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GM has been the leader in full-size pickups for several years running, but is now facing assaults from all directions. Ford has introduced an all-new F-150. Dodge recently re-engineered the Ram. Toyota has introduced a Tundra crew cab model. And if that isn't enough, Nissan has the gall to launch the Titan, a full-size pickup that's every bit as big as the domestics, if not bigger. Model year 2004 is the year of the pickup. There's more going on with full-size pickup trucks this year than any in the history of the automobile.
Needless to say, the choice for best full-size pickup is no longer as clear as it was a two or three years ago when the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra were, in our opinion, the leaders. This is indeed good news because competition is good for the truck buyer.
That said, the Chevrolet Silverado (and the GMC Sierra) are still the best in terms of ride quality. Those who value a smooth-riding truck with a low load height should take a good hard look at a two-wheel-drive Silverado. And those who value style could do worse. Silverado's aggressive looks draw the eye. This truck is not the wallflower it was a couple of years ago.
Silverado got an edgy new look last year, along with significant interior improvements and an all-new electrical system designed to improve reliability by drastically reducing the number of wires running all over the place. It's all be streamlined.
New for 2004 is a roomy and comfortable 1500 Silverado Crew Cab in either 2WD or 4WD. (This is a half-ton model that should not be confused with last year's heavy-duty 1500 HD.) There's more standard equipment in base-level models for 2004, and there's more content in the Z71 off-road package.
Silverado rides, handles, and stops as well as the best of them. It's quick and it's comfortable. Boxed and hydroformed frame rails give the GM trucks a strong, rigid platform. It is, as Chevy says, like a rock. Quadrasteer, GM's heavy-duty four-wheel-steering system, is increasingly available for a wider range of models, improving maneuverability in tight quarters or when pulling a trailer. Heated seats, a Bose stereo, XM Satellite Radio and other options make long days spent in a Silverado more comfortable.
The 2004 Silverado comes with more standard features than last year, including cruise control, power door locks, black bodyside moldings, chrome bumpers, uplevel wheels, and an AM/FM radio with CD player. New tire choices are available as well. The Work Truck package, which deletes some trim items for a credit of $200-800, is now available on all Silverado 1500 models.
A light-duty 1500 Crew Cab, powered by the 5.3-liter V8, and more comparable in its payload rating for Ford's F-150 SuperCrew, is being introduced as a mid-2004 model. (Last year's 1500 HD model, with its 3094-pound payload, six-passenger Crew Cab, and 300-horsepower, 6.0-liter V8 has been redesignated a 2500-series model for 2004.)
The Z71 off-road package has been upgraded for 2004, and now includes cruise control; a high capacity air cleaner; rear defogger; power door locks; carpeting; remote keyless entry; rearview mirror; AM/FM stereo with CD and cassette player; leather-wrapped steering wheel; power windows; fog lamps; color-keyed grille; and deep-tinted glass.
Silverado SS is a high-performance model equipped with a high-output 345 horsepower Vortec 6000 engine designed for exhilarating off-the-line acceleration and relaxed cruising. SS gets a high-performance Z60 chassis package; 20-inch wheels and tires; full-time all-wheel drive; a lower, wider stance; and special exterior and interior trim.
Silverado options include XM Satellite Radio, which provides CD-quality broadcast of 100 digital channels coast to coast, and a Bose sound system. Crew Cab models offer a Panasonic DVD Passenger Entertainment System and rear-seat audio controls. OnStar is also available, which puts a human being at your assistance at the press of a button any time of day. OnStar operators can unlock your doors remotely and the system automatically calls for assistance if the airbags deploy.
Safety features on all models include dual-level frontal air bags, which are designed to provide an appropriate amount of inflation based on the severity of the crash. A passenger-sensing system automatically deactivates the passenger-side front air bag under certain conditions to protect children. Active safety features include four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes (ABS) on all models. Auto4WD improves traction and stability of four-wheel-drive models on slippery roads.
Chevrolet Silverado shares its bold design cues with the newest Chevy trucks, from the innovative Avalanche to the TrailBlazer SUV to the all-new Colorado pickup. The Silverado suddenly looks far more conteporary than the Suburban or Tahoe.
When looking at the Silverado your eyes are immediately drawn to the headlights, which angle down at the top. They look like the determined eyebrows of a Marine drill sergeant saying, "Get out of the way, private, I've got work to do." A large band runs across the middle of the grille punctuated in the middle by a big, gold Chevy bow tie. All of this is smoothly integrated into the front end, including the fog lamps and recessed tow hooks. Add the powerful hood and the Silverado presents an appearance that's almost menacing. Squared-off wheel openings continue the aggressive theme down the sides of the truck. In the rear are bulging taillamps that maintain the Chevrolet family look yet uniquely identify the Silverado. Quadrasteer (four-wheel steering) models are distinguished by bulging rear fenders.
Silverado's door openings are large, making getting in and out easier, and the door handles are big and easy to grab. Extended cabs come standard with four doors, though the rear doors only open about 90 degrees. Optional puddle lamps mounted beneath the big side mirrors light the ground along the sides of the truck, handy in the woods and in the city. Mirrors are also available with redundant turn signal indicators, warning drivers alongside or in your blind spot, that you are moving over. Heavy-duty models have running lights on the roof, tailgate, and leading and trailing edges of bulging rear fenders. They add visibility for improved safety. Plus, they look neat.
Silverado's bed features built-in tie-down brackets near the four corners. Indentations stamped into the inner bed walls can hold boards to form bulkhead dividers or a second floor for two-tier loading. The Silverado's load floor is 31.6 inches above the ground on 2WD models, 33.7 on 4WD. That's relatively low, and low is good when loading heavy cargo. Short-box beds are 78.7 inches long; long boxes are 97.6 inches long. Fleetside boxes are 64.8 inches wide (at the floor); Sportside boxes measure 49.1 inches wide. All measure 50 inches wide between the wheel housings.
A PRO-TEC composite box is available for Silverado 1500 Extended Cab Short Box models. PRO-TEC is a nearly indestructible material that's lighter and stronger than steel. It never rusts and it resists dents. PRO-TEC tailgates can support a lot more weight than steel tailgates.
Inside, the Silverado is roomy and comfortable. The standard front bench seat is comfortable and can seat three, giving extended cab and crew cab models capacity for six people. It's split 40/20/40, and the middle part of the bench folds down to become a center console armrest. There's lots of head room and plenty of leg room, hip room, and shoulder room. The standard bench is available in cloth or vinyl. Bucket seats are more comfortable and adjust every which way. We like both the premium cloth and the leather. The Silverado's seats are big and cushy, but not as comfortable as those in the Ram and F-150.
The bucket seats are separated by a deep center console that holds lots of stuff. The top of the lid features a nice rubber-lined indention handy for small items, though it would be even better if the rubber was an insert that could be removed for cleaning. The top of the console is angled forward, which seems unfortunate because clipboards and other items placed tend to slide off. A big coat hook makes picking up the dry cleaning easier.
The instrument panel, redesigned for 2003, features a large speedometer and tachometer. Smaller gauges to the right display oil pressure, water temperature, fuel quantity, and battery charge. HD models with the Heavy-Duty Trailering Package come with a transmission temperature gauge on the left. All use highly legible white-on-black graphics. Headlamps and taillamps turn on automatically when it gets dark. A Driver Information Center, located in the instrument panel cluster, provides various bits of information, including an available engine-hour meter.
Dual-zone climate controls are standard. The manually controlled system that comes on base models is a good, straightforward design. Manual sliders are used to adjust the temperature The available electronic climate controls are better, featuring two large knobs for driver and passenger. A large LED displays the mode and fan settings. It's a well-engineered system that's sophisticated yet easy to operate.
The stereo systems feature digital controls with large knobs for volume and tuning. It's a good setup, more attractive and more sophisticated than pre-2003 systems, but just as easy to use. XM Satellite Radio is a great addition for people who want minimal blab interrupting their music, or who like to listen to 24-hour news or sports channels like Fox News or ESPN. Satellite radio also means you can drive across the U.S. without ever having to switch from your favorite stations.
The back seat in Extended Cab models offers more room and comfort than expected. We wouldn't want to ride across the state back there, but three adults can fit in reasonable comfort. The rear-seat bottom folds up to provide space for cargo, but it's still in the way when trying to carry a lot of stuff and the floor is not flat. The entire rear seat assembly can be removed with a wrench and lifted out through the door when cargo capacity is more important than passenger space.
The new 1500 Crew Cab offers roomy rear seats and additional interior cargo space. The back seats in Crew Cab models are very comfortable, similar to the rear seats in a Suburban or Tahoe. The rear seats can be flipped down, like those in a Suburban, to provide a big, secure cargo area.
The Chevrolet Silverado remains one of the best-driving full-size pickups, even with the new competition. The Silverado feels tight and quiet. There's little road noise or wind noise.
Those are benefits of its stiff frame, which minimizes noise and vibration from the running gear. The rigid chassis allows the suspension to soak up and manage bumps and ruts and tar strips. The cab is stiffened by a magnesium beam behind the instrument panel and a lateral steel beam between the magnesium beam and the right side of the dash. This additional stiffening is designed to eliminate squeaks and rattles, and we haven't heard any.
The Chevy Silverado rides more smoothly than the Dodge Ram and Ford F-150. We drove a Silverado 1500 2WD LS Extended Cab that rode very smoothly. Its long, 143-inch wheelbase contributed to the ride (and enhanced high-speed stability). Models with Quadrasteer seem to have a rougher ride, however. At low speeds, a Silverado 1500 LT with Quadrasteer we tested tended to bounce annoyingly over a succession of dips. Could it be that the stouter rear end that comes with Quadrasteer causes a rougher ride? Silverado 2500 models ride rougher than 1500 models, but offer a bigger towing capacity (10,700 pounds).
The Silverado handles well on dry pavement, loose dirt, deep dirt, and off road. It tracks straight at speed on dry pavement and it's stable on wet pavement. It holds its line when the rear wheels spin under acceleration, even when coming out of a low-speed turn. Steering is responsive and offers the right amount of feedback. We find the Silverado more responsive to steering than the Dodge Ram; the Silverado has better on-center feel (less slop in the center). There is a dead spot in the center when cruising, however, which Chevrolet says is designed to minimize steering corrections on the highway. Rack-and-pinion steering is used on Silverado 1500 4x2s. Four-wheel-drive and heavy-duty models use recirculating-ball steering.
Quadrasteer is no gimmick. It enhances low-speed maneuverability, and is a must-have for owners who tow, though it's available only on selected models (1500 Extended Cab short-box and 2500 Crew Cab models, the last time we checked). The Silverado is a full-size truck in a compact world and Quadrasteer helps address that fact. Four-wheel steering helps when maneuvering through crowded parking lots and public garages. With Quadrasteer, you can make a U-turn in places that previously required backing up. A Silverado that requires 47.3 feet to turn around in, needs just 37.4 feet with Quadrasteer. That's 10 feet, a huge difference. Where turning around on a narrow street takes five steps in a standard pickup, it's only three steps with Quadrasteer. Changing direction is quicker, less annoying.
While Quadrasteer helps around town, it is truly a must-have feature when towing trailers. Quadrasteer can make you look like trailering pro. First, it greatly improves control when backing up, eliminating much of that trial and error that occurs when you're not towing trailers on a regular basis. Second, Quadrasteer allows you to back a trailer into spots where you could not physically do so without it. Quadrasteer also increases towing capacity slightly due to the heavy-duty componentry that supports it.
The optional Ride Control Suspension, available with or without Quadrasteer, is designed to enhance control when pulling a trailer. Press the Ride Control button when the truck is empty and the system firms up the shock damping, which reduces bouncing somewhat, although at the expense of increased harshness. When towing, Ride Control helps reduce the tendency of the truck to pogo as the trailer goes over bumps. It can also be used for better suspension control when driving off road.
Four different engines are available for Chevy's light-duty pickups, so when choosing one it's helpful to study power ratings, payload ratings, tow ratings, fuel-economy ratings, pricing, and other data.
Chevrolet Silverado stands tall in a superb new crop of full-size pickups. Roomy, comfortable seats, a comfortable ride, and powerful engines make the Silverado a great work truck. Last year, Chevrolet made the Silverado more reliable and more enjoyable to drive every day. 2004 brings more standard equipment.