PACIFIC CITY, Wash. / OCQUEOC, Mich. — At up to 2,000 pounds, the bison is North America’s largest land animal, if you don’t count the fact that a gangly moose can at least be taller. The bison was and is revered by Plains tribes for all that he provided, and is a symbol of America at its best, wild and free (and at its worst, hunted to near-extinction as a means of subjugating Native Americans). The bison is impressive, massive, strong … and perhaps also just a little dumb. You could say all the same things about his namesake, the Chevy Silverado 1500 ZR2 AEV Bison.
The Bison package, the result of Chevy teaming up with American Expedition Vehicles, is new on the also-new Silverado ZR2 off-road trim for 2023, and is familiar since 2019 as an option on the midsize Chevy Colorado pickup. Both ZR2 and Bison are meant to place Chevy in the extreme off-road genre dominated by the Ford Raptor and Ram TRX.
Our John Beltz Snyder and Greg Rasa each drove a ZR2 Bison on extended treks in Washington and Michigan recently and compared notes. Here are nine things to know about the Chevy Silverado Bison:
1. It’s a ZR2 and then some
The Bison builds on all the off-road ruggedness of the Silverado ZR2 trim — which offers a 6.2-liter V8 with 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque (or an optional 3.0-liter Duramax diesel), Multimatic DSSV dampers, lifted suspension, 33-inch Goodyear Wranglers, and front and rear electronic-locking differentials.
To augment all that, AEV bolts a bad-ass-looking set of 3-millimeter-thick, powder-coated, stamped steel, winch-ready bumpers. The ZR2 red tow hooks are gone, as you can hook right onto the AEV bumpers now. And where a ZR2 has aluminum skid plates, AEV adds press-hardened steel shields to the differentials, transfer case and fuel tank, along with a pair of steel rock rails and black 18-inch wheels. — GR
2. It’s a Bison, you say?
The American bison’s scientific name is Bison bison bison. (Genus, species, subspecies). That’s the easiest Latin you’ll ever learn. AEV and Chevy must have been inspired by the sheer repetition, as there are lots of AEV Bison badges — I counted 14 of them — on everything from tailgate to bumpers to wheels to headrests to floor mats. Bison bison bison! — GR
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. Guess it could be worse. And my Bison only had 13 logos. Guess I’m unlucky.
I do have to say, though, that despite the truck’s size, uniqueness and plethora of bison, it doesn’t scream for attention as does something like a Raptor or TRX. It looks great, but I didn’t have people coming up to me in the parking lot to ask questions. I didn’t mind that at all. — JBS
3. Those floor mats get the job done
You know you’ve had fun when you come home with a dirty truck, and the Carhartt all-weather mats in the AEV Bison fulfilled their destiny of contained filth after a week roaming the Washington coast and the temperate rain forests of Olympic National Park. Sand, ground-up oyster and clam shells, mud, grass, grit. Yes, sand gets into everything, but the fitted deep-dish mats caught most of it. Blast the mats and vacuum what little got to the carpet, and everything’s clean again. — GR
I deal with not only sand and dirt, but two young children and snow. Those messes are often of the liquid variety, be it spilt milk or muddy slush from the soles of our winter boots. The sheer coverage of the Bison floor mats is a blessing, with steep lips pretty much everywhere except near the door sills. That makes it easier to swipe sand and snow out the door, but also means you might find yourself spending a little extra time cleaning those areas where the mats meet those door sills.
And, yes, there are Bison logos in the mats up front, but not in the back. That’s fine. There are plenty. — JBS
4. It’s go-anywhere, except for some parking spaces — and some trails
At the top of this piece, bison were accused of being dumb. Fair enough when it comes to the animal, but it bears explaining regarding the truck. If you’re crawling the rocky backcountry of the desert Southwest, the Bison’s surely brilliant. It’s a bucolic buffalo. But in more civilized settings, such as negotiating 10-mph squeaky-clean streets in the planned community of Seabrook, Wash., the truck could barely squeeze through. You’ll pass by a lot of parallel-parking opportunities in this vehicle, even with cameras fore and aft.
Out on the highway, it feels like it fills the lane. Even in the backcountry, it was a tight fit on the north shore of the Lake Quinault loop, where trees and boulders crowd the gravel one-lane. In one long narrow stretch, I dreaded the possibility of meeting an oncoming vehicle — with steep slopes up one side and drop-offs down the other, and nothing even remotely resembling a turnout, somebody would’ve had to back it up a mile or two; I sure didn’t want to do that in the Bison. — GR
I wanted to take it on some of the hairier, sandier, steeper trails I’ve scouted in the family Palisade in Northern Michigan. The trouble was, I couldn’t even get to them without risking putting serious pinstripes on a truck that doesn’t belong to me. Folding in the mirrors is a must, but even then, the tall banks of some trails closed well in on the ZR2’s 70-inch rear track, making them impassable. Low-hanging branches that would have just tickled the Palisade sunroof would have smacked the Chevy’s windshield at just about eye level. This Bison is a beast of the open prairie, but can’t scamper through the woods like a black bear. But, heck, if you face a similar geographical challenge, AEV does offer a Bison build for the Chevy Colorado. — JBS
5. It’s not for short people
Chevrolet says the ZR2’s 11.2 inches of ground clearance are the most in a Chevy full-size truck. (But still short of the Ford F-150 Raptor’s 13.1 inches or the Ram TRX’s 11.8.)
Now, 11.2 doesn’t sound so bad – that’s just 2.5 inches taller than a Subaru Outback, and nobody struggles to get into one of those. Yet hoisting oneself aboard a ZR2 requires some gymnastics. Place one hand on the door, plant the ball of your outboard foot on the narrow top of the rocker rail, and pull yourself in by the overhead grab handle. In one spot where I jumped out to photograph the Bison straddling a dry wash, it was that much more of a stretch to get back in again. The pole-vaulting caused my cellphone to fall out of my pocket, and one of the Wranglers mashed it.
And though it’ll haul cargo and tow loads like other Silverados, if you want to load cargo over the sides and into the bed, you’ll need a stepladder. As for getting yourself up into the bed, the Bison package includes the $445 Multi-Flex Tailgate (in black, it adds a two-tone accent to the rear of the truck that matches the hood bulge up front.) You’re absolutely going to want that tailgate for its step capability; the AEV rear bumper does not include the notch steps on a typical Silverado. — GR
Ingress and egress are a bit of a challenge, sure. If you’ve got shoes with thin and flexible toes, you can get a toehold on the rock rails to help you climb inside. It was really cute, though, when my not-quite-3-year-old daughter was determined to get in and out of the back seat by herself. She managed, and was rightfully proud of herself.
I did appreciate that height when loading and unloading items from the end of the bed; I didn’t even have to bend my knees or back to do it, and garbage bags were already close to dumpster height, so not a lot of lifting involved there.
It also made it easy to see what traffic was doing up ahead. Being able to see over the cars in front of you affords you plenty of notice when traffic comes to what would otherwise be an abrupt halt. Combined with the Technology Package ($1,970) and its smooth-operating adaptive cruise control, this isn’t a terrible truck in which to find yourself caught in a rush-hour jam. — JBS
Yeah, on the highway, I noticed that the bulging hood of the Bison was higher than the roof of an Audi A4 in front of us. Taller than most sedan roofs, actually. — GR
6. Multimatics for the win
A bison is big, but he can also put on the speed, as many an unfortunate Yellowstone tourist has discovered. And at highway speed, the Silverado Bison gallops along nicely. As we’ve noted in the past on drives of the Colorado ZR2 Bison, those Multimatics provide one of the smoothest highway rides to be had in a pickup truck. The Goodyears, like any fat off-road tire, make things feel a little floaty between the lines, but the lane-keeping helps, and after an hour or two of driving, you get used to it, kind of like getting your sea legs. — GR
These Multimatic Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve (DSSV) dampers employ solid science, but it feels like magic. Paired with the 33-inch tires (the 2024 model moves up to 35-inchers!), the Bison simply gobbles up any terrain you care to throw at it. Michigan roads, both dirt and paved, that I’d find myself slowing down and swerving to avoid or minimize the punishment I’d receive in any other vehicle might as well be perfectly smooth, whether at residential or highway speeds. Speed bumps become mere frost heaves. Big, offest sand mounds off-road are no problem — it articulates across them with zero drama. — JBS
Rambling through a clear-cut forest in Washington and the dirt backroads of the Quinault Rain Forest loop, the truck shrugged off washboarding and banged through potholes that probably contain the remnants of German tourists’ rental cars. We also went bounding through some sand, beach driving being a thing on the Washington coast. — GR
7. If not better than a Raptor or TRX, it’s good enough
This truck is a bull Bison in a China shop of a quaint touristy coastal town, a looming presence on city streets, and it claims every millimeter of a parking space. An ideal daily driver it ain’t. None of that is what it’s for.
This is a creature of the backcountry, with capabilities barely explored on this trip. I bounded down beaches, prowled logging roads, went deep into a national park, and traveled interstates and two-lanes to get there. It traveled on sand, dirt, gravel and pavement, but the conditions were a lot more civilized than the truck’s capabilities. In the perpetual truck wars, where GM, Ford and Ram each tries to edge out the others in some metric or another, it’s hard to say whether a Silverado ZR2 Bison is the match of a Raptor or TRX. On paper, maybe not. But in practical terms, it’s big and tough enough for just about anything. — GR
8. It feels like a decent value
It’s not unusual to pull a Monroney out of the glove box of a full-size truck and see a six-figure sticker price. Seeing this loaded up ZR2 Bison Edition come in $15,000 below that was somewhat refreshing. A 2023 ZR2 starts at $73,395 including $1,895 in destination fees. The Bison package adds a relatively reasonable $7,895. My tester, with the Tech package ($1,970), hard tonneau cover ($1,250), Multiflex tailgate ($445) and Glacier Blue Metallic Paint ($395), and a $50 credit for the missing steering column lock totaled $85,300. Especially when accounting for the attractive design inside and out, nice materials, great tech, impressive capability and unique personality, that price doesn’t strike me as particularly offensive. — JBS
9. Until you hit the gas pump
Hoo, boy. No surprise, but this thing is thirsty. The EPA gives it a combined rating of 15 miles per gallon (14 city, 17 highway). I put 674 miles on it, the vast majority (over 500) of which were on the highway, and the trip computer was showing me an average of 14.5 mpg (and an average speed of 51 mph). Filling that gas tank hurts. Like Greg mentioned above, “an ideal daily driver it ain’t.” For a special-use vehicle, like for off-roading, overlanding, camping or hauling, it’s an easier pill to swallow. — JBS