2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison First Drive - Boulder-Bashing at a Price

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
2019 chevrolet colorado zr2 bison first drive boulder bashing at a price

How much would you pay for a midsize truck that was just as capable off-road as Ford’s full-size Raptor?

I am not asking about a Ranger Raptor, since that seems unlikely to be sold here for the moment. So if you want to boulder-bash in size medium, it’s either the Toyota store or the Chevy dealer down the street that will tempt you. One with the Tacoma TRD, the other with the Colorado ZR2 Bison.

Tempt Chevy stores will, but for $50K, is it worth your monthly payment?

(Full disclosure: Chevrolet flew me to Phoenix, put me up in a nice hotel in Scottsdale, provided my meals and booze, and gave us the chance to drive the truck both on- and off-road. They also gave us a sneak peek of the Silverado HD.)

Opting for the Bison gets you off-road-ready equipment such as steel bumpers and skid plates (I counted five) made from Boron steel. You get a different grille with “Chevrolet” spelled out as opposed to a bow-tie logo, fog lamps, 17-inch wheels that host 31-inch tires, wheel flares, and some unique badging on the headrests and floor liners. You get Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve (DSSV) shock absorbers from Multimatic, and there’s also cast-iron control arms. American Expedition Vehicles designs the bumpers, wheel flares, wheels, skid plates, and badging.

That’s on top of the ZR2 goodies (off-road appearance package, fully locking front and rear diffs, all-terrain tires, a towing package, a trailer brake, and protection for the rockers). Also like the ZR2, the rear axle ratio is 3.42, the front/rear tracks are 3.5 inches wider, and the suspension gets a 2-inch lift over the Colorado Z71.

You can choose either a 3.6-liter V6 making 308 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque (mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission) or a 2.8-liter turbodiesel making 186 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, matches to a six-speed auto.

My on-road drive in the Bison was brief and mostly straight-line freeway cruising. This is because Chevy had us driving the four-cylinder Silverado earlier in the day. We did see some gentle curves in that truck, but in order to get us back to the hotel for presentations (yes, I got a sneak peek of the Silverado HD, no I didn’t take pics because they covered our phone cameras, and no, the HD isn’t much better looking in person), we were sent back to the hotel from the desert via direct route.

On-road, the Bison isn’t much fun. There’s an initial bit of weeble-wobble on some types of pavement, thanks to the off-road tires, although you get used to it quickly and the truck tracked straight enough on the freeway with little effort. Tire noise crops up at highway speeds, and the diesel doesn’t offer up great acceleration. The cabin also feels a bit outdated.

No one is buying this version of the Colorado for on-road driving, though. Nope – if you’re plunking down 50 large on this truck, you want to play in the sandbox. The really big sandbox. The life-sized sandbox that has actual desert sand. And rocks. And cacti.

That, the Bison does well. Chevy took us deep into the desert – so deep, I expected to find the remains of loose-lipped mob associates – in order to show off the truck’s prowess. The course started out easy enough – just washboard roads with loose gravel and the occasional curious cow – but it got tougher about midway through. We needed spotters to get us over some rocks. The kind of rocks that could do some serious damage.

Which, some did. Nary an exhaust pipe was spared, and there were other bruises suffered by each truck. But the skid plates appeared to have kept the rest of the important bits “clean” and the Bisons had little trouble getting through, cosmetic damage aside. Suspension articulation is always fun to watch, even if trying to photograph it could lead to an unfortunate cactus colonoscopy should one misplace a foot.

So, yeah, the Bison cuts the mustard off-road, at least in the rock-crawling scenario (no open-desert dune-jumping was on the agenda). It was jittery and nervous on some of the washboard stuff, but then, just about anything would be. What matters is that it got us from one trailhead to another without any real drama, even if comfort wasn’t always on the menu.

Still, there is the little matter of price. You’re talking about a truck that already starts at $42,900 before you add on the $5,750 in Bison bits, plus other options – including the $3,500 diesel. The base Raptor (which is probably unobtanium, to be fair; few Raptor buyers aren’t ticking options boxes) actually has a lower MSRP than the as-tested price of the diesel Bison I drove.

That said, price won’t be the only factor in the purchase decision. Brand loyalty and size will matter, and while both the Bison and the one-size-class-up Raptor are great off-road, they aren’t being tasked with the same mission, necessarily, and I realize that. There may be some cross-shopping between the two, but how much, I am not sure.

Which puts Chevy in an interesting place. Instead of fighting with Ford (at least until the Blue Oval gets smart and sends the Ranger Raptor to America), its closest competitor doesn’t come from Dearborn but from Toyota. The Tacoma’s TRD Pro and Off-Road trims are no slouch on the trail, and you can get a stick, if you so choose.

Yes, the Ranger Raptor is almost certainly coming to America, just like Neil Diamond or Eddie Murphy. And yeah, Jeep is about to drop a Rubicon-sized bomb on the market with its Gladiator, which will also offer a three-pedal option. Not to mention that the Gladiator will also be available with a diesel (no manual with that engine, though). So the Bison won’t have long before other trucks join the TRD Tacoma and the larger Raptor for the desert duel.

The big flaws here are a cabin that feels behind the times, a diesel that’s a little laggy in traffic, and the usual on-road trade-offs made for off-road goodies. That, and the price tag.

Still, you get a truck that’s perfectly competent and capable off-road, and it does look cooler and more badass than a regular Colorado.

You get what you pay for, and in this case that’s a truck that can crawl rocks with the best of them but lacks interior style. If that’s fine with you, sign on the dotted line. If not, just hang in there for the Ford or the Jeep.

The world of the hardcore off-road midsize truck is about to get a whole lot bigger.

[Images: Tim Healey/TTAC]

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2 of 44 comments
  • Flipper35 Flipper35 on Dec 07, 2018

    So, with the new package did they solve the issue with the side curtain airbags deploying while driving off road?

  • DougDolde DougDolde on Dec 07, 2018

    Could the steering wheel and center console be any uglier? Typical GM trash

  • Robert Good! Those things are hideous.
  • ScarecrowRepair Road trips by myself -- cherry tomatoes or seedless grapes. Gotcher nutrition, gotcher water, bite-sized, no sticky fingers. Light lunch, maybe; normal dinner.
  • TDIGuy A lot of comments here referring to avoiding radio in general and not AM, but I suppose a shrink part of a shrinking market doesn't have much hope.That said, I'm also part of the talk radio fan club. I could listen to it online, but it's just an internet rebroadcast of the AM station (and I'd rather not burn through my data). So if the station went, so would the internet channel.Ya, then there's the Blue Jays games... "National Blue Jays network"... Ya, three stations. I do listen on satellite, but again, they just rebroadcast the AM radio broadcast.
  • Kosmo Would have bought the passenger version to replace my wife's beloved, but aging, Honda Element if it were available in AWD. Swing and a miss there by Ford, IMO.
  • Tassos Ι never shop from these ripoff, truly junk food gas station minimarts unless my life depends on it, meaning just COFFEE if I got to have it or I will fall asleep on the wheel. When I go on a long trip, I carry a thermos of coffee plus more than enough frozen water bottles with me. only IF I run out of those, do I stop and get coffee as above.Actually there is a smarter way, bring your own cans of pop (WITH caffeine) in the car and just get a big paper cup full of ice (usually for free) at your ripoff joint.As far as hunger, I usually carry with me a box of granola bars, and even more convenient, some hard candy.There is no need whatsoever to prove your economic and nutritional illiteracy by shopping at these god-awful gas station minimarts.And for god's sake do not get any Starbucks or equally RIPOFF coffee. I buy my Maxwell house 30 oz cans at Krogers, before Biden I could get them for $3.99 (!!!) and they last me for more than a month (200 small cups or so, as they say on the can). After Biden, they go for no less than $6.99. STILL a great deal compared to the two measly Starbucks coffees you get for the same $.You take care of the pennies, and the MILLIONS will take care of themselves. I found this slightly modified adage so true in real life!