The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is an off-road capable truck that pulls at my heartstrings. Extra body protection, a small but mighty diesel four-cylinder, and special suspension dampers are packed into a medium-sized package. The price of this ZR2 Bison creates unmet expectations in terms of features while the interior looks more appropriate in base trim, not this version that’s more than twice the price. Still, it raises the bar for off-road all-around capability and its honest character gives it a special feel. To some, that’s invaluable.
The Colorado ZR2 Bison is priced at $52,500 and includes several big-ticket items on top of the standard ZR2 such as the $3,500 diesel engine and $5,750 Bison trim which adds heavier-duty skid plating (even for the rear differential) and unique front and rear steel bumpers that protect the body panels, recovery points that are easily accessible, and provisions for a winch in front. The Bison package also brings unique 17-inch wheels, larger fender flares, and embroidered headrests.
The ZR2 trim comes standard with heated leather seats, a six-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, a heated leather steering wheel, and a 4.2-inch driver information display. Additional “lux” items include a navigation system, a quick-reacting eight-inch touchscreen, a Bose stereo system, and HD, SiriusXM, Apple CarPlay, Google Android Auto, and Bluetooth compatibility. Two USB ports, a wireless charging pad, and a 4G-LTE wi-fi hot spot help devices stay charged and connected. The most notable fail is the two-piece key and key fob – an unpleasant throwback to the early 90’s.
Styling and Size
The Colorado ZR2 is visually and functionally distinguishable from the other Colorado trims with a 2-inch lift and a 3.5-inch wider track which helps add more travel for the 31-inch Goodyear Duratracs tires which give up some on-road grip for severe off-road traction. The ZR2 remains sensibly sized for the trail, enabling it to go places where the seven-inch-wider Raptor can’t. Interior space is ideal too, with plenty of room and cubbies upfront and an adult-sized rear seat – something lacking in the Tacoma. Raising the rear seat is a two-handed job and only reveals a minimal amount of additional storage. Basically, the recovery and towing gear will need to live somewhere else.
The raised ride height means a hop-up into the flat cushioned driver’s seat and good luck not grazing a leg on the dirty rock-slider. It also means the tailgate is that much higher so loading items requires that much more lift. The everyday win is a commanding view of traffic but the ZR2’s raised hood is a constant reminder of a missing feature offered by its competitors; a forward-facing camera – beneficial for many on-road and off-road situations.
The Colorado comes up short with active safety features. Integrated convex mirrors to help minimize the blind-zone area though, at this price, other features are expected too. It receives a four-star safety score from the government and its projector-beam headlights are rated Poor by IIHS for lack of coverage and excessive glare. They are, indeed, dim.
Power and Efficiency
The big discussion here is the diesel engine – currently unique to the medium pick-up truck market. Is it worth the upgrade? Well, there are several reasons against its selection. Beyond the initial price hike, the EPA says it will actually cost on average $100 more in annual fuel costs versus the gasoline V6. It is 2.6 seconds slower than the V6 and is only as fast to 60 mph as an all-wheel-drive Prius. The diesel four-cylinder turbo is noisy, especially on cold mornings and if the neighbors think it sounds like an urban delivery truck, well that’s because this Duramax is based on the same engine globally used in Isuzu commercial trucks. But with all of that knowledge, the diesel feels perfectly engrained with the Colorado’s tough truck personality. Off-road the grunt is appreciated, however, the clatter feels like a disturbance to nature when crawling over steep shelves. Its wide powerband is highlighted when heading up steep rocky climbs where a downshift might disrupt traction and momentum.
On paved roads, the engine and six-speed automatic transmission act as a well-coordinated team and for confident maneuvering about in traffic. When accelerating casually, some characteristic diesel clatter subtly enters the cabin. Long downhills are easily managed via a gear selector rocker button on the shift handle. Rated at 18/22/19 mpg (city/highway/combined) by the EPA, the ZR2 Bison achieved 22 mpg even after some slow-moving off-road driving. The low (for a diesel) ratings are largely due to the increased drag from the raised body height, high clearance bumpers, and off-road tires.
Choose a trim other than the ZR2, and towing capability climbs up to 7,700 lbs with the diesel but the off-road-oriented chassis limits the ZR2’s towing capacity to 5,000 pounds, no matter the engine.
The ZR2 is standard with a four-wheel-drive system that allows rear-wheel drive only, automatic four-wheel drive, 4WD High, and 4WD Low. The ZR2 adds electronic locking front and rear differentials and various traction control settings to manage throttle and wheel spin for the specific scenario. For desert running and roosting, the rear differential lock can be engaged in 2WD mode.
Ride and Handling
What makes this truck so capable, in addition to the diff-locks, is enhanced suspension with a particular focus on the suspension dampers, co-developed with Multimatic. The ZR2 feels solid when barging over large dirt-road water holes with firm dampening that keeps the body balanced and ready for the next rough patch.
On the smooth paved mountain roads, the ZR2’s high center of gravity and large-sidewall tires a generate a fair amount of roll through the high-speed corners. Take a turn moderately fast and the tires will bark in protest. The brake pedal is stiff but is easy to modulate on all types of surfaces though the tires definitely increase stopping distances compared to more mainstream all-terrains.
The steering is accurate and feels relatively relaxed when cruising. Crank the wheel beyond 90 degrees though and the ratio feels like it quickens and can make the truck feel off-balanced.
Overall ride is very impressive for a pick-up. It does away with the usual rear-suspension bucking over sharp expansion joints and concrete heaves.
The ZR2 Bison is amazing. Its interior feels like it was designed for the pick-up customer of 10 years ago, though it has the latest connectivity and several modern comfort features. Drop the Bison package and the cost comes down considerably. But don’t drop the diesel. Consider it a lovefest for the underdog, but the engine’s clatter feels at home in this truck. The ZR2 Bison pushes the mid-size truck market into places that off-road enthusiasts had only dreamt of before and does so without the sacrifice of on-road stability or unwielding size.