Road Test: 2009 Chevrolet Silverado Two-Mode Hybrid

Road Test: 2009 Chevrolet Silverado Two-Mode Hybrid
By Dan Carney

General Motors promises that its Two-Mode Hybrid-electric drive system gives the company’s pickups and SUVs both fuel-sipping electric power and “tremendous trailering capability,” thanks in part to the brawny 6.0-liter small-block V-8 gas engine under the hood.

I tested the trailering thesis by towing an open-car trailer with a race-spec Mazda Miata aboard over a 600-mile route to Road Atlanta for a Sports Car Club of America event. I wanted to know whether the hybrid was an efficient alternative for towing, like a heavy-duty diesel pickup, or whether it’s an ideal city truck that can ably tow when needed.

EPA data proves Chevy’s hybrid is more efficient in regular driving; the Silverado 1500 four-wheel-drive crew cab I tested is rated at an impressive 20/20 mpg city/highway. The two-wheel-drive version rates even better, at 21/22 mpg city/highway, so it might have been a marginally preferable test subject, but the 4x4 is what was available. All Silverado hybrids are crew cabs with short beds.

The four-wheel-drive Silverado 1500 Hybrid HY2 model I tested had a price of $47,305, and with a sunroof and destination charge the total fell just shy of $50K. You can buy a lot of gas for the difference in price between this hybrid and one of the conventional 6.0-liter V-8 pickups that dealers are so desperate to sell. (The two-wheel-drive Silverado Hybrid starts at $38,020.) At least in the near-term, buyers qualify for a $2,200 federal tax credit for a gas-electric Silverado, or its twin the GMC Sierra, but the rebate will be phased out after GM has sold over 60,000 eligible trucks.

To be fair, that expensive HY2 version I drove was pretty nicely equipped, with leather, a navigation system, satellite radio and some respectable truck parts, including a Z85 handling/trailering package, a locking rear differential and an Autotrac transfer case. Remote start, a typical GM cold-weather goody, was absent, which is hard to swallow at this price. And where was a 110-volt power outlet in the cab? C’mon -- we’ve got 300 volts coming from the battery pack under the rear seat, and I’ve gotta use a power adapter plugged into the 12-volt cigarette lighter to power my phone or laptop?

Hybrid Silverado Interior

Chevy’s claims that its Silverado has the efficiency of a hybrid and the power of a V-8 gloss over the fact that the Silverado Hybrid’s capabilities are somewhat diminished compared with the gas truck. The truck carries 600 pounds of electric motors and batteries, which somehow only reduce its payload capacity by about 300 pounds, to 1,418 pounds. Its towing capacity, however, takes a big hit, with a rating of only 5,900 pounds (6,100 pounds for two-wheel-drive versions) compared with about 9,500 pounds in a gas truck. That’s because, given its current cooling capacity, the extra weight would overheat the electronics of the electric drive system, Chevy says.

Even the gas engine’s power is diminished; it’s rated at 332 horsepower instead of 367, with 367 pounds-feet of torque rather than 375. This is because the engine's intake valve timing was delayed to help maximize fuel economy. It has a smaller cylinder head chamber for the same reason, which also diminishes power. Further, the exhaust system was specifically tuned to help muffle the sound of the engine when in four-cylinder mode, and that also costs a little power.

Meanwhile, each of the two electric motors contributes a maximum of 81 hp, for a total of 162 hp, but because the gas and electric motors don’t make maximum power at the same time, the total system power isn’t simply 332 plus 162. Rather, the system’s combined maximum output is 372 hp.

In everyday driving, the electric drivetrain conveys some unusual sensations, as the truck whirs away from stops even when the gas engine is running. The V-8’s revs are nearly static while the electric motor does most of the work, so there’s little sensation of revving up and changing gears. Once the gas engine is warmed up, it shuts off, permitting the electric motor to power the Silverado exclusively at speeds up to 30 mph.

The 42-volt electric-power rack-and-pinion steering is nicely weighted with good feedback, in contrast to the majority of electric systems, which tend to be numb in feel. GM says the Silverado Hybrid’s steering provides up to a half-mpg improvement in fuel economy over the hydraulic steering pumps in the conventional Silverado lineup. The system is sometimes slow to react after startup, though, so I periodically found myself turning the wheel before the power boost had arrived when I was in a hurry to get going.

Two-Mode Hybrid Transmission

When a full-size pickup tows a small trailer and car with a combined weight of about 3,200 pounds, you don’t expect it to feel like much of a load, and that was the case in the Silverado Hybrid; the truck barely noticed the trailer was back there, cruising serenely down the interstate.

I passed the time on the road watching the dashboard display, which shows when the engine is running on four cylinders to save gas -- that was more interesting than the satellite radio selections, which seem to have become as repetitive and dull as terrestrial radio.

I also passed the time by buying gas, because while towing the trailer the Silverado’s range on a tank of gas was just over 300 miles. The track was just over 600 miles away, and I’d put a few miles on before leaving, fetching the car and trailer. That meant two stops to fill up the 26-gallon tank on the way. For the return, I topped it off just before departure, refilled once after 309 miles and made it home with the fuel light on.

This unexpectedly short range provides a hint to my verdict on the hybrid: Towing as light a car trailer as you’re likely to encounter, the Silverado scored 13.5 mpg, which is the same as GM’s conventional gas-powered trucks and SUVs, in my experience.

The gas-powered Silverado XFE costs thousands less than the Two-Mode Hybrid and scores 15/21 mpg city/highway while boasting a similar towing capacity. A Silverado 2500 LT crew cab equipped with a 6.6-liter Duramax diesel has a similar MSRP as the hybrid I drove, $47,350 before rebates, and while it has no EPA rating, experience indicates it would be similarly efficient in regular driving and would surely beat the hybrid’s mileage while towing the same trailer over long distances.

A fellow SCCA competitor towed an enclosed trailer – so with an enormous frontal area -- and about 10,000 pounds gross weight using a 2008 Silverado 3500 Duramax dually, and he got the same 13.5 mpg.

My advice to truck buyers considering buying a hybrid pickup is to think carefully about how you’re going to use the truck and whether it’s worth the extra several thousand dollars you’ll pay for a hybrid.

In frequent stop-and-go city traffic, very dense urban areas and large business or educational campuses, the Silverado Hybrid excels because you’re able to whir silently about, burning only electrons at low speeds -- like I did around the racetrack paddock even while pulling several thousand pounds of trailer behind the truck.

If you drive in suburban or rural areas and tow infrequently, I’d recommend the XFE. It’ll save you lots of money up front and still do relatively well on gas mileage. If you want an ideal long-distance tow vehicle that’s able to pull about three times as much as the Silverado Hybrid and get better mileage while doing so, a very well-equipped four-wheel-drive Silverado 2500 crew cab with a Duramax diesel costs roughly the same as our $50K hybrid test truck.

Hybrid Silverado Engine Compartment


Having to warm up the gas engine before the electric motors kick in cancels any fuel mileage advantages for short trips to the hardware store, taking the kids to sports activities, etc. You gotta wonder what Chevrolet was thinking.

i think he ment that the gas motor idles until it is warmed up, it does use the electric most of the time. I do think it is dumb for short trips though.

TOO Much and a big waste of money. Bet not Cheap when it break down!!! JUNK!!!!!

Hybrids are not the answer.

The Silverado XFE also has reduced towing capacity due to the 3.08 axle ratio. And it is not available in 4WD. With all the current discounts, you can buy a conventional pickup for half the price of the hybrid.

@Jef: You're correct, and we've mentioned the XFE has similar (7,000 pounds) towing capacity to the Hybrid. Both trucks have 3.08 rear ends.

Here are a few more charts to compared Hybrid v. fuel efficient full-size pickups:

I read recently that city transit buses designed from the ground up as diesel-electric hybrids use a full 80% less fuel and emit 80% less air pollution than the equivalent diesel-only transit buses operating on the same routes. Think about that, they use 80% less fuel and get the same job done. The financial payback is on the order of three years, which is well within the expected life of a transit bus, so not only do these hybrid vehicles pass the technical test with flying colors, they pass the real-world financial test as well.

One reason for their success is that they can make the electrical components (cables, batteries, etc) heavy enough and with enough surge capacity to recover over 90% of the kinetic energy, whereas light-duty hybrid vehicles (i.e. cars & pickups) can recover only 20% or so of their kinetic energy.

Chevy's implementation of hybrid at this stage and in this vehicle might not be the best, but to say hybrids are not the answer is very short-sighted, and ignores the physics of the real world.

Anything that can capture and use energy that would otherwise be wasted, deserves a good look and a proper chance to prove itself, both technically and financially. Although no one can argue that modern diesel and gasoline engines are vastly more efficent these days, recovering & using a significant percentage of the kinetic energy of a vehicle is a very large benefit to everyone. I think we can forgive Chevy if their first go at a hybrid truck is not everyone's idea of perfection, because every journey has to begin with the first step, and this is effectively Chevy's first step.

The reason why the gas motor can't shut off until it's warmed up is emissions. The catalytic converter won't be converting NOx to N+0, CO to CO2 + 0 and unburnt carbon to CO2+O2, unless it's warm.

Re: City bus hybrids, the savings is about 25%, because city buses spend a lot of time idling.

A hybrid truck makes a lot of sense if you use the power outlets, or leave the truck idling a lot while loading and unloading the bed or trailers -- hours per week idling. You might just be better off shuting off the engine on a conventional truck in many cases.

True comment about emissions control keeping the IC engine running at times the operator doesn't think it should be.

Also a factor is whether or not the occupants are calling for cabin heat; the system has to keep the IC engine warm enough to keep the heat/defrost requirements satisfied.

Re: City buses saving 25% as hybrids: Some tests have shown a solid 50-80% reduction in fuel usage, which of course depends on a number of factors, including how the overall hybrid system was designed & implemented. A quick-and-dirty "hybridization" of an existing bus design would not achieve the magnitude of savings that a "clean-sheet-of-paper" design can achieve. It all depends on implementation.

Regardless of the range of results of the various tests, it is a fact that is a good idea to recover a large percentage of kinetic energy that would otherwise be wasted via conventional friction braking systems. Much about our current transportation and traffic control systems are highly inefficient, basically throw-backs to a less-sophisticated time that are grandfathered in and are the default mode of thinking. Doesn't mean that's the way we should approach itransportation & traffic today, given the quantum leaps in technology available now, and knowing what we now know after decades of living with the current approaches in vehicle design & traffic control.

The devil is in the details, to be sure, but properly implemented, regardless of system type (electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic), recovering kinetic energy to slow the vehicle is a highly desireable, intelligent approach to increasing the efficiency of the world's transportation systems.

Dutch bus with in-wheel motors gets 50% better fuel economy:

50% fuel savings in Canadian test of hybrid rail engine in swither duty:

Hybrids are nothing more then "liberal moral vanity". All part of the eco-kook carbon-con.

It's pure engineering and bottom-line financial accounting, not eco-anything. Eco is just a perk, if it happens.

Too bad you apparently weren't given the opportunity to study Newtonian physics at your school. You might get it if you had.

I don't understand why you would test a hybrid on a long distance drive; makes no sense.

Let's compare GHG emissions**:
2009 Silverado Hybrid - 8.7 tons
2009 toyota prius - 4.0 tons
2009 Siverado XFE using Biomass Sugar Ethanol (available in multiple places around the country) - 2.38 tons
2009 Silverado XFE using Cellulosic Ethanol (soon to be available in CA, OR, FL, etc) - 0.43 to 1.51 tons

Why are we wasting our money and tearing down mountains for hybrids?

** 15,000 miles per year, using

We shouldn't drive cars at all! If God wanted us to drive, he'd've given us wheels!
Check it:

Even a doo doo realizes you don't buy a hybrid if what you intend to do is tow. The towing capability is there if you need it, but the hybrids primary purpose is better city mileage. Anytime you tie a 3300 lb anchor to the back of a truck, count on significant reduced mileage. How about throwing a big family into a Prius and see what it does to the mileage, that is if it will pull the hills. Good Gawd, will the press stop at nothing when it comes to slamming GM and the American auto industry, I think not.

It is not the answer because nobody is going to drive a city bus around to haul or tow. I don't get the comparison of a bus to a pickup truck. One has nothing to do with the other.

If you want to buy a hybrid, fine, but don't buy one because you think you're going to save the planet or save money. We already know the towing/hauling capacity is decreased in a hybrid. So there is no benefit there either.

Some people say people who make the city bus comparison to a pickup truck are very short sighted. What does a big city bus have to do with a pickup truck? A city bus costs $250,000 to $280,000. That would buy a lot of fuel, don't you think? How is that saving money? Can you imagine parking that thing or using it as a daily driver. LOL.

Show us a hybrid pickup that saves money not just fuel, doesn't go for a premium, doesn't exist just because it is subsidized by the taxpayers who are being fleeced (by the likes of GM asking for $2.6 billion to build hybrids) and doesn't limit capacity towing, cargo, hauling or otherwise.

Until then it is just another pie in the sky idea, whether you find merit in environmental causes or not, it is all about fleecing the tax payer and expanding government control. It's not the cause that's evil, except that it's being hugely manipulated for personal and state gain by lobbyists and politicians.

Stop the "bickering" & put your energy into getting the Feds to man-up & give this country a comprehensive-energy policy... When we build from that base, then Everybody wins!

The main point of bringing up the hybrid city bus is that in the right circumstances and correctly implemented, the use of electric-hybrid technology actually works out in terms of the bottom-line, real-world economics. The reduction in pollution is a welcome by-product. Using any form of technology to recapture energy that would otherwise be lost, if it reduces operating costs overall and pencils out to be a net savings in real-world operations, is wise to do.

The two lesser points are:
1) Maybe Chevy didn't get it right this time, but with practice they will. It takes time and a few iterations to introduce new technologies and hone them to perfection.
2) I wouldn't use a hybrid truck as they exist today if I always carried heavy loads in the bed or did any towing. But if I used it for lighter duty in the city (parts-chaser, etc) it might be a decent application of the technology as it exists today.

You don't like the Chevy hybrid truck? Fine, it's a free country, don't buy one. But don't make out like you're the global expert on everyone elses' real-world applications, because there might well be situations out there where that truck makes economic sense. Look at the big picture folks, not just your own narrow experiences or viewpoints.

I'm Mr. narrow experiences and anyone who would spend that kind of money on the Silverado hybrid is crazy! I could buy a heck of a lot more truck for the money than this electric hybrid that gets no better gas mileage with no power pulling on the hwy.
GM is messing around with the wrong technology and therefore once June 1st rolls around, will be dealt their fate - some form of bankruptcy. I hate to say it, but GM sealed their fate in the 80's building crappy vehicles all across the board and has not recovered since. Way too many upper mgmt. people making 100's of thousand of dollars not doing a damn thing. And this is from a person who worked for GM for 6 years making 9 bucks per hour doing 2 1/2 people's jobs for over 2 of those 6 years and what did I get - a severance pkg. when they closed our office.

keep thinking it through because you don't know what you're talking about. what was done with a gigantic city bus is no comparison to a pickup truck.

i think the silverado is the best hybrid out there execept for the tahoe hybrid

I think a lot of the people are missing the point of a hybrid. It isn't strictly about saving money. The development of the technology is to make the trucks less environmentally harmful. Burns a lot less fuel in stop and go driving. Gas engine stops running when the vehicle isn't moving. Think of the emissions savings while going through a drive thru. No manufacturer is telling you that these vehicles are better than the gas or diesel versions for towing. These will work well for someone who drives a lot, hauls relatively light loads, and tows occasionally. The beauty of a crewcab pickup is that it can do everything. Its a jack of all trades. The biggest downside has been how gas guzzling and polluting they are. These type of trucks are addressing that issue. Instead of hating on the technology, we should be supporting it. I for one plan on this being my next truck.

I think the Silverado Hybrid is an excellent choice for someone with plenty of money that doesn't need a truck.

Very informative post. Chevrolet Silverado is a hybrid truck. In terms of feature its very nice like 6.0 liter V-8 engine pumping out 332 bhp at 367 lb-ft of torque. Some of the accessories include, a navigation system, rear-backup camera, brand new updated Bose audio system, fog-lamps, power-adjustable pedals and an auto-dimming mirror. For more details refer

Bye bye GM!

Should have been a light duty diesel. Much cheaper & better mileage.

The transmission was a joint venture between GM, BMW, and Mercedes, and like a German engineered piece of equipment it is very expensive and complicated. Note, BMW, and Mercedes use the two mode soon but have plans to abandon it after the X-6 and Mercedes' S-hybrid. This was supposed to "leapfrog Toyota" however Chevy still hasn't gotten their FWD version really out their since canceling Saturn Vue two-mode.

Bob Lutz thinks environmentalists only buy hybrids and its all for image since he thinks they cost too much. Yes they cost too much for Chevy to make, but not for Toyota. Chevy price premium is some $12,000 while Toyota is some $3,000 (Camry to Camry hybrid price difference)

Once again Chevy can't compete with Toyota. Time to build a new car company? Saturn is dead and "new GM," well time will tell. The volt is 7 times more investment than two-mode so lets see them bet the farm on this means they can actually sell them to customers. Lofty claims of 230 mpg, yet in charge sustaining mode its only getting 40 mpg.

I bought mine for me for christmas 2009 , and love it. My wife has an avalanche which has more toys . The thing I would change is the chincy tonnoe cover. I really like my wifes. Plus she has heated seats. AND the four wheel drive will pull a ford 2500 out of the bush, I KNOW.

diesel STINKS and is noisy

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