Photos supplied by General Motors
Our first chance to drive the all-new 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 occurred just a few days ago in Texas, and the experience is likely to stick with us for a while. We can start by saying this is not the perfect pickup truck, and we'd even be hard pressed to say it's the new standard other pickup truck makers should strive to match. But we can say this is probably the single biggest model improvement over the vehicle it replaces in a long time. We'll break this down, describing where exactly where so much ground was gained, where there are still holes and also include Chevy's updated press information to shed some light on the finer details.
We first hopped into a heart-of-the-market Deep Ruby Metallic Crew Cab LTZ two-wheel drive, which is likely to run somewhere north of $43,000. We know all about the three new EcoTec3 engines and their all-aluminum overhead valve construction, cylinder deactivation, direct injection and variable valve timing, so we won't cover too much old ground here. But how all that new powertrain technology works for the driver was our big question.
Our tester had the 5.3-liter V-8 rated at 355 horsepower and 383 pounds-feet of torque. It didn't take long to figure out that the GM strategy of making a V-8 more efficient, rather than Ford's strategy of making a V-6 more powerful, clearly helps when stomping the throttle. Throttle responsiveness and the throaty sound of the exhaust are predictably progressive, both of which deliver a satisfying reward. We found ourselves watching the center 3.5-inch information screen between the speedometer and tachometer to see if we could sense any vibrations when the V-8 icon turned to V-4 or vice versa.
Our attempts proved fruitless — whether towing or near full payload, the V-4 mode stayed active. The transitions were so seamless they were close to nonexistent. Our biggest surprise with the V-8 was how long we were able to stay in V-4 mode, both on long highway stretches as well as a few long uphill grades. We're guessing many test hours have gone into finessing the computer and active fuel management cylinder shutoff, and it's paid off. During a small portion of our drive route, we covered about 60 miles through the hill country outside San Antonio — a lot of two-lane highways, a few stop lights and gently rolling hills — and found that by keeping a moderate speed (we don't hypermile) we were able to get 22.6 mpg before we pulled into our final destination, Knibbe Ranch. We should note that our 5.3-liter V-8 did have 3.08:1 axle gears but didn't feel sluggish off the line with the 6L80's 4.03:1 first gear. Silverados will offer a standard 26-gallon fuel tank, with a 34-gallon option on select wheelbase/bed configurations.
We also had a chance to drive a few new Silverados with the EcoTec3 4.3-liter V-6, newly rated at 285 horsepower and 305 pounds-feet of torque. As you might expect, GM powertrain engineers have tuned the base engine for torque (this is a truck engine, after all), so the pull off the line feels strong and suspiciously like a smaller, older V-8 (in fact, the torque numbers match the old-school Vortec 4800 V-8).
Both Ford and Ram have more sophisticated overhead valve V-6s that make more horsepower than torque with smaller displacement engines, but neither of those engines deliver the jump we got in our 4x4 crew cab (with 3.42:1 gears). It was only when towing a 4,000-pound camper trailer that the 4.3-liter V-6 felt a bit pushed, but we were still impressed with how quickly and solidly the newly tuned six-speed transmission adjusted the gear shifting, holding 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears much longer than when empty and quickly downshifting when we got off the throttle to keep speed in check. This grade-braking software — which works whether the Tow/Haul mode is engaged or not — even had us downshifting to each stop sign, saving wear and tear on the brakes, which are now four-wheel discs.
Additionally, we like the fact that the new truck offers three new, lighter and stronger axles, which include an 8.8-inch rear end for the V-6, a 9.5-inch rear for the V-8s and 9.75-inch for any truck equipped with the Max Trailering Package. The Silverado will offer four ring-and-pinion gears with the first two having the highest take rate: 3.08:1, 3.23:1, 3.42:1 and 3.73:1. There will be no half-ton GM truck offered with 4.10:1 gears.
For the updated Chevy powertrain press release, click here to download the file.
Ride and handling
Another standout characteristic of the new truck that impressed us is how it handles road irregularities and how stable it feels on the road, empty and loaded. The all-new frame and chassis have been significantly lightened and strengthened in key areas (frame, axles, suspension and more) to allow the GM tuners to squeeze every ounce of performance from the shocks and springs.
From the outset, we're told, GM engineers weren't looking to set new max segment marks in towing and payload (although the Double Cab does offer class-leading towing at 11,500 pounds); instead they were looking to significantly improve the ride and carrying capability when compared to the GMT900 truck. With a slightly wider track, a retuned and engineered front coil over suspension, and extensive work on new hydraulic body mounts, the control the Z60 (softer, but secured) and the Z71 (firmer, but forgiving) suspensions offer are vastly superior and more adaptable than the ones they replace.
As you might expect, these same upgrades that improve the empty daily-driving situations did help improve the performance of the truck when controlling heavy loads in the bed or towing decently sized trailers. We got to drive Silverados with 1,000-pound boxes in the bed, which gave us the opportunity to see how the chassis dealt with heavier payloads. Although we would have liked some kind of load-leveling capability, the visual "squat" to the trucks was minimal and the handling and rear-end control on our drive routes were well within our comfort zones. Both the V-6 and V-8 LTZ trucks we drove had 3.42:1 gears and felt remarkably similar off the line.
During our trailer-driving module, where we expected chassis chop and tail wagging during a few of our route situations we felt none. And we expected to get beat up with trailer push and pull, but the stiffer, stronger chassis took it all in stride. Of the three trailers we towed, the one pulling the dirt mover was probably the closest to the truck's maximum gross vehicle weight rating, which had the 5.3-liter V-8 (the 6.2-liter V-8 won't be available for a few months) working pretty hard but the transmission really steps in with strong and quick (and early) up- and downshifts. We should note that Chevy did perfectly balance the three trailers (one boat, one camper, one backloader) and loaded pickups we tested.
For the updated Chevy chassis, suspension and towing press release, click here to download the file.
The ranch Chevy selected also gave media drivers the chance to run a two-mile loop off-road course with some higher speed-rutted, two-track trails, a few water crossings and several rocky hill climbs. Not much has changed as far as the type of four-wheel-drive system the Silverado uses; it still has the same transfer case and traction strategy with separate two-wheel, four-wheel, Auto, 4WD High and 4WD Low range settings on a new, smaller dial.
What is different are a few new extras to the Z71 package now that it is a separate trim level. Chevy reps told us they want to inject a little more life and technology into the sportier off-road package, and we say it's about time. First off, Chevy has improved the G80 rear-locking differential, which can now better act like an invisible limited-slip under normal driving conditions, yet more smoothly ramp up to fully lock when detecting small amounts of spin differences between the two tires.
Additionally, the Z71 package offers an active hill descent feature that will control and adjust descent speeds based on brake (to slow you down) or throttle (to speed up) input. And the feature will work in both forward and reverse, which made it fun for us to test out on several sections of the off-road route. To engage the system requires flipping the toggle switch under the center stack; the system will work the same either in Drive or Manual transmission modes.
There was one situation that did have us questioning ourselves, then the truck, during the off-road course. We usually disable any traction control features when driving dirt roads, sand or choppy terrain because we know the wheel speed sensors will likely detect an error right before we want to have some fun — usually blinking lights, cutting throttle, applying brakes or some combination of all three. That's exactly what happened.
When making an "enthusiastic" run down a loose dirt road in an open pasture while making an easy right hand turn, we got bells, whistles, brakes, lost power — all of it. It seemed odd to us, especially since we had turned off all the GM StabiliTrak switches and the readout said it was all off.
We questioned a few GM engineers and found out that no matter what you do when turning off GM's StabiliTrak system, it always comes back on if you go more than 35 mph. Ugh, thank you lawyers. It would be nice to have a system like those found on other GM vehicles (Cadillac ATS and Corvette to name two) that allows you to disable most of the system with one press of a button and the rest of it by pressing and holding. What is it about these decisionmakers that they have so little faith in the intelligence of the average truck user? I think most truck buyers would be able to grasp that concept and appreciate it. Regardless, that's the way truck's traction control works.
For the updated Chevy Silverado 1500 specification charts, click here.
As noted earlier, we have to go back quite a ways to remember a new pickup introduction that was so much better than the truck it replaced. Of course, the caveat is that this GM overhaul is long overdue, so the company had plenty of time to work on it, continuing to add to the improvement list with each passing year. Sure, the last two Ram 1500 redesigns had a lot of good suspension and fuel economy tech and interior improvements, and the Ford F-150 added quite a few powertrain and trim package improvements, but you have to go back to the introduction of the 2007 Toyota Tundra, when Toyota scrapped the 7/8th-scale Tundra program in favor of a real, full-size, San Antonio-built pickup truck to get close to what Chevy (and GMC) have done here. Simply put, it is impressive, but not perfect.
There are still plenty of "white space" gaps (an important term for companies like Ford that are doing good work finding and filling market holes no one else sees) for Chevy to think about filling. If the veiled comments from various Chevy designers and engineers are any indication about what is still coming down the road, we probably have a good reason to feel optimistic.
We heard from Silverado's chief marketer, chief designer and chief engineers (they were well coached) about how the world of half-ton pickups has changed and that the introduction cycles are now two and three years apart instead of the six, seven and eight years. Certainly Ford and Ram have figured out how to make a big splash with their half-tons every two or three years, so it should be fun to see what GM can do to keep up. All GM would tell us is to keep our eyes on those slots in the marketplace where GM doesn't have anything now. That's easy to say and more difficult to execute.
For updated information about the Chevy Silverado's safety technology, click here to download the press release.
As accommodating and controlled as the chassis and suspension are in just about every situation, we'd still like to see some kind of load-leveling capability for better towing and safer payload hauling. Additionally, according to all the info we've seen so far, the Silverado GVWR spread seems to be quite conservative, sitting between 6,500 and 7,200 pounds. Surely there's a max number above 7,200 pounds for a truck with a stronger frame, suspension and axle setup? We'd also add that someone needs to seriously look at that StabiliTrak setting before truck customers start thinking GM is calling them stupid.
Our final nitpick has to do with the previous-generation column shifter we see that Chevy has stubbornly stuck with, almost as if it's some kind of DNA design cue. I'll say it right here — I like it the column shifter and want it to stay, but with the huge strides made on the interior, especially with the LTZ and coming High Country trim, the Silverado needs to offer a console shifter for its top-level premium package, if not also in the Sport and Z71. Our guess is that's something GMC fought hard for (we're assuming here), but it seems to us there's plenty of room for both brands to offer the option.
We really like that GM will now have seven different trim package (Weren't there just three last year?), but it needs more. Two Work Truck packages, the LT, LTZ, two Z71 packages (LT or LTZ) and the all-new High Country are a good start but truck buyers are more diverse than that. It's our hope to see something even higher than the High Country sometime soon. Whether there is or isn't, when Chevy sees how popular the High Country take rate becomes (we'll guess the numbers for the first two years will be higher than 20 percent), there will be a follow-up real soon.
As for pricing, regular cabs start at $24,585 (including destination), double cabs at $28,610 and crew cabs at $32,710.
One last note: With this truck, GM is giving the often-ignored pickup bed new emphasis. The attention to the internal and external construction for strength and weight savings, as well as modularity, is impressive. Add to that the fully strutted easy-open easy-close tailgate, the integrated handholds and footsteps and the under-lip bed lighting, and it's obvious that someone at GM understands how and why truck owners use their pickups. We like that.
For the updated information on Chevy's pickup bed, click here to download the press release.
What's the bottom line? This new Chevy Silverado has too many improvements to list in just one story. That's why we've posted as many of the Chevy press releases we received as possible. That way readers can peruse at their leisure. We've tried to keep our impressions focused on the areas we think most important. We understand a truck like this needs to be tested against its direct competition to give you the best sense of where they all fit. And that's exactly what we have in the works.
Finally, look for two videos on the 2014 Chevy Silverado to come as well; one will focus more on the high-tech and unique features, while the other will offer our V-6 and V-8 driving impressions.
**For the updated Chevy information regarding body structure, click here to download the press release.
**For the updated Chevy information regarding exterior design, click here to download the press release.
**For the updated Chevy information regarding interior design, click here to download the press release.
**For the updated information regarding Chevy's MyLink infotainment system, click here to download the press release.