- What’s Good: Excellent off-road capability; looks as good — maybe better — than it goes; highest-tech dampers in the entire industry.
- What’s Bad: Interior trim level not up to the price level; room for five or lots of cargo, not both; serious off-roaders may find it a bit unwieldy on tighter trails.
PHOENIX, ARIZ.—For many (most?) of the buying public, a pick-up truck is sort of like a Porsche.
Just as many Porsche owners would like to think they are driving on the Autobahn or the Nurburgring instead of slogging along the 401 in rush-hour traffic, many pick-up truck buyers would like to think they’re tending the cattle on their ranch in Alberta instead of picking up something from Canadian Tire on their way home from the office.
Then there are the serious off-road freaks for whom no hill is too steep, no river too deep, no rock too big to crawl over.
Or at least try to do so.
It is for these folks that Chevrolet has created the Colorado ZR2 Bison.
This most-capable of GM’s mid-size pick-up line is now available for ordering at your friendly local Chevy store, starting at $53,575 for the long-box “extended” cab (meaning not much legroom for rear-seat riders) or $55,075 for the Crew Cab (meaning four proper doors and real room for those rear-seaters) with the short box.
This ZR2 Bison is not offered in the Crew Cab long box configuration, so you have to choose between room for passengers and room for stuff.
By the way, if you’re checking out the Chevy website looking for Bison, it is technically an option package on the Colorado ZR2.
The ZR2 is already a pretty capable truck, with DSSV (Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve) dampers from the geniuses at Canada’s own Multimatic, originally developed for Formula One race cars and now adapted for on- and off-road use.
These effectively create extra bandwidth for what dampers are supposed to do — give better compression control in the rough stuff, and vastly better compliance on the highway.
The regular ZR2 has cast-iron front suspension control arms, an Autotrac two-speed four-wheel drive transfer case with locking differentials front and rear, a 3.42:1 final drive ratio, 90 mm greater track front and rear and a 50 mm suspension lift kit.
Choosing the Bison option package brings a heap of additional goodies, most immediately noticeable being a different grille with “CHEVROLET” big and bold across the front.
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17-inch diameter/8-inch wide aluminum wheels with massive 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires provide excellent grip.
Steel bumpers and five skid plates made from boron-hardened steel from the off-road specialist company AEV (American Expedition Vehicles) help protect the expensive bits, such as oil pan, fuel tank and the four-wheel-drive gubbins.
Both ends of the truck have provisions to attach a tow rope should your off-road reach exceed the truck’s grasp.
Completing the off-road look, an optional snorkel can be ordered, to bring air into the engine from well above the truck in case you get deep into the water.
A trailering package is standard, and comes with a trailer brake controller, vital for hauling those bigger rigs.
Power is provided either by GM’s 3.6 litre V6 with 308 horsepower at 6,800 r.p.m. and 275 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 r.p.m., mated to an eight-speed automatic, or a 2.8-litre inline four turbo Diesel with 181 horsepower at 3,400 r.p.m, and a thumping 369 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,000 r.p.m., with a six-speed autobox.
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Normally, I’d love the Diesel, still cradle-to-grave the least impactful type of powertrain on our environment due to its longevity. But an eight-grand hit on the sticker and the current high price for Diesel fuel means it will take a long time to pay for itself in fuel savings.
The interior is pretty much standard Colorado, which means it’s OK for a truck that starts just north of $30K. But when that sticker is going to be well over 50 grand, it might seem a bit low-rent, although most of the displays are big and bright enough to be easily read.
It does come with all the mod-cons (modern conveniences), including a 7- or 8-inch central display screen with or without navigation, USB ports all over the place, a six-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, high-def rear-view camera, in-vehicle WiFi hot spot, and most important of all in our climate, a heated steering wheel.
Which I did not need in Arizona, but do love back home.
The leather seating surfaces make even less sense here than they do anywhere, because you could use the extra grip cloth provides when out bashing those boonies.
But as I always say, the customer is right even when they’re wrong, and they love their leather.
The seats could also use more lateral support, not only off- but also on-road. Again, a proper fabric upholstery would help here.
The always-dumb (“Where are the keys, dear?”) but now nearly universal keyless ignition push-button start is standard, as is the ignorant, environment-killing but still widely loved by the masses remote start.
Bison handled a fairly aggressive off-road course with relative ease. We had spotters all along the course to make sure we didn’t go too far wrong.
The low range of the four-wheel drive and the ample power from either engine provided plenty of hill-gobbling grunt.
The long wheelbase and longish overhangs made it tricky to avoid damage on some of the sharper crests; those skid plates came in very handy.
Several of the test trucks (not mine, ahem…) had flattened exhaust pipes due to contact with rocks on the course.
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On the road, the Bison rode very well, and quietly. There was none of the wandering that afflicts many off-road-capable trucks, usually caused by the aggressive tread on the tires. I would assume those trick Multimatic dampers had a lot to do with Bison’s excellent road manners.
I also tried the Diesel engine, whose ample torque and surprisingly quiet exhaust note made it a nice drive.
Now, there is a subset of off-road fans who feel that much of the fun to be had in a truck like this is building their own.
Rather than buying a ready-made rig, many such owners prefer to start with a basic truck, add bits they like as they get to know their vehicle, avoid bits that don’t work for them, or don’t fit their budget.
Then again, a factory-built unit like the Bison has been properly engineered so all the bits work together.
And you aren’t likely to find stuff like those magic Multimatic dampers at your local off-road shop.
Yet another subset of the off-road fraternity feels that a truck this big — even if it is nominally mid-size — is just too bulky for serious rock-crawling. The truck may be too wide to squeeze through narrow openings in the trees; the wheelbase may be too long; the overhangs may be too likely to hang up on big boulders.
But no one truck is perfect for everyone.
With the Colorado ZR2 Bison, Chevrolet has taken pretty much everything they know about off-roading, added specialist expertise from some of the best-known brands in the business and put it together in a check-one-box-on-the-order-form package at your Chevy store.
If that’s your idea of a great off-roader, Chevy has the answer.
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