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The 2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison Is a Beast But I'd Keep My Old ZR2. Here's Why

2024 chevrolet colorado zr2 bison
2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison: Owner's ReviewDW Burnett
2024 chevrolet colorado zr2 bison
DW Burnett

"It's got to be those two extra inches of tire," I muttered, as I yanked the wheel toward an even bigger mudhole and braced for impact. For 15 minutes, I had been bombing back and forth on a secret "off-road road" near my house, trying to bottom out the suspension on a brand-new 2024 Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison. I failed.

I know this spot is tough on trucks. After all, I own a 2019 Colorado ZR2. Once, goofing around here, what looked like a friendly puddle turned out to be a trench deep enough to crush the Titan submersible. Sploosh. My truck's frame hit the bump stops with all the subtlety of a tree snapping in half. My grimace faded to a grin once I knew that the truck, like my underpants, would get a wash and live to fight another day.

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A lot has changed with the latest Chevy Colorado, which launched last year. But when Road & Track asked for a ZR2 owner's review of the current version, I didn't imagine that my truck would be up next to a $64K range-topping Bison, a package developed with American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) and high-speed desert racing guru Chad Hall. This was no longer an apples-to-apples comparison. More like Bison to water buffalo.

2024 chevrolet colorado zr2 bison
DW Burnett

Start with the obvious: The ZR2 Bison rolls on beastly 35-inch-tall and 315-mm-wide Goodyear Wrangler Mud Terrain tires on AEV bead-lock-ready 17-inch wheels. These tires are the "You must be this tall to ride" yardstick for hardcore off-road gearheads. That's a good two inches taller than the 33-inch tires on the non-bovine 2024 ZR2 and a leap up from the meager 30.5-inch rubber that came stock on my truck.

I've closed that gap by upgrading my truck with tires that are 32 inches and change and therefore assumed that I'd perfected the moves necessary to gracefully enter a tall truck. But I had to laugh getting into the Bison. It gave me a flashback to a moment I had while photographing Bigfoot 1, the 1974 Ford F-250 that is better known as the world's first monster truck, for a Road & Track story a few years back. It took 10 minutes of trying to get a foothold on the tires and swinging off the frame like a monkey, but I finally did it. It was worth it. Childhood dreams fulfilled.

My truck uses GM's 3.6-liter V-6 rated at 308 hp and backed by an eight-speed automatic transmission. Sweet. The 310-hp turbocharged 2.7-liter four in the new Bison comes lashed to an eight-speed automatic and performs almost identically. Maybe there's a bit more low-end torque with the new turbo engine, but that's a slight, incremental improvement. And maybe the four-cylinder gets better fuel mileage? Probably, but I wasn't driving the Bison with economy in mind. The EPA rates it at 16 mpg in the city, 16 mpg on the highway, and an unsurprising 16 mpg combined. That's amazing symmetry.

2024 chevrolet colorado zr2 bison
DW Burnett

The fuel economy while crawling through muck will likely be worse. This is what's dubbed a mid-size truck, which means it's actually big. Like 5265 pounds of beef, asserts Chevrolet. And that's 285 pounds more than a regular ZR2. Budget accordingly.

Once in the driver's seat of the Bison, it's equally rewarding. The cabin is a total redesign, and it's a big step up. More soft-touch surfaces and varied materials than the acres of black plastic in my truck, and similarly comfortable seats with the AEV logo stitched on the headrest. One service the Bison's seats perform that I would trade a great deal of loose change to have in my life is the butt breeze, a.k.a. the ventilated seats. Oh God, how nice it is to have a bit of cool air wafting around your lower back and unmentionables, especially on hot days spent running around taking photographs, then back into the truck, back outside, run up a hillside, back to the truck, rinse and repeat. Except in my truck, there's no rinse, just repeat.

Other things I liked in the Bison: The Bose stereo is even better than the fine Bose system in mine, and it's still just a $500 stand-alone option. Get that. The AEV molded rubber floor mats are crucial when mud is around. And the capacitive phone-charging mat is big enough for my actual phone. In my truck, it's a useful place to keep Tic Tacs.

2024 chevrolet colorado zr2 bison
DW Burnett

From the Bison's altitude, visibility down the road is fantastic. And off-road, it gets better, because this truck has more cameras than the Olympic opening ceremony—forward-facing, rear-facing, top-down, and even underbody cameras that display on the big 11.3-inch center-stack screen with amazing clarity. I discovered these views after coating the undercarriage with mud, so it seemed pointless until I randomly touched a button on the screen and the cameras washed themselves. Delightful.

But there is the spare to deal with. The Bison's massive tires mean it has an equally massive spare, which won't fit under the truck. So, the gigantic spare tire mounts vertically in the bed and almost completely blocks the rearward view. I never got used to it. I have decades of mirror-glance muscle memory, and every time I looked in the mirror and saw nothing but tire, I got pissed off. I do have a therapist.

It's one of those trade-offs that raises the question: How truly committed to living the off-road life must an off-roading dork be? What makes it feel even more like an own-goal from GM here is that there are plenty of digital rearview mirrors on GM's other cars that don't need them. This was a perfect chance to implement that tech.

2024 chevrolet colorado zr2 bison
DW Burnett

Speaking of tech, there are a few other nits that must be picked. The touchscreen-ification of basic car operations is depressing, and the new ZR2 is in the weeds here. In normal operation, the headlights and taillights default to "auto," as expected. I often photograph cars with just the running lights, which won't blind the camera with full headlights and still light up the taillights for a bit of life. I could not find any light controls on the dash. I finally cracked the manual to discover that any light routines other than "auto" are controlled by a tiny icon on the touchscreen. That's silly. I was annoyed because I was taking pictures, but otherwise I went along with my day.

But driving home that night, it went from silly to scary when I found myself in thick fog on the highway. I initially welcomed this, because it was a chance to test the fog lights that the Bison carries in the front bumper. But that turned into a harrowing couple of moments while I tried to turn them on by fumbling through the touchscreen. While driving at highway speeds. Through fog. Thick fog.

To be fair, my truck routinely will lock out the screen at unexpected times with a message stating something like, "Looking at the screen is dangerous while driving. Keep your eyes on the road. Touch here to acknowledge." Let me get this straight—look at the screen for no reason, then take my hand off the wheel so I can see the map again. Whose idea was this?

2024 chevrolet colorado zr2 bison
DW Burnett

What's even more head-slap frustrating about the lights fiasco in the new ZR2 Bison is this: There is a row of beefy toggle switches below the center stack that control the front and rear locking differentials, traction control on/off, lane departure warning on/off, and hazard lights, plus a switch that says AUX. My truck has this AUX switch too. What does this switch do? Not a damn thing. It's a switch prewired for exterior lights that don't come with the truck. Ugh.

But there is plenty of new tech here that I appreciate. The native Google Maps integration is well beyond any OEM's previous nav systems. Off-road, there's a one-pedal mode that applies the brakes when I'm off the gas for those inch-perfect rock crawls, as well as a bevy of pitch and roll data that can be read out on the instrument-panel screen. I even took the truck over to a buddy's house to help him tow his boat to a nearby lake, and it was cool to watch the built-in trailer mode automatically test all the lights on the trailer. That’s a real problem solver when towing alone.

The core attraction of the new-gen Colorado ZR2—the sophisticated and meticulously tuned suspension, aided by custom-made Multimatic triple spool valve shocks—returns on the new version and is amplified on the Bison. Speed and finesse on rough surfaces have always been the ZR2's calling card. Both generations of ZR2 have an uncanny ability to steer, corner, and stop on pavement with carlike poise, and when the going gets rough, the position-sensitive dampers maintain a firm grip on the terrain, soaking up harsh impacts but still communicating a lot of information from the surface.

2024 chevrolet colorado zr2 bison
DW Burnett

In normal driving around town, the ZR2 Bison is more composed and unruffled over bumps and potholes than my truck. That could well be the extra inches of sidewall, and that the Colorado's wheelbase has grown three inches with the redesign. But as I learned once I stampeded down my secret truck test road, the ZR2 Bison is in a class of its own.

Beyond big tires, the Bison comes with a bunch of AEV stuff that's desirable for any truck that sees hardcore off-road use, such as a heavy-duty winch-ready bumper and lots of extra armor underneath. But the Bison's party trick lies in a very special bit of kit on the front and rear called jounce-control dampers. What are they? Wait, what's a "jounce"?

Jounce is a combination of the two words that describe what happens to my body when I stick a tire into a massive crater in the dirt at 50 mph: jolt and bounce. See those anodized cylinders just over the 12 o'clock point on the tires? Those are the jounce control dampers. Unlike traditional rubber bump stops, which announce the limit of the suspension compression with an unceremonious bang, these hydraulic canisters are the final boss of absorption when the regular shocks have given everything they have. Another way to put it: We heard you like shocks, so we put shocks on your shocks.

2024 chevrolet colorado zr2 bison
DW Burnett

The full AEV suspension setup with the jounce-control dampers is magical. I mashed the gas into rut after rut, the wipers barely keeping up with sheets of muddy water raining down. When I finally found a hole big enough to touch the limits and hit the jounce damper, which required an absurdly high speed, there was no bone-jarring bang, more of a pleasant boof. This thing must be awesome at soaking up little jumps and whoops at 80 mph across the desert. Wow.

At the end of my week with Colorado ZR2 Bison, I gave it up. When it comes to transparent off-road prowess, few machines are a match for this thing. My muddy hat is off, and my crud-covered boots are all in, to Chevrolet and AEV.

Is it time for me to upgrade? Isn't my truck getting a little squeaky? It is. Doesn't the new one look meaner? It does. After that magic carpet ride through the mud, it's very tempting.

But the answer is no, for one good reason.

2024 chevrolet colorado zr2 bison
DW Burnett

The previous-generation Colorado was offered in a choice of body style configurations: either the crew cab with four doors and a the wee five-foot box, or the clamshell-door "access cab" with a proper six-foot bed. The heartbreaker for me is that the third-generation Colorado is now offered only in the four-door, short-box configuration. I'm a long-box guy. Not because they called me long-box in high school (don't ask), but it's a simple matter of practicality.

In 2019, my partner, Lia, and I moved from New York City up to the Hudson Valley. The winters here make owning a 4x4 a near-necessity. But it was the amount of work we would end up doing ourselves in our new-to-us house that I was considering the most when we went truck shopping. Dishwashers, flooring, gravel—we've hauled it back there. With a six-foot bed, a load of 10-foot 1x6 boards is no problem. Not to mention hundreds of pounds of construction debris. Every cubic inch is hugely valuable when, hungry and covered in dust, you can make one trip instead of two.

2024 chevrolet colorado zr2 bison
DW Burnett

So as soon as I saw the Bison ZR2, with its little five-foot bed crowded by that big 35-inch tire and a steel carrier bolted into the floor, I knew this truck wasn't for me. And considering the ZR2 Bison stickers for more than $25K over what I paid out the door in 2019 for my truck, I can't afford it anyway.

I'm in the minority here, or else Chevrolet would still be building midsize pickups with six-foot beds, but I guess I know what I want in a truck, and it's written on the tin: to pick stuff up and truck it. It's a bonus when it's as fun to drive as the ZR2. The 2024 Colorado ZR2 Bison is a true wild beast, but for now, I'm happy with my domesticated water buffalo.

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