published Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

Test Drive: New Chevy Silverado is both rugged and refined

Our Silverado 1500 test vehicle came equipped with a popular 5.3-liter V-8, which Chevrolet expects to be its volume leader in the lineup.
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
Our Silverado 1500 test vehicle came equipped with a popular 5.3-liter V-8, which Chevrolet expects to be its volume leader in the lineup. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

* Model: 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT Crew Cab

* Exterior color: Silver Ice Metallic

* Interior color: Jet Black

* Engine: 5.3 liter, V-8

* Horsepower: 355

* Transmission: six-speed, automatic

* Fuel economy: 23 mpg highway, 18 mpg city

* Dealer: Walter Jackson Chevrolet, Ringgold, Ga.

* Price (as tested): $44,530

Sales of full-size trucks are a good proxy for the health of the U.S economy.

In 2005, at the height of the housing boom, Chevrolet sold more than 700,000 of its full-size Silverados. Then in 2009, with the economy sinking and the construction industry stalled, sales dropped to 316,000 units, before trending higher again in recent years.

The arrival of a redesigned Silverado this month, coupled with already strong truck sales -- Chevy says sales were up 23 percent year-to-date even before the new truck arrived -- hint at a spectacular 2013.

Bob Lollar, sales manager at Walter Jackson Chevrolet in Ringgold, Ga., said he has already had "50 to 60" calls from customers eager to know then the new 2014 Silverados are going to arrive. Typically, Silverados account for about half his dealership's sales volume, he said. Earlier this week he had three on the ground.

We nabbed a 2014 Silverado 1500 four-wheel-drive, crew cab for our test drive this week, and it looks like the bow-tie folks have a winner on their hands. This is the first complete redesign of the Silverado since 2006, so much is riding on this vehicle.

STYLING AND FEATURES

The official 2014 Silverado brochure says "from hood to hitch, everything's changed." Maybe so, but it's still basically wrapped in the skin of rugged work truck. Chevy truck aficionados may notice the squared-off wheel arches and more angular grille of the 2014 model, but the main design function of a full-size truck is to convey a sense of mass, and the new Siverado delivers.

Chevy says the Silverado's fenders have been sculpted outward to minimize paint chips from flying stones. Air deflectors around the front and rear tires and a new tailgate spoiler contribute to better aerodynamics and dampen wind buffeting.

Our test truck featured Silver Ice Metallic exterior paint and a Jet Black interior with leather seating surfaces. In crew cab configuration, the Silverado 1500 has ample seating for five, including class-leading knee room in the back seat. Even with the front seats fully pushed back, rear-seat occupants have 12 inches of leg room, Lollar said.

A center floor console offers tons of storage, as do upper and lower glove boxes. Our test truck also comes with a power sliding rear window, part of the $785 LT Plus package which also includes a universal garage door remote, rear park assist and power adjustable pedals.

Our test truck also featured an All-Star Edition package that adds 18-inch machined aluminum wheels, power seats, remote start and GM's Mylink audio system mated to an 8-inch color touch screen.

There are all kinds of thoughtful new details on the Silverado, including a corner-step built into the rear bumper and hand notches to make bed access easier. New, wheel-well insulation adds to the overall quietness and durability of the truck.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The new Silverado comes in three engine variations, with the 5.3 liter V-8 Ecotec3 expected to be the volume leader. The engine makes 355 horsepower, but yet returns 23 miles per gallon highway, a potent mix meant to battle Ford's efficient and powerful EcoBoost turbocharged V-6s.

The Silverado line also includes a naturally aspirated 4.3-liter V-6 and a 6.2-liter V-8, although those two powerplants won't be available until later this year.

On our test drive on Interstate 75, the Silverado lived up to its billing as one of the quietest full-size trucks ever built. The 5.3 liter V-8 in our tester includes direct fuel injection and active fuel management, and can tow up to 11,500 pounds. While cruising, the Silverado senses load and throttle demand and dials back to as few as four cylinders for maximum fuel efficiency.

A new electronic rack and pinion steering system works flawlessly. Our four-wheel-drive test model also came with the optional Z71 off-road package, which includes underbody protection, a high capacity air cleaner and heavy-duty shocks.

BOTTOM LINE

Today's truck buyers are looking for value: a combination of durability, features and fuel economy wrapped in an affordable package. Our test truck, which contains several premium packages, stickers for $44,530 and features class-leading V-8 fuel economy. GM has also just announced two-year (or 24,000-mile) free maintenance on its 2014 vehicles, a nice selling point.

Will the General ever sell 700,000 Silverados a year again? After driving the new truck, I wouldn't bet against it.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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