We recently spent some time with the 2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison. We drove it on the road, in the mud, wondered why GM Canada didn’t fit our test unit with the optional snorkel air intake and even realized along the way how competitive this midsize truck still is, even if it’s facing newfound rivals from Ford and Jeep.
But the ultimate test, and probably the question everyone is wondering, is how the Colorado ZR2 Bison, the Chevrolet Colorado‘s extreme variant, measures up against the almighty Jeep Gladiator Rubicon. We took both trucks out in a rather tricky trail covered in snow and ice to find out. Here’s the rundown.
Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
The Jeep Gladiator is all-new for the 2020 model year and rides on the current Jeep Wrangler architecture, also known internally as the JL. In order to adapt it for trucking duties, its wheelbase was stretched by a whopping 19 inches. Overall frame length is 31 inches longer than the four-door Wrangler Unlimited’s, which makes the Jeep Gladiator the longest midsize pickup truck currently on sale.
On top of that, its entire structure was reinforced, front and rear tracks were slightly widened, and the brakes feature ventilated discs to cope with towing realities. The Gladiator even gets the same suspension control arms as a Ram 1500.
Power comes from FCA’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 good for a claimed 285 horses and 260 lb-ft of torque, mated to an eight-speed, ZF-sourced automatic gearbox. These are similar specifications to the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison with its 3.6L LGZ V6 engine and GM M5N 8-speed automatic transmission. Max towing is rated by FCA at 7,650 lbs. once the truck is equipped with the appropriate tow package. The truck only comes in a four-door, short box configuration.
The Rubicon model adds a full plethora of off-road-friendly toys. Among them are removable sway bars, Dana 44 axles with locking differentials, a lifted suspension, 33-inch tires, underbody skid plates, an off-road camera fitted with a sprinkler to clean it, as well as tow hooks. It also comes standard with removable roof and doors, making it the only convertible pickup truck currently on sale.
Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison
The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison is obviously the old geezer of this test, but that doesn’t prevent it from being competitive in the trails. As a matter of fact, we were impressed by how well it managed to hold its own against the clearly more modern Gladiator.
While engine displacement is the same as in the Jeep, the Colorado is a tad more powerful. The 3.6-liter V6 is rated at 308 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, and the ZR2 can tow up to 5,000 lbs.
The Colorado ZR2 is already a solid adventure machine, and considerably different than a standard Chevy Colorado from a technical standpoint. It comes out of the box with front and rear lockers, protective rock rails, 31-inch tires and a 3.5-inch wider track, a two-inch lift, skid plates and greater suspension travel – 8.6 inches front, 10.0 inches rear. But the ZR2’s standout feature is its Multimatic integrated spool-valve dampers which help it better soak up hard jumps.
As for the Bison, Chevrolet partnered with American Expedition Vehicles (AEV), adding several key parts to create a unique adventure truck capable of taking on virtually all types of terrain. Our test unit was a Crew Cab, Short Box pickup. The Colorado ZR2 Bison comes in two different cabin/box configurations, and can even be powered by a diesel engine – the 2.8L LWN four-cylinder that’s part of the Duramax engine family. Tires were 265/65R17 Goodyear Wrangler all-terrains.
Here’s what the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison adds on top of the “regular” Colorado ZR2:
- CHEVROLET lettered grille
- AEV Front Bumper
- Fog lamps (T3U)
- AEV rear bumper (VHU)
- Wheel Moldings (B7O)
- Front floor liners (CPX)
- Rear floor liners (CPY)
- AEV Embroidered Headrests
- Fuel tank skid plate (PZ9)
- Front skid plate (PZG)
- Off-road rocker panels
- Rear differential skid plate (PZL)
- Transfer case skid plate (PZN)
- 17″ AEV aluminum wheel (RIG)
- 17″ AEV spare wheel (S4M)
The GM Authority Take
Both our trucks ate up this gnarly trail without breaking a sweat, to a point where we wondered if anything could in fact stop them. The trail was muddy, wet, and filled with frozen water holes our trucks would often cave through due to their weight.
Yet, they both survived the adventure with very little drama.
The obvious first observation when comparing both trucks out there in the wild is that they offer consumers similar levels of off-road capability, but were designed for completely different environments. The Gladiator is first and foremost a rock crawler. For instance, its front sway bar can be fully disengaged for optimal wheel articulation, something the Colorado cannot do.
Also, the Jeep’s approach and departure angles are significantly higher than the Chevy’s at 43.6 and 26 degrees versus 25.3 and 23.5 degrees.
However, the Colorado shined for its suspension damping and narrower dimensions. In a tight trail, the Chevy proved more agile and felt lighter as it bottomed out in the deep stuff. It feels more at home driving fast over rough terrain, whereas the Gladiator prefers a more relaxed, “take your time” approach to tackling obstacles.
The trucks really differentiated themselves when we drove them on the road. While the Gladiator boasts a more comfortable, roomier and better appointed interior, chassis wobble and tire noise remains very apparent, even with the longer wheelbase. Plus, we found ourselves constantly over-correcting the truck’s steering.
The Colorado ZR2 Bison, on the other hand, proved surprisingly sporty and refined on the road. We’ve long complained about this truck’s plastic-tastic interior, hard seats and cramped rear seating, but its driving dynamics remain fresh and fun, almost handling like the unibody Honda Ridgeline. The Colorado’s V6 engine also provides more spirited acceleration, all while sounding considerably better at high revs.
Of course, this being GM Authority, you’d think we’d automatically prefer the 2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison. But that’s not exactly the case. We congratulate Jeep for putting together a solid midsize truck that can both tow heavy loads and tackle on Mother Nature’s toughest conditions. It’s a fantastic machine.
While the Colorado ZR2 is showing its age, the fact of the matter is that it not only followed this tough Jeep in the rough stuff hands down, it proved to be the easier truck to live with in the urban jungle.