FIFTH PLACE: Chevy Silverado Hybrid
This is the first semi-hybrid fullsize pickup offered to consumers. Its claim to fame is an increase in fuel economy of up to 10 percent. This increase is due to the hybrid's ability to automatically stop and restart the 5.3L gasoline engine to conserve fuel. It does this by utilizing a compact 14-kw electric induction motor, or starter/generator, that is integrated between the engine and transmission. The starter/generator provides fast, quiet starting power and allows automatic engine stops/starts. It also smooths out any driveline surges; generates electrical current to charge the batteries (located under the rear seats) and runs the auxiliary power outlets located in the bed; and provides coast-down regenerative braking as an aid to fuel economy.
Simply put, the gasoline engine shuts off when the vehicle's speed drops below 13 mph. As long as the vehicle is in Drive and the driver's foot rests on the brake, the engine remains off. As soon as the brake is released, the engine restarts and runs normally.
Almost every tester commented on the Silverado's superior visibility. Off-highway, this trait was worth its weight in gold, as trail obstacles were easily seen and identified without wriggling around in the driver seat for a better view. In many ways, this made the truck seem smaller than it really is.
The ride quality of the Silverado was the subject of many notations, and it was often referred to as "marshmallow," and "Cadillac." Clearly, this truck offered the smoothest ride of the group, even at speed on gnarly, rock-strewn trails.
The Silverado gathered a fair number of points in a couple of other areas, too. Steering was one, thanks to a system that required very little effort and returned good response. Another was seating. Testers felt that the seats offered a great cross between sport and luxury.
Everybody complained about the brakes. "Squishy" and "soft" were two of the oft-uttered words to describe their feel. During brake testing at the dragstrip, the driver noted that the pedal went to the floor during 60-0 braking. While this certainly is an unnerving phenomenon, it's interesting to note that the Silverado's braking times were middle-of-the-pack.
We were disappointed that the hybrid system deactivates when four-wheel drive is selected. No saving gas on the trail, it seems. We were surprised that occasionally the Silverado exhibited no hill-holding capacity like a normal automatic transmission-equipped vehicle. Occasionally, the truck would roll backwards until the accelerator was pressed.
Other gripes: Off-highway, the suspension routinely blew through its travel and knocked against the bumpstops; overall fit and finish was borderline; the clamshell extended-cab doors rattled on rough roads; there was absolutely no underbody protection; approach angle was poor; and the street tires are prone to trail damage.
Chevy is offering a special Power Pack Savings of over $2,000 on the Silverado Hybrid, which essentially prices the hybrid package at approximately $500. To us, this seems like a screaming deal for the latest in semi-hybrid technology. Much like the '04 GMC Sierra that won our '03 Pickup Truck of the Year competition, the Silverado Hybrid proved that it could handle a wide variety of tasks comfortably and competently. The difference between then and now is that our '03 tester had four-wheel steering, among other things, and this year's entrant was pitted against some very tough new competition.
"The Silverado drives like a Buick with a bed on the back."
"The hybrid system has no effect on the Silverado's off-highway capability, because it shuts off in four-wheel drive."