By on December 6, 2018

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

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.

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

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.

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

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.

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

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.

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

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.

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

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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44 Comments on “2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison First Drive – Boulder-Bashing at a Price...”


  • avatar

    Does it have a rubbish interior?

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    50K, as in dollars? Yikes.

    • 0 avatar
      MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

      3500 bucks less with the V6, which I would want anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      One of my neighbors asked me last week to go with him to look at a Tacoma he was interested in, a 4dr 4×4 V6 TRD. Yeh, $50K+ out the door plus tt&l, and they weren’t given ANY discounts.

      OTOH, my #3 son has a 4dr 4×4 V6 SR5 TRD Tacoma he paid $39K+ for.

      They ain’t cheap, and they don’t come with discounts.

      A fullsize Tundra at Vescovo Toyota in Las Cruces, NM can be had for <$40K out the door, and it has that magnificent all-aluminum 32-valve DOHC 5.7L grunty V8.

      What amazes me is that people today are willing to pay such unreal, jacked-up prices.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        F’n crazy. And the deals don’t get a whole lot better for used ones.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          Oh, he bought a new Tacoma alright, an all-white one, 4drs, 4×4, V6/Auto for $35K + tt&l.

          Just not the fancy one with all the colorful decals, huge tires and Baja running gear he was interested in.

          They did have a 2016 Repo at my credit union and it sat on the lot for less than 8 hrs. Someone scooped it up, and quickly.

        • 0 avatar
          Carlson Fan

          “F’n crazy. And the deals don’t get a whole lot better for used ones.”

          That’s why I bought a new Toy truck. After I looked at what people wanted for used stuff, much of it junk, it was pretty much a no-brainer to just go buy a new. Anyone that buys a used Toy truck isn’t very good w/numbers.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            “Anyone that buys a used Toy truck isn’t very good w/numbers.”

            I bought my ’96 4Runner in 2013 (cherry one owner truck with 99k miles at the time) for $6350, which sounds like a crazy amount, except 3rd gen trucks exactly like it with 150K-ish miles sell for $7500-ish on the forum/facebook classifieds 5 years later. But speaking about several year old examples, I’m inclined to agree.

          • 0 avatar
            Carlson Fan

            ” bought my ’96 4Runner in 2013 (cherry one owner truck with 99k miles at the time) for $6350, which sounds like a crazy amount, except 3rd gen trucks exactly like it with 150K-ish miles sell for $7500-ish on the forum/facebook classifieds 5 years later. But speaking about several year old examples, I’m inclined to agree.”

            I was looking at trucks in the 3-4 old range at the time. The body and interior of my ’93 PU was a HUGE leap forward over the trucks before it IMHO so I wasn’t looking at anything older than an ’89….I think. But I know someone that has a 4Runner about the same age as yours. When he went looking for something newer to replace it a year or so ago he started out looking at used 4Runners and ended up just buying a new one for the exact same reason I did way back in ’93. He kept his old one. Parked it on a farm in northern MN, guess he just couldn’t bring himself to get rid of it!…..LOL

      • 0 avatar
        Fordson

        Drink!

  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    I was looking at new fullsize trucks recently and discounts of 12 to 15 Grand were all over……. I suspect that kind of discount will NOT be available on these smaller trucks, so in the end I fear you can actually buy “more truck” for “less cash”.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      “so in the end I fear you can actually buy “more truck” for “less cash”.”

      That’s always been the argument against midsize trucks and why Ford hesitated in bringing the Ranger here. Fullsize trucks arent much worse on fuel (better in some cases), are a lot more capable and can often be had for the same or less.

      But, some people just want a smaller truck. If only to avoid the kinds of comments by many here about how someone MUST be compensating for their lack of manhood if they dont drive a less capable little truck they paid too much for. Personally, IDGAF what people (here or anywhere) think of what I drive. If it makes me happy, that’s all that matters. If they want to pay for it for me, I’ll promise to *consider* whatever it is they deem appropriate for me to drive that makes them feel better. Until then, GTFO.

      • 0 avatar
        jfb43

        And that’s the rub. Back in 2012, I was truck shopping and looked at used Rangers and Tacomas before getting a 2006 F-150 Super Crew. The midsizers were slightly newer model years, but mileage was comparable, and there was nearly price parity between the full-size trucks and the midsizers. I had no space limitations, and I’m a tall guy, so why would I spend essentially the same amount of money for less of a truck?

        Midsize trucks are no longer a value proposition, but rather a niche segment in today’s market.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I think the biggest problem for the ZR2 Bison will be the upcoming Gladiator Rubicon; I agree. But at least these things exist.

    • 0 avatar
      derekson

      Hell, the Wrangler and Gladiator even have a significantly nicer interior at this point

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      Agreed re: Wrangler Rubicon. I think it may be even MORE expensive, but more attractive to me in many ways. For mountain trails, these smaller trucks have some real advantages over big awesome beasts like the Raptor and Ram Power Wagon.

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      “I think the biggest problem for the ZR2 Bison will be the upcoming Gladiator Rubicon;”

      C’mon the Gladiator is hideous looking. This actually looks pretty decent. Plus I’m sure it drives/rides heads and tails better than the Jeep on the road.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        I respectfully disagree, I think the Gladiator looks better and I’d wait to drive them both before making judgements on ride and handling. I mean, yeah, the Jeep has a solid front axle, but that is kinda what you want in a dedicated off-roader (not that IFS can’t work for most situations).

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          For anything short of serious rock crawling, I think IFS, especially with the ZR2’s front locking diff, is more than adequate, and superior in any other situation on-road or off: better comfort and control over uneven gravel/unpaved roads that make up the majority of most offroad excursions.

        • 0 avatar
          Carlson Fan

          “I respectfully disagree, I think the Gladiator looks better and I’d wait to drive them both before making judgements on ride and handling.”

          Looks are subjective. But the Gladiator is shaped like a billboard from every side. I’d think anytime your running down the interstate/highway bucking any kind of a wind, it would be miserable to drive. Lots of the wind noise combined w/getting blown all over the road. Thats been my experience with every Jeep I’ve either ridden in or driven. Keep them under 45 MPH & the poor aerodyamics aren’t a factor.

  • avatar
    Fordson

    I sincerely doubt it’s just as capable off-road as a Raptor.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Hard for me to say, as I’ve only driven either truck on trails both could handle. Certainly, on equal footing, the Bison could keep up — but I’d imagine the Raptor could tackle tougher terrain.

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        I love Raptors, and they are off-road beasts, and I want one, but there are many off-road trails where a big Raptor is a big disadvantage.

      • 0 avatar
        Fordson

        Well then how’s it just as capable? The mission here is ultimate factory off-road performance. That’s like saying that a Mustang GT is “equally capable” as a Corvette Z06, as a performance car. Well, yeah – unless you wanna go REALLY fast, right? But other than that, just as capable.

        ???

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          @Fordson

          What thelaine and cgjeep said. The Raptor is great until it physically doesn’t fit somewhere, especially when it is even wider than a standard F150.

          The ZR2’s front locking diff also can’t be ignored, nor can this Bison’s superior protection in terms of steel bumpers and rock sliders.

          Technical trails: Bison wins
          REALLY technical rock crawling: Jeep Gladiator Rubicon probably, although any truck will run into long wheelbase issues at some point
          Fun higher speed runs-> Raptor is the easy choice, but the ZR2 would be superior to the solid front axle Jeep here

          All these are immensely capable rigs any way you look at it, but they have their niches within the offroad space. The ZR2 seems to neatly split the middle ground between higher speed desert running performance and very technical low speed crawling. It can do a bit of both pretty well.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            It depends on what you’re looking for in an off roader, but the Bison you can easily duplicate in the aftermarket, for less, and even out-do. The Raptor you can’t.

    • 0 avatar
      cgjeep

      The Raptor isn’t really capable off road, it is more of a dessert pre runner racing truck than a rock crawler. Don’t get me wrong that is a lot of fun too. It can go fast over big bumps and dips, not slow crawling through a trail. Even if it could it is just too big for the off road trails. My friend has one and it can’t keep up with my 4Runner Trail off road (on tails). He leaves me literally choking on dust getting to the trails. So for driving on actual off road trails I would take the bison all day long. The Dodge Pawer Wagon is really the only capable offroad full size truck.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      The fullsized Raptor is marketed more as a desert pre-runner. If one looks at that specifically then NO, the Bison isn’t even close.

      It is best to view this truck as a Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon competitor.

      Ram has the fullsized 3/4 ton market locked down with the Power Wagon. Ford locked down the 1/2 ton halo 4×4 market with the Raptor. GM has locked down the small truck market with the ZR2 and this. Jeep has the SUV market locked down with the Rubicon.

  • avatar
    gtem

    The Raptor at least gets you monster power that’s fun on-road, not just off. On the basis of that alone I argue it offers better value. The extra interior room and all that is just the cherry on top.

    I’m excited that Chevy and others are making this stuff in general, I geek out about the hardware and enjoy some offroading myself, but simply don’t have the wallet or the stomach to consider ever offroading in something this new and expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      RSF

      In addition, the Raptor will retain it’s value much stronger than any small truck will.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        Better than a Tacoma? Do they appreciate in spite of their short service life and high upkeep?

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          That’s a good question that people should be asking Toyota all the time. And why they make a noisy, ugly, slow gas guzzling truck that people can’t get enough of. You’d think with the margins they make off of it, they could at least make it decent enough to buy for reasons other than the logo on that ugly snout.

          • 0 avatar
            MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

            “….noisy, ugly, slow gas guzzling….”

            But that ’93 Taurus is better, is what you’re implying?

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “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.”

    Oh god here comes the insufferable “AOB” Raptor edition…

  • avatar
    jfk-usaf

    Waaay over priced for what it appears to be… but not unlike the new Silverado, there will be a lot of unsold units on the lot in good time that GM will have to give away. 100 month 0 interest anyone? Its a GM so 100 months might be longer than you’ll want to keep it.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Look! More absolute rubbish from bailed-out GM (Guangzhou-Guadalajara) Motors!

    Garbage exterior, really awful/outdated interior, insane price tag, guaranteed mechanical/reliability issues…

    GM…America’s own British Leyland!!

  • avatar
    Flipper35

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

  • avatar

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

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