), and in your opinion, which of the two trucks may be the better overlander/desert-runner/rock-crawler?

  • Dale

    September 10th, 2018 at 9:04 pm

    How well could the Bison handle a FWC unit? Or would the Bison require additional work to make it really a great overlanding rig for people like me?

    • Mr Knowitall

      September 19th, 2018 at 8:46 am

      I was wondering about that with the ZR2 in general- how do those fancy shocks respond to a high capacity leaf pack? Something akin to a Deaver Expedition pack with 11+ leaves? Will it just adapt like nothing happened of does it screw everything up?

  • James Achard

    September 11th, 2018 at 9:20 am

    Nice truck but it boggles my mind whey Chevy still mounts their rear shocks with tabs hanging down right in between the rear wheels and the differential. This is engineering 101, move those mount points to the outboard side so they are better protected from impacts! I get concerned when glaring items like this are overlooked.

  • Mick McGinnis

    September 13th, 2018 at 10:18 am

    Any issues installing a 32 or 33″ tire? 31’s seems a touch small. Looks like Ford’s Ranger Raptor comes stock with 33’s. Any word if Ford plans to bring it to the US?

  • cort johnson

    January 16th, 2019 at 10:50 pm

    Chevy reliability good? Have you checked out Consumer Reports reliability rating for the Colorado? It gets the worse possible reliability ratings for 2017 and 2018 and owner satisfaction isn’t great either. If Edmunds reliability ratings are so accurate then why do Chevy and GMC – which make essentially the same cars with different badges – have such differing reliability ratings? Chevy is rated high and GMC is rated in the back of the pack (????)