- The ZR2 Bison trim is the fully loaded off-road spec.
- The Multimatic DSSV dampers steal the show.
- Towing capability takes a hit.
2024 Chevrolet Colorado and Silverado 2500 ZR2 Bison First Drive Review: Off-Road Glory
Chevrolet gives the top-notch Bison treatment to its biggest and smallest trucks with stellar results
A halo car is a vehicle that brings attention to the automaker's lineup by showcasing the latest and greatest technology the brand has to offer. Usually just one vehicle will get the halo treatment, but Chevrolet is bucking the trend with its range-topping ZR2 Bison package for its trucks. I expected to see this ne-plus-ultra option on the midsize Colorado and I’m not really surprised to see it on the full-size Silverado 1500. But Bison-ifying the heavy-duty 2500HD? That’s just bonkers and I love it.
Chevrolet brought me to the desert east of Los Angeles to see just what happens when you put a midsize and HD truck on some of the gnarliest trails Johnson Valley OHV has to offer. Unfortunately, the Silverado 1500 was not available for any off-road antics, so this review will concentrate on the smallest and largest Chevy has to offer.
What’s included in the ZR2 package?
In both trucks, the ZR2 package adds the excellent Multimatic DSSV shocks. Usually these dampers are used in street applications, but thanks to the spool valves in place of shims, the shocks can be tuned with much more precision and they work just as good on the dirt. I can hustle a ZR2 through a twisty canyon with very little body roll and then get a softer ride through the whoops on the dirt. There are zero compromises here, and if I could buy these dampers for my own off-road rig I would.
The ZR2 package also adds skid plates to both trucks and larger tires — the Colorado sports 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler tires on 17-inch wheels, while the heavy-duty goes up to 35s on 18-inch wheels. Both trucks get a rear locker while the Colorado gets a front locker as well. The Colorado gets a 3-inch lift while the HD sits 1.5 inches higher. Finally, upgraded control arms round out the package on both trucks.
What’s included in the ZR2 Bison package?
But I’m driving the Bison trucks here, so there are even more off-road goodies to play with. The Colorado goes big with 35-inch tires and adds hydraulic jounce bumpers to the suspension for a smoother ride at higher speeds. There are more skid plates on both trucks, and Chevrolet partnered with off-road aftermarket company AEV to supply steel winch-ready front bumpers, steel rear bumpers and upgraded wheels.
Both trucks are available in one configuration: crew cab with a standard bed. Under the hood of the Colorado is a 2.7-liter high-output four-cylinder turbocharged engine and it’s a peach of a powertrain. Pushing out 310 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque and mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, it provides more than enough chutzpah for my off-road antics today. There is a bit of turbo lag here, but it’s easily forgivable when the rest of it is so right.
Buyers of the HD truck get the choice of a 6.6-liter V8 gas engine with 401 horsepower and 464 lb-ft of torque, but today I’m driving the 6.6-liter V8 turbodiesel. This big boy is good for 470 ponies and 975 lb-ft of torque. Yowza, am I right? Mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, I have no complaints about the powertrain. It’s strong enough to motivate this big beast of a truck in the dirt and has excellent towing and hauling capabilities as well.
How much does the ZR2 Bison tow?
However, buyers should know that when a priority is placed on dirt capability, the truck stuff suffers. It’s not great in the ZR2 with its 6,000-pound rating, and the Bison is even worse, with a 5,500-pound tow rating. Keep in mind that a standard truck can tow up to 7,700 pounds so to lose nearly a third of the Colorado's towing ability is pretty bad. Buyers should think carefully about what they’ll need to tow before buying. Payload takes a similar hit, dropping from 1,684 pounds in WT and LT models to 1,280 pounds in the ZR2 and 1,050 pounds for the ZR2 Bison.
The numbers look much better for the heavy-duty truck. Without the Bison box ticked a Silverado 2500 can be configured to tow over 22,000 pounds. My diesel tester is rated for 18,500, while the gasser sits at 16,000 pounds. A standard crew-cab HD can haul upward of 3,500 pounds, but the most a ZR2 Bison can manage is 3,013 pounds.
Chevrolet hands me the keys to an HD ZR Bison diesel hooked up to a 30-foot trailer weighing in around 11,000 pounds. I’m new to towing a load this long and heavy, but the 2500 has some cool trailering tech that makes it easier. A transparent trailer feature shows a video feed from the rear of the trailer to the infotainment screen, but unfortunately it’s not set up on this tester. Instead I rely on the rear sideview camera to check blind spots and make sure I’m making my turns wide enough. There are also views on the hitch to help in hooking up, there are side views, front views, rear views, 360-degree views — I can see everything on this bad boy and I’m more confident for it.
My towing test is brief and on flat ground but I get the idea. The diesel pulls strong and I never feel like I’m not accelerating quickly enough. Yes, I have to be smart, keep to the right-hand lane and not cut anyone off, but I don’t feel like I’m a slow-moving behemoth, annoying other drivers. I’d like to take the trailer up a mountain road to see how it handles inclines in this 100-degree heat, but alas, the desert is calling.
A Colorado Bison tearing it up in California
Heading out in the Colorado Bison, we make a beeline for a rocky trail. Looking up the ravine I’m glad for the excellent geometry here. Sure, the Jeep Gladiator does better on approach angle, but the Bison holds its own with approach, departure and breakover angles of 38.2 degrees, 26 degrees and 26.9 degrees, respectively. With the 35-inch tires and lift I’ve also got 12.2 inches of ground clearance.
I put the truck in four-wheel-drive low, lock the rear wheels and switch to Terrain mode. This allows for one-pedal driving — just lift off the throttle and the brakes are automatically and smoothly applied. I can dial in the amount of braking so I feel completely in control. I turn it off after a bit since I enjoy the challenge of slow-speed technical driving, but those new to rock crawling will likely enjoy the feature.
The tires here are aired down to spread the tread out for more traction, but a small mistake on my part puts me in a hole the truck struggles with. Out of the Bison’s arsenal comes the front locker to save the day. I press the button, roll slowly on to the throttle and the truck crawls its way out, easy peasy. Along the way I smash rock rails and scrape skid plates, but that’s why they are there. I can tackle a trail like this without fear of damaging any key components.
However, what really surprises me is the Bison’s speed through the desert undulations. The truck sports 10 inches of wheel travel in the front and 11.6 inches at the rear. Sure, that’s more than my own rig but it’s not what I would consider long-travel. However, the Multimatic dampers are key here, soaking up impacts that would make lesser suspensions weep — both tears and shock oil — and the jounce bumpers take up any harshness from full compression hits. Add this to Baja mode for high revs and reduced nannies and I’m flying across the valley at 50 miles per hour, grinning from ear to ear.
Heavy-duty desert play time
I’ll admit to being apprehensive when climbing behind the wheel of the heavy-duty ZR2 Bison. After all, it’s 21 feet long and weighs 8,500 pounds or so. Something this big has no business being out here in Johnson Valley.
Except, it does. Granted, it’s not nearly as fast in the whoops as the Colorado, but when I drive it within the limits the Mulitmatic shocks provide a ridiculously smooth ride. However, it’s the truck’s performance in the rocks that has me gobsmacked.
I switch the driving mode to Off-Road for maximum dirt and rock performance at the bottom of a steep and rocky hill and lock the rear differential. I’m in 4WD low, and though I don’t know it yet, the top hits a maximum slope of 30 degrees, meaning I’ll see nothing but sky as I crest the trail. Remarkably, the thing just walks up. Wheel slippage is minimal on these 35s and the truck doesn’t even struggle. I use the forward-facing camera to get an eye on what’s on the other side and the next thing I know, I’m in the clear.
However, that’s not enough of a challenge for the HD and we head across the valley to a trail that has likely never seen trucks of this size come through. Although the pickup is going downhill, this is actually a great test of the HD ZR2 Bison’s upgraded control arms and steering components, to say nothing of the brakes. Physics is pushing all the weight over the front axles and the truck still needs to turn its wheels to navigate the 2-foot drops, gnarly boulders and deep rut running down the middle of this trail. I’m actually outside of the vehicle, watching this go down, but I hear no protests from the truck. Everything is under control as it drops off the final ledge, plows across a rocky path and scrambles up the other side. Did I just witness a miracle? I think I did.
ZR2 Bison pricing and competition
Unfortunately we don’t have pricing for the 2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison just yet. The current ZR2 starts at around $48,000 and the last time the Bison package was offered on the Colorado back in 2022 it added about $5,700 to the price tag. We expect it to cost a bit more with the added jounce bumpers for 2024, so a nicely put-together ZR2 Bison somewhere in the mid- to high-$50,000 range is likely.
The 2024 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD ZR2 goes for around $82,000 for the diesel; subtract $10,000 for the gas engine. Ticking the Bison box adds another $9,000 or so, bringing my tester for the day to $95,500 including $1,995 for destination.
There isn’t really much to compare the ZR2 Bison with if you get into the mechanics of the trucks. Until Ford brings us the Ranger Raptor, the Bison is currently at the top of the midsize truck competition, and even then I’m not sure the Ford can best the Colorado. Some might point to the Tacoma TRD Pro, but it too will have to make some major improvements in its upcoming generation to surpass what’s on offer from Chevrolet. Although it is much bigger, the Jeep Gladiator can certainly hang in the rocks, but it can’t keep up through the whoops on the desert floor.
As for the 2500 ZR2 Bison, the only thing that comes close in capability is the Ram Power Wagon, but it’s down on both towing and payload. You could look to the Ram Rebel HD but its capability is limited by its 33-inch tires. Ford offers the F-250 with the Tremor package but it doesn’t come with the extra armor of the ZR2 Bison.
If you’re looking for a truck to take out adventuring, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything better than the ZR2 Bison lineup. The midsize Colorado offers up plenty of go-fast ability while still maintaining its credibility over rocky terrain. The low tow rating is its only flaw. Meanwhile, the Silverado 2500 is more nimble and capable than nature should allow. If you need a rig for overlanding, this is it.