SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide
The name "Silverado" has been used for the top-of-the-line Chevrolet pickups for nearly 25 years. Now it is on all models of the newest generation of the Chevy truck. Does this mean Chevy has forgotten its massive customer base and gone upscale? Not at all. While the new Silverado is vastly different from its predecessor under the skin, and much improved, it is still a Chevy truck, made for Chevy truck users. This full-sized pickup has not only been the best-selling vehicle in the Chevrolet line, it's the best-selling vehicle made by General Motors. Chevy is not about to alienate any customers, and the Silverado's improved chassis and engine and increased power, strength, and capacity should only add to its popularity.
Currently, 1999 Silverado trucks are offered in 1500 and 2500 series, and base, LS, and LT trim levels. There are two- and four-wheel drive chassis, regular and three-door extended cab body styles, and full-width "Fleetside" or narrower "Sportside" cargo boxes. These are the models most popular for personal use and light- and medium-duty work. Some heavier-duty versions of the previous C/K pickup are still available.
Chevrolet has reminded members of the press not to refer to the Silverado as the "C/K pickup", and they are absolutely correct. Just about everything in the Silverado is new. The base 4.3-liter V6 is familiar, but the V8 members of the "Vortec" engine family - 4.8, 5.3, and 6.0 liters in size - are all new. A new and more rigid frame anchors a larger, stronger body structure and bigger cargo beds.
A two-wheel drive extended-cab Silverado is this week's test vehicle. With a powerful 5.3-liter V8 engine and roomy interior, it's a great example of the modern personal-use pickup. Need to tow a boat or trailer long distances? Like to have a real back seat and a pickup bed as well? Not to mention all of the comforts and nearly the quiet of a family sedan? This could be the vehicle.
APPEARANCE: Even ignoring the trademark gold bowtie on the grille, the new Silverado is discernably a Chevrolet pickup. Styling changes from the previous generation are conservatively evolutionary. It's more rounded than the previous generation, but still a boxy vehicle that's proud to be a pickup. The massive eggcrate grille, with a chromed horizontal bar and over-and-under lights, gives plenty of styling continuity with earlier Chevy trucks. The sharply-creased, bulging hood and dropped fenders bring to mind some past trucks without being overly retro in style. The passenger cabin and full-width "Fleetside" cargo box of this truck are boxy for maximum space utilization but slightly rounded for style. The new Silverado is a handsome, functional truck.
COMFORT: Lumina sedan with a really big trunk? The extended-cab Silverado's rear seat has real space for three real people. The rear seat back is angled for comfort, and knee room is good unless the front seat occupants are NBA first-round draft picks. Rear passengers have map and door pockets, cupholders, and heater vents. The rear seat cushion flips up to allow inside storage when needed. Access is easy thanks to a third, rear-hinged passenger-side door, and the main doors are larger as well. Up front in my test truck are comfy cloth-covered power- adjustable buckets seats with integrated safety harnesses, divided by a console featuring cupholders, open storage trays, and a huge, lockable storage box with a notepad lid. Two power points and a lighter should ensure the Silverado's usefulness as a mobile office. The well- designed instrument panel places instruments and controls logically and usefully. The climate control system quickly warms or cools the cabin, and a high-quality AM/FM/cassette/CD audio system adds enjoyment. The days when "truck" meant a lack of comfort and amenities are long gone.
SAFETY: All models of the new Silverado have 4-wheel antilock disc brakes with dynamic rear proportioning for fast, sure stopping with any weight load. Strengthened, impact-absorbing frame and cab structures and front seat-mounted safety harnesses help protect passengers, as do dual lower-powered air bags.
ROADABILITY: In rear-wheel drive form, with the Z85 "firm ride" suspension, my test truck is very much a classic pickup in ride and handling. It' s firm and a little bouncy with no load in the cargo bed. This is not at all surprising or objectionable - the Silverado is a truck, after all, not a luxury car, and has to deal with widely variable cargo and towing loads. The Z85 suspension is designed for improved handling while towing a trailer, and the Silverado can tow a trailer of up to 8200 lbs. in weight. Cargo capacity is nearly a ton. Steering effort is light, and, apart from its large size, the Silverado handles much like a car. Despite its weight, it stops like a car, too, thanks to standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes.
PERFORMANCE: This Silverado has the 5.3-liter version of the new "Vortec" V8. A descendent of the legendary Chevy "small block" and a heavy-duty relative of the current Corvette engine, its 270 horsepower and 315 lb-ft of torque move the two-ton extended-cab Silverado down the road quickly and contribute to its good towing and hauling abilities. The 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission shifts as smoothly as that of a car, and has a "tow mode" for better operation while towing.
CONCLUSIONS: The new Chevrolet Silverado pickup builds on the strengths of 80 years of Chevy trucks.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 22,200 Price As Tested $ 27,634 Engine Type 16-valve pushrod overhead valve V8 Engine Size 5.3 liters / 317 cu. in. Horsepower 270 @ 5000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 315 @ 4000 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 143.5 in. / 227.5 in. Curb Weight 4235 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 15.7 Fuel Capacity 26 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular gasoline, 87 octane Tires P255/70 SR16 General Ameri * 660AS Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, 4-wheel antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent A-arms with coil springs / solid axle with multi-leaf springs Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 15 / 20 / 17 0 to 60 mph 8.2 sec Payload capacity 1965 lbs. Towing capacity 8200 lbs. OPTIONS AND CHARGES 6-way power driver & passenger seats $ 480 Deep tinted glass $ 107 Reclining bucket seats $ 375 Electric rear window defogger $ 154 Locking differential $ 270 High-capacity air cleaner $ 25 Vortec 5300 V8 engine $ 1295 4-speed automatic transmission with tow/ haul mode $ 995 Cast aluminum wheels $ 90 P255/70R16 tires $ 295 Front foglamps $ 140 AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo $ 100 Provision for cellular phone $ 50 Recovery hooks $ 38 Trailering equipment - includes: trailer hitch platform, wiring harness, transmission oil cooler $ 285 Z85 firm ride suspension package $ 95 Destination charge $ 640