Chevy Silverado — Big pickup evolution

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Pickup trucks are the best-selling vehicles in America and the cash cow of the Big Three American truck builders, so when blueprinting an all-new truck, it behooves designers and engineers to be very wary of making a gigantic mistake. In this vein, Chevrolet took what we consider the safe route in creating the new Silverado — completely upgrading the truck with a new body and frame, 20-percent more cargo space, 14-percent heavier payload capacity, and 5-percent greater towing capacity, yet keeping things truck-guy friendly from the exterior to the interior with one glaring exception.

It is the embodiment of a comprehensive evolution in the big pickup segment keeping the Silverado's traditional look both inside and out. But there's — perhaps unfortunately for Chevrolet — one big exception. It's the polarizing front-end treatment that sounds a huge discordant note with the rest of the exterior design. It sheds all vestiges of Silverado front ends of the past two decades in favor of a space-age grille and an unusual headlight treatment that would look more at home on a big sport utility vehicle catering to the soccer-mom crowd. The question is — will it turn off traditional truck buyers.

As usual the truck has so many possible configurations it's impossible to list them all. Eight trim levels include Work Truck (WT), Custom, Custom Trail Boss, LT, RST, LT Trail Boss, LTZ, and High Country. The LTZ and High Country are the high end luxury examples, very popular today. Probably the most popular model is the LT, which can be configured with a number of option packages to suit the taste of the buyer.

There are six engine and transmission combinations including a new 2.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that replaces the 4.3-liter V -6 as the standard engine on the high-volume LT and RST trims. It makes 310 horsepower and 348 pound-feet of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic.

The outgoing V-6 is still available mated to a six-speed making 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque. Available on the top LTZ and High Country trims is the carryover 6.2-liter V-8 making 420 horsepower mated to a 10-speed automatic. Also available is a Duramax 3.0-liter turbo-diesel mated to a 10-speed automatic.

The most popular engine continues to be the 5.3-liter V-8 mated to either a six-speed or an eight-speed depending on trim level making 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. It now comes with engine start/stop and Dynamic Fuel Management, which means it can shut off any one, or a combination of cylinders to more precisely match torque requested from the driver to torque output of the engine.

We drove the 5.3-liter with eight-speed on out LT Trail Boss test truck and found it extremely capable and quick. And the fuel management system to be invisible. Even with the new technology, gas mileage is still not something to brag about — 15 mpg city, 20 highway and 17 combined.

The Trail Boss designation means the truck has the Z71 off-road package, is lifted two inches higher off the ground than standard and has a locking rear differential, skid plates, different shocks and 18-inch Goodyear Duratrac off-road tires.

Chevrolet has improved hauling and towing numbers. The short bed is a bit longer, deeper and wider than rivals and the tow rating for the 5.3-liter engine is 9,600 pounds with a standard 3.23 axle and 11,400 pounds with the 3.42 axle. The 6.2-liter truck can tow up to 12,100 pounds.

Chevrolet maintained what we consider a traditional pickup truck inside. The Silverado's switchgear looks much like the outgoing truck with big knobs and buttons including large knobs for radio volume and tuning. It's a layout that is simple and intuitive. The center console is huge with considerable storage. A dual glovebox also aids in storing stuff. It has been criticized as having a dated look. Maybe we are out of step, but we like the "dated look." And it also features the quietest interior ever.

As is the case across the industry, the price of big pickups has escalated. Even the WT (work truck) starts at $33,695. The most popular LT trim starts at $38,395 including a rather massive $1,495 destination charge for a rear-wheel drive double cab. Prices top out for the four-wheel drive High Country crew cab at $60,590 without options, which there are many.

Our LT Trail Boss crew cab tester carried a base price of $49,795. With several options including blindspot monitoring with cross traffic alert and front and rear-park assist the bottom line was $56,790.

Base price: $33,695; as driven, $56,790
Engine: 5.3-liter V-8
Horsepower: 355 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 383 foot-pounds @ 4,100 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: four-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 147.5 inches
Length: 231.7 inches
Curb weight: 5,105 pounds
Turning circle: 46.3 feet
Towing capacity: 12,100 pounds
Fuel capacity: 24 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 15 city, 20 highway, 17 combined
0-60: 6.1 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford F-150, Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra

The Good
• Five available powertrains
• Very good rear-seat legroom
• Massive bed capacity
• Easy-to-use touchscreen

The Bad
• No gains in gas mileage

The Ugly
• Polarizing front end