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First drive: 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 2.7L Turbo

by Byron Hurd

We get time with Chevy's new four-cylinder half-ton.

Whether you refer to it as down-sizing, right-sizing or, simply, an over-complicated boondoggle, the move to smaller and often turbocharged engines has taken root in just about every nook and cranny of the automotive industry.

Bigger vehicles have been among the last to cave, unsurprisingly, but after Ford led the charge with the introduction of its EcoBoost lineup, it was only a matter of time before the rest of the segment fell into the same orbit.

The new solutions

Previously, buyers who wanted a pickup truck with better fuel efficiency simply purchased a smaller truck. When the last-generation Ford Ranger was killed off, those options died with it. The midsize Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier may have been smaller than their half-ton cousins, but fuel-sippers? Even in relative terms, not so much.

The midsize truck segment has grown in the intervening years, but the small pickup segment remains empty. Small engines, however, have begun to surface. Ford's EcoBoost V6 has been available in a 2.7-liter flavor in the F-150 for years. The midsize Chevrolet Colorado is available with a 2.8-liter diesel.

Not content to simply offer its smaller oil-burner in its smaller pickup, GM has decided to leapfrog the industry by making a 2.7-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder the standard engine in the volume trim for its half-ton Chevrolet Silverado (and its GMC Sierra twin).

The base

Yes, GM is going out on a bit of a limb here. A four-cylinder engine in a half-ton pickup is not exactly the beaten path. Making it the default option for its most popular configurations ups GM's game significantly.

The new four-pot makes 310 horsepower and 348 lb-ft of torque. It's mated to GM's eight-speed transmission and in base configuration, this combo is EPA-certified at 20 MPG city and 23 highway.

For a half-ton, those numbers aren't bad. Keep in mind that the alternative engines for the LT and RST are the 5.3L V8 (16 city/23 highway) and an all-new, 3.0L turbodiesel (TBD), either of which will add a good amount to the price tag.

The position

This is where things get a bit murky. When the diesel lands, it will bring the total number of engines available in the Silverado to six. That's the most available in any half-ton. The Ram 1500 is currently offered with three (though more options are expected); the Ford F-150 is offered with five (bearing in mind that the 3.5L is offered in two different tunes). Toyota Tundra is available with two; Nissan Titan is also, ostensibly, though until we actually get our hands on a V6, it's effectively a one-engine truck.

So, let's forget the Japanese offerings; there's just no way to line them up. That leaves Ford and Ram. Depending on how you configure them, Ford's base 3.3-liter V6 and its 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 are both ostensibly competitors. On the Ram front, you're looking at the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with its standard eTorque.

There are few surprises here. GM's four-cylinder compares favorably to the 3.3-liter Ford V6, which produces just 290 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque, but not so well to the 2.7--liter EcoBoost V6, which puts out 325 horsepower and 400 lb-ft. GM ducks the latter comparison by pointing out that its four-cylinder is a standard engine on otherwise equivalent trims where Ford's boosted V6 is optional. We leave it up to you to decide whether that particular nitpick is valid.

As for Ram, the eTorque Pentastar's 305 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque sort of split the difference. It's heavier, between the larger V6 engine and the eTorque 48V mild-hybrid system, but the whole point of eTorque is to add torque at low speeds (where the truck's extra weight most impacts fuel economy), so it's kind of a wash.

Chevrolet brought both a Ford F-150 with the 3.3-liter V6 and a Ram 1500 with the eTorque V6 for us to sample back-to-back, which we'll touch on shortly.

The experience

We can debate the numbers for eternity, but what really matters to truck buyers is whether the new 2.7-liter four provides the sort of driving experience they expect in a mid-trim pickup truck. To give us the opportunity to find out, Chevy invited us to Phoenix, Arizona, and sent us off into the mountains.

Our route took us out of town on AZ-87 into the Tonto National Forest, which pretty much immediately had us climbing some decent grades and putting the 2.7 and its eight-speed transmission to work. This was bad news for the fuel economy, which teetered on just the 18-mile-per-gallon mark, but it handled the run up the mountain just fine.

From there, we turned south on AZ-188 toward Tonto Basin and Theodore Roosevelt Lake. This narrower, slower road gave us a chance to push the Silverado a bit in the turns, which it handled admirably. Our fuel economy ticked back up above 20 MPG here until we began the climb back out of the basin toward Claypool, which was a series of steep grades and winding canyons.

From Claypool, we followed US-60 west back toward the Phoenix. Near Claypool, this route starts off as a winding, narrow, downhill canyon run with low speed limits and little room for error. We tested out the cruise control on this stretch to see how well it could rein in the Silverado's speeds in steeper downhill sections, and unfortunately the little 2.7 just doesn't have the ability to get it done on compression braking alone. While using cruise control it would not automatically down-shift enough to keep its speed in check without braking.

As US-60 flattened out closer to town, we noted how effortlessly the Silverado tracked on flat highway--a testament to its tire and suspension tuning--and how genuinely quiet and comfortable it was. We were also reminded of its somewhat disappointing (though feature-rich) interior.

This was our first chance to sample a "lower" trim interior, and we noted that it essentially looked the same as it did in any other example save the High Country. While that may flatter the LT, it's not such great news for the intermediate trims between it and the aforementioned range-topper. We still question Chevy's choice to carry over the design from the outgoing model year.

The competition

When we arrived back at our hotel, we jumped into the Ford F-150 provided by Chevy for comparison. Around town, we actually noticed very little difference between the 3.3-liter six and Chevy's 2.7-liter four, which is mostly good news for GM (though we're certain they'd love to hear us gush about its torque advantage).

That said, the Chevy's brakes are far more confidence-inspiring than the Ford's. The F-150's right pedal was softer and required a good deal more travel to do the same amount of stopping. In addition, the Silverado's interior, for being a disappointing carry-over in a vacuum, holds up just fine against the lower-trim Ford's in terms of materials and design. The latter's tiny screen and overwhelming assortment of buttons and switches aren't easy on the eyes.

The Ram 1500 drove a bit bigger and heavier than either the Ford or the Chevy, but had better braking response than the Ford and a more attractive interior than either. It's also the beauty of the group, with Chevy's front end doing it no favors and Ford starting to look like the part of the (comparatively, mind you) dated one in the pack.

It's difficult to declare an absolute winner or loser here, given the narrow scope of comparison, but it's not really necessary to do so. Chevrolet doesn't need the 2.7-liter Silverado to be the objectively (or subjectively) "best" truck of the three; it need only do the job well and without fuss, which it does.

Leftlane's bottom line

The 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 is a great truck, and the 2.7-liter engine is an excellent addition to the lineup. If this is the future of half-ton powertrains, we're on board.

2019 Chevrolet Silverado LT 4WD Double Cab base price, $40,200; as-tested, $44,900

All Star Edition package, $2,815; Safety Package I, $890; Destination, $1,495

Some exterior photography and all interior photography courtesy of Chevrolet. On-location exterior photos by the author.