The midsize truck arms race is on. Chevrolet has added even more off-road capability to its midsize truck line.
Chevrolet’s new Colorado ZR2 Bison may well be the best-equipped off-road capable truck in the hot midsize market. The Colorado ZR2 was already one of the top three trucks in the segment. With its new specialty equipment, Chevy hopes to convince shoppers that its Bison is king of the hill.
Chevrolet’s Colorado ZR2 is already a very impressive truck. Chevy starts with its Colorado pickup and then widens the track and raises the suspension two inches. Most of the key suspension parts are also high-tech and off-road special. The main idea here is to add stability and ground clearance, which are technically at odds with one another. However, there’s more to it than that. Wheels are a big deal. Every online enthusiast club has a very common post. It starts, “What are the biggest wheels and tires I can add to my (fill in the truck name here) and not have to cut the fenders?” The ZR2, like Toyota’s Tacoma TRD Pro and Nissan Titan Pro-4X already come with wheels and tires that answer that question.
Chevy’s Colorado ZR2 already also has locking front and rear differentials. “Lockers” to those who follow the hobby. The ZR2 also has an optional diesel engine for those that want torque at the expense of speed. So what exactly does the Bison really add to the ZR2? In a nutshell an armored bottom, beefier bumpers, and a snorkel. Sort of.
When off-roading, regardless of how tough the truck’s engine, suspension, and driver are, the soft underbelly is still exposed. Bring the truck down hard on a critical component and the day just went from rad to bad. The ZR2 has rock rails along the rocker panels to help prevent body damage. The Bison adds much more protection. It will come from Chevy with five tough hot-stamped boron steel skidplates underneath that will protect the oil pan, fuel tank, front and rear lockers, and transfer case. That is pretty much the list of things a rock could puncture and require a long walk back to cell phone coverage. The front bumper is also tougher than stock and has a spot for a winch. In back, recovery points are added. The Chevy guys will tell you that those for helping Jeeps and Tacomas out of trouble.
Now, about that big honkin’ snorkel. That thing is just too cool to ignore. Don’t you want to submerge your $55K pickup under a fetid pool of muck and film it for Youtube? Kidding aside, in Houston and SW Florida last year that snorkel would have come in pretty handy. The snorkel is functional and even has an added pre-filter to remove more contaminants from the air before they get to your air intake element. Unlike the prior equipment list, GM isn’t shipping the snorkel directly from the factory. Rather, GM’s partner for the skidplates and bumpers, American Expedition Vehicles (AEV), will sell you one for $459.00. Installation is “easy” and you do it yourself. We suspect Chevy dealers will be doing the installs in many cases. The installation process requires that you cut a hole in the fender the size of a Keurig machine and then also drill a bunch of holes into the passenger-side A-pillar. That’s the key component for both small frontal overlap crash safety and also the roof crush resistance. We checked with the Steel Market Development Institute to see if this was safe. The folks there explained that the A-Pillar is made of three layers of metal. The inner two are ultra-high strength steel and drilling into those would be not just difficult, but a bad idea. However, the outer layer the install requires you drill into is mild steel and drilling into it “Should not compromise the load path performance provided by the outer and inner structural pieces.” So drill away.
It will be interesting to see if the EPA requires GM to re-state the fuel economy of the Bison, compared to say a Colorado with the same drivetrain. If not, let’s all stop pretending that weight savings measures like aluminum door panels and deleted spare tires matter. Those skidplates look like they weigh as much as rack of barbells.
The new Bison looks the part. We have tested the current generation Tacoma TRD Pro on Land Rover designed off-road courses as well as in some muddy holes, sand traps, and steep hill challenges Toyota set up for us when the truck launched. We aren’t ready to name the Bison the off-road champ yet. That title remains in the Toyota camp. However, if we have the chance to test the Bison (or ZR2) we will be happy to update our readers if it impresses us more.