SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS?The full-size truck segment has always been a close race, but it?s one where the Chevrolet Silverado has lagged, saddled with an older design and woefully dated interior.
There?s an all-new Silverado for 2014, and it?s very good.
The truck is not leaving everything else behind in its wake, but it has re-established itself as a serious contender.
The GMC Sierra is completely updated, and, as before, is the mechanical twin to the Silverado.
I only drove the Chevy on this event, primarily because, in the U.S., it outsells the GMC by about 10 to one. In Canada, sales are split almost equally.
The three engines have the same displacements as before ? 4.3 L V6, 5.3 L V8, and 6.2 L V8 ? but they?re completely new. GM calls them EcoTec3, for the three fuel-saving technologies in each: direct gasoline injection; variable valve timing, and cylinder deactivation. When you don?t need full power, all of them will revert to four-cylinder operation.
That?s often seen on V8s, but it?s rare on a six-cylinder. The transition is absolutely seamless, and the only way you can tell is by the readout in the instrument cluster. All engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
The 5.3 L goes on sale first, followed by the V6 later in the summer, and the 6.2 L later this year. Base V6 prices are $25,540 for regular cab, $29,435 for double cab, and $30,995 for crew cab. Add $1,125 for the 5.3 L V8.
At first glance, the new truck doesn?t look radically different from the old one, but the changes are there. These include a more sculpted hood and sides, doors that are flush with the body instead of extending into the roof and a damped tailgate that doesn?t bang down when it?s opened.
On the double cab, the rear doors are now hinged at the front, not at the rear. You no longer need to open the front doors before the rear ones will open. Having that centre pillar makes the cab stronger, but you also lose the old design?s unobstructed entry for the easier loading of cargo.
Crew cab trucks are available with a 6-foot-6 box, along with the previous 5-foot-8. To make it easier to climb into the bed, almost all models come with a step inside the bumper and a hand-hold in the box rail.
Simply making everything smaller could accomplish the same thing; trucks are needlessly oversized, and the Silverado doesn?t deviate from the industry norm. Instead, Chevrolet plans to reintroduce the compact Colorado to fill the niche.
The manufacturer gave some serious thought to the issue of access. The biggest problem with most of these bloated beasts is that even taller drivers have to climb up or slide out. Instead, the Silverado has a lower ?hip point? on the seat, which makes it much easier to get in and out.
Corporate cash has finally been funnelled into the interior, and it shows. Even the base LT includes soft-touch materials and tight panel gaps.
In the higher levels, you can get such things as heated and cooled seats, a heated steering wheel (surely the greatest option ever), five USB ports, and a MyLink connectivity screen. An optional forward-collision-and-lane-departure system warns you of these events by vibrating the seat, a system first offered by Cadillac.
You?ll also be able to get the ?ber-luxury High Country model, intended to compete with Ford?s King Ranch and Ram?s Longhorn. GMC always had the top-line Denali, but this is the first time Chevy has moved into upper-level territory.
On the road, the Silverado is nicely planted and a pleasure to drive. The new electric power steering adjusts continuously, with you need less effort needed during low-speed manoeuvres, and tighter handling on the highway. Overall, the truck feels more responsive than before.
What you really notice is how quiet it is. At one point, I towed an empty horse trailer along a rough road. These things rattle even on smooth pavement, and, with the window open, it was in full song. When I closed the window, it disappeared. Noise simply doesn?t get in.
Both the 5.3 L and V6 tow and haul well. They supply flat, confident handling and there?s no floating at the front end, but Ford may still have the upper hand. Its 3.5 L EcoBoost V6 makes more torque, and does it sooner, than Chevy?s V8: 420 lb.-ft. at 2,500 r.p.m. for the Ford, versus 383 at 4,100 r.p.m. for the 5.3 L.
That low-end power gives the F-150 more of an edge when you are starting out with a heavy load. Ram also tops the Chevy: its 5.7 L V8 produces 407 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,950 r.p.m.
Ford also claims a class-leading towing capacity of 11,300 lb. with the EcoBoost, but Chevy?s 6.2 L will come with a maximum of 11,500 lb. when it?s released.
Towing is an important use for trucks, but it?s not the only one: as far as drivers are concerned, it?s possibly the most diverse segment in the auto industry. Drivers range from those who do heavy-duty work to those who never carry anything heavier than the weekly groceries.
It can also be an intensely loyal segment. Chevy fans thinking of trading in their old trucks are in for a treat. New models always come with improvements over the old one.
This one is a major leap ahead.
Transportation for freelance writer Jil McIntosh was provided by the manufacturer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2014 Chevrolet Silverado
PRICE: $25,540 to $30,995 (V6)
ENGINE: 4.3 L V6; 5.3 L V8; 6.2 L V8
POWER/TOURQUE: 285 hp/305 lb.-ft. (V6); 355/383 (5.3 L); TBA (6.2 L V8)
FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: 13 city, 8.7 hwy (5.3 L 2WD)
COMPETITION: Ford F-150, Nissan Titan, Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra
WHAT?S BEST: Improved interior, quiet cabin, seat access, confident handling.
WHAT?S WORST: Catches its rivals but doesn?t eclipse them.
WHAT?S INTERESTING: The last makeover was in 2007.
- 2014 Chevrolet Silverado - photo by Jil McIntosh