2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison first drive: Heavy hitting in the off-roading sand box

Ford launched the F-150 SVT Raptor almost a decade ago to thunderous applause. The reasons were fairly apparent. Big truck. Giant wheels. Pro-level suspension. Power. Most people just reveled in the way the overtly in-your-face Raptor tickled the funny bone of our collective truck-loving id; the place in our brains where unavoidable, Pavlovian, and instinctive impulses live. The Raptor is so id, it's Id.

Meet mini-id, the new Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison, an off-roader fortified with the vitamins and minerals needed to tackle your Tonka-flashback dreams. The ZR2 Bison goes even farther down the off-roading trail than the already capable ZR2. The question is whether all the specialized equipment designed by American Expedition Vehicles (an off-roading gear outfitter) works as intended when you find yourself many miles from pavement.  

CHECK OUT: 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 first drive review: cast in convenience, forged off road

The ZR2 Bison stands in contrast to the F-150 Raptor. Ford has designed the Raptor to emulate the Trophy Truck class of desert racing. That means it’s capable of high speeds off road. But it's not entirely clear what percentage of off-road-capable truck owners do any speedy off-roading, let alone anything close to the speeds of real Trophy trucks. I rather doubt Raptor owners are burning up their local desert dunes at 95 mph, complete with rooster tails of sand pitched 15 feet in the air.

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 first drive, Arizona, November 2018, Jim Resnick photo

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 first drive, Arizona, November 2018, Jim Resnick photo

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

Meanwhile, the Colorado ZR2 Bison jumps into the market focused on slower, more common off-roading over poor surfaces. It’s set up for rocks and crawling, with an extra layer of protection for the dangly bits. So the Bison’s mission statement is far slower-paced than the bigger Raptor’s, but perhaps it’s more realistic.

Chevy turned to AEV for certain Bison armaments because the company could build them quicker for small-scale production without disturbing regular business. Up front, the Bison's AEV steel bumper, winch mounting plate, big fog lights, and a different toothy grille distinguish the Bison from a mere ZR2. Large fender flares shroud AEV-made 17x8-inch black wheels and 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires. The Bison's steel rear bumper with integrated tow hooks also comes from AEV.

But the real meaty stuff lives in the shadows. Five skid plates hot-stamped from Boron steel cover both differentials, the transfer case, fuel tank, and oil pan. Chassis components shared with the regular ZR2 include the Multimatic DSSV remote-reservoir dampers, electronically locking differentials, and the beefy cast iron control arms. Also like the base ZR2, the Bison has 3.5 inches of additional front and rear track over the Colorado Z71, plus 2.0 inches more ride height.

Under the hood, Bisons use the same powertrains as the ZR2. Buyers have a choice of either the turbodiesel 2.8-liter inline-4 that makes 186 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque paired to a 6-speed automatic transmission or the 3.6-liter gasoline V-6 that delivers 308 hp and 275 lb-ft or torque though a newer 8-speed automatic. Using an older transmission with a newer engine seems a little counterintuitive. The diesel drivetrain also adds $3,500 to the tab.

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