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A passenger-side airbag that can be deactivated with a switch heads up improvements to the Chevrolet and GMC C/K pickups this year.
Thanks to the tough-guy look of the new Dodge Ram pickup and the rounded mod-squad shape of the even-newer Ford F-Series pickup, the Chevrolet and GMC C/K full-size pickups are suddenly looking like the old kids on the block. Yet, in truck years, the General Motors full-size pickups aren't really that old. The design was first introduced in 1988 as a completely new offering inside and out, and even today it looks clean, crisp and contemporary.
Stylistically, it offers truck buyers an alternative to the newer Dodge and Ford models, an alternative that is traditional without necessarily being out of fashion. And in a market segment where product cycles are often measured in decades, eight years tallies up as just getting started.
In 1992, the line was rounded out with the addition of a Crew Cab model and a 6.5-liter turbodiesel V8. In 1995, the interior was redone, including the addition of a driver's airbag.
GM's recent introduction of the Vortec engines added a lot more power under the hood. In horsepower, the 4.3-liter V6 has more than the previous 5.0-liter V8, the 5.0-liter V8 has more than the previous 5.7, and the 5.7 has more than the previous 7.4. The 7.4 is also way up. Across the board, torque figures are up about 10 to 20 lb.-ft.
This year, GM has improved the power steering and revised the transmissions for improved operation.
Flanked by the Dodge Ram and Ford's new F-Series, GM's C/K pickups seem to sit squarely and comfortably in the great middle ground.
As with all full-size pickups, the C/K is available in more combinations and configurations than most of us can count. There are three cab selections, regular, extended and the four-door Crew Cab. There are two body styles, the traditional, straight-sided version and the Sportside, which offers a narrower cargo bed and fender flares. There are four wheelbases, from 117.5 in. to 168.5 in. and choices of single or dual rear wheels.
There are three of what we can call duty ranges, the lighter duty 1500, the harder-working 2500, and the heavy-duty 3500. You can take your pick of the four gasoline engines previously mentioned, or one of two 6.5-liter turbo-diesels--normal and a heavy duty version matched with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
All C/K pickups are fitted with four-wheel antilock brakes, a big plus in the safety department. The optional four-wheel-drive is a shift-on-the-fly type that allows for easy changes between 2WD and 4WD high-range. Like all truck systems, it's designed for occasional use rather than full-time, and engaging low-range 4WD, for really tough going, requires stopping the vehicle.
The Chevy we sampled was about in the middle of all this, a Silverado 1500 with extended cab, 2WD, 5.7-liter Vortec V8 and a five-speed manual transmission. It had a gross vehicle weight rating of 6800 lbs. and a maximum trailer-towing capacity of 7500 lbs.
This certainly isn't the biggest truck you can find, but only a few owners would likely think it not big enough. For the record, everything said about the Chevy pickups also applies to the equivalent GMC versions. Aside from their grillework, the two lines are identical.
The 5.7-liter Vortec V8 makes 250 hp at 4600 rpm and 335 lb.-ft. of torque at 2800 rpm. That's impressive power given the EPA rating of 14 mpg city/18 highway.
The 5.7-liter V8 gets the job done. It pulls willingly to its 5500 rpm redline and makes power all the way. More remarkably, our truck, equipped with the manual transmission, could be lugged down to 1000 rpm in fifth gear, even on a slight upgrade, and from there would take full throttle with no bucking or stumbling. If this engine is running, it's making useable torque, which is what truck engines are all about.
Most buyers will probably choose the automatic transmission, but those who prefer shifting for themselves will be pleased to know this one shifts smoothly and easily. And all that torque means you don't have to shift very much, if that's your preference.
The interior redesign for 1995 was a welcome change. Gone are the flat surfaces and square corners, replaced by flowing curves and a significant increase in function.
The new instruments and controls are well located and easy to see, reach and operate--not to mention far more attractive. Multi-direction face-level vents for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning are spread across the dash. A nifty cupholder pops out of the instrument panel and holds two drink containers without blocking any control functions. In front of the passenger seat, the instrument panel includes a recessed top with two more recesses for drinks, but we found them useful only when the vehicle was not moving. There are storage spots all around, and three power outlets for running a radar detector, phone, fax or other accessories.
In the back of the extended cab there's a bench seat with room for three, but it's really best suited for shorter trips. The seatback is pretty upright and the bench itself is short.
On the plus side there's lots of versatility. The rear seat easily flips up and out of the way revealing, on one side, a covered compartment for tire-changing tools and, on the other, a conveniently flat floor surface for stowing luggage, a tool box or ice chest. Not all extended cab pickups have flat floors in the rear, so this is worth taking a look at.
The C/K pickups are also available with an optional third door on the passenger's side that allows easier access to the rear for piling in people or cargo.
This is a pickup truck with a long wheelbase and should not be expected to ride or drive like a car. Unloaded, the ride is mixed. In most places it's acceptable, but on concrete freeways with a periodic irregularity it can become pretty tiresome as it hops in frequency with the pavement. But that can be said for just about any pickup truck, especially unloaded. Loaded, however, the ride is better, and even the 1500-series model will take more than a ton of bricks in its bed.
On balance, the ride is good, particularly for the long haul. The front seats are comfy and there's plenty of room, and roomy comfort is one of the big reasons people buy full-size pickup trucks.
There's good steering feel, directional stability is relentless, and the Chevy goes where it's pointed and stays headed there. The long wheelbase of the extended cab detracts from nimbleness, and maneuvering in tight quarters might require some planning. But it's extremely stable on the highway.
The bottom line on the Chevy C/K pickup is the power of the Vortec engines, an area where GM's full-size trucks hold a distinct edge over the new Ford F-Series.
For a long time, truck buyers planning to haul big loads were almost forced to reckon with the expense--both initially and in fuel consumption--of a big-block. That's no more. The 5.7-liter Vortec V8 offers a very real alternative, with plenty of power for all but the most outrageously heavy work, yet it delivers decent fuel economy for daily driving.
In case you'll be dealing with only medium loads, the 5.0-liter Vortec V8 offers performance comparable to or better than the 5.7-liter engine sold two years ago. If your needs dictate you go the other way, the 7.4-liter V8 churns out 290 hp and 410 lb.-ft. of torque.
For diesel fans, the 6.5-liter turbodiesel offers 190 hp and 385 lb.-ft. of torque and is smoother and quieter than the Cummins turbodiesel offered in the Dodge Ram.
While the competition has gone off on stylistic frontier busting, the Chevy and GMC pickups have retained the high middle ground. They still look clean and modern and are a proven commodity with hundreds of thousands of satisfied owners.