By Andrew Ganz
Thursday, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 11:45 am
 
With all the hubbub surrounding Ford's entirely new-for-2011 powertrain lineup, we thought it was time to take another look at what was previously the most powerful V8 offered in a half-ton pickup: General Motors' 6.2-liter V8, seen here in the Chevrolet Silverado Crew Cab.

This might seem a little contrary to the fuel savings preached by automakers across the globe, but we know that many half ton buyers really could use that extra grunt for towing and hauling. Or maybe we simply like the ability to flip off traction control to burn some rubber. Yeah, that seems more likely.

What is it?
Although the Silverado is now the oldest of Detroit's three big pickups, sales are still strong enough that GM has seen fit to add another shift to the Flint, Michigan, assembly plant that built our tester.

Three cabs and three beds are available, including our tester's crew cab/short bed configuration. Ideal for buyers who want room for the whole family but the ability to haul at least reasonably large objects in an open bed, the crew cab segment has skyrocketed in popularity over the last decade as pickups have become daily drivers.

Our tester came optioned up with the $1,370 Max Trailering Package, which adds the 6.2-liter V8, a 9.5-inch rear axle with an automatic locking rear differential, heavy duty cooling, unique tires and heavy duty four-wheel disc brakes. Otherwise, the LTZ would have included a 5.3-liter V8.

What's it up against?
In the above 400 horsepower and above category, the Silverado really only squares off against the Ford F-150, which also offers a 6.2-liter V8.

If the Sierra's look isn't doing it for you, your local GMC dealer can offer up a mechanically identical GMC Sierra with the same powertrain.

Any breakthroughs?
Much like Ford's decision to make its 6.2-liter V8 available only on higher trim levels (Lariat and above, but not King Ranch), the GM unit is optional only on LTZ versions of the Silverado, plus the range-topping GMC Sierra SLT and Sierra Denali. You can also find this V8 under the hood of a Cadillac Escalade if your idea of hauling is a little different.

For the most part, the Silverado stands pat for 2011. A few tweaks reduce wind noise, while the latest version of GM's OnStar connectivity system is standard across the line. It looks like Silverado is mostly unchanged 2012, too, although a much-needed navigation system update will be available.

What's it look like?
On sale since late 2006 when it arrived as a 2007, the Silverado's look has probably become pretty familiar to you - unless you've been living under a rock or in, say, North Korea.

Clean and conservative, the Silverado eschews some of the gimmicky designs seen on rivals for a cohesive look. Although it might not be the most exciting pickup you'll find - even in Victory Red, like our tester - we bet the Silverado will age extremely well.

A wide chrome grille gives the Silverado sort of a pinched nose look compared to the taller, less chromey style seen on its Sierra sibling. But from the A-pillars back, the two are identical aside from badging.

Interestingly, our tester rode on 265/70-16 Goodyear Wrangler AT/S tires that would look more at home on a four-wheel-drive model than our 4x2 configuration. They come with the Max Trailering Package that also includes the 6.2-liter and they replace otherwise standard (on LTZ models) 18-inch chrome-clad (think a strong plastic cover over alloy) wheels.

And on the inside?
Settling into the LTZ's upmarket interior is like relaxing in your favorite recliner. Sure, it's not as trendy and flashy as some rivals, but it is mighty comfortable and convenient. Lower trim level Silverados (and Sierras) feature a unique instrument panel and different door panels, but the LTZs (and Sierra SLTs) get the same symmetrical dashboard used in the Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon.

Although the look is getting a little old, we can't argue with the simple and clean layout. Gauges are straight ahead and could be textbook examples for legibility. A four-spoke steering wheel from GM's parts bin features excellent radio controls with big, easy-to-select buttons. Dead center real estate is taken up by an intuitive navigation with audio and simple dual zone audio controls located just below. Our tester's center console offers a shallow uncovered storage bin, a pair of removable cup holders and a big storage box with a padded lid and another shallow uncovered storage bin.

With the pricey navigation system up for a 2012 reboot, the 2011's barely deserves discussion. Simple to use with a convenient option to display both audio and navigation map information at once (something forgotten on many rivals), the display is nonetheless a low-resolution reminder of how things were way back in, say, 2007. At least the Bose audio system belts out excellent sound.

The overall look is classy, even if plastic materials are generally a step below the class-leading Ram 1500. Still, every surface is low sheen and well finished and even the faux wood is quite convincing.

Our tester's leather captain's chairs were firm and supportive, albeit with less side bolstering and more lumbar than we'd like to see. As you'd expected from a range-topper, they're heated and power adjustable and the driver gets two memory settings. Row two offers acres of leg room, a flop-down arm rest and, for $1,480, a flop-down DVD screen. A family hauler indeed. The rear bench folds up for more interior cargo space, although the load floor isn't as flat as it is in an F-150.

But does it go?
As a kissing cousin to the Chevrolet Camaro SS' 6.2-liter LS3, the L92 V8 seen in the Silverado certainly has a nice pedigree. This pushrod V8 isn't that sophisticated on paper, but it does feature an all-aluminum block and variable valve timing. Rated at 403 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 417 lb-ft. of torque at 4,300 rpm, the V8 is mated exclusively to a six-speed automatic transmission with a tow/haul mode and manual gear selectability.

Despite the Silverado's roughly 5,400 lbs. curb weight for our 4x2, motivation is never a problem. This isn't an engine that loves to rev, but that's just fine because it offers a good bit of torque just after tip in. Smooth and sonorous, the V8 is certainly not short on power at any speed. We hooked up a 6,500 lbs. trailer to our tester - that's about 4,200 lbs. short of the maximum recommended - and the bright red truck barely felt like it was tugging anything. One thing we didn't test out was the payload, which tops out just short of 2,000 lbs. with the trailering package on our tester.

On the road, the Silverado offers a soft, comfortable ride. Although not as well-damped as the F-150, the Silverado feels much more lithe and lightfooted, a big aid in urban driving. Our tester's hydraulic steering was also much precise than the Ford's electronic setup. At highway speeds, the Silverado's six-speed automatic saw the 6.2-liter loping along comfortably. Crosswind stability was excellent, although the F-150's trailer sway control gives it an on-paper advantage for those who regularly tug trailers in less-than-ideal conditions.

Fuel economy likely isn't a priority if you're buying a 6.2-liter pickup, but we were pleasantly surprised with the Silverado. Lacking the ability to shut off cylinders that GM's 5.3-liter small block offers, the 6.2 nonetheless met its EPA-suggested 13/19 mpg figures. That puts it a tick above the 13/18 you'll see in the F-150.

Why you would buy it:
That big ole boat needs to get to the lake somehow.

Why you wouldn't:
You'd order your pickup without a trailer hitch if you could.

Leftlane's bottom line
Both GM and Ford acknowledge that the market for 400-plus horsepower half-ton pickups isn't huge. But despite new competition from Ford, the Chevrolet Silverado is aging quite well. A little less glitzy - and perhaps a little less gimmicky - the Silverado nonetheless manages every task with an understated sense of competency.

If you're look for big V8 grunt, you can't go wrong here.

2011 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ 2WD 6.2 Crew Cab base price, $38,625. As tested, $46,584.
Max Trailering Package, $1,370; LTZ Plus Package, $725; Navigation, $2,250; Rear DVD System, $1,480; Chrome steps, $689; Rear camera, $450; Destination, $995.

Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.