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Ford may have the best-selling pickup in America, but a whole lot of Americans still prefer a Chevrolet. While Dearborn's most recent light-duty pickup has taken on a windswept, aerodynamic look, and Dodge has carved a niche with its vaguely retro, little big-rig theme, Chevrolet has stuck with a more conservative shape, bluff in the nose and square in the shoulders. Chevrolet feels its customers are more comfortable with traditional truck styling. So when the Chevy pickup was totally re-designed, re-engineered and even re-named for 1999, its styling was updated but not radically changed.
At the same time, however, Chevrolet caught up with (or even surpassed) the technology and refinement of the more radical looking Ford and Dodge. The Silverado, as Chevy calls its pickups now, is a great achievement, better than the previous "C/K" truck in every respect. It rides better, handles better and stops quicker; it's faster and it's more comfortable. In fact, the Silverado ranks as one of the most luxurious pickups we've ever driven.
For 2001, Silverado adds even more power, convenience and durability. All extended-cab models now have two auxiliary rear doors, rather than just one on the curbside. Extended-cab 1500s with four-wheel drive are available with a Pro-Tec fully composite box that's virtually impervious to dents or corrosion. OnStar is available on newer LT models. Finally, the 6.0-liter V8 that is standard in 2500 models has been given aluminum heads and more aggressive valve timing, for a nice, round 300 horsepower at 4400 rpm, and 360 pound-feet of torque at 4000.
Various payload capacities are offered as well. The "half-ton" range includes both the 1500 series, with actual payloads ranging from 1593 to 2334 pounds (depending on bed, cab, and drive configuration), and the heavier-duty 2500 series with payloads in the 2612-3224-pound range. Just to make things as confusing as possible, there's also a 1500HD model with a crew cab body.
Silverado 1500 models are available with a 4.8-liter V8, a 5.3-liter V8, and a 4.3-liter V6. The 2500 is powered exclusively by a 6.0-liter V8.
Three-quarter-ton Silverados are badged 2500HD and 3500, and offer payloads up to 6089 pounds. Look for those in a separate nctd.com test drive.
We loved every mile we put on the Silverado LT. It drives like a luxury car and is supremely smooth and quiet. That smooth, quiet, unified feel is largely due to the new chassis, which provides a 23-percent increase in stiffness. New mounting and isolation hardware reduces noise and vibration. A cast magnesium beam behind the instrument panel and a lateral steel beam between the magnesium beam and the right side of the dash further reinforce the stiff body. Squeaks and rattles have been eliminated. This is one strong truck, and its chassis rigidity allows the suspension to soak up and manage bumps and ruts and tar strips so well that its overall ride behavior is near luxury. A long, 143-inch wheelbase improves the ride further and enhances high-speed stability.
A big four-spoke steering wheel connects to a rack-and-pinion steering system on 1500 4x2s; other models have recirculating ball steering. Even the rack-and-pinion system has a fairly wide dead spot in the center when cruising, which Chevrolet says is designed to minimize steering corrections on the highway. The steering feels a bit too light, but Silverado still tracks beautifully and handles well on pavement, loose dirt, deep dirt and off road.
Although the 4.8-liter small-block V8 is the most popular engine for this truck, our Silverado LT had the optional 5.3-liter (324 cubic-inch) engine, rated at 285 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. That's enough to smoke the rear tires at will. The fat torque curve is useful for light towing and hauling, but it's also a lot of fun for commuting and touring. The new engine is a much better small-block than before, and we recommend the 5.3 over the smaller 4.8-liter version.
The brakes are substantially improved over the old C/K brakes, and it's a welcome improvement. The four-wheel disc brakes are huge and powerful and come standard with ABS. Braking force comes into play only an inch into the pedal travel, a welcome improvement over the mushy pedal on the previous pickup. A new feature called Dynamic Rear Proportioning improves stability under heavy braking, whether the truck is loaded or empty. Chevrolet promises huge improvements in fade resistance, pad life and heat dissipation; we worked the brakes on our truck very hard and experienced no fade.
The Chevrolet Silverado is by far the best among full-size pickups. And it is the newest design from the Big Three Detroit manufacturers. The Silverado LT we drove is the smoothest, quietest, most civilized, best equipped, and most enjoyable pickup truck we've driven in many years. If you're shopping for a full-size pickup truck this year that you'll still want to be driving in 2009, check out the Silverado.