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ZR2 Bison: A boutique off-roader built on solid bones

Ross Ballot September 7, 2018 All Things Hoon 5 Comments

I’m a big fan of American Expedition Vehicles and their conversions, especially those in the vein of Hemi-powered Wranglers and the ever-awesome Prospector Ram. Their builds tend to be limited-run or in the style of showcasing add-on modifications but today, in somewhat of a surprise, AEV unveiled a new kind of project, one more mainstream and of easier access and broader appeal than many of the company’s other specialty builds.

AEV’s newest project teams the company up with Chevrolet itself in a move that takes the already-amazing Colorado ZR2 and beefs it up for improved off-road capability and much more on-road badassery. Building on the truck’s Multimatic DSSV suspension and already baja-ready looks, AEV worked its magic on the diesel-powered crew-cab configuration and not only allowed the ZR2 to become even more capable, but also managed to not detract from the existing truck in any way.

So, a bunch of coin for skid plates and badges or a much more well-rounded package? Hit the jump to read more about it.

The 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison is what Chevy and partner company American Expedition Vehicles want to be a “do-it-all” off-road pickup, something that can handle both the fast baja-esque high-speed stuff (a la Ford Raptor) and the slow rock-crawling stuff (a la Dodge Power Wagon and Jeep Rubicon) in a way that also allows it to be something of a designer piece of hardware. It’s a turnkey “full package” daily-driver capable off-roader, and one that should do well in every discipline.

So what did the legendary off-road modification company do when they turned their attention to the big-name manufacturer’s hardcore pickup? In short, they added a full spread of protection that will unquestionably make the ZR2 better in every way. Up front now sits a steel bumper with detachable end caps which can be removed to improve approach angle on the trail, something we’ve seen on the JK and JL Jeep Wrangler Rubicons. It’s a nifty trick and one I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of in the future, as is being winch-ready (but it should just come with one given how much has already been done to the truck). The rear bumper has been revised as well, with the addition of a rock-fighting metal tube hugging the perimeter of the bumper. It’s of questionable design but does boast permanent recovery points should you run into trouble, and at least you can say “function over form.”

Underneath the Bison are full skid plates covering the belly, differentials, oil pan, fuel tank, and transfer case. Skids and good bumpers are invaluable on the trail, and this combination of armor goes a long way to preserve the life of the truck while simultaneously improving its off-road capability since sliding over rocks is always better than dragging pieces of the undercarriage that got hung up on the obstacle you’re trying to climb over. Helping push the truck’s credentials even further is a snorkel which does much good for water fording ability as well as keeping dust out of the airbox…and for looking properly badass. Much like the truck as a whole.

There’s a few cosmetic changes as well, like bigger fender flares and some special badging and stitching on the interior to class it up a bit. Bison-specific wheels are present as well, as is a new grille that has a Flow-Tie derived flow-through openness to it, but we and everybody else should probably never talk about they way this wannabe-Raptor setup looks and probably need to turn our eyes away from it should we ever be in the presence of the Bison. (Shudders).

As a whole, it’s a very nicely equipped package. But here’s the catch: You could build this truck yourself– or something damn near it– for $5000-7500 over the price of a ZR2. Sure, the ZR2 is a fantastic offering as-is, but we’re still talking going on $50k for a midsize vehicle with small-ish motor options and an interior no better than that of a $35k truck. And I’ll bet the Bison going to cost every part of $55-60k. Take the $45k MSRP, throw on the equipment that the Bison receives, and you have effectively the same vehicle for a substantial amount less. Do it yourself: $45k truck (for the diesel crew cab), $3k in bumpers, $750 for a winch, $2000 for skids (and that’s being generous), and $500 for a snorkel. Voila, ZR2 Bison for a drastic amount less…figure $50k. Ultimately whether the Bison is a good value or not comes down to where it sits on the pricing totem pole. At $50k, it’s a bargain, but at $60k…I don’t see it being worthwhile unless you (or your ego) need the AEV badges. Yes, you get a warranty when AEV does it themselves and sells it through Chevy, but you also get money pulled out through your teeth for the “AEV” street trail cred.

But sure, I get it. The Bison is the equivalent to a Mountune-backed Focus RS, or a Dinan-warrantied M2. AEV’s partnership with Chevy is only indicative of good things to come, and it’s further proof of both Chevy and the aftermarket’s dedication to both usably-sized and off-road focused vehicles alike. Though I might not agree with the execution of the Bison and its inevitable high price, I can’t say a single bad thing about the prospect of more vehicles like this to come. Bring them on.

That grille, though…yikes.

(I’d still own one in a heartbeat)

  • neight428

    I hope it finds a market, and I wish I had a use for something like this.

    • Ross Ballot

      I’m really curious as to how many they expect to sell

  • robbydegraff

    Nice write-up Ross

  • outback_ute

    Are there alternative suppliers for the skid plates etc? Stamped plates like that if specific to the Colorado are going to have tooling costs on what can’t be that large a market. The front bumper might be the same depending on whether the same basic pieces (less mounting brackets) are used across a variety of models.

    I don’t mind the grille, it is a bit copycat but pretty subtle.

    • Ross Ballot

      I’m not too familiar with the Colorado aftermarket but am with that of the Tacoma. And yes: there are dozens of skid plate manufacturers. Take your pick of material, style, paint, brand name, etc. I don’t imagine it’s nearly as extensive for the Colorado, but there are certainly a few.

      Re: tooling– I agree. Each individual skid will inevitably cost a sizable margin more to make than that of a non-stamped, basic piece. But a truck like this is sold on the little bits like logos embossed on the seats, and stamped in the skids. It doesn’t make sense to me, since the skids are only going to get beat up anyway, but to each their own. Clearly Chevy/AEV have a market defined for this, so I hope they sell all the trucks they can, but some parts of it seem like unnecessary ways to increase the price more than anything else.