2020 AEV Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison First Drive When what your Chevy dealer offers you isn’t enoug
You used to have to build your own overland rig. As capable as SUVs like the Toyota Land Cruiser, Land Rover Defender, and Jeep Wrangler were from the factory, serious overlanders knew that upgrades were needed in order to ensure they weren't stranded far from civilization. Companies like American Expedition Vehicles—better known as AEV—and ARB s
pent decades outfitting overland vehicles with stronger wheels, grippier tires, bumpers and rock rails swapped for extra body armor, and suspensions modified to withstand the abuse of weeks off-road. But that dynamic has since changed. Vehicles like the new Land Rover Defender, Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, and Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 AEV Bison offer up unmatched overland capability straight from the showroom floor. So what room does that leave companies like AEV to compete—especially considering its name and its parts reside on one of those factory vehicles? Well, as the 2020 AEV Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison proves, more can always be done. Whether it's absolutely necessary or not is another question.
The stock Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 AEV Bison is already a tremendously capable overland rig (vanquishing both the Gladiator Rubicon and Tacoma TRD Pro in our Mojave Road overland comparison test). Based on the Colorado ZR2—which, versus the standard Colorado, gets trick Multimatic DSSV shocks, 31-inch off-road tires, and locking front and rear differentials—the Colorado ZR2 Bison adds AEV-developed and designed boron steel bumpers and skidplates, plus upgraded wheels and fender flares. Power comes courtesy of a 3.6-liter V-6 making 308 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque, or an optional 2.8-liter turbodiesel I-4 with 181 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. The gas V-6 gets an eight-speed automatic while the diesel makes do with a six-speed auto. It goes without saying, but four-wheel drive is standard on the ZR2 line. If that's not enough for you, AEV also (somewhat confusingly) offers its own take on the Colorado ZR2 AEV Bison.
The AEV Colorado Bison adds a fair amount of kit designed to make the ZR2 Bison even more capable far off the beaten path. For an additional $12,999 on top of the crew-cab, short-bed Colorado ZR2 AEV Bison's $49,945 starting price (for the standard gas V-6; $53,445 for the diesel), AEV fits its take on the Bison with a GM Performance-sourced suspension leveling and tie rod sleeve kits, its own bead-lock-capable wheels shod with 35-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2s, a 4.10 rear axle ratio, and a handful of other goodies. The manufacturer also gives you plenty of options to help take your AEV Bison farther off the beaten track. Among the functional equipment our tester was fitted with was a snorkel, extra underside armor, extra lighting (stock Colorado headlights are notoriously terrible) and a Warn winch. Our diesel-powered truck also got a bunch of less functional upgrades, including leather upholstery, and a factory-quality ($12,335) repaint, bringing out truck's as-tested price to an eye-watering $92,031.
You wouldn't think it from the looks of it, but the AEV Colorado Bison is shockingly livable on the street. Most aftermarket-modified trucks I've driven—especially lifted ones—have been miserable on the road, with poor impact absorption from the suspension, vague yacht-like steering feel, unbearable cabin noise, and overmatched engines. The AEV Bison was a pleasant surprise. Thanks to a combination of those magical DSSV dampers and the tie rod upgrades, the Bison's on-road ride and handling manners are much the same as the stock Chevy Colorado Bison's—that is to say, segment-leading on-road road comfort and performance. Power output from our tester's 2.8-liter turbodiesel I-4 is noticeably affected, though. This powertrain in the Colorado ZR2 was never particularly quick, and despite AEV fitting a shorter final drive ratio—which should translate to quicker acceleration—it feels outmatched by the added weight of the Bison's 35-inch tires, new wheels, and additional hardware.
Here's the part where I'd usually write something like, "But none of that matters once you get off-road." But unfortunately, I can't. Out in the western stretches of the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree, AEV's modifications made me miss the plain Jane Bison you can get from your local Chevy dealer.
My biggest issue with AEV's Bison is ride quality over the sandy moguls that stock ZR2s excel at. Simply put, ride quality with the tires at street pressure is atrocious. Thanks to a combination of a ride height increase and the extra mass of the larger wheels and tires, the Bison's DSSV dampers no longer have the capability to float up and over obstacles; at any speed north of 15 mph, AEV's Bison was hopelessly seesawing back and forth on its axles. The fact that I couldn't keep up with MT's stock Jeep Wrangler Rubicon long-termer was particularly telling.
Yes, yes, I know—"Air your tires down!" Well, I eventually did and noticed some improvement, but it's worth pointing out that in similar conditions, you don't need to in Chevy's take on the Bison.
Outside of faster desert running, the AEV Bison proved to be just as capable as a standard Colorado Bison. Although the tires were prone to rub the front wheelwell liners at extreme compressions, the BFGoodrichs that AEV chose for its Bison are a grippier, stronger tire than what Chevy puts on Bisons at the dealership. The Duramax diesel also felt up to the task, with the shorter final drive ratio helping the engine remain in its powerband up steep obstacles.
While I was ultimately able to get anywhere I needed to go in the AEV Colorado ZR2 Bison—which indeed is the point of any overland vehicle—I couldn't help feeling a bit let down. When the Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison vanquished the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon and Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro in our Mojave Road comparison, I wrote, "This Colorado is ridiculously versatile, blending the best attributes of the Jeep—steel armor, locking front and rear differentials, and real rock crawling capability—with the Toyota's natural gift for high-speed desert travel. The ZR2's shocks really are key to its versatility, giving it exceptional ride quality and body control, leaving you to focus on the terrain ahead and refreshed once you arrive at your destination." The AEV Bison may feature some welcome modifications—the tire change, snorkel, extra body armor, and bed-mounted spare tire carrier—but many of the rest unfortunately detract from what makes Chevy's Colorado ZR2 Bison so good in the first place.