Chevy Ups Its Truck Game
Just days before we arrived at San Antonio’s Knibbe Ranch to drive the all-new 2014 Chevy Silverado, the mainstream media was full of news about economic recovery and how it is propelling new truck sales to prerecession levels. There’s no doubt that a newly flush economy will help move these trucks off showroom floors. Not that they’ll need much help. The ’14 Silverado is a well-crafted, impressively engineered, excellent driving truck. It is improved over the previous GMT900 generation in just about every way. It is not perfect, but it should do more than hold its own against its Blue Oval and ram’s-horn-wearing competitors, despite the fact that they, too, have revised truck products to sell—or will very soon in Ford’s case.
We sampled pickups with two of the three new EcoTec3 engines available in the Silverado lineup: the base 4.3L V-6 and 5.3L V-8. (The range-topping 6.2L V-8 won’t be available for us to drive until later in the year.) All of these engines are fitted with three technologies aimed at improving fuel economy (which is where the 3 in the EcoTec3 name comes from): direct fuel injection, continuously variable valve timing, and active fuel management, better known as cylinder deactivation.
Our time in a V-6 Silverado was on the pavement (and in a 2WD truck), but we soon recognized this was no wheezy, penalty-box six. It is a willing motor, the 305 lb-ft of torque providing quick acceleration away from stoplights. And with 285 hp it has a reasonable amount of guts for passing on the highway. An indicator light in the driver’s information center tells you when the engine is firing on all six or whether, under light loads, it has cut back to four to sip gas. That’s the only way you can tell the cylinder deactivation is working; otherwise the transitions are transparent. (The same held true with the 5.3L-powered trucks we drove.)
The V-8 also proved to be a pliant engine, delivering 383 lb-ft at 4,100 rpm and 355 hp at 5,600 rpm. The Hydramatic 6L80 six-speed automatic that backs both of these engines is programmed to upshift at about 5,500 rpm when the pedal is on the floor, making best use of the power on tap. On paper we’d like to see the torque peak lower in the rev range, but on the off-road course at the Knibbe Ranch we were never wanting for grunt.
The new 2014 Chevy Silverado’s body and chassis have been stiffened, making the truck feel more solid both on the road and off. There are few creaks and groans as the suspension works over uneven terrain. “Z71” still means off-road equipment—Rancho monotube shocks, transfer-case skidplating, front tow hooks, and 17-inch wheels on all-terrain tires—though now it is a distinct model, not just an option package. The Z71 suspension works very well, its shocks absorbing ruts and rocks without badly unsettling the ride. “One and done” is how a chassis engineer described the desired compression/rebound action over rough ground, and the truck for the most part hit the target.
The Z71 package also includes a hill descent control system that, frankly, we couldn’t master. It either worked too well, holding the truck to a speed far lower than we wanted, or it took too long to engage, resulting in some too-quick initial drops over hillsides. Old-fashioned foot-operated brake modulation worked just fine.
Another quirk we found off-road: Your butt will buzz often if the sensitivity setting in the forward collision alert system is dialed to the max and you’re driving a truck equipped with the optional Safety Alert seat. The forward-facing camera at the heart of the collision system is doing too good a job, reading uneven terrain as an accident waiting to happen. You can dial the sensitivity down or turn the system off altogether to keep the seat cushion still.
Other changes Chevrolet made to the Silverado’s body structure included inlaying the doors into the body sides rather than having them overlap the roof to improve wind noise (it does). Last year’s extended cab is now called Double Cab, and it has four forward-hinged doors. Chevy also modified the crew cab body by moving the B-pillar forward 4 inches to make the rear door larger, easing access to the backseat. That it does, but (at least for the author) the change planted the B-pillar right behind my left shoulder, blocking my blind-spot view when changing lanes.
That ergonomic glitch aside (well, and the fact that the steering wheel isn’t quite centered in front of the driver), the Silverado’s redesigned interior is a competent, comfortable workspace. Full instrumentation is supplemented by a driver information center in the dash, while a giant (optional) touchscreen in the center stack controls the navigation and infotainment systems. You’ll never worry about draining a portable device’s battery in the Chevy, as the center console is home to more charging ports than we could count and plenty of cubbies and bins to hold phones and other devices.
Hard performance data and a more thorough evaluation of the new Silverado will come later when this truck competes with others in our 4x4 of the Year test, but our first impressions are positive. With a little lift from the economy, Chevy should have no problem selling thousands of these new trucks.
Model 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ Z71 Crew Cab 4x4
Base Price $43,165
Price As Tested $50,910
Options As Tested $7,745
Options LTZ Plus Package (power adjustable pedals, Bose premium audio system, front and rear park assist, heated leather steering wheel), $770; Driver Alert Package (lane-departure warning, forward collision warning, Safety Alert seat), $845; MyLink w/ navigation, $795; front bucket seats w/ driver memory, $480; heated and cooled front seats, $650; power sunroof, $995; oval chrome assist steps, $700; LED cargo box lighting, $60; upper cargo tie-downs, $60; 20-inch chrome wheels, $1,395; destination, $995
Displacement (L) 5.3
Horsepower 355 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 383 @ 4,100 rpm
Type 6-speed auto w/ tow-haul mode
Model Hydramatic 6L80
Ratios First: 4.03:1; Second: 2.36:1; Third: 1.53:1; Fourth: 1.15:1; Fifth: 0.85:1; Sixth: 0.67:1; Reverse: 3.06:1
Type 2-speed, electronically shifted
Low-Range Ratio 2.71:1
Front Unequal-length A-arms, coil springs, monotube shocks
Rear Solid axle, leaf springs, monotube shocks
Size (in) 20x9
Material Chrome aluminum
Curb Weight 5,218
Payload Capacity 1,957
Tow Capacity 9,600
Overall Length 230 (w/ 5' 8" box)
Overall Width 80
Overall Height 74
Min. Ground Clearance 8.9
EPA Est. (city/hwy) 16/22