2009 Chevrolet Silverado

A rig for every need

2009 Chevrolet Silverado

FAST FACTS

1. Silverado was extensively redesigned for 2007, with a new frame, suspension, sheetmetal and interior.

2. New options for ’09 include a six-speed automatic transmission for all engines except the base 4.3 V-6 and 4.8-liter V8s; plus a new top-level 403 hp, 6.2-liter V-8 on Crew Cab models.

3. A new XFE (Xtra Fuel Economy Package) combines the 5.3-liter V-8 and six-speed automatic, 3.08 final drive gearing; plus a lower front airdam, soft toneau cover and lowered suspension with lighter components and wheels, helping it achieve 15/21 mpg (city/highway).

A couple of years ago, General Motors pulled a trick out of its bag, in the shape of the redesigned Chevy Silverado. Save for drivelines, virtually nothing was carried over from its predecessor. The truck garnered praise for its levels of refinement, fit and finish and capability. However, a standard four-speed automatic transmission, at a time when rivals were starting to adopt five-speed units was a bit of a handy cap. Two years later, with redesigned rivals from Ford and Dodge hitting the streets, not to mention a season old second generation Toyota Tundra, the competition is more fierce than ever. Question is, can the Silverado still hold it own against these Johnny-come-latelys? Chevy hopes so by introducing a six-speed automatic for the 5.3, 6.0 and 6.2-liter V-8s, a 6.2 E85 engine option for crew cabs, as well as new paint and wheel finishes, a rear backup camera, plus a special XFE package on LT trim two-wheel-drive trucks that combines the 5.3 V-8 and six-speeder, resulting in a full-size pickup that can get 15/21 mpg city highway.

OUTSIDE AND IN

Whereas the Ram, and to a lesser extent Tundra, go for the big brawny look, the Silverado takes a middle of the road approach, retaining an air of square-rigged familiarity that goes way back to 1988. However, the bulging fenders and prominent grille, hint at a muscular character beneath the linear skin. What does impress is exterior fit and finish. For a truck it’s exemplary, the panels line up nice and precise and the trim doesn’t look like it will fall off over the first bump. The paint also has a nice, deep texture to it. Gone are the days when acres of orange peel were the norm; in fact, our test truck rivaled some near luxury cars for exterior workmanship.

Inside, you can see that attention was paid to the interior, both in terms of ergonomic layout and quality. The previous generation of GM full-size pickups, could be loaded full of toys, but even on the high-level rigs, interior trim and material quality left a lot to be desired. On the current model, it’s much improved, with greater use of soft touch plastics, chrome fittings and sturdier controls. That said, it feels as though there’s still something missing – the cabin doesn’t feel as substantial as it could, particularly when you grab the steering wheel or start playing with things like the window, mirror and stereo switches. Visibility, though, is good and the driver and front passenger controls, despite their still somewhat cheap feel, largely fall readily to hand (though shorter drivers might have some issues with the center stack). Power adjustable pedals are a welcome option as is the built-in traffic feature on the standard Sirius XM Satellite radio. The seats are decent, with good back and thigh support, though side bolstering could be a little improved.  Silverado ½ ton trucks are available in regular, extended cab and crew cab configurations. The Club Cab features rear hinged doors that swing open a full 170 degrees, allowing great access. With the seats folded, there’s plenty of room to load in bulky items. Extended cabs also boast a tremendous amount of rear seat space, with an impressive 34.33 inches of legroom (not that much less than the front) and retractable rear side windows that aide rear rider comfort and convenience. The crew cab is also very spacious for the segment, boasting 39-inches of legroom and 40.5-inches of height space, making it easy to stretch out or use as additional cargo space.

ON THE ROAD

When the HT900 GM trucks were introduced, a lot of fuss was made over their on-road manners. Two years down the line and the Silverado still feels composed, with an excellent ride on smooth tarmac and bumpy pavement, thanks to a well-engineered suspension with thoughtfully calibrated spring and shock rates. Trucks equipped with the Z71 off-road package are firmer, but far more civilized than years past. The rear end feels a lot better located than some rivals and the truck delivers predictable handling both in dry and wet conditions. Thanks to a wide footprint, the Silverado is capable handler with predictable manners and good stability. Understeer is noticeably minimal, however, the steering still feels somewhat lifeless.

On rough pavement, washboard surfaces and off-road, the steering remains the Silverado’s achillies heel; shocks from down below transcend right through the column and up to the wheel sometimes leaving you to wonder if you’ve broken an end link. GM’s 4×4 part-time system is very easy to use (the company was one of the first to introduce electronic push button selection). In high range, the truck will tackle a wide variety of rough and slippery terrain and a combination of a strong engine and transmission, well-spaced gearing and good breakover and departure angles (17.8-inches and 22.8 respectively on a shortbox extended cab truck), means that you’re not likely to get stuck. In low range, when it comes time to tackling the really rough stuff, the Silverado plods on like a bulldozer, though on descents the steering again feels twitchy, requiring more concentration than some competitors. An automated version, called Autotrac; which can be engaged on dry pavement, is also available. Braking is good, both off road and on, with standard four-channel ABS and though the Silverado is one of the only full-size pickups to stick with rear drum brakes, it stops just as well as many of its all-disc competitors (four-wheel discs are optional on Extended and Crew Cab models).

In terms of acceleration and power delivery, the Silverado is among the best in class. No matter what powertrain combination you select, all deliver stellar results, with one exception. The base 4.3-liter Vortech V-6, around since the dinosaurs ruled the earth, shows it’s age. It’s a plodder, but it’s rough, thirsty, slow and a bit out of character for this truck. In all honesty, you’re better off skipping it and going with the 4.8-liter V-8, which besides virtually matching it in the fuel economy stakes 14/19 mpg (city/highway) is not only smoother, but a lot more powerful; making lighter work of hauling, towing, going up hills or overtaking. The 5.3-liter V-8, offered in both regular and E85 flex-fuel versions, makes 318 hp and is a good all-around engine, with best-in-class fuel-economy (20 mpg highway), now that it’s hooked up to the six-speed automatic. The new transmission is seamless in normal operation, with all forward ratios well matched to the engine’s torque curve. The 6.0-liter V-8 (available only on Extended and Crew Cab models) offers even more power and torque (367 and 375 respectively) and for towing, hauling and off-road ability is arguably the best all-around selection. A new 6.2 liter V-8 is available only on Crew Cabs and although with 403 hp on tap, makes light work of just about anything, it runs best on premium grade fuel and in view of the extra cost, isn’t a huge improvement over the 6.0 unit.

Silverados can be spec’d with a trailering package that includes a heavy-duty cooling system and beefy 9.5 inch rear end with a locking differential. Equipped with it, Extended Cab trucks with the 6.0-liter V-8 are capable of towing up to 10,700 lbs and even with the bed packed full of stuff and a beefy trailer behind, it barely breaks a sweat under acceleration or up inclines. GM’s integrated trailer brake controller is a welcome addition and very useful, offering good modulation between the truck and trailer braking systems. However, downhill, it causes the transmission to hunt rather aggressively, almost as if somebody installed an aftermarket shift kit, and gets tiring, especially on longer journeys involving lots of hills.

THE VERDICT

The current Silverado has a lot going for it – four trim levels, WT (Work Truck), LS, LT, LTZ, a price to suit nearly every budget (the entry level regular cab WT starts at $18,575, while a four-door Crew Cab LTZ retails at $40,555); plus a huge range of options including cab and box configurations, no less than four separate suspension packages and of course a wide variety of engines. Handling, ride, acceleration and fuel economy are excellent and this truck is the best GM rig, in terms of overall quality. And while there are still a few niggles, interior ergonomics, numb steering and overly zealous trailer brake controller, Chevy has delivered a winner right out of the gate even though it’s now entering it’s third season, a combination of a sound basic product and steady improvements continue to make the Silverado a highly attractive buy.

POSITVE

Great build quality
Lots of options
Strong powertrains

NEGATIVE

Lifeless steering
Gruff base engine
Interior could use some improvement

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