First Drive: 2024 Colorado ZR2 Bison adds more off-road ability with no compromises
After the early aughts were focused on street performance, the enthusiast pickup truck market has swung back to the off-road side of things, and buyers seem to be reveling in this renaissance of factory-built desert runners and trail tamers. Ford, Chevy, GMC, Ram, Jeep, Toyota, and Nissan all offer trucks that can take on difficult terrain and live to tell the tale, and the latest salvo from Chevrolet, a lineup of ZR2 Bisons, aims to take on all terrains without the compromises in ride quality that often come with tall tires and the kind of suspension that can shrug off high-speed whoops. Chevrolet gave us the keys to a 2024 Colorado ZR2 Bison and invited us to Johnson Valley, California, to show us what a no-compromises off-roader was all about.
If you’re not familiar with the 2023 Colorado ZR2, you may want to brush up on it. We spent a few days and several hundred off-road miles in the current Colorado ZR2 earlier this year and came away very impressed. Just as the standard Colorado ZR2 was able to tackle steep trails and high-speed desert runs with ease while cruising on the highway with quiet, stable comfort, the Colorado ZR2 Bison excelled in all environments. It increases the ZR2’s already formidable list of standard equipment—33-inch tires, Multimatic DSSV dampers, and front and rear power locking differentials—and goes one step further. The Colorado ZR2 Bison’s suspension gets a touch taller to fit 35-inch mud-terrain rubber. That extra height gives the Colorado ZR2 Bison best-in-class ground clearance at 12.2 inches and improved departure angle and break-over angles of 26 and 26.9 degrees, respectively. The Bison package for the Colorado also includes body and undercarriage armor developed with American Expedition Vehicles (AEV). Boron-steel skidplates keep rocks and trail debris from damaging the radiator, steering rack, fuel tank, rear axle pinion, and transmission and transfer case. The Bison package also includes steel bumpers; the front comes winch-ready. AEV also designed the sturdy tubular rocker protection that is standard on every Colorado ZR2 Bison. Finally, the parts that truly set the ZR2 Bison apart from the standard ZR2, and every other truck in its class, are the Multimatic hydraulic jounce control dampers—bump stops—at all four corners of the suspension.
That’s the same basic suspension that Chad Hall Racing has been using for his desert racing truck, along with the same frame, same 310-hp 2.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and the same eight-speed automatic transmission and two-speed transfer case. The race-proven parts, particularly the jounce control bumpers, give the driver even more confidence to tackle high-speed whoops and turn jarring jolts into much more manageable bumps. We got to test them out over a series of whoops that got increasingly deep and had unevenly spaced peaks and troughs. Hit them at the right speed and the Bison glides over. Hit them too fast and the jounce dampers come into play, absorbing what could have been a spine-altering crunch of the rear axle bottoming out and translating it into a gentle reminder that even capable trucks have a limit.
Chevy pointed us up one of Johnson Valley’s many well-known rock-crawling trails, Chocolate Thunder, to show how the new 35-inch tires and tough steel armor allow the ZR2 Bison to scramble over rocks and ledges and scrape over obstacles when necessary. This trail is always changing as the suitcase-size rocks can get rearranged by drivers, but it can be a challenging trail that would have all but the best-equipped stock 4x4s finding an alternative route. With the help of a spotter to guide us, our group of Colorado ZR2s made it up and over the trail without any trouble, with just a couple of attempts to hit the right line in the tightest, most technical parts of the trail. The tubular rocker rails proved their worth here, along with the extra clearance from the 35s and the sure-footed traction of the lockers. This trail may have been possible with the standard ZR2, but the Bison made it look easy.
Like the standard ZR2, the fun in the Bison really comes in high-speed desert running over dirt, sand, and gravel, especially when the center console driving mode selector is set to Baja. Baja mode dials back the traction control and allows for plenty of tail-wagging while keeping an eye on wheel speed sensors and steering and braking input to be ready to step in and straighten things out if needed. This is best appreciated in two-wheel-drive, which makes it remarkably easy to initiate and hold a drift. If amateur drift drivers realize that you don’t have to pay for track time on dirt trails on BLM land, and that tires last a lot longer when they’re not getting turned to smoke on asphalt, Chevy dealerships are going to have to figure out how to take LS-swapped S13s in as trade.
Specs: 2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison
- Price: Pending
- Powertrain: 2.7-liter, turbocharged DOHC inline-four, eight-speed torque-converter automatic
- Output: 310 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque
- Layout: Four-wheel-drive, four-door, five-passenger mid-size pickup truck
- Weight: 5265 lb
- EPA Fuel Economy: Pending
- Competition: Ford Ranger Raptor
We only spent a couple of hours with the ZR2 Bison, and it certainly felt that the truck’s increase in capability came without any loss of on-road comfort. It’s also Chevy’s best rock-crawler thanks to its smaller size, so it seems like a win-win. If there’s one drawback to the new stance and taller tires, it’s that the ZR2 Bison has to cut a larger hole through the air, and that will take its toll in the form of highway fuel economy, something we were not able to sus out during our limited time with the truck. Pricing is still pending, but the jounce bumpers unique to the Colorado might make this the most expensive Bison package of a ZR2 lineup that includes Silverado and Silverado HD. Don’t be surprised if these trucks start at close to $60,000, and don’t be surprised if they are hot sellers.