An American dream. Pickups like the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 have long been wooing American car shoppers away from sedans, crossovers, SUVs, and anything else that could stand in as a daily driver.
Trading on equal parts capability and Americana, the Silverado – hardly more than a vehicular tool in the most objective sense – has cultivated an image that goes far beyond pulling trailers and hauling dirt. As the old tagline goes, it's as American as apple pie.
Keeping with that theme, Americans love choice, and the Silverado 1500 has it. Multiple beds and cab designs are available, as are two different tailgates – the alternative option being a new, six-way power tailgate plucked from the GMC Sierra 1500 – and a total of eight different trim levels. A Silverado can be made as custom-fit as a pair of cowboy boots.
The upper end of those trims dazzle and sparkle with technology. An 8-inch touchscreen, standard on most trims, comes with parking lines and hitch guidance. On the options list is a see-through camera mirror that shows directly behind the trailer, through the trailer, or a number of other views. Available safety kit includes blind-spot monitoring and automatic emergency braking.
Engines, engines, engines. The Chevy Silverado 1500 offers a number of engines, but what's more American than a burbling V8? A pickup with such a V8, that's what. The 355-horsepower, 5.3-liter V8 remains the mainstay engine in the Silverado lineup, offered on most trims as either standard or with a small upcharge. It's smooth, quick, capable, and relatively good on gas. It remains our choice for its unbeatable versatility.
The 6.2-liter V8 won't be so popular, but we wish it was. Last year, Chevrolet expanded availability for their big V8 so that the top half of the trim hierarchy now offers this 420-horse workhorse. It mates up to a 10-speed automatic that shifts smooth and confidently. Towing maxes out at 13,300 pounds, the best showing here. That number tops the Ram 1500 but can't beat out the Ford F-150, which can pull a full 14,000 pounds in properly equipped.
If eight cylinders is too much, there's always the 2.7-liter four-cylinder. It's tempting to write off this runt of an engine in a vehicle this large and macho, but fact of the matter is the Silverado 1500 is fastest with equipped this engine: its 310 horsepower and 348 pound-feet of torque let 0-60 mph happens in just about seven seconds. Towing capacity isn't too shabby either at 9,600 pounds, which is up 2,500 pounds over last year.
Rounding out the engine choices is a 3.0-liter diesel V6. It's the most efficient engine here by a wide margin and can tow nearly as much as the four-cylinder. It's $1,500 cheaper than last year, making it more tempting than ever.
Ride and handling. The Chevy handles itself well for its size and shape, but until it switches to a coil-spring rear suspension, it can never be at the top of the class for ride. For now, it's leaf-spring suspension provides payload and towing capability but comes with the unpleasant side effects of a bouncy, jittery ride when unladen. This markedly improves when loaded up, but how often are most truck owners cruising with a full bed of cargo?
The Silverado isn't much better or worse than the F-150 in this regard, but both trucks pale in comparison to the Ram 1500. With its rear coil springs and independent front suspension, the Ram defies the typical full-size truck template. In doing so it gives buyers the ride comfort of an SUV or crossover. The difference is startling.
Like the ride, the handling is typical truck stuff. Steering is light and mostly uninformative. Cornering? It's better you don't. That said, follow the posted limits for the curvy stuff and the Silverado 1500 will do just fine. If you need to stop in a huff the brake pedal is comfortingly firm and the stopping distances are reasonable.
Interior woes. Where the Chevy Silverado falls flat is its interior. The design leaves us cold with its lack of cohesion and general attractiveness. That said, we could probably learn to live with it – if it weren't for the abysmal quality. Parts, plastics, and switchgear all feel second-rate. That might be fine, even expected, in the base WT. But this is uncalled for in High Country trucks that can sticker for nearly $70,000.
At least the seats are comfortable. The Silverado 1500 can seat up to six, but most models will be equipped for five. With such a setup, the front buckets are wide and supportive. The back seat on crew cabs is plenty roomy and comfy as well. Leg room is a massive 43.6 inches. Compared to the cramped double cab that's also offered, the full-on crew cab is a no-brainer for anyone uses their truck as a family hauler.
But decent seats don't overcome the poor design and lackluster fit and finish. GM can do better. We know it, we've seen it. Their new Chevrolet Corvette is a testament to their potential. So, why did they drop the ball on their bread-and-butter product? It perplexes and disappoints us. Until the interior is brought up to snuff, Ford and Ram are ahead here.
Final thoughts. Deft marketing is just one reason the 2021 Chevy Silverado 1500 is beloved and romanticized. It also happens to excel in all the ways trucks need to excel: in performance, capability, and versatility.
These critical attributes overcome the mediocre interior and keep this big Chevy in the top half of its class. But if this full-blooded American wants to be valedictorian, it'll need to go back to finishing school.
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