Chevy Silverado Crew Cab — still has a shine vs. new competition

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Lost in the hoopla over the all-new award-winning 2009 Ford F-150 and the very likable next-generation 2009 Dodge Ram is the Chevrolet Silverado.

The Ford and the Dodge are both exemplary renditions of a modern full- sized pickup truck. We like them both. And they both deserve the awards they have racked up including North American Truck of the Year for the F-150.

Perhaps the Silverado’s biggest sin is that it’s not in the same redesign cycle as the Ford and Dodge. It was completely made-over for the 2007 model year and when its chief competitors introduced all new trucks for 2009, the Chevy was reduced to playing third fiddle.

Silverado had its day in the sun a couple years ago earning numerous honors including Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year and North American Truck of the Year.

But even though the newest stuff gets the accolades, the prospective new-truck buyer would be remiss to dismiss the Silverado, which we feel is still as good as it gets and for the most part an equal player in the full-sized half-ton segment.

When you figure the extraordinary deals available these days for the full-sized Chevy including zero percent loans and large cash rebates, the Silverado looks exceptionally appealing.

The pickup and full-sized sport utility markets crashed in 2008, but under the circumstances the Silverado held up well selling 465,065 copies, down just 24.7 percent from 2007. Perennial truck sales leader Ford sold 515,513 copies, down 25.3 percent. Dodge was off 31 percent.

But if you think truck sales have gone completely in the tank, smoke this one over — both the Ford and Chevy outsold the nation's best- selling car, the Toyota Camry, which ended the year with 436,000 sales. That’s why the full-sized truck segment is still perhaps the most important in North America.

We were re-introduced to the rugged Chevy spending seven days in an LT1 crew cab powered by the popular 5.3-liter V-8 making 315 horsepower and 338 pound-feet of torque. It seems to be the best choice of the five available engines delivering very acceptable performance while deriving 14 miles to the gallon in city driving and 20 mpg on the road with regular gas. It can also burn ethanol if you live in a part of the country that sells it.

The headline news for 2009 is that the 5.3-liter now comes mated to GM’s excellent six-speed automatic transmission. The ’07 model made due with the old less-efficient four-speed. Gas mileage has been improved two miles per gallon in highway driving and performance has improved about a half second from 0-to-60.

Note that the six-speed is optional, a $1,780-package on our LT1 test truck that also included 17-inch aluminum wheels, heavy duty trailer tow equipment and locking rear differential. We think that’s money well spent.

The other engine choices remain the same — the base 4.3-liter V-6 generating 195 horsepower, a base 4.8-liter V-8 making 295 horsepower, a 6.0-liter V-8 rated at 367 horsepower and a 6.2-liter V-8 generating 403 horsepower.

While the bigger engines offer more forward momentum and a maximum 10,400-pound towing capacity, the 5.3-liter is rated at a healthy 9,500 pounds towing with a payload of 1,652 pounds.

The Silverado is a good choice whether you are using it in a construction business or simply as an all-around suburban driver and weekend helper. Dodge aimed its new Ram at the more lifestyle conscious American and less at the working class. Like the new Ford F-150, the Silverado seeks to be all things to all people with a myriad of configurations.

We discovered that the Chevy has outstanding driving dynamics, and we were equally enthralled by the handsome interior where fit and finish has never been better in a Chevrolet truck. Materials are stylish and of good quality. The full-gauge layout is easy to read and controls are intuitive.

Storage is ample including a double glove box that includes the conventional lower box with a covered storage compartment above it.

A new, 40/20/40-split front bench seat, included in our test truck, features a large, fold-down console with integrated cupholders and 6.1 liters of storage. A locking under-seat storage bin provides another 9.1 liters of storage. Bucket seats are also offered and come with a large, covered center console and cupholders.

Rear-seat head and leg room are excellent in the crew cab and we had no complaints from our rear-seat passengers. When cargo hauling is the order of the day, the rear seat cushions can be folded upward to create a flat load floor.

Be forewarned, the modern pickup with modern amenities is not for the light of pocketbook. If you want a well-outfitted truck you will pay a well-outfitted price. However, that being said, the sticker price on these trucks will not be what you pay in these hard times. Deals abound.

The Silverado starts at $20,350 including destination charge for a bare-bones regular cab work truck and moves up through the ranks of extended cab models to crew cab configurations topping out at $42,330 for a LTZ four-wheel drive crew cab. Optional equipment such as leather-clad 12-way power heated seats, a Bose audio system, navigation, rear DVD entertainment and a moonroof can easily lead to a retail price of more than $50,000 for a LTZ crew.

In addition to the engine choices, the Silverado comes with three bed lengths, three trim levels — work, LT (including 1LT and 2LT) and LTZ, and numerous packages including Z71 off road, and heavy-duty trailer tow.

Our LT1 4WD Z71 crew cab test truck carried a base price of $33,940. With options such as dual-zone air conditioning, adjustable pedals, fog lamps, the aforementioned engine and transmission upgrades, off- road suspension and 18-inch aluminum wheels the bottom line was $39,010.

We were delighted to spend a week with the Silverado after doing extensive testing of the new Ram and F-150. Our conclusion is that while the Ford and Dodge are outstanding trucks, the Silverado remains an excellent choice.

Base price: $20,350; as driven, $39,010
Engine: 5.3-liter V-8
Horsepower: 315 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque: 338 foot-pounds @ 4,400 rpm
Drive: four-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 3/3
Wheelbase: 143.5 inches
Length: 230.2 inches
Curb weight: 5,540 pounds
Turning circle: 47.2 feet
Towing capacity: 9,500 pounds
Fuel capacity: 26 gallons (regular or ethanol)
EPA rating: 20 MPG highway, 14 city
0-60: 7.6 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford F-150, Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra

The good:
• Now with a 6-speed automatic
• Excellent fit and finish
• Precise steering and refined ride

The Bad:
• Rear cabin smaller than new F-150, Dodge Ram

The Ugly:
• Huge turning circle