Finding the sweet spot between rugged capability and smooth luxury is difficult enough in a car, where there are relatively few configurations and options to choose from. Throw that task into the light-duty pickup truck arena and it is compounded more than 100 times because of all the build complexity. So when Chevrolet finally decided to get into the highly lucrative luxury trim package game for its pickups — 30 percent of all half-tons have at least a $40,000 price tag, and the percentage of crew cab models is about double that — the biggest challenge for the engineers was not to make it too soft or too stiffly sprung.
We recently had the chance to get behind the wheel of several fully outfitted 2014 High Country Silverados for a drive event through the Hill Country back roads outside Austin, Texas. Here's what we thought.
The package itself is a good first step for Chevy, which clearly doesn't understand how much latitude (and altitude) it had in creating its first upper-level trim package (Chevy calls it "premium" and "rugged luxury"). The saddle leather is unique to the trim package and offers a strong smell of bovine; it is quite soft and smooth to the touch. The truck's Western flair makes sense, especially in Texas — it puts Chevy on the same playing field as Ford's King Ranch, Ram's Laramie Longhorn and Toyota's 1794 Edition. Still, Ford and Ram seem to do a better job of reaching a little further than Chevy.
The High Country package gets just about every option available with the exception of a big engine choice and a push-button sunroof. Of course, there are dozens of options like wheels, sidesteps and bed covers that can be ordered from the dealer for a more personalized feel.
Base High Country Silverados start at $45,100 (including destination) for two-wheel-drive models with the 5.3-liter EcoTec3 V-8. Upgrading to the new 6.2-liter V-8 will cost $1,995 for the big bump to the class-leading 420 horsepower and 460 pounds-feet of torque. All High Country models will run 3.42:1 axle gears and offer a maximum tow rating of 9,800 pounds when equipped with the bigger V-8.
Because the High Country will exclusively use the Z60 suspension package, the truck rides smoothly with just a touch of wallow. As a result, the NHT maximum tow package, which has stiffer rear springs, a bigger axle and different shock tuning, will not be available, so there is no way to get the maximum 12,000-pounds-rated capability from this trim package. That said, we had the chance to tow several different types of flatbed trailers, campers and boats (ranging in weight from 5,000 to approximately 8,000 pounds), and we found that the 6.2-liter V-8 with the relatively tall 3.42:1 gears had no trouble pulling the loads. Each of our trailers had well-set-up weight-distributing hitches with the proper amount of tongue weight. You can credit the 4.03:1 1st gear and a fast-learning Tow/Haul algorithm for the truck's comfort and ease when towing loads this big. Our test units didn't have towing mirrors, but we were assured they will be ready for ordering by the time these trucks hit dealers — within the next several weeks.
The longest load of the group, a 24-foot camper trailer, did give our test truck some trouble when traveling over uneven paved roads, putting us into an occasional "porpoising" motion where we needed to touch the trailer brakes just for an instant to help settle our pickup down. Generally speaking, the 6.2-liter offers a satisfying rumble when you get into the throttle. Even when towing a heavy load, we found cylinder deactivation kicking in as we cruised over flat ground and down hills.
It's worth noting how much effort GM engineers put into making the interior quiet. They included a good amount of insulation and sound-deadening material throughout the floor, roof and firewall, but they also included a Bose noise cancellation system (part of the standard sound system) with every Silverado equipped with the 6.2-liter V-8. This was the only way to deal with the resonant harmonics the exhaust note produces when switching to four cylinders. From the inside, there was no difference in tone or sound level that we could detect, but we were told if you are outside as the vehicle passes, you can hear the truck switch into cylinder deactivation mode.
The Chevy High Country gauge cluster falls short when comparing it to GMC's Sierra Denali. We really like the fact that when clicked into Tow/Haul mode, the Sierra 1500 Denali calls up a unique set of gauge displays and readouts. Both trucks have the capability for a good amount of customization, depending on the information the driver wants to prioritize, but the Denali seems to have the cleanest solution to getting the proper info to the driver so he/she can keep an eye on all right displays.
We don't think the Chevy High Country will be the runaway hit several GM marketing experts are hoping it will be, but it does give GM a presence in an important part of the market where it previously had a huge hole. And it gives GM room to move even more upscale at a later date if needed.
We're not amazed any more that the upper-level trim packages are getting more popular with a certain segment of truck buyers. And the fact that those buyers seem to be coming back to pickup trucks shouldn't surprise anyone, least of all GM product planners. It's worth noting, though, that GMC will continue to build the Denali brand and could even do something more with its GMC Sierra All-Terrain Package as well. Regardless, this is a good, yet cautious, first step into this arena for Chevy, and our hope is that it will get more aggressive with pricing and content packaging, technology and new features in the future.
For the most recent High Country press release and specifications, click here.