News Column

GM Trucks Are the Ones to Beat: Mark Phelan

September 26, 2013

Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press

chevy silverado
2014 Chevrolet Silverado (photo: GM)

Sept. 26--It's hard not to feel like a possum about to go SPLAT! when you stand in front of the grille of the new 2014 Chevrolet Silverado. The full-size pickup has that kind of visual, um, impact.

Plenty of competing pickups will share the flat possum's pain after shoppers compare them to General Motors' new full-size pickups, the Silverado and GMC Sierra.

The pickups beat the competitors' fuel economy and towing capacity while offering limo-size four-door crew cabs trimmed with ritzy materials.

The pickups offer a dizzying range of models, wheelbases, drivetrains, cab configurations, bed sizes and towing capacities.

To save space and reduce confusion, prices in this review refer to the higher-selling Chevrolet Silverado 1500 -- the truck I spent the most time testing -- unless I specifically mention a Sierra. Silverados are similar to, but generally have less standard equipment than, the corresponding Sierra model.

Silverado prices start at $23,590 for a base rear-wheel drive model with a two-door cab and 4.3-liter V6 engine.

The next step up is called the double cab. It features a rear seat and rear doors that are small, but open like conventional doors, unlike the rear-hinged "suicide doors" that used to be common. Double cab prices start at $27,815.

The top-selling model will be the crew cab, which features four regular-size doors and a spacious passenger compartment. Crew cab prices start at $31,715.

I tested a well-equipped, four-wheel drive crew cab Silverado 1500 Z71 LTZ that stickered at $48,595. It had leather upholstery, a 5.3-liter 355-horsepower V8 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, navigation, Bose audio, voice recognition, a touch screen, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled seats, and much more.

I tested a similarly equipped GMC Sierra that stickered at $49,560. All prices exclude destination charges.

Silverado and Sierra prices compare favorably with other full-size pickups: the Ford F-150, Nissan Titan, Ram 1500 and Toyota Tundra.

The EPA rates the trucks I drove at 16 m.p.g. in the city, 22 on the highway and 18 in combined driving. Rear-wheel drive models gain 1 m.p.g. across the line. The trucks beat the fuel economy of comparable competitors, including the turbocharged V6 in Ford's Ecoboost F-150.

The Silverado I tested has a 9,500-pound towing capacity.

That is very impressive, but should come with an asterisk. Automakers have traditionally created their own standards to judge towing capacity. Basically, they write the test, then congratulate themselves for how well they did. That's not ideal.

The Society of Automotive Engineers -- which creates standards for everything from oil viscosity to measuring engine horsepower -- has created a single standard towing test, but GM did not use it for the new 2014 pickups. That would be a big deal, except Ford, Ram and Nissan also use their own tests. Only the Toyota Tundra uses the SAE testing standard.

GM says it will switch to the SAE towing standard "when the industry does." That's dandy, but they should have switched when they introduced new pickups that aspire to lead the industry.

The Silverado's new 5.3-liter V8 -- the latest in a line of engines that goes back to the original Small Block V8 -- delivers plenty of power, using direct fuel injection and cylinder deactivation to boost fuel economy.

The Silverado's spacious interior is comfortable and trimmed in materials that look and feel terrific. It's a hardworking pickup, but with comfort and sophisticated features that could challenge many high-end sedans.

Oddly, the tilt and telescoping steering column uses two different levers for the two adjustments. It's an inefficient combination and harder to use than those found on competing trucks.

I was surprised that such a well-equipped truck lacked blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts. Both would come in very handy with a big vehicle in traffic and when backing out of a parking space.

I'm disappointed that GM still relies on relatively minor differences in lights and exterior trim to visually differentiate the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. The trucks' sheet metal is virtually identical.

Despite that, the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra's features, capability and fuel economy establish them as the pickups to beat.


(c)2013 the Detroit Free Press

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Original headline: Detroit Free Press Mark Phelan column

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