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Thursday, May 9, 2013

2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500: First Drive

2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ

Everything's bigger in Texas, and Texans love their trucks.
As we got our first drive time in the new 2014 Chevy Silverado this week, in Hill Country near San Antonio, we couldn't ignore how those two ideas continue to help put wind in the sails of the U.S. truck market. Going over well in the Lone Star State is crucial; it accounts for about one fifth of the nation's pickup sales, and well over one in four vehicles sold in Texas is not just a truck, not just a pickup, but a full-size pickup. They're everywhere here—the biggest, brawniest-looking ones.

Meanwhile, Americans elsewhere are wondering why full-size trucks need to keep becoming bigger and blunter. And it's an odd contrast that in an era in which Americans are more amenable to the idea of smaller cars and crossovers, that when it comes to trucks, some different, old rules apply. A new mid-size Colorado is on the way; but well before then, this entirely revamped lineup of light-duty 2014 full-sizers are arriving.

Of course 'light-duty' is a misnomer today. Most versions of so-called half-tons have cargo-payload ratings well exceeding 1,500 pounds, and the significantly refreshed 2014 Silverado does its best to look heavy-duty, flexing its muscles more than ever before on the outside, and taking after the current Silverado HD trucks. There's a more imposing front end (now with as much vertical distance up front as the HD), a dual-dome hood, and a more chiseled look overall; GM has even squared off the wheel wells just a bit more to accent the profile.

“Bigger and bolder is an extension of individuality for truck buyers,” said design director Tom Peters, who gave the truck its new look; and that holds true especially in Texas, he admits.

Although some of the U.S. pickup market craves a smaller 'full-size' model—to paraphrase what a GM official conceded—we can’t afford to lose Texas either.

Keeping the engines big and strong—but more efficient

Of course what's under the hood matters tremendously, too, to truck buyers everywhere—as do tow ratings, performance, and more recently, fuel economy. Ford, with its surprisingly successful EcoBoost V-6, has turned to turbocharging. But GM is bucking that route, not at all downsizing but instead completely re-engineering its V-6 and V-8 engines for GM's new-generation trucks, including the 2014 Silverado, the 2014 GMC Sierra, and its upcoming SUVs that include the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban, the GMC Yukon, and the Cadillac Escalade.

All three so-called EcoTec3 engines are built with several core attributes: direct injection, variable valve timing, and cylinder deactivation technology. And compared to their predecessors of the same displacement, they produce dramatically more power and torque, with much-improved fuel economy figures. In short, GM argues that while EcoBoost might save fuel on the EPA cycle, this strategy saves fuel in the way that trucks are really used, when under higher load, and in towing and hauling.

We knew we were up for a perkier driving experience, stronger towing, more confidence with a load, and all that. But the new V-6 engine—every bit as modern as the 5.3-liter but with two fewer cylinders—is a revelation.

Wow, you really don't need the V-8

The V-6 is not only responsible, in a forward-thinking, let’s-use-less-fuel way; it comes darn close to making the 5.3-liter V-8 redundant if you go not by the number of cylinders or the lack of a V-8 exhaust burble but by acceleration. With 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque, this engine feels just as strong as GM's V-8 engines did less than a decade ago (in fact, it's the same torque rating as the most recent generation's 4.8-liter). Cover the ears of drivers to block out its very-V-6 sounds, and they'd peg it as a naturally aspirated V-8.

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