2021 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison: The mid-size pickup off-road champion

Time to go exploring

Photos courtesy Chevrolet

SAN DIEGO — Customizing our pickup trucks — with lift kits, bigger tires, fancy bumpers and the like — is as American as pickup trucks themselves. 

Not only do we want a Big Truck that allows us to do Big Truck Things like hauling stuff from Home Depot or moving furniture, but we want our Big Truck to be Our Big Truck: a vehicle as unique as we are. Okay, thanks for bearing with me through that mass of cliches.

The key here is that Americans love trucks and a lot of Americans love them bigger and badder. But, not everyone wants to have the work done by an aftermarket company. That’s why almost every truck maker has started to make pickups with all manner of add-ons. RAM makes the Power Wagon, Ford has the Raptor and the Tremor, and GMC has the AT4 variant across a number of its vehicles.

And Chevrolet has the 2021 Colorado ZR2 Bison, a mid-size truck with all manner of upgrades including skid plates, upgraded wheels and tires, replacement front and rear bumpers, larger wheel flares, and several cosmetic upgrades to make the Colorado an off-road beast — for an all-in price of $50,145 as tested.

Whether because they want the factory warranty to cover all those extra toys or because they want to roll all that upfit cost into a regular new car loan, plenty of truck buyers are opting for these special off-road trims. Carmakers are only too willing to cash in, offering more features and even partnering with aftermarket modification companies like Chevy did with American Expedition Vehicles for the Bison. The AEV logo is all over the Bison, including special embroidery on the headrests, stamps on the bumpers, and a special badge on the tailgate. This is a special truck, and Chevy wants you to know it.

Technically, it’s a fully-loaded ZR2 Colorado ($43,200) with a $5,750 Bison package added on. That means it includes all manner of technical niceties on the inside like OnStar, an AT&T 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and GM’s very nice touch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s a sizable bin at the front of the center console for your phone and other stuff, two large cupholders, and very comfortable seats. This is an American truck after all, and Chevrolet’s designers know what their customers need.

But the real excitement is on the outside. The Bison is incredibly aggressive looking, with custom equipment everywhere. The front end has a custom AEV bumper with large recovery hooks, massive skid plates, a blacked-out grille with fog lamps, and a place to install a winch (though not from the factory, disappointingly).

AEV 17 x 8-inch wheels with wheel moldings and another custom AEV rear bumper complete the look, with skid plates underneath protecting the fuel tank, transfer case, and rear differential. Functional rock sliders along the sides complete the protection package. An AEV air snorkel is available as a third-party accessory (and featured in a number of the Chevy press materials), though that is not covered under the factory warranty. It also includes front- and rear-locking diffs, a 2-inch lift, and a 3.5-inch track widening in front and rear. 

Just about the only thing I have an issue with is the 3.6-liter V6, putting out 308 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque. It’s just a little down on power given all the customization that’s been done to the truck. It’s a little slower than I’d like pulling away from red lights and you can feel the truck’s 4,671-pound curb weight. You also suffer a bit at the pump, with the truck making an estimated 16 city / 18 highway.

There is, however, a diesel variant. A 2.8-liter inline-four cylinder, making 186 horsepower and an impressive 369 lb-ft of torque at just 2,000 RPM. I didn’t get to try this out, but I’m curious if this would address my engine power concerns — I suspect it would. It also ticks the MPG up to 18 city and 22 highway, if that’s something you’re concerned with.

Engine aside — and honestly, it’s not a make-or-break concern — I loved the Bison. For many, many buyers, the look of a truck is paramount and this thing looks awesome. It’s just an added bonus that all those looks are actually functional as well.

About Jordan Golson 180 Articles
Jordan Golson is North State Journal's automotive reporter. He covers cars - both foreign and domestic - from around the globe.