Chevrolet is taking things to extremes when it comes to its next-generation Colorado pickup. If you thought the midsize Colorado ZR2 was rough and ready, wait til you check out the 2024 Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison. It’s designed to handle everything from Baja-style racing to boulder-crawling, as Headlight.News discovered during a day of driving through California’s Johnson Valley, home of the extreme off-road King of the Hammers race.
From a distance, Johnson Valley doesn’t look all that menacing, just a sandy wasteland with some hills and valleys thrown in. But head into the park and take a closer look. There’s a reason why this is the home of the King of the Hammers, the brutal off-road event that combines Baja-style desert racing and rock crawling.
It was an appropriate place to go to check out the chops of Chevy’s recently redesigned midsized Colorado pickup. Not just one of the mainstream versions, but the audacious new 2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison.
“ZR2” is the badge the bowtie brand has been using for its most rugged and capable trucks. “Bison” takes things one giant step beyond, as we first saw on the full-size Chevy Silverado ZR2 Bison. On the midsize truck that translates into the sort of features you’d want for serious off-road adventures: front and rear stamped-steel bumpers, Multimatic DSSV dampers and jounce bumpers, and 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels shod with 35-inch Goodyear all-terrain tires.
Chevy now offers three different Bison lines: the original Silverado 1500 package and new versions of the Silverado HD and Colorado. I had the chance to test out the two latter models during my visit to Johnson Valley – which is about an hour outside Palm Springs. The heavy-duty truck is certainly an impressive package, imposing and solid. But there are reasons why we switched into the Colorado ZR2 Bison before attacking the course’s toughest trails.
Long-time pickup fans know that today’s midsize models aren’t all that much smaller than the full-size trucks of a couple decades back. But while it also boasts an impressive presence, Colorado is more suited to many serious off-road trails like you’d find in Johnson Valley, Moab or on the legendary Rubicon Trail.
All versions of the new Colorado got upgrades that prove useful for off-roading, among other things, the wheelbase being stretched about 3 inches forward compared to the old model. The ZR2 Bison is even more visually robust, with those massive wheels and tires and aggressively flared wheel arches. Ground clearance has been bumped up to 12.2 inches, about 1.5 inches higher than the Colorado ZR2 – which itself stands a couple inches taller than other versions of the truck.
In pulling together the Bison package, Chevy turned to the highly respected American Expedition Vehicles, or AEV, to ensure the truck could tackle anything you throw at it. The first step was armoring it, with a set of steel skid plates. Add to that recovery hooks and the ability to add a heavy-duty winch on the front bumper.
Those bumpers are also unique among the various Colorado trims, allowing the truck to attack especially rough terrain. For serious off-roaders, that translates into an approach angle of 38.2 degree, a breakover of 26 degrees, and a departure angle of 26.9 degrees.
Another critical change involved the use of Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve, or DSSV, dampers. That might seem a surprising shift from the semi-active dampers on the ZR2 model, but they’re better suited for extreme off-road conditions, engineers tuning them for specific driving conditions, such as the brutal jolts experienced in places like Johnson Valley. That’s why so many serious race teams – as well as other serious off-road products, like the Ford Raptor — use the same technology. The DSSV dampers are paired with hydraulic jounce bumpers, also from Multimatic, to help soften the roughest blows.
Under the hood
When it comes to motivating the Bison, the truck shares the same powertrain as the ZR2, a 2.7-liter turbo-four making 310 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with an eight-speed automatic modified enough to withstand the loads it will face on the trail or while racing Baja-style. It can also a trailer of up to 5,500 pounds, and handle payloads of 1.050 lbs.
Power goes to all four wheels through a front and rear locking differentials and, of course, there’s the requisite two-speed transfer case.
By the numbers, the ZR2 Bison might seem a bit of a laggard. Its two key competitors both make more power, the brand-new Tacoma Trailhunter’s turbo-four punching out 326 hp and 465 lb-ft, while the Ford Ranger Raptor delivering 405 hp – but the same torque as the Bison.
Tech on the trail
Like most new off-roaders, the 2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison rolls out plenty of technology geared to make for even better adventures. That includes unique screen modes on its11.3-inch touchscreen infotainment display, as well as the ability to adjust a variety of different vehicle settings instantaneously by using its driver mode control. This operates everything from the differentials and transfer case to transmission and ride settings.
One of my favorite features is the Bison’s 1-Pedal mode which is also a popular function on many of today’s battery-electric vehicles. It’s particularly useful from clambering over boulders and other intimidating obstacles. At its essence, Bison’s 1-Pedal mode lets you adjust the vehicle’s speed simply by modulating the throttle. You don’t need to keep jumping back-and-forth from throttle to brake.
While it’s something you’d more likely expect from a sports or muscle car, Bison also gets a Launch Control feature. Squeeze the brake as hard as you can and then slam the throttle to the floor. The system is designed to detect the optimum RPMs for traction conditions. Once it gives the go you simply lift off the throttle and take off.
Add the truck’s multiple cameras which, depending upon which boxes a buyer checks, can offer up to 10 different views. That includes a low front view that’s particularly helpful in carving out the right path on a rock-strewn trail or when facing deep ruts.
Notes from the Trail
All that technology makes for a transformative experience, especially the ability to shift between modes such as Normal, Baja and Off-Road. Terrain mode is especially useful if you’re out rock-crawling. It can make a novice feel like a pro.
For most of my adventure through Johnson Valley, the Colorado ZR2 Bison made it seem more like a walk in the park. The truck readily surmounted everything I threw at it – aided by both the onboard cameras and the human spotters who helped me pick out the best possible track. Only once did I say, “Uh-oh,” my back right wheel dropping into an unseen hole and the other three wheels struggling to find traction. It took a bit of rocking back and forth but, eventually, those big tires bit in and yanked me out of trouble.
The truck proved equally impressive when driven on loose sand, and was surprisingly pleasant to drive on pavement, the combination of the Multimatic DSSV dampers and jounce bumpers smoothing things out much more than you’d expect from an extreme off-roader.
Pricing and availability
Overall, I’d be happy to have the 2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison taking up residence in my garage. It’s a surprisingly capable truck that takes the familiar midsize pickup – and even the earlier ZR2 package – to new extremes. You do sacrifice a little bit of cargo capacity. And by mounting the spare tire in the bed, Chevy has cut a bit into rear visibility. But if you’re at all thinking about serious off-roading, the Bison stands up well to the competition.
You’ll just have to wait a bit to get your hands on one. Chevy isn’t expected to start delivering the truck to retail customers until next autumn.
As for pricing, expect to face a fairly steep premium. The automaker isn’t planning to reveal final numbers until closer to the on-sale date but industry-watchers have been quoting a figure starting starting in the mid to high-$50,000 range. Based on what we saw with the old Colorado line-up, that could mean somewhere around $4,000 or more above the base MSRP for the Colorado ZR2.