General Motors won’t start selling the next-generation flagship Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pickup truck until this fall, but it provided Trucks.com with a preview of its technology and driving features at the automaker’s Milford, Mich., proving grounds.
A short drive in the new Silverado 1500 pickup demonstrated a host of improvements that should play well in one of the most profitable and competitive segments of the U.S. auto market.
The new pickup is more agile despite its larger size. The cabin is bigger and more comfortable. The powertrain has significant improvements, including an innovative fuel management system that shuts down as many as seven of the eight cylinders in V8-engine versions. Chevrolet unveiled a lively turbocharged 2.7-liter, four-cylinder engine that will come standard in some trim levels.
The suspension is more refined than the outgoing model, confirmed by about a dozen miles of driving that included washboard pavement, cracked concrete, smooth roadway and several railroad crossings. The new Silverado performs better over every road surface. Cracks, bumps and potholes are smoothed for the front passengers. The spacious second row of seats in the crew cab also is more comfortable.
But this is still a pickup truck. Back seat road comfort remains a challenge for the new Silverado when compared with a sedan or even a car-based crossover. Bumps and potholes easily muted by the Silverado’s suspension for front passengers still jolt those in the back. None of the pickup truck makers — including Ford and Ram — have figured out a good solution. The new Silverado is better than the previous generation but not great.
Yet this doesn’t take away from the huge strides Chevrolet has made in the new Silverado.
Buyers will first notice the space. A new truck platform and body architecture allowed designers to enlarge the cabin and add room in the bed. GM added 4 inches to the wheelbase. The truck bed is almost 7 inches wider. The cargo volume will be a class-leading 63 cubic feet. Although the truck is bigger, it has better aerodynamics, and fuel economy should top the current model.
But Chevrolet has worked just as hard improving the inner workings of the truck.
The enhancements are immediately noticeable, especially when bringing the truck to a full stop. Like many new vehicles the Silverado has a start/stop feature that briefly turns off the engine at a red light or other stop to save fuel. But unlike most other vehicles on the market it actually works smoothly. Chevrolet has engineered out the irritating jolts that typically bracket the engine’s brief shutdown.
Chevrolet has figured out how to do a heck of lot more than just turn off the engine at a stoplight. Even as it drives, the V8 Silverado models will turn off up to seven of the eight cylinders to save fuel. Called Dynamic Fuel Management, the system is an industry-first cylinder deactivation technology that enables the engines to operate in 17 different cylinder patterns to optimize power delivery and efficiency. It’s seamless and imperceptible to the driver.
Embedded in the Silverado’s 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter V8 engine options, it builds on a previous system that would shut down four cylinders at a time. The new system operates fewer than eight active cylinders more than 60 percent of the time. Accelerating from a stop or passing a vehicle on a highway takes all eight cylinders. But cruising down the highway at 60 mph might require just three or maybe only one. There was no drop in performance or any increase in noise or vibration while testing the system at varied speeds on the roads at the proving grounds.
“You only utilize the cylinders that you need,” Jordan Lee, GM’s chief engineer for small-block engines, told Trucks.com.
The system will come in the 5.3-liter V8, rated at 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque and mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It also is part of the 6.2-liter V8, rated at 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque and paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission.
GM said this adds up to a bigger, more efficient truck that will have payload and towing capacity and fuel economy competitive with rival trucks in each engine segment. But details are still to come. The automaker said it will provide the exact ratings and pricing closer to the on-sale date.
Chevrolet will still sell the lowest trim versions of the truck with its older engines. But it does plan a new offering with the 2.7-liter turbo four-cylinder, a first for the Silverado line. The new engine is rated at 310 horsepower and 348 pound-feet of torque and will come standard in the LT and RST trim grades, replacing a 4.3-liter V6. It was designed just for GM’s truck line. Expect to see it as an offering in the new versions of the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and other truck-based SUVs.
Although this first drive wasn’t long enough to judge how the truck performs over long distances and in urban traffic, it did show that General Motors will have one of the top full-size trucks in the pickup market. With the Silverado and GMC Sierra, a sister truck that also gets the new design, GM sold more than 800,000 full-size pickups last year and has about a third of the U.S. market. Ford’s F-Series line is bigger with sales approaching 900,000 trucks, almost 38 percent of the market.
But with the new truck, GM clearly is telling Ford and other competitors that it will have a formidable offering to fight for every pickup sale.
Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, Trucks.com attended an event where General Motors Co. hosted travel and lodging.