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Chevrolet Silverado offers a smooth ride and confident handling while delivering excellent capability and power. No question, the Silverado is a great truck. The 2012 Chevy Silverado doesn't boast the latest design, but all the current full-size pickups are good and it mostly comes down to preference. Silverado is available in a wide range of sizes, engines, and capabilities. The hardest part is choosing the model and configuration, which must be done carefully to best meet your needs and wants.
The 2012 Chevrolet Silverado gets few changes from last year's models. Most important: StabiliTrak electronic stability control adds trailer sway control and hill-start assist. 2012 Chevy Silverado WT models now come standard with cruise control and a spare tire lock. Heated and cooled front seats and HDD navigation with XM radio and USB are available on the 2012 Silverado LTZ. 2012 Silverado models get new colors and chrome trim changes. Silverado was last redesigned for 2007.
The base engine is a 4.3-liter V6 (195 hp/260 lb-ft of torque) with a 4-speed automatic, offered only on Regular Cabs and 2WD Extended Cab models with the standard bed. The 4.8-liter V8 (302 hp/305 lb-ft of torque) and 4-speed automatic are standard on Crew Cab and 4WD Extended Cab models with the standard bed, and on many LT models.
The 5.3-liter V8 (315 hp/338 lb-ft of torque, or 326 hp/348 lb-ft of torque on E85), with active fuel management that shuts off cylinders to save fuel, and iron or aluminum block, is standard on most LTZ models and is matched with a 6-speed automatic.
The top engine is a 6.2-liter V8 (403 hp/417 lb-ft of torque) available on Extended Cab and Crew Cab models; it uses the 6-speed automatic.
Silverado XFE (eXtra Fuel Economy) models use a 5.3-liter V8, 6-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 7,000 pounds.
Silverado Hybrid, available only in the Crew Cab body style and tow trim levels, uses a 6.0-liter V8 (332 hp/367 lb-ft of torque), battery pack, and 4-speed automatic with two electric motors in it. EPA ratings are 20/23 mpg. Tow ratings are available to 6100 pounds, and maximum payload is in the 1,400-pound range.
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 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. The short bed (5-foot, 8-inch) is the only bed available on the Crew Cab.
Silverado WT ($22,195) 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, cruise control, dual glove boxes, two auxiliary power outlets, tire pressure monitoring system, OnStar and a 4-speed automatic transmission. (All prices are manufacturers suggested retail prices, do not include destination charge, and may change at any time.)
Silverado LS Extended Cab and Crew Cab models offer more features.
Silverado LT ($27,550 for Regular Cab 2WD) 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.
The Silverado XFE 2WD Crew Cab is a fuel-economy special with soft roll-up bed cover, aluminum wheels and trailering package ($34,525).
Silverado LTZ ($36,055 for extended cab, 2WD) 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.
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, side-curtain airbags, and StabiliTrak electronic stability control with rollover mitigation technology.
The Chevy Silverado may not have the aggressive styling of some other pickups, but its upright design may be considered 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 quiet on the inside and contribute to fuel efficiency. GM boasts that the Silverado and GMC Sierra were the first full-size trucks to offer both 300 horsepower and EPA highway ratings of 20 miles per gallon or better.
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, which allowed the engineers to reduce the gaps between the truck bed and passenger compartment and between fenders and bumpers. This stiffer frame also 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 and the rack-and-pinion steering gear design provides enhanced control and feedback. The Silverado benefits from a rear axle design featuring shock 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 Chevrolet 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.
Headlights are more or less controlled by twisting a rotary knob on the dash to the left of the steering wheel. An identical knob to the right is used to switch between 2WD and 4WD. We found it's easy to switch to 4WD, while trying to switch off the headlights.
XM Satellite Radio with current traffic conditions and Bluetooth may be ordered, or alternately, OnStar with destination download and turn-by-turn navigation. We like both.
Extended Cab models 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 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 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 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 a conventional truck with a more open floor area, space for random stuff all over, and no concerns that something might get scratched, scuffed or dirty. Modern electronics suggest hosing out a truck interior 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 everyday use.
The Silverado benefits from good 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 package. Maximum tow ratings for other models are in the 9,100-10,000 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 on board. If you're hauling a lot of gear and people, you need to take that into consideration.
If you want the 15/22 mpg 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 versions of the Silverado 1500 Extended Cab and Crew Cab models are fractionally lower at the roof and loading level than the 2WD versions. Some pickup trucks add two to three inches in height for 4WD, and those inches could be critical in tight fits.
It's hard to go wrong with a full-size pickup this year. They're all pretty terrific. The Chevy Silverado offers plenty of choices in light-duty pickup variations, just like the competition, though only the Silverado and GMC Sierra offer a hybrid. Silverado is aging relative newer Ford and Ram offerings but can still be counted on to get the job done.
G.R. Whale contributed to this report from Southern California; with NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Larry Edsall reporting from Phoenix.