2019 Chevrolet Silverado First Drive - Good, but Good Enough?
One of the most recent “truisms” kicked around regarding the automotive industry is that there are very few “bad” cars and trucks.
In other words, no matter what vehicle you buy, it’s likely to perform its intended purpose well, offer decent reliability, and not be too punishing to drive.
The flip side is that if almost every vehicle is “good,” then for one to stand out from its competitors, it needs to be even better.
That’s the problem Chevrolet faces with its redesigned 2019 Silverado. Being good won’t be enough, not in a segment in which the Ram 1500 garners accolades from keyboard warriors like myself for its interior design and the F-150 remains wildly popular (and just offered customers a diesel variant).
Not to mention that Chevrolet faces competition from within its own company – the higher-dollar GMC Sierra is all-new, too, and first drives take place later this month.
(Full disclosure: Chevrolet flew me to Jackson, Wyoming to allow me to drive the new Silverado. The company put me up in a nice ranch cabin (and left snacks), fed me several great meals, and offered plenty of local brews. Chevy provided off-road and trailering demos. Chevy also offered a hat – at least I think, as I did not take it).
The highlights of the new Silverado include a diet that shed up to 450 pounds, eight trim choices, and six engine and transmission combinations – including an upcoming diesel. We had our crack at 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter V8s; no diesel was on hand to test just yet.
Other available engines include a 2.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, a 4.3-liter V6, two 5.3-liter V8s, a 6.2-liter V8, and the soon-to-market 3.0-liter inline-six turbo diesel. The 4.3 makes 285 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque and pairs to a six-speed automatic. The 2.7 makes 310/348 and pairs with an eight-speed auto, while both 5.3s make 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft, but one mates to a six-speed automatic and the other to an eight-speed. They have different fuel-management systems, as well, and one has stop/start tech.
The 6.2-liter makes 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, and pairs to a 10-speed automatic. It has stop/start, as does the 2.7 and the diesel, which will mate to a 10-speed automatic and hit the market in early 2019.
All of the gas engines come with either active fuel management or dynamic fuel management. The dynamic system, which appears on one of the 5.3s and the 6.2, differs from the active system in one key way. The active system uses cylinder deactivation to alternate between eight-cylinder mode and four-cylinder mode. Dynamic is more, well, dynamic – it uses cylinder-deactivation to come up with 17 possible different firing fractions. In other words, the engine can activate only the amount of cylinders needed to meet the torque demanded by the driver.
I started my day in a 5.3-liter LT Trail Boss, which I found to be pleasant but a tad underpowered. Yes, we were at altitude – somewhere around 7,000 feet above sea level – but even with the 383 lb-ft of torque and a maximum towing capacity of 11,600 pounds, it felt a tad light on guts.
I towed a trailer of about 6,000 pounds and, while the 5.3 was capable of towing it with ease, you still can feel the weight back there. Trailer hooked up or not, the 5.3 feels adequate for around-town needs, but in search of a little more oomph.
The Z71 off-road package on the Trail Boss I drove gave it a decided tough-truck look, but also meant the otherwise smooth suspension occasionally got a little jittery on certain types of pavement. You opt for the off-road gear; you should expect a mild sacrifice in ride. Fortunately, that doesn’t really apply to handling – even with the Z71 package, the Trail Boss was untroubled by on-road corners. Switching to Sport mode does firm up the already well-weighted steering, and the truck makes for a nice highway cruiser in either normal or Sport.
The 6.2-liter solves a lot of ills. Its torque was noticeable, and the 10-speed wasn’t. Passing was breezier and grades were less taxing. Not to mention that while the 5.3 was smooth, the 6.2 was on another level. If Han Solo is smooth, he’s got nothing on Lando Calrissian. That’s how it is here. It’s just a powertrain that does its business pleasantly.
It also rates a 1 mpg higher city mpg number from the EPA, so there’s that.
Few expect great fuel efficiency from full-size trucks, and the EPA numbers on the window stickers bear that out, but my drive partner and I saw good numbers from the trip computer. The caveat being that we were at two-lane highway speeds, gently cruising, for about 80 percent of the drive.
Of the three trucks I drove, the mpg numbers work this way: 15 city/20 highway/17 combined for the LT Trail Boss, 16/22/18 for the LTZ, and 16/20/17 for the High Country. The first two trucks had the 5.3 with dynamic fuel management, while the High Country had the 6.2. All three were four-wheel drive crew cabs.
Truck buyers care as much, if not more, about the cabins than they do the drive dynamics. That’s because for some, their truck is also a place of business; for the rest, they don’t want to give up comfort just because they bought a truck for utility.
This is where the Silverado falls short. While its design is eye-pleasing, it already feels outdated in comparison to what Ford and Ram offer. The center-stack infotainment screen is small. The LT Trail Boss was plagued by hard plastic (just ask my right knee how it feels after an unfortunate encounter getting into the passenger seat), and while the High Country gets nicer materials, all three trucks had weird mishmashes of materials in places.
I also had problems connecting my iPhone to the USB in the High Country – it wouldn’t charge, and it kept disconnecting, meaning CarPlay wouldn’t come up. I’ve had this issue in GM vehicles before, but not for several years. At least the wireless cell-phone charger worked.
It’s not all bad inside. HVAC controls are well done, and gauges easy to read. The trip computer/in-gauge display is easy to read and use, providing more information than you may ever need. Rear-seat space is plentiful and generous, and the front seats were comfortable enough that I never tired after a full day of exploring Wyoming, Idaho, and Grand Teton National Park.
I also dug the storage compartment above the glovebox, the additional cell-phone storage slot on top of the console, and the storage areas ahead of the cupholders. There’s a USB-C hookup, and a power outlet, at the bottom of the center stack.
There are buttons that control various truck functions everywhere, but most are clearly marked and easily reached by the driver. The drive-mode selector is in an odd spot (up and to the left of the steering wheel), but you learn its location quickly.
A few trim bits on our early-production test vehicles seemed not ready for prime time, including some of the plastic near the seat belt in one truck, but again, the trucks I drove were early builds.
The exterior styling is certainly controversial. Not only is it not a huge departure from the previous truck, but the looks have been a subject of debate among the staff. I dig the how the headlights are sort of pinched and divided, but not everyone TTACer agrees with me. The Trail Boss does look better than the rest with the blacked-out grille and wheels – but the trims with chrome or body-color (RST) grilles don’t look ugly to my eye.
That said, the Ram is, to me at least, the best-looking truck on sale right now, and the F-150 is also more of a looker. The Silverado won’t turn as many heads.
Chevy offers eight trims for Silverado – the base Work Truck (17-inch wheels, blacked-out trim, vinyl or cloth trim, 7-inch infotainment screen), Custom (adds 20-inch wheels, LED taillamps, and available dual exhaust), Custom Trail Boss (2-inch lift, Z71 package with locking rear diff, skid plates, Rancho shocks, 18-inch wheels and off-road rubber), LT (chrome trim, LED headlamps, 8-inch touchscreen, available leather seats), RST (street appearance package, body-color trim, LED lights all around (including fog lamps), up to 22-inch wheels), LT Trail Boss (adds Z71 package), LTZ (lots of chrome exterior trim, heated power-folding mirrors, standard leather seats), and High Country (unique grille with two-tone chrome and bronze, power tailgate, body-color accents).
As mentioned before, I got my mitts on a LT Trail Boss, a LTZ, and a High Country. The LTZ and High Country are what Chevy considers its loaded models, with the LT Trail Boss expected to be a volume seller, along with the LT and RST.
Available or standard features present on the trucks I drove included Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, heated seats, heated and cooled seats, rear-view camera, power tailgate, hill descent control, heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, second-row USB ports, power sliding rear window, satellite radio, premium audio, wi-fi hotspot, front and rear park assist, side blind-zone alert with rear cross-traffic alert, head-up display, forward-collision alert, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, rear camera mirror, low-speed forward automatic braking, front pedestrian braking, and following-distance indicator.
I’m jumbling up the options mix intentionally – the build and price tool isn’t yet live on Chevy’s site as I write this, and Chevy didn’t provide us with a spreadsheet listing exactly what features are or aren’t available with each trim.
Nor did we get pricing info for all trims, but I can tell you the Trail Boss I drove started at $48,300 before options (including dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and steering wheel, second-row USB, satellite radio, premium audio, and 20-inch wheels) with a final price of $54,095 (including $1,495 in fees). The LTZ started at $48,700 and totaled out at $54,730 with the key options being rear heated seats and basic safety aids (park assist, blind-spot alert). The High Country, meanwhile, started at $56,300 and with features such as head-up display, surround camera, and advanced safety aids like forward-collision warning, cost $65,655.
Informal conversations I had and overheard suggest that most, if not all, of the safety aids will be available in the lower trims.
I can tell you engine and trim pairings, however – the 4.3 comes standard in the WT, Custom, and Custom Trail Boss trims, with the 5.3/six-speed combo optional. The LT and RST see a standard four-banger, with options including the 5.3/eight-speed or the upcoming diesel. Meanwhile, the LT Trail Boss, LTZ, and High Country all come standard with the 5.3/eight-speed and the 6.2 as an option. The diesel will be available on the LTZ and High Country, but not the LT Trail Boss.
One neat feature is the available trailer-camera feature – drivers can use the system’s cameras and sensors to monitor trailer placement and operation, although some extra purchases (such as tire-pressure monitoring sensors) will need to be made. I inquired about a trailer-mounted rear-view camera to eliminate blind spots, and was told it may be coming in the future, though nothing is ever certain.
My words above may seem a bit harsh towards the Silverado, but if a truck fit my lifestyle and budget, I’d have no qualms about stepping into a Silverado each day. At least not until I looked over at a Ram or Ford.
Yes, styling doesn’t matter to everyone. Some truck buyers work on loyalty – they bought the last Silverado, and they’ll buy this one, and that’s that. Other truck buyers themselves about a certain spec, such as fuel economy or towing capacity. Speaking of, the Ram’s max towing capacity is 550 pounds greater, while the F-150 bests both – truck buyers often have specific factors in mind when signing on the dotted line.
Should you choose the Silverado, you’ll get a solid truck that does most things well, but doesn’t stand out in an extremely competitive segment. The Silverado is good, even very good, but that may not be enough.
[Images © 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC and Chevrolet]
Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.
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