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2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison: Why?

While attending the national media launch for the new 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison in Scottsdale, Arizona a couple of weeks ago, we couldn’t help but wonder, why Bison? It had only been a year or so since we were on a similar event near the Utah-Arizona border for the then all-new Chevrolet Colorado ZR2. At that time Chevrolet executives were touting it as the ultimate off-road Colorado. At our latest Chevy Arizona adventure we were being shown, what engineers and designers were calling, an even more capable ZR2. What gives?

Looking different, at least from the front, the ZR2 Bison is obviously not the same as the original ZR2, but how much more capable off-road than the regular ZR2 could the Bison be? And why bother anyway?

To bring some clarity to the question, we pulled aside Colorado senior creative designer Paul Arnone for a little chat. A 13-year General Motors veteran, Arnone spent four years with Hummer before becoming lead creative designer of special vehicles. Special vehicles are just what they sound like: Vehicles modified with some degree of specialty parts and components. In fact, that’s how he found himself involved with the ZR2 Bison project.

Over the 30 minutes we spent with him, Arnone summarized the spirit of ZR2 Bison and the design team’s goals established to fulfill that spirit. We’ll leave it to those writing our First Drive and New Car reviews for the ZR2 Bison to comment on how successful the product planners, designers and engineers were in meeting those goals. In the meantime, here are some insights to the thought process behind ZR2 Bison.

Chevrolet Colorado

Since Chevy reintroduced the Colorado four years ago, the automaker has pushed roughly 430,000 units out the door since then. Wildly successful, this midsize pickup is available in three body configurations and with three engine options spread across multiple models. Colorado, and its GMC cousin Canyon, have been so successful, in fact, that it motivated Toyota and Nissan to finally update their midsize trucks (Tacoma and Frontier), and pushed Jeep and Ford to finally get midsize pickups into their pipelines.

Creating niche vehicles is part of Chevy’s DNA, as illustrated by the various versions of the Camaro and Corvette. Arnone calls the pieces resulting from slicing a segment pie into smaller chunks, purpose built. And, purpose-built vehicles, he said, is the direction in which Chevy is heading. "And we’re finally bringing that to trucks," he explained. "ZR2 and Bison live in two different camps, but they can survive in the same market segment."

ZR2 Versus ZR2 Bison

Although the ZR2 and ZR2 Bison fall under the broad Colorado umbrella, for the purposes of comparing the two, we should think of the ZR2 as the base truck. Yes, it’s capable, but in a very different way than the ZR2 Bison. Capability in the ZR2 is based more on performance at speed. Chevy bred ZR2 for Baja 1000-style off-roading. Although it can rock crawl (we’ve done it in one), it is more ideally suited for dirt and sand. On the other hand, the 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison is engineered to attack rocky terrain. Of Bison Arnone quipped, "It is slow roll."

How did engineers and designers up the ante to transform the dune-blasting ZR2 into the bolder-cresting ZR2 Bison? They conspired with a top aftermarket off-road component designer/marketing company to create a turnkey factory-tested, factory-backed off-road beast.

Chevy Meet AEV

AEV or American Expedition Vehicles specializes in off-road and overland parts and accessories. With plenty of experience in developing off-road/overland components, AEV was a logical pick when Chevy began looking around for a Bison collaborator. At the outset, the main discussion revolved around which ZR2 components would be tasked to AEV. That is, which components could be changed and still keep the cost within the established Bison budget.

Steel bumpers topped the list. AEV designed stamped-steel bumpers that are cooled on the press for extra strength. Skid plates also made the cut. "What we wanted were components that were plug and play," Arnone declared. "If a bumper did get damaged, it could easily be replaced."

But that created problems."We didn’t want it to look aftermarket," Arnone said. "We wanted plug and play that looked integrated. It was more of an industrial-design sort of issue. It was 50-percent design and 50-percent problem solving."

Integration of design is the reason for Bison’s vastly redesigned front end and grille. When it was all said and done, the ZR2 Bison has AEV designed bumpers and five Boron steel skid plates. An integrated winch receiver is in the front bumper, while the rear bumper offers integrated recovery points. The Bison-specific 17-in aluminum wheels roll beneath beefier wheel flares.

Because the AEV components are baked into the ZR2 Bison, they have been factory tested and are covered by the factory warranty. "We crash tested 11 trucks with the AEV components," Arnone stated. "You just don’t get that kind of validation in the aftermarket."

The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison also gets all the ZR2’s equipment, such as front and rear locking differentials, segment-exclusive Multimatic DSSV dampers and Autotrac transfer case.

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