By Andrew Ganz
Wednesday, Mar 11th, 2009 @ 5:56 pm
 
Ford's F-Series might have bragging rights as the best-selling single vehicle in the United States, but crosstown rival General Motors' nearly identical Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra really hold the sales leader crown. Combined, Chevrolet and GMC sold more than 633,000 full-size trucks in the Fifty Nifty last year - but with a new Dodge Ram and a new F-150 on the market, the General's twins have reason to be more than a little concerned.

After recently pulling together a new Ram and F-150 for a comparison test, we proclaimed the Ram to be the best high-end pickup for consumers, even though the margin of victory was quite small. But if January and February sales figures are any indication, neither the Ram nor the F-150 will have quite what it takes to unseat the Silverado and Sierra combination.

What is it?
We decided to take a look at the half-ton Silverado 1500 4WD with its top-shelf 6.2-liter V8. The new-for-2009 engine is E85-capable and comes paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Only available on crew cabs, the 403-horse V8 is aimed at users who regularly tow and haul.

The GMT900 Silverado, as it's known to truck nuts, was introduced for 2007, so it's hardly a dated vehicle - even if the competition is newer. At its introduction, it set the standard for interior comfort and luxury, but with vast improvements made to its domestic competitors, we were anxious to see how well the design is holding up.

What's it up against?
Obviously, Chevrolet's cross-town rivals, Dodge and Ford, are the key competitors. Dodge offers the Ram with a 390-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V8, while Ford's 310-horsepower 5.4-liter V8, as we noted in the comparison, is a bit behind the times.

Toyota's 381-horse Tundra
and Nissan's 317-horse Titan round out the list for full size pickup truck shoppers.

Any breakthroughs?
The 6.2-liter V8 is the headliner here. Not only is it the only half-ton truck with over 400 horsepower on the market, but its 417 lb-ft. of torque bests the Ram's 410 lb-ft., giving the Silverado serious bragging rights.

Fortunately, drivers will have plenty of opportunities to talk to other pickup drivers at gas stations as this most powerful Silverado is rated at a painful 12 mpg around town. Its more impressive 19 mpg on the highway bests all of the competition, however.

For 2009, Chevrolet saw fit to offer a new set of chrome 20-inch wheels as an option on our top-shelf LTZ. This alone should say enough about the way most buyers will wind up using these trucks.

How does it look?
There's a simple elegance to the Silverado's cleanly-chisled lines. Though not as rakish and aggressive as the Ram, the GM truck seems more cohesive overall than the F-150, at least to our eyes. A wide and relatively short front grille features an oversized Chevrolet badge and a slightly fussy lower spoiler, but those demerits are offset by the nice "power bulge" atop the Silverado's big hood.

Flared fenders both front and rear should appeal to truck buyers, though the seem somewhat at odds with the shiny 20-inch chrome wheels lurking in their massive wells.

Though no doubt bound to be popular with many buyers, we can't help but question what they're doing on a truck - let alone Chevy's hauler. They're a $745 option we'd gladly avoid.

To us, the Sierra is a bit simpler and thus more attractive, but the differences are mainly relegated to the nose and badging.

And on the inside?
The availability of a snazzy chrome wheel option start to make more sense when you climb inside the Silverado (which needs a grab handle on the A-pillar, by the way). Classic and elegant, the Silverado's interior is light on trendy chrome and silver-painted plastic. It's a design that will age well, even if it's a little conservative for some buyers today.

Faux wood trim has its supporters and its critics, but in our eyes, it works quite well here by creating an upscale atmosphere befitting the Silverado's price of admission. Materials generally best the F-150 by a wide margin, though a hard upper dash means the Silverado doesn't quite match the Ram for overall ambience.

Generic GM switchgear abounds, though at least the Silverado showcases some of the best the General has to offer, aside from a slow, low-resolution navigation system that's at least a generation behind what GM's Motown rivals have to offer. The steering wheel is straight out of the Impala, but it's wrapped in nice leather and has a terrific button layout, so we'll forgive this gaffe. GM needs more steering wheel designs. Now.

The Silverado's front bucket seats are more comfortable than those you'll find in the F-150, though the leather quality isn't quite up to par. It's certainly a step above the vinyl-with-a-touch-of-leather Dodge slaps in the Ram, however.

In back, the Silverado employs a simple "push up on the seat bottom" tactic for folding its rear seats for more luggage space. It works wonderfully and, with especially wide rear doors, our test truck proved a useful lugging tool on a rainy shopping trip to the hardware store.

LTZ trim includes a Bose audio system that presents sharp, clear sound and tight bass. It's not boomy like Ford's premium system, nor is it tinny like Dodge's.

Out back the bed is pretty much standard truck fare, though the optional "EZ Lift" tailgate is a must-have option for just $190 as part of the LTZ Plus package (which also includes rain sensitive wipers and a tailgate lock).

But does it go?
By offering more than 400 horsepower and a designated 2WD mode, the Silverado practically begged us to light up its rear tires. It mostly succeeded, but where the 6.2-liter V8 really excels is in the mid-range. The V8's torque peaks at a fairly low 4,300 rpm and the six-speed's nicely spaced gears meant there was never a shortage of power, even when towing a 4,500 lb. trailer around town. The Silverado can haul up to 10,400 lbs. in this configuration, according to GM.

The V8 is as smooth as we've come to expect from General Motors; if there's one thing the Detroit automaker knows how to do, it's create a smooth and powerful V8. GM's new Hydramatic six-speed slurps its way through the gears and always seems to be in the right place, especially when in tow/haul mode. The transmission seems perfectly matched to this application, delivering soft and unobtrusive shifts fitting for a big truck.

Silverado feels a bit outdated when it comes to tugging the steering wheel. The steering is vague like you'd expect from a truck, though there wasn't as much play to the tiller as we noticed in the Ram. Still, effort is perfect for a hauler and it proved a dead-accurate highway cruiser.

Though its structure isn't quite as solid as the F-150's, the Silverado feels pretty much on par with the Ram. Only minor body drumming is evident over pockmarked pavement and over undulating terrain, the cabin emitted not a squeak or groan, even in our fairly high-mileage press fleet vehicle.

We've stressed our dislike for the dubs that the Silverado wears, but nowhere is their pointlessness more evident than in the ride. We've driven enough Silverados with 18-inchers to know that they give it a composed, plush ride fitting with a pickup. The 20s don't offer any handling advantage; instead, they detract from the ride quality.

The Goodyear tires mounted on the 20s did offer reasonable traction. Locked into four-wheel-drive (a flexible automatic all-wheel-drive-style mode is available here, unlike the F-150), the Silverado shrugged off any obstacles on our slippery off road course. Like any other full size pickup, the Silverado is too big to be useful on most trails, but it'll bound across a field with no difficulty. We did snag the front lip spoiler on a few hills, however. It appeared to be easily removable, though to keep GM happy, we kept it on.

We averaged about 14 mpg in mixed driving, about what the EPA suggests. On the highway, we saw as high as 20 mpg, but around town we couldn't keep the Silverado above 12 mpg. Skip the 6.2 if you're a city dweller and you don't tow. Actually, you ought to question why you're interested in any pickup if you're not a regular hauler.

Why you would buy it:
Towing, towing, towing. The Silverado's new 6.2-liter V8 makes it king of the hill.

Why you wouldn't:
You're not satisfied with yesterday's design - or the GMC dealership is closer to your house.

Leftlane's bottom line
Had we included the Silverado in our comparison, it wouldn't have beaten the Dodge for everyday livability, but it would have made for a tight second place race. There's no arguing with the Silverado's impressive basic package or its class-leading powertrain: This engine and transmission combination is as good as it gets in a pickup, allowing us to mostly overlook some of the Silverado's deficits, namely a too-stiff ride, weak handling and some subpar switchgear.

2009 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 4WD Crew Cab LTZ base price, $40,025. As tested, $46,825.
LTZ Plus package, $190; Navigation, $2,250; 20-inch wheels, $745; 6.2-liter V8, $1,000; Sunroof, $995; Power sliding rear window, $250; Trailer brake controller, $200; Cargo management system, $195; 3.42 rear axle, NC; Destination, $975.

Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.