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.

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 Managing Editor.