Lassie on her best day couldn't match the fidelity of someone who buys a particular brand of pickup. Once they choose Ford or Chevy or Dodge, usually only a pine box parts them.
With this in mind, the goal of the next-generation Chevrolet Silverado wasn't to lure new buyers with extraneous bells and whistles. Rather, the 2014 model, rolling into dealerships now, aims to give the Chevy faithful exactly what they liked about their existing trucks, while correcting previous flaws.
The new Chevy truck succeeds in that context. It's a measured step in the Silverado's evolution that makes meaningful improvements to its powertrain, styling, utility and comfort.
A radical deviation from the formula might have offended the Chevy faithful, with dubious prospects for replacing them with new customers. And the pickup -- the second-best-selling vehicle in America, behind only Ford's F-150 -- generates piles of cash for GM, more than any other vehicle it builds.
For 2013, the Silverado and its cousin, the GMC Sierra, are on track to sell almost 500,000 units. With so many sales up for grabs, the truck segment is viciously competitive. This has pushed the Silverado's rivals to explore new and efficient powertrains as a way to draw buyers.
Ram recently refreshed its 1500 trucks, and in 2014 the company will offer a V-6 diesel engine, while making a fuel-saving eight-speed automatic transmission available on all its models.
Ford shook up the truck industry several years ago by offering a turbocharged V-6 engine as an alternative to a V-8 in the F-150. Few expected change-averse truck buyers to part with their beloved V-8 engines, yet Ford says these EcoBoost engines made up roughly 40 percent of all F-150 sales in 2012.
The 2014 Chevy Silverado offers buyers none of these options. Engine choices are limited to one non-turbocharged V-6 and two V-8s, and no diesel. And buyers can choose any transmission they like, as long as it's the six-speed automatic.
Chevy may update the Silverado line later, adding new powertrains and features, said Jeff Luke, GM's executive chief engineer for trucks. But the automaker also hopes to steer truck buyers seeking fuel efficiency toward the mid-size Chevrolet Colorado, a new version of which is expected in 2014.
GM also had to delay development of its trucks by about a year because of its bankruptcy filing in 2009, causing a domino effect that hampered its efforts to keep up with rivals.
Yet a week of testing several iterations of GM's new trucks demonstrated that these new engines are more than capable, while staying technologically relevant in the marketplace.
The base V-6 and the two V-8 engines come with direct-injection, cylinder deactivation and continuously variable valve timing.
Power won't be an issue: The lineup starts with a 4.3-liter V-6 that makes 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque and ends with a 6.2-liter V-8 good for 420 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque.
In the middle is the engine from the loaded Silverado 1500 4x4 Crew Cab we tested. This 5.3-liter V-8 makes 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. It delivered ample power smoothly across the rev range, though occasionally the transmission could have used another gear or two.
The cylinder deactivation was a particularly neat trick, in effect turning the engine into a four-cylinder unit under light loads on the highway. The shift into and out of this mode was imperceptible; without the tiny V-4 indicator light on the dashboard, you'd never know it was happening.
A week of driving this Silverado 323 miles in mostly city conditions yielded an average of 14.5 miles per gallon, though freeway jaunts regularly saw the truck getting around 21 mpg. Official ratings are 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.
This powertrain is also particularly adept at towing. We spent an afternoon in a GMC Sierra with the same engine and transmission, while pulling a 5,000-pound Airstream trailer behind us.
With the blessing of a GM engineer from the truck program, we slammed on the brakes, floored the accelerator and jerked the wheel from side to side (not at the same time) in an effort to unsettle the vehicle. We blinked long before it did. The rest of the drive was impressively drama-free, especially for someone new to the world of towing large objects.
Our truck was also comfortable climbing and descending a steep stretch of rough trail. Included in the $49,050 price was the Z71 package, which added an off-road suspension system with Rancho shocks, hill descent control and a locking rear differential. A rotary dial to the left of the steering wheel enables drivers to easily switch between two-wheel drive, Auto, 4WD High or 4WD Low.
This loaded LTZ model we tested is nearly as nice a Silverado as you can buy, save for the High Country model due out this fall. Try to spend any more, and you'll find yourself in GMC Sierra territory, a place where price tags stray deep into the $50,000 range.
Other features on our truck included heated and cooled leather seats, Chevy's excellent 8-inch MyLink touch-screen infotainment system, navigation, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, a Bose audio system, six air bags and trailer sway control.
The interior was a study in practicality, with storage space everywhere, from the huge center console space to cubbyholes tucked into voids around the cabin.
At the bottom of the dashboard sat a row of plugs; three USB outlets, two power outlets and the unicorn of in-vehicle power sources, the 110-volt outlet. A few more power outlets and USB ports were sprinkled elsewhere around the inside for good measure.
The cabin was also quiet and comfortable enough to make a Cadillac engineer blush. The build quality and materials felt excellent and ready for years of abuse. The rear seats on our crew cab (the largest configuration available) offered more room than many full-size luxury sedans.
All Silverados will be available in myriad cab, engine and bed configurations, though availability will be graduated. The four-door crew cabs are in dealerships now. The double cab models are expected in August. The regular cab should arrive in September.
Prices for the regular cab models haven't been announced. A base double cab costs $27,615, and prices go all the way up to the $50,000 range for loaded models similar to our tester.
All versions feature styling that is handsome and masculine, with a blocky, squared-off aesthetic. Much like the truck as a whole, the new design seems like barely an update until you park it next to the previous generation Silverado and see how much has changed.
For Chevy loyalists, this is just how they'll want it: familiar, but better. Stealing buyers from Ford or Dodge may be a tougher challenge.
2014 Chevrolet Silverado
Reviewer's take: Moves the needle enough to keep Chevy truck fans happy
Highs: Masculine styling, quiet interior, heaps of practicality
Lows: Drivetrains not as varied or efficient as others, may not steal many sales from rivals
Vehicle type: Four-door full-size pickup truck
Powertrain: 5.3-liter, direct-injected V-8 with cylinder deactivation, 4WD
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Torque: 383 pound-feet
Zero to 60 mph: 7.5 seconds, according to PickupTrucks.com
EPA fuel economy rating: 16 mpg city, 22 highway
Base price: $34,490
Price as tested: $49,050
©2013 Los Angeles Times
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