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Full-size trucks don't change with the wind, so when an all-new example hits the streets, it's a pretty big deal. Under pressure from newer competition from Ford and Ram, the Chevrolet Silverado was due for a tires-up makeover, and gets it for 2014.
For decades, automakers concentrated on how to make their trucks haul and tow more than the other guy's. How much gas it took to accomplish those ends was not a chief concern, as evidenced by the EPA ratings on the outgoing model. Not only is efficiency now getting more attention, it's the chief accomplishment of the new Silverado.
All engines benefit from new fuel-saving technology: direct injection, variable valve time and cylinder deactivation. The base 4.3-liter EcoTec3 V6 produces 285 horsepower, up from 195 last year. The massive boost means the V6 will have greater relevance in the lineup, appealing to customers who want a certain level of capability, but don't quite need a V8. In fact, it's available in all models except the line-topping LTZ. That's a departure from the past, when only the most basic examples carried a V6.
The 5.3-liter V8, also dubbed EcoTec3, is standard on the LTZ and available everywhere else. Horsepower comes in at 355, and mileage reaches 23 mpg on the highway, the best of any V8 pickup -- and even better than some V6s. A 6.2-liter version is expected to join the roster later in the year. All engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the four-speed unit previously used on some models. In keeping with the "efficiency" theme, the redesigned body makes greater use of aluminum and high-strength steel to keep weight down.
Speaking of the outside, the Silverado doesn't look radically different than its predecessors. There are a few new touches, like full-width bumpers and sculpted fenders, but nothing that violates Chevy tradition. The interior, however, takes a dramatic leap forward with an octagonal center stack with an 8-inch touchscreen, sleek new door panels, and plusher seating. Underneath all that, there's a revised steering system with electric assist, and suspension refinements aimed at providing a smoother ride and more responsive handling.
Given all these advancements, folks who already love Chevy trucks will think the new Silverado fell from heaven. Those not married to a particular brand will be impressed by its efficiency and new sophistication, enough for some of them to join the club.
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