04/24/07 — Silverado moves to the head of the class

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Silverado moves to the head of the class

Chevrolet Silverado (2007)

Two hundred and thirty thousand.

That’s a lot of anything whether it’s money or marbles.

And it’s definitely a lot of pickup trucks. That number represents the loss in U.S. sales of full-sized pickups from 2005 to 2006.

Chevrolet Silverado, 2007

Pickup truck woes are perhaps the biggest news coming from the escalation in gas prices. The collapse of the sport utility market, which lost about 12 percent in ’06, was expected. And the sudden influx of small fuel-efficient cars was fairly predictable, too. What caught us by surprise was the nearly quarter-million unit decrease in full-size pickup truck sales, representing about a 10 percent year-to-year decline.

Egad.

Pickups are the country’s automotive lifeblood. They keep American industry going. They keep American weekend recreation alive. They give suburbanites the wherewithal to move fertilizer and grass seed from Lowes to their back yards. Pickups are, as Chevrolet ad people noted many years ago, as American as baseball, apple pie and the Fourth of July.

But now we’ve discovered that full-sized trucks are not immune to changing times and the price of oil. There are alternatives for buyers of large pickups and apparently nearly a quarter million elected to go with an alternative when making a purchase in 2006. Or people simply decided that their aging 1998 truck with 150,000 miles on the odometer could go another year or two.

It’s in this climate that General Motors has introduced it’s all-new Chevrolet Silverado.

It’s as good as we expected it would be. It’s a leap forward, no surprise. And we predict the Silverado and its kissing cousin, the GMC Sierra, will regain the nearly 90,000 sales they lost in 2006. Under normal circumstances we would expect this injection of new technology and styling to take the General Motors duo to new sales heights, not just recapture what was lost the year before.

But in this new world of fuel efficiency, and with Toyota predicting it will sell about 200,000 units of its new Tundra (a gain of 75,000 units over 2006), the new Silverado may be doing well just to stop the bleeding.

The Silverado impresses with its smooth and powerful performance from a selection of four engines, its refined ride quality even in its stiffest suspension setup, its precision handling characteristics thanks in part to a stiffer ladder-frame construction and new rack-and-pinion steering, its sedan-quiet cabin, its upscale interior treatment and its fresh styling that still proclaims this is a Chevrolet.

The Silverado, like the huge Suburban SUV, has retained that wonderful quality of driving much smaller than it is. Simply, it just doesn’t feel as big as other vehicles the same size.

While there are a lot of good things to write about, we are disappointed that all Silverados, regardless of engine configuration, retain the four-speed automatic transmission. The entire industry has moved on to five-and six-speed shifters. That being said, we found the four-speed very effective mated to the giant 6.0-liter V-8 in our test truck.

General Motors has a slick six speed that it uses in its upscale trucks, but officials say it will probably be 2009 before the supply of these more modern transmissions catches up with the enormous production of Silverado and Sierra pickups..

One thing that sets General Motors, Ford and Dodge apart from the Japanese competition, is a myriad of pickup configurations.

And the new Silverado is loaded with choices including three body styles — standard cab, extended cab and crew cab; four engines — a 4.3-liter V-6 generating 195 horsepower, a 4.8-liter V-8 making 295 horsepower, a 5.3-liter V-8 that will burn 85 percent ethanol generating 315 horsepower, and a 6.0-liter V-8 with 367 horsepower; three bed lengths — 5-foot-8, 6-foot-5 and 8-foot; three trim levels — work, LT (including 1LT and 2LT) and LTZ; and numerous packages including Z71 off road, and heavy-duty trailering.

Prices range from the bare bones standard cab work truck at $18,760 including destination to the top-end LTZ crew cab at $38,990.

Standard equipment on all but the work truck is generous and starting with the regular cab LT1 at $24,410 includes the amenities we expect in the 21st Century including air conditioning, power windows and locks, keyless entry, stereo with CD player and four speakers, reading lights and cruise control.

Everything from leather-clad 12-way power heated seats, a Bose audio system, navigation, rear DVD entertainment and a moonroof are available.

But trucks are still about carrying heavy loads and towing big things, even in the half-ton format, and the Silverado is the best in the industry with a maximum tow rating of 10,500 pounds and a payload of 2,160 pounds with the optional 6.0-liter engine.

We think the best engine choice is the 5.3-liter V-8 with the FlexFuel option — allowing it to run on E85 fuel — and displacement on demand that deactivates four cylinders in cruising situations.

The engine offers a great combination of fuel efficiency (EPA rated at 16 mpg city and 20 highway) and performance (0-to-60 in 8.2 seconds in crew cab configuration). And it can tow 8,600 pounds.

Our test truck was outfitted with the big daddy of the bunch, the 367-horsepower 6.0-liter V-8. The big engine is a $1,695 option that gives the Silverado outstanding capability whether in unloaded off-the-line performance (0-to-60 in 7.2 seconds) or in payload and towing.

While the driving dynamics are outstanding, we were equally enthralled by the handsome interior of the new truck where fit and finish should stifle criticism of Silverado interiors. Materials are stylish and of good quality. The full-gauge layout is easy to read and controls are intuitive.

Storage is ample including a double glove box that features the conventional lower box with a covered storage compartment above it.

A new, 40/20/40-split front bench seat, included in our test truck, comes with a large, fold-down console with integrated cupholders and 6.1 liters of storage. A locking under-seat storage bin provides another 9.1 liters of storage. Bucket seats are also offered and come with a large, covered center console and cupholders.

Our crew cab test truck carried a standard vehicle price of $32,515, but with the addition of several options including the bigger engine, off-road suspension, dual-zone climate control and remote start, came to $38,802.

The Silverado has always been a favorite with us, easy to drive with a comfortable and very livable interior. Nothing has changed in that regard, except the new edition is measurably better in virtually all areas.

Jim Meachen can be contacted at meachen@mac.com.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on April 24, 2007 10:36 AM