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The choice for best full-size pickup is not as clear as it was three years ago, when the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra appeared to be the leaders of the pack. Since then, Ford has introduced an all-new F-150, Dodge has re-engineered the Ram, Toyota has added a Crew Cab model to its Tundra line, and Nissan has rolled out the appropriately named Titan. There isn't a dog among them. All are superb in their own way.
Yet Silverado still rides as well or better than any of them, and it handles well. It's quick and it's comfortable. Boxed and hydroformed frame rails give Silverado a strong, rigid platform. It is, as the advertising tagline says, like a rock. Silverado's interior was significantly updated in 2003, and so was its electrical system. Quadrasteer, GM's heavy-duty four-wheel-steering, is available for a number of different 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 comfortable and enjoyable.
For 2005, most Silverados come with wider, lower-profile tires on 17-inch wheels, promising better handling than before. Short-box Extended Cabs with 4WD now offer a more powerful all-alumium V8, while a gas/electric Hybrid option promises lower operating cost with V8 performance. There's a sporty SS model, for buyers who value muscle-car acceleration and handling over towing/hauling capacity. More minor changes for 2005 include dual electric cooling fans, which are quieter and more efficient than the engine-driven fan used previously. Aerodynamic refinements to the front end and running boards reduce wind noise and promise a slight improvement in fuel economy,
Those who value a smooth-riding truck with a low load height should compare a two-wheel-drive Silverado to the other full-size pickups; lifting heavy equipment into the back of high-riding trucks is hard on the back.
Returning after a one-year hiatus is the 1500HD, which represents a compromise between the light-duty 1500 series and the medium-to-heavy-duty (and correspondingly harder-riding) 2500HD and 3500 series. Avaialble only as a Crew Cab with a 6-foot, 6-inch bed (instead of the standard 1500 Crew Cab's 5-foot, 8-inch bed), the 1500HD hauls 3,073 pounds with 2WD, 2,766 pounds with 4WD, and tows 10,200 pounds. Power is provided by the big 6.0-liter V8 that's used in the 2500HD/3500.
Standard equipment on all Silverado models are cruise control, CD player, a step bumper, and 17-inch chromed steel wheels. The W/T (Work Truck) package, intended primarily for commercial and municipal fleet sales, deletes these niceties for an average credit of $1,600.
Moving up to LS trim (starting at $25,265) adds a long list of comforts and appointments, including power windows, locks and mirrors; upgraded audio and upholstery; and the 4.8-liter V8 with automatic transmission. LS Crew Cabs come with the 5.3-liter V8 and automatic. Silverado LT (starting at $32,965) is downright luxurious, with leather upholstery, automatic climate control, Bose audio, and a new version of the OnStar telematics system. The 5.3-liter V8 is standard on all LT models.
The Z71 off-road package includes full LS trim, plus special off-road suspension, locking rear differential, P265/70R17 on/off-road tires, skid plates, high-capacity air cleaner, wheel flares, fog lamps, and deep-tinted glass.
Silverado SS is a performance model equipped with a high-output 345 horsepower Vortec 6000 6.0-liter engine designed for quick 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.
A Silverado Hybrid is available in several states and, with its unique starter/generator combined with a 5.3-liter V8, offers up to 10 percent improvement in fuel economy while delivering the same 295 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque as any other Silverado with the 5.3-liter engine.
Options include XM Satellite Radio ($325), 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 ($1,295) and rear-seat audio controls. Late in the model year, Extended Cabs and Crew Cabs will offer a power sunroof ($1,100). OnStar ($695) 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 most 1500 models include dual-level front 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 anti-lock brakes (ABS) on all models. GM's Autotrac 4WD improves traction and stability of four-wheel-drive models on slippery roads.
The styling of the Chevy Silverado has an edgy angularity that looks contemporary. The Silverado shares its bold design cues with the Avalanche, the TrailBlazer SUV, and the mid-size Colorado pickup. The Silverado looks more conteporary than the relatively conservative Suburban and Tahoe SUVs.
Silverado's headlights angle down at the top like the determined eyebrows of a Marine drill sergeant. 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, along with spaces for fog lamps and recessed tow hooks. The flared engine hood and 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 large door openings make 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 open in the reverse direction and not as wide as we would like. 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 their 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, and 33.7 inches with 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 Fleetside boxes 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 seats are big and cushy, though we don't always find them comfortable for long trips. The standard front bench seat can seat three, giving Extended Cab and Crew Cab models capacity for six people. It's split 40/20/40, and the middle part 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.
Optional bucket seats are more comfortable and adjust every which way. We like both the premium cloth and the leather. 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 there tend to slide off. A big coat hook makes picking up the dry cleaning easier.
The instrument panel 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 FoxNews, CNN or ESPN. Satellite radio also means you can drive across the U.S. without ever having to switch from your favorite stations.
The 2005 models are available with a new generation of OnStar (called Gen 6) designed for improved hands-free operation, thanks to more intuitive dialing and improved voice recognition. OnStar is the leading provider of in-vehicle safety, security and information services in the United States and Canada. Using the GPS satellite network and wireless technology, OnStar features core safety services and OnStar Personal Calling that allows drivers to make and receive hands-free, voice-activated phone calls.
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 and be reasonably comfortable for a short trip. 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.
Crew Cabs offer 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 when measured against its newer competition. It feels tight and quiet, with 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. 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 have a rougher ride, however. We drove a Silverado with Quadrasteer that tended to bounce annoyingly over a succession of dips. We suspect that the heavier rear axle that comes with Quadrasteer causes the rougher ride.
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 on wet pavement. Steering is responsive and offers the right amount of feedback; 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 (for $1,995) only on selected models. (For 2005, that would be the 1500 Extended Cab short-box 4WD, 1500HD Crew Cab with 2WD or 4WD, and all 2500HD Crew Cabs). The Silverado is a full-size truck in a compact world, and Quadrasteer helps address that. 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 with standard front-wheel steering 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 superb feature when towing trailers. Quadrasteer can make you look like a trailering pro. First, it greatly improves control when backing up, eliminating much of that trial and error that occurs when you don't tow trailers on a regular basis. Second, Quadrasteer allows you to back a trailer into spots that would be literally impossible without it.
The optional Ride Control Suspension 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 it's helpful to study power ratings, payload ratings, tow ratings, fuel-economy, pricing, and other data to choose the best engine for your needs. People talk about horsepower, but torque ratings better reflect how the truck will perform.
The V6 model is best for light-duty work when price and fuel economy are paramount; it also meets Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle, or ULEV, standards. But the two most popular engines are smal
Chevrolet Silverado still stands tall among a superb new crop of full-size pickups. Roomy cabins, comfortable seats, a comfortable ride, and powerful engines make the Silverado a great work truck. The Hybrid option promises lower operating costs under certain conditions. A well-equipped LT Crew Cab can serve as a reasonable alternative to a family-size SUV.
New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough is based in Los Angeles.