The Chevrolet Silverado is the second-best-selling pickup in America, but that still adds up to a lot of trucks. By consciously avoiding the more radical concept styling of its competitors, the bluff-nosed, square-shouldered Silverado seems to have found its own secure niche in the hearts of many American truck buyers.
But don't let Silverado's conservative demeanor fool you. This truck is every bit as technically advanced, every bit as car-like and user-friendly as its aero-look competitors. It rides, handles, and stops as well as, maybe better than, the best of them. It's quick and it's comfortable.
The base price is higher for 2002, but it now buys more standard equipment, including the chrome bumper and grille that Chevrolet claims most buyers want. Silverado prices still start about $700 below Ford's F-150. Option packages have been streamlined for value and convenience.
Introduced last year, this is the first full production year for the new 1500 HD model, which combines light-duty 1500-series styling in a heavy-duty six-passenger crew cab with a 300-horsepower Vortec V8.
Also available for 2002 is Quadrasteer, an electronically controlled four-wheel-steering system that makes parking much easier and pulling a trailer a breeze.
Silverado's frame is the stiffest and lightest truck frame General Motors has ever built. The front frame rails are hydroformed, a process that uses high-pressure hydraulics to shape large and complex components that used to be fabricated from smaller stampings. Tubular crossmembers and roll-formed mid-rails increase rigidity even more. This stiff structure enhances handling and ride quality immensely, while improving crashworthiness.
The front suspension comprises aluminum upper and lower control arms, with coil springs on two-wheel-drive 1500s. Torsion bars are used on all 4x4 models and 2500 models.
Brakes are large, heavy-duty discs on all four corners. ABS is standard on all models.
The V8 engines are based on the new GM SB-2 small-block architecture that was introduced on the Corvette four years ago and extended to the Camaro and Firebird in 1999.
A five-speed manual gearbox is standard in the base truck, but most buyers will opt for the 4L60E and 4L80E four-speed automatics. These feature a delayed-upshift mode for towing. They are excellent transmissions.
Like its exterior design, Silverado's interior reflects traditional Chevrolet thinking. The doors and door openings are the largest in the industry, and the cab is the roomiest.
The instrument package looks like a cross between a Corvette's and a traditional pickup's. It includes a large speedometer and tachometer flanked by four smaller gauges. All use pleasant, highly legible white-on-black graphics.
The sound-system control panel is located above the climate controls. The climate control system uses a rotary-dial layout that works perfectly. There are three 12-volt outlets at the bottom center of the dashboard for radar detectors, cellular telephones, laptop computers, and other accessories.
An LT Extended Cab we drove awhile back came with six-way power front bucket seats with seat heaters and memory. The doors lock automatically as soon as you pull away, a security feature that can be de-programmed at the dealership. The LT also comes with a lockable floor console large enough to hold a picnic lunch for a family of four; it comes with a reversible, removable cup holder tray and a storage nook in front of the lid. Air conditioning outlets and a set of drop-down cup holders are built in for rear-seat passengers. A compass is incorporated into the LT's overhead console, along with three storage areas for sunglasses, garage door opener, and small items. The door trim is a nice combination of vinyl panels and dotted velour that is soft and warm to the touch.
The back seat in the extended cab offers more room and comfort than we expected. When cargo capacity is more important than hauling passengers, the entire rear seat assembly can be removed with a wrench and lifted out through the door.
A more recent drive in a 1500 HD crew cab revealed a really comfortable truck. The back seats are roomy and comfortable, very similar to those in an uplevel Suburban. The seats were trimmed in handsome leather and they could be flipped down to provide a big, secure cargo area. This is a great truck for someone who wants a roomy rear seat with interior cargo space and big trailer-towing capability.
About the only thing we don't like about the Silverado interior is the design of the interior door handles, which swivel through an up-and-in arc, and felt loose whenever we used them. We'd prefer more resistance and a more positive feel.
OnStar, which is now standard on LT models, is a communications and location system that allows customers to call for 24-hour assistance. The system calls for assistance automatically if the truck's airbags have deployed.
Silverado LT drives like a luxury car and is supremely smooth and quiet. That smooth, quiet, unified feel is largely due to the stiff frame, which isolates the running gear for reduced 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 simply don't happen. 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 the luxury class. A long, 143-inch wheelbase improves the ride further and enhances high-speed stability.
The 1500HD crew cab model does not ride quite as smoothly. When the bed is empty there is some road vibration, but drivers used to driving pickups should find it well within acceptable bounds and throwing some weight in the bed or adding a canopy should smooth it out some.
A big four-spoke steering wheel connects to a rack-and-pinion steering gear 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 more popular in base models, the up-market LT Extended Cab comes standard with the optional 5.3-liter (327 cubic-inch) engine, rated 285 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque. That's enough grunt 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. We recommend the 5.3 over the smaller 4.8. The big 6.0-liter V8 that comes on the 1500HD delivers a ton of torque for pulling big, heavy trailers.
Braking hasn't been a traditional strong point for U.S.-built pickups, but here again the Silverado breaks from tradition. Its four-wheel disc brakes are huge and powerful and come standard with ABS. Braking force begins only an inch into the pedal travel. A new feature called Dynamic Rear Proportioning improves stability under heavy braking, whether the truck is loaded or empty. Chevrolet promises excellent fade resistance, with long pad life and good heat dissipation; we worked the brakes hard on our truck and experienced no fade. Anyone used to the brakes in the previous-generation Chevy pickups and full-size SUVs should be very pleased with the brake-pedal response and stopping performance.
Chevrolet Silverado is overall the best among full-size pickups. Many buyers will prefer its more conservative design. Chevy's full-size Silverado pickups are among the smoothest, quietest, most civilized, best equipped, and most enjoyable trucks we've driven.
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