While Tesla and not-ready-for-prime-time autonomous cars grab most of the headlines and online vehicular debate these days, full-size pickup trucks still outsell everything else with wheels except Hot Wheels.
With full-size, light-duty pickups racking up nearly 2.4 million sales in 2017, the battle for supremacy in both the highest volume and the largest financially rewarding American vehicle segment is critical to any automaker choosing to compete.
Partly because of that, the refresh rate on pickups in the last several years has been torrid. The all-new 2019 Ram 1500 debuted last fall, Ford launched its aluminum-bodied F-150 in 2015 and just updated its sales leader with new drivetrains, styling and more for 2018.
Now, GM launches the redesigned Chevy Silverado 1500 as a 2019 model. The Silverado wears a redesigned skin on top of new bones and offers two new engines among the total of six powerplants. They do their dancing both on and off-road, are slightly longer than before, have more cargo space in their beds than the Ford and Ram, and will be on sale by fall of 2018.
The warmed-up, less square bodywork of the 2019 Silverado sits on a completely new frame and, compared to the 2018 Silverado 1500, weighs about 450 pounds less. However, unlike Ford's wholesale move to aluminum for the entire F-150 body, the 2019 Silverado shows a different approach to weight watching with lighter aluminum for the hood, doors and tailgate skins only. The roof, fenders, bed, and inner structures of the all the bodywork remain steel.
Skin and sub-skin
Any truck's front end is virtually the only garden where design differences grow, being a utilitarian beast of burden in theory, if not reality. Therefore, Chevy gives the 2019 Silverado a new face up front.
The 2019 Silverado's visage features front corners that are stretched back over the structure, giving the truck a lean and mean look. Chevy has also abandoned the squared off fender arches of the prior generation (and of each Chevy truck going clear back to 1973) for more rounded wheel openings.
The net effect of the exterior design changes is pleasing and far less caricaturish than last year’s Silverado. The new truck actually echoes the Camaro's front end with its short headlights, bright LED daylight running lamps and substantial grille. The whole affair is less blunt and, well, nearly elegant.
It's also functional. Chevy claims an aerodynamic improvement of 7 percent, due at least partially to front air curtains directing airflow around the front wheels and a spoiler integrated into the rear of the cab.
Under the skin, the front structure's additional stiffness allows completely revised suspension tuning. With a stiffer chassis and platform, spring rates and damping better reflect the best possible tuning because it is no longer making up for a flexing chassis. Combine this with the truck’s lighter weight and Chevy has actually lowered spring rates up front significantly, which improves ride quality.
At the rear, the trusty solid axle suspension uses conventional steel leaf springs like Ford's F-150 (the Ram is the only one using coil springs in the rear). The lowest leaf is actually a composite "helper" spring, reducing unsprung mass by 7 lbs. at each side and also reducing friction.
Chevy's made the footholds in the rear bumper larger, too, and has also placed the rear park warning proximity sensors in the ceiling of those footholds to make them less vulnerable to damage. The electronic hookups for trailer lights and brakes now sit above the license plate shelf, protecting them from dirt, mud, rain splashed up, or dust flailing around in turbulent air. That’s mighty thoughtful.
The new Silverado 1500 grows in length by 1.6 inches on a 3.9-inch longer wheelbase, with the front wheels pushed farther forward. This also allows for a whopping 3 inches of extra rear leg room in 4-door Crew Cab models. Six-footers can actually stretch out.
Regardless of cab profile, each Silverado boasts a larger bed that offers almost 7 inches of extra floor width and greater load volume. Chevy claims its short bed can swallow a greater volume of cargo than the competitors’ regular-sized bed. The 3-piece steel bed now has 12 total anchors, each pair rated for 500 lbs. They're mounted higher than before, making them easier to use if you’re reaching in from the sides, but they're still a stretch if you're short.
An available power-operated tailgate opens and closes the tailgate via the key fob or a button on the dashboard. You can also close the tailgate by lifting your knee into it, as one might with both hands full. The electric motor takes over once you've nudged it up past a threshold angle.
A vast assortment of eight trim levels starts with the Work Truck, offering the basics of vinyl or cloth seats, 17-inch steel wheels, and black exterior trim. The Silverado Custom trim adds body-color exterior details, LED taillights, and 20-inch aluminum wheels. Custom Trail Boss models get a 2-inch suspension lift plus the Z71 Off-Road package (locking rear differential, Rancho-brand shocks, skid plates, and 18-inch off-road-focused tires).
The highest sales volume LT model adds chrome exterior trim, LED headlights, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. A new Silverado RST trim is aimed at street performance and mimics the popular Silverado LT but with body color trim, LEDs for all exterior lighting, and 22-inch wheels. The LT Trail Boss gets the same off-roading hardware as the Custom Trail Boss, but with a shinier exterior and more equipment.
The top-end trims include the Silverado LTZ and High Country editions, each stuffed with luxury and convenience features like leather and power-folding mirrors. The downright plush High Country has a two-tone grille, chrome running boards, and a power tailgate as standard equipment.
Power to the people
The two gasoline V8s, one of 5.3 liters (355 horsepower/383 lb.-ft. of torque; max. tow rating of 11,600 lbs.) and one of 6.2 liters (420 hp/460 lb.-ft. of torque; max. tow rating of 12,200 lbs.) hold the higher sales volume ground, engine-wise. There's also a base 4.3-liter V6 (285 hp/305 lb.-ft. of torque; max. tow rating of 8,000 lbs.).
Optional on the 5.3 and standard on the 6.2, Dynamic Fuel Management brings cylinder deactivation to a higher level through 17 different deactivation profiles. The system can choose between those profiles every 12 milliseconds, adapting to changing conditions. While driving, this new system is more or less undetectable.
Fuel economy figures for some Silverado configurations are not yet available, but rear-drive Silverados with the 5.3-liter V8 engine yield 17/23/19 city/highway/combined mpg, while the 6.2-liter V8 paired with 4WD nets 16/20/17 city/highway/combined mpg.
Two additional engines arrive later this year. One of them is a new Duramax 3.0-liter turbo-diesel inline-6. The diesel's power ratings are not yet known, but it will likely hit the same neighborhood as Ford's 3.0-liter PowerStroke turbo-diesel V6 (250 hp/440 lb.-ft. of torque; max tow rating of 11,400 lbs.).
The other new engine is a new 2.7-liter, turbocharged gasoline inline-4 (310 hp/348 lb.-ft. of torque; max. tow rating of 7,200 lbs.). This marks the first 4-cylinder engine in a full-size pickup truck in modern times, and you can check out our thoughts about this engine based on an early prototype drive.
Hitting the road
I spent more time in the up-level Silverado High Country Crew Cab model, but every trim level I drove, which included the LT and the off-road-focused Trail Boss, proved remarkably quiet. Chevy paid particular attention to reducing sound levels, a goal made trickier to achieve at the same time as weight reduction because sound-deadening material is heavy.
Over the road, the High Country is blissfully quiet and I even had to strain ever so slightly to hear the starter motor when initially firing it up. The interior retains a very similar design to the outgoing truck, even though the parts making up the cabin are not carried over. And rear seat occupants finally get air vents in the back. While these particular test trucks were pre-production units, interior fit and finish appeared to be on par for production Chevrolets, which is quite good these days, even if the new Ram interior (especially with the optional large infotainment screen) is the class of the field.
The High Country offers several different electronic driving modes (selected using a dial at the left of the dash) that change the steering's calibration and transmission shift points, but the suspension is not adjustable. Sport mode weights up the steering and facilitates earlier downshifts, while Off-Road mode sets the steering for greater power assist, the transmission for more conservative gear selection and the stability control to allow a bit more slip angle or yaw, since the surfaces are loose when off-roading. In Tow/Haul mode, shift patterns are also adjusted to hold upshifts until higher rpms for greater pulling power under heavy loads.
With the outgoing Silverado, Chevy offered a brake hold function on hills for about 3 seconds. Now, brake hold works indefinitely, or until throttle is applied. This system works especially well when starting off on slippery or dirt-laden surfaces like boat ramps. It also prevents spraying rocks from unpaved ramps at the boat when cracking open the throttle.
NBA-level interior space
With multiple adjustments and enormous travel fore and aft, Silverado seat positioning is a land of vast opportunity, even for NBA-sized folks. Likewise, comfort and refinement darn near match the marks set by a very good passenger car.
The only minor exception is a bit more secondary vibration (or body shaking over bumps) than I’ve experienced in recent Rams and F-150s I've driven. This being a pre-production vehicle, there's a chance that this tendency won't ring true as full production versions reach dealers. But steering weight, accuracy and overall handling and responsiveness is excellent for a large truck, and represent tangible improvements over the outgoing 2018 Silverado.
Tangible improvement also characterizes my overall impression of the new 2019 Silverado. It's a solid upgrade in every area that counts, especially in quietness, bed capacity, nimble on-road manners, good off-road capability and in putting on a fresh, new, pleasing face.
Ford and Ram are formidable competitors in their own right, but they face serious competition in the redesigned Chevy Silverado.
First Pictures: 2019 Chevrolet Silverado
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