Words and Photos By Mark Williams for PickupTrucks.com
When GM tossed us the keys to a 2010 Chevrolet Silverado Z71 Extended Cab, we hit the open road. Sure, the new Silverado has been for sale for a while and is without many significant changes, but there seemed to be a few new details. In fact, there are several new features, options and colors that keep the aging half-ton a significant player in the pickup truck marketplace.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Ford and Dodge have put out significantly redesigned players in the segment and reaped the benefits in market share and media attention. The Silverado isn’t scheduled for its remodel until 2013 or so, but we’re likely to hear more in the next few months, after the 2011 heavy-duty models finish their rollout this year.
We recently got into a 2010 Silverado 1500 4x4 Extended Cab Z71 pickup as a quick refresher of what the GM trucks have to offer. Our test unit came equipped with the all-aluminum Vortec 5300 V-8 with mpg-mindful active fuel management to allow the small-block to run in four-cylinder mode during low-load situations or V-8 mode when it needs to work. We’ve always liked how well this system operates, making the transitions between four and eight cylinders almost invisible. (You can train yourself with the help of the information center to search for the ever-so-slight shutter between the two modes.)
During our longer freeway stretches, the fuel economy readout told us we were getting 24 mpg on the flats (nothing in the bed) at 65 mph. Much of this truck’s ability to sip fuel when cruising has to do with the 3.08 axle gears, now offered as the standard axle ratio on all 5.3-liter V-8s. Combine this with the six-speed automatic transmission’s 0.67 sixth-gear ratio, and our test truck has a low-low 2.03 final drive ratio, allowing the engine to loaf along (saving fuel as it goes) at 1,300 rpm at 60 mph.
Gearing choices like this make sense with a potentially unstable fuel market and the gas-mileage race between Ford, GM and Ram. However, what surprised us most was that this type of mileage and these types of axle gear ratios are standard on the Z71 package — supposedly the roughest, toughest off-road package GM offers.
In the past, Z71 meant backcountry exploring in four-wheel drive for Chevy pickups and SUVs while sacrificing mileage cruising for gear ratios more biased to low-range crawling. GM’s solution is in the 6L80 transmission. More gears mean a lower first gear (4.03) for controlled slow-go and a higher sixth gear (0.67) for better highway mileage. In fact, even with the fuel economy axle gears, our Z71 Silverado has a respectable 31.3 crawl ratio (multiply first gear by axle gears by low-range ratio) when switched in four-wheel-drive low range — quite respectable in the 4x4 world. This means the 265/65R18 Bridgestone Dueler A/Ts can claw with control through horrible terrain after a washout or up to a steep trail to the mountain cabin, yet still cruise home on the highway (presumably at full tire pressures) getting gas mileage in the 20s. Not bad. In the past, “Z71” meant you had to have much lower axle gear ratios, like 3.73, which would give it a better crawl ratio, but not deliver the lower engine-speed advantages at highway speeds.
There are no changes to the four-wheel-drive system, but we still like the fact that GM is about the only full-size pickup truck maker in the segment to offer a full-time, set-it-and-forget-it all-wheel-drive setting, called “AUTO.” Ford offers all-wheel drive, too, but only for its F-150 Harley-Davidson specialty model. From our point of view, this makes the Z71 a more versatile all-weather and all-terrain hauler.
During our test time, we had a few quibbles with the 2010 Silverado. To begin, on our model at highway speeds, we found a good amount of wind noise at the A-pillar but couldn’t determine whether it was coming from a loose seal at the door or glass, or whether it was turbulence kicked up from the rearview mirrors. Regardless, we found the noise on both sides of the cab, which made for some challenging phone conversations on a long drive home (hands-free phone, of course).
Our LT model came with the front 40/20/40 front bench seats and open center floor. The dash itself is beginning to look old for the segment and was showing signs of factory quality issues as well. The “meet line” for the radio and dash and the dual glove boxes and dash clearly were not what they should be. One side of the radio's head unit was slightly inboard and the other side a bit outboard relative to the plastic bezel around it. Although it was difficult to capture in photos, the surface matching did not look up to par. Granted, this test unit had seen some hard miles, but several of the seams between the various dash and inlay surfaces had pronounced stair-steps.
On the plus side, the Rancho shock absorbers did a commendable job on all the road surfaces, which included expansion-joint-filled freeways, as well as off-road dirt trails at our local off-highway vehicle park north of Los Angeles.
We wish GM would do something more serious with the Z71 name (remember last year's ZR2 Concept at SEMA?) instead of a bunch of stickers and a few mechanical swaps, but we understand GM has to be exceptionally careful about every dollar it spends. With what Ford and Dodge are doing with Raptor and Mopar, Chevy will have to do something pretty special to keep up.
Another detail we liked on our extended cab was how simple it is to open the rear doors. We admit to being transfixed at the simplicity, solidity and sheer size of the dual-swivel hinges that allow the rear doors to open a full 180 degrees, making interior loading and rear storage area access a simple slide-in. One final favorite feature of the truck is the amount of vehicle data that can be accessed from the gauge screen information center. Readouts such as transmission temperatures, tire pressures, instant fuel economy, oil life and whether your truck is in V-8 or V-4 mode are just some of the data it can show. But here’s a note directly to GM engineers: Give us more! Why not give us all of it or give us access to more detailed information you can store on some medium-sized memory chip or RAM? What about towing advice, bad-weather driving tips, local campsites or restaurant recommendations? Sure, we could pay for OnStar, but this type of data would be free. We like free.
However, what’s not free is a truck like this. A 4.8-liter V-8-equipped 1500 Extended Cab LT has a base price of $33,270 (including destination fee). In fact, for almost $5,000 more, we got the bigger and stronger (but just as fuel efficient) all-aluminum 5.3-liter V-8 and six-speed transmission, rear locking differential, heavy-duty cooling, bigger wheels and tires, Z71 gauges and decals, Rancho shocks, fog lamps, extra skid plating, oversized air filter, remote start, locking tailgate and Bluetooth for a total of $37,775. Still, with a five-star front crash rating from the government for both driver and passenger, a five-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty and more than 20 mpg on the highway, there is a value proposition here.
GM has done a good job in the past year streamlining its supply lines and improving plant efficiency. Unfortunately, finding the great deals are a little more difficult nowadays thanks to the reduced supply chain, but they are out there. As evidenced by our test truck, there is plenty of value to be had in the mid-$30,000s, and we’d expect the 2012 half-tons to be packed with value as well. As mentioned, we don’t expect to get a taste of the new Silverado 1500 for a little while, but you can expect we’ll bring you any news and spy photography as soon as GM engineers get closer to hot- and cold-weather sign-off. For now, it looks like the new F-150 and Ram 1500 have a slight lead over the aging Silverado. But that could all change real soon.
Quick Hits: What’s New For 2010 Chevrolet Silverado
-- New Battery Saver Voltage Monitor
-- 3.08:1 axle ratios standard with 5.3-liter V-8
-- E85 FlexFuel capability on 4.8-liter, 5.3-liter, and 6.2-liter V-8 engines
-- Variable valve timing on 4.8-liter and 5.3-liter V-8s
-- Six-speed automatic on regular and extended cab 5.3-liter V-8s
-- Side curtain airbags and seat-mounted airbags standard on 1500
-- USB connectivity on all radios (except base), as well as charging for some devices
-- Rearview camera available on more models
-- StabiliTrak electronic control system now standard on all 1500s
-- Two new exterior colors: Taupe Gray Metallic and Sheer Silver Metallic