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The 2009 Chevy Silverado phases in a new six-speed automatic transmission, a bigger V8, an economical XFE model, and a gasoline-electric hybrid. The Silverado was lavished with product awards when it was redesigned for 2007. The 2008 models brought some additional features and refinement. For 2009, all the major changes are under the hood for 2009.
Silverado styling is bold by GM truck standards yet still traditional when compared with the latest pickups from Dodge, Nissan, Toyota, and Ford. We like the clean, bold look.
The Silverado is available in more ways than starlets misbehave, with three cabs, three beds, five engines (nine if you count all the 5.3-liter derivatives), three transmissions, and five suspension setups on four wheelbase lengths. The key is knowing which bits go on which trucks because little more than bow-tie badges and front fenders are shared amongst all of them.
For 2009, additional upgrades include a rearview camera system, a navigation system, updated wheels, OnStar 8.0 with turn-by-turn navigation and destination download, Bluetooth, and XM radio with real-time traffic information.
The Chevy Silverado is highly capable for towing or hauling, the amounts of which vary by model, of course. Your choice of a Silverado may come down to style, fit, the right equipment and options or simply brand loyalty, but choosing the right Silverado is more important than choosing a Silverado over another brand. So choose carefully.
Engines include one V6 and four V8s, plus a hybrid. The base setup is a 4.3-liter V6 (195 hp/260 lb-ft of torque) with four-speed automatic, offered only on regular cabs and 2WD extended cab short or standard bed. The integrated trailer brake controller and enhanced stability control are not available with the 4.3-liter. The 4.8-liter V8 (295 hp/305 lb-ft of torque) and four-speed automatic are standard on Crew Cab and 4WD extended cab short or standard bed and many LT models.
The 5.3-liter V8 comes in four states of tune, all at 315 hp and 338 lb-ft of torque, with active fuel management that shuts off cylinders to save fuel, iron or aluminum block, and available flex-fuel operation is standard on most LTZ models; some will have four-speed automatics while the six-speed is phased in. A 6.0-liter aluminum block V8 (367 hp/375 lb-ft of torque) with variable cam timing and active fuel management is available on long-cab LT and LTZ models in conjunction with the NHT maximum tow package. The six-speed automatic is being phased in as standard.
XFE (Xtra fuel economy) models use a 5.3-liter V8, six-speed automatic and cruising-biased axle ratio of 3.08:1 to increase EPA ratings. XFE versions feature aerodynamic upgrades in the form of a soft bed cover and extended front air dam, plus aluminum wheels (including the spare) and lower front suspension arms, locking rear differential, and low rolling resistance tires. A trailering package is standard so XFE models can tow up to 7000 pounds.
New for 2009 is the 6.2-liter V8 (403 hp/417 lb-ft of torque), a flex-fuel engine with aluminum block and variable cam timing and a six-speed automatic. It is offered only on Crew Cab models and returns 13/19 mpg EPA ratings with premium unleaded recommended.
The other new power option for 2009 is the two-mode Hybrid that debuted in the 2008 Tahoe and Yukon. This Crew Cab uses a slightly detuned 6-liter V8 (332 hp/367 lb-ft of torque), battery pack, and four-speed automatic with the two electric motors in it. EPA ratings are 21/22 mpg. Tow ratings are available to 6100 pounds, maximum payload is in the 1400-pound range.
WT ($18,045) is a basic work truck that comes with a driver information center, AM/FM/XM stereo, 40/20/40 split-bench, vinyl-covered front seat, dual glove boxes, two auxiliary power outlets, tire pressure monitoring system, OnStar and a four-speed automatic transmission. The LS Crew Cab ($28,710) offers more features.
LT ($25,160) adds a cloth-covered front seat with lockable storage under the seat, a CD player and MP3 compatibility, power windows/locks/mirrors, remote keyless entry, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and outside temperature displays, chrome front bumper and 17-inch styled steel wheels, and power folding and heated exterior mirrors. LT models can be upgraded with premium cloth front bucket seats with six-way power adjustment, dual-zone automatic temperature controls, audio controls mounted on the steering wheel, fog lamps, aluminum wheels, chromed bumper, and a spare tire lock.
LTZ ($33,080) adds heavy-duty trailering equipment, an automatic locking rear differential, body-colored bumpers, reclining and heated leather front seats with 12-way power, an in-dash six-CD changer with Bose speakers, 18-inch wheels, turn signal indicators in the exterior rearview mirrors and heated windshield washers.
Extended Cab and Crew Cab models have back seats and windows in the side doors that power down. The Crew Cab has four front-hinged doors, much like a sport utility vehicle. The Extended Cab has rear access doors hinged at the rear that open to 170 degrees to provide full access to the rear seating area. The Regular Cab can be outfitted with a standard bed (6-foot, 6-inch) or long bed (8-foot). The Extended Cab also offers a short (5-foot, 8-inch) bed, which is the only bed available on the Crew Cab.
Five suspensions are available: Z83 is the standard setup designed for a smooth ride; Z85 is a little firmer for enhanced handling and towing; Z71 is for off-road driving and includes 18-inch wheels; Z60 is for maximum street performance and includes 20-inch wheels; NHT is for maximum towing capacity (bigger rear axle with locking differential, HD cooling, and so forth) and includes high-capacity rear springs as well as all-terrain tires.
Safety features on all Silverado models include dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes, tire pressure monitoring system. Safety options include side-curtain airbags, StabiliTrak electronic stability control with rollover mitigation technology, Autotrac active transfer case, rear park assist, and OnStar.
Option prices vary by trim level and body style. Among them: a cargo management system for the truck bed ($95), a power sliding sunroof ($795), 20-inch wheels/suspension ($995), a power sliding rear window ($200), rear-seat entertainment system ($1,295), and navigation system ($2,250). On lesser models: locking differential ($395), StabiliTrak electronic stability control ($425), tow packages.
The Chevy Silverado may not have the aggressive styling of the Dodge Ram or Nissan Titan or even the Toyota Tundra or the 2009 Ford F-150, but its upright design may be considered both bold and appealing to its faithful customers, and they buy hundreds of thousands of Silverados each year. We think it's quite attractive.
A raked windshield (angled at 57 degrees) and careful aerodynamic and body-building engineering make the truck both quieter on the inside and more fuel efficient. GM boasts that the Silverado and GMC Sierra are the first full-size trucks to offer both 300 horsepower and EPA highway ratings of 20 miles per gallon (2WD 5.3-liter V8 on gasoline).
The large, gold Chevy bowtie badge is set against a wide, three-bar chrome grille. The grille is flanked by stacked headlights sporting the latest reflector optics. The front bumper incorporates rectangular fog lights.
The hood has a wide power dome. Bulging front fenders wrap over the front wheels and incorporate the headlights within their forward sweep. Likewise, the rear quarter panels are punctuated by large faired wheel wells.
The rear view of the truck features stacked tail lights on either side of a tall tailgate that has a sculpted center section that mimics and inverts the shape of the fender flares.
Built on what General Motors calls its GMT900 platform, the Silverado shares much of its underpinnings with the Tahoe SUV, though the pickup gets a unique rear suspension and a frame section 245 percent stiffer than that of the SUV. The current Silverado chassis is far more rigid than that of the previous-generation, helping reduce the gap between the truck bed and passenger compartment and between fenders and bumpers. This allows suspension components to be designed for improved ride and handling characteristics as well as allowing enhanced aerodynamics and fuel efficiency.
The front suspension uses coil-over shock absorbers (rather than torsion bars) and the rack-and-pinion steering gear is mounted to the engine cross member to provide enhanced control and feedback. The Silverado benefits from a rear axle design featuring shocks absorbers mounted outboard and more upright for better dynamic control than that of the previous-generation models.
The Silverado WT, LS and LT come with what Chevy calls the pure pickup interior while the LTZ features a more luxurious interior.
The pure pickup interior is more driver and work oriented, includes two glove boxes in the dashboard, one of them just about the right size to hold a pair of work gloves and a few small items, and a 40/20/40-split front bench seat with the center section of the seat back folding down to form a wide arm rest with lots of storage capacity. This interior features large switchgear controls and interior door handles designed to be easily manipulated even while wearing bulky gloves.
The more luxury-oriented interior includes bucket seats with a permanent center console with 20 liters of storage capacity. The center stack puts ventilation and audio controls within easy site and reach of the front seat passenger. This version has a single glove box in the dash.
XM satellite radio with current traffic conditions and Bluetooth may be ordered, or alternately, OnStar 8.0 with destination download and turn-by-turn navigation. We like both.
Extended cabs feature stadium-style seating with an elevated view for those sitting in the second row. Both the extended cab and crew cab versions offer plenty of rear legroom. The rear seat bottoms can be easily be folded up to provide more room on the floor for cargo. Rear seats are split 60/40 so one side can be folded up for cargo while the other is used for seating.
Chevrolet says the interior of the new Silverado is 20 percent quieter than its predecessor (pre-2007 and Silverado Classic models), thanks to enhanced insulation materials, much like those used in the company's sport utility vehicles, and to aerodynamic improvements that reduce wind noise.
Choosing the right cabin configuration (pure pickup WT/LS/LT or luxury LTZ) depends on how you expect to use the truck and what you expect from it.
An LTZ interior mirrors those of GM's full-size sport-utilities and is modeled more like a big touring sedan than a truck. It's a smooth, cohesive design with a central console that rises to a wall of smallish white-on-black buttons you can't operate with mittens like those on the "pure pickup." The navigation system is up high for good viewing, intuitive in operation, and offers many choices in radio station memory. The LTZ cabin is available in three interior colors and, though it will show dirt faster, the lightest color gives the most luxurious impression.
The WT/LT version is conventional truck with a more open floor area, space for junk all over, and no concerns that something might get scratched, scuffed or dirty. Modern electronics suggest hosing them out isn't a good idea anymore, but a shovel and stiff bristle brush should get it done.
Suspension choice is key to the driving characteristics of the Chevy Silverado. The basic Z83 suspension is best chosen for budget constraints (or if you plan to make modifications and throw away the stock parts). The Z85 is similar except that it uses better shock absorbers and is calibrated for how today's light-duty pickups are often used as daily transportation. The Z71 package is designed for off-highway use and makes maximum use of suspension travel to keep the wheels on the ground when on the trail or dirt roads; this off-road package frequently provides the best ride quality on anything worse than glass-smooth interstates. The Z60 street package replete with 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires is best used for the highway and smooth two-lanes but can be used on a dirt road. The NHT package is designed for maximum loads; ride compliance is good based on how much weight it can carry and tow but driving it around empty may be firmer (harsher) than you want for every day use.
The Silverado benefits from brakes much improved over pre-2007 models, whether equipped with disc or drum brakes.
Drivers who tow will appreciate the optional integrated brake controller like that used on the Silverado heavy-duty trucks. (However, be sure your trailer brakes are compatible with it before choosing the option, as some electro-hydraulic disc conversions do not work with the integrated controller.)
Towing capacities range as high as 10,700 pounds with the NHT/6-liter package. Maximum tow ratings for other models without the 6-liter/NHT are in the 8000-8900 pound range (Hybrid excepted). If your trailer is heavier than 6,000 pounds or so, we'd recommend looking at the heavy-duty Silverado HD models. Remember these trailer weights are usually quoted for an empty truck with a standard-size driver (154 pounds) on board. If you're hauling a lot of gear and people, you need to take that into consideration.
If you want the 15/21 EPA ratings of the XFE on a regular Silverado or need higher towing capacity, minor changes to driving style will routinely net the same (or better) economy increase.
Those with limited vertical clearance either at home or in commercial garages should note that the 4WD version of Silverado 1500 extended cab and crew cab is fractionally lower at the roof and loading level than the 2WD version. Some pickup trucks add two to three inches in height for 4WD, and those inches could be critical in tight fits.
The Chevy Silverado offers more choices in light-duty pickup variations than any other save GMC and perhaps the Ford F-150. It is among the smoothest riding and quietest of all full-size pickups, at any comparative price point and will face stronger competition from the redesigned for 2009 Dodge Ram and Ford F-150.
G.R. Whale contributed to this report from Southern California; with NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Larry Edsall reporting from Phoenix.