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2003 New Truck Review: Chevrolet Silverado LT 2500HD 4WD Extended-Cab Pickup

2003 Silverado
Silverado 2500HD 4x4 Extended Cab Long Box in Dark Carmine Red Metallic.

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide


Although the latest versions of Chevrolet's Silverado pickups are only a few years old, both the regular and HD lines have significant changes for 2003. Most apparently, all have new styling. No longer do the regular- and heavy-duty lines look different; both now have a common look that reflects Chevy styling themes which have appeared since the pickups made their debut. Interiors have been refined as well, for levels of comfort that can, in higher trim levels, approach luxury status. Trucks, even seriously-capable ones like the Silverado HD, are not necessarily the basic, Spartan vehicles that they were in the past.

As previously, the Chevrolet pickup family offers in the usual, for pickups, plethora of choices. Cabs are regular, extended, and crew, beds come in two lengths, and two- or four-wheel drive is available. Standard Silverados come with a 4.3-liter V6 or 4.8-, 5.3-, or 6.0- liter V8s. HDs start with the 6.0-liter V8. Above that is the 8.1-liter gasoline ``big block'' or the high-tech 6.6-liter ``Duramax'' turbodiesel, both with serious V8 horsepower and torque. Three trim levels are offered across the line, base, LS, and LT. I've been driving a Silverado LT 2500 HD 4x4 with the Duramax for the past week. This particular combination is not for everybody, but somewhere in the Silverado catalog is a truck for almost any possible pickup need. Does ``LT'' mean ``Luxury Truck?'' Believe it. This particular truck successfully combines the comforts and amenities of a premium SUV with the immense torque - 520 lb-ft - and refinement of the Duramax. Just the thing to tow a trailer full of thoroughbreds.

APPEARANCE: The first time I saw a new Silverado, I thought Chevy had a new model of Avalanche, without the body cladding. OK, it was early in the morning, at a Chevrolet introduction, and I wasn't particularly wide awake, but the styling impression was correct. Both the regular and HD Silverados have been restyled to give a closer resemblance to not only the Avalanche, but the smaller TrailBlazer SUV as well. The old HD ``power dome'' hood is gone, replaced by angles and attitude. The prominent trapezoidal grille is flanked by stacked angular headlights; just in case the new Chevy styling isn't obvious enough, a wide chromed bar bisects both the grille and lights, and features a gold Chevrolet bowtie in its center. The rest of the truck is basic functional pickup, with heavy-duty chromed steel bumpers with black plastic caps, and, in LT trim, plastic protective wheel arch cladding.

COMFORT: My Silverado HD test vehicle was the LT trim level. No bare-bones, fleet-service work truck here. The LT brings it up to luxury standards, with comfortable, supportive six-way power heated front bucket seats with leather upholstery, dual zone climate control, an AM/FM/six-disc in-dash CD changer sound system (XM radio optional), remote keyless entry, and more. It's a climb to get in, but from the front seats it's hard to tell that you're not in a top- of-the-line Suburban. The rear seat of the extended cab is entered through auxiliary, rear-hinged doors on either side, and is comparable to a midsized sedan's rear seat for space, if a bit wider. The width and a flat floor make even the center position reasonable, and with seat and door pockets and cupholders, rear passengers have more convenience features than are found in most sedans. The read seat cushion flips up for secure inside cargo storage. The ``short'' cargo box is 78.7 inches long, with a 56.9 cubic foot capacity.

SAFETY: All Chevrolet Silverado HD pickups have four-wheel antilock disc brakes and dual front air bags. The OnStar telematics system is standard on LT models and optional on others.

ROADABILITY: One thing the Silverado 2500 HD is most definitely not is ``car-like.'' It is, as its name declares, a heavy-duty pickup. But it's a modern heavy-duty pickup, conventional in design but executed well, with a rigid partially hydroformed ladder frame, independent torsion bar front suspension, and a solid axle riding on leaf springs in the rear. The ride is a little choppy unladen, which is not surprising as it can carry over 3,500 lbs in the bed. Still, it's remarkably comfortable, all things considered. Weighing nearly three tons, the HD is not ever going to be as nimble as a car, and the turning circle is rather large, but the steering effort is light and massive four-wheel vented antilock disc brakes stop it very well. The multi-mode four-wheel drive system is easily operated by a switch on the instrument panel.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Available Duramax Diesel 6600 V8 engine.

PERFORMANCE: For towing, or when heavy loads need to be carried, torque is what is needed. And diesels are torque-makers par excellence. The Duramax is no exception, with a maximum 520 lb-ft worth of stump-pulling torque at only 1800 rpm and 300 horsepower at 3100 rpm. In operation, the Duramax is very civilized. It starts easily, with a short wait for glow plug warm-up only when it's cold. It is relatively quiet, with just enough engine sound entering the cab to let you know it's a diesel, as customers wanted. And the sound is not at all objectionable, it's deeper in pitch than most pickup diesels, and sounds like a smaller version of an EMD 645 locomotive prime mover (also a GM product). It pulls like a locomotive, too, with the ability to tow 12,000 lbs with a weight-distributing hitch or a 16,000 lb fifth-wheel or gooseneck trailer. Either of the available transmissions - a ZF six-speed manual or Allison five-speed electronically-controlled automatic - work as smoothly and easily as a regular car transmission. And, despite its nearly three-ton weight, this beast is not sluggish in acceleration, with zero-to-sixty times in the ten-second range.

CONCLUSIONS: Having a Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD pickup with the Duramax diesel V8 is like having your own personal locomotive.

SPECIFICATIONS 2003 Chevrolet Silverado LT 2500HD 4WD Extended-Cab Pickup

Base Price $ 36,248 Price As Tested $ 44,069 Engine Type 32-valve pushrod overhead valve diesel V8 Engine Size 6.6 liters / 403 cu. in. Horsepower 300 @ 3100 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 520 @ 1800 rpm Transmission 5-speed Allison automatic (6-speed ZF manual standard) Wheelbase / Length 143.5 in. / 227.7 in. Curb Weight 5631 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 18.8 Fuel Capacity 26 gal. Fuel Requirement diesel fuel Tires LT 245/70 R16 Firestone Steeltex Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc Suspension, front/rear independent short-and-long arm with torsion bars / Live axle with two-stage semielliptic multi-leaf springs Drivetrain front engine, on-demand four-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed n/a / n/a / 14 0 to 60 mph est 10.5 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES Duramax diesel engine $ 5,010 Allison 5-speed automatic transmission $ 1,200 XM satellite radio $ 325 Locking rear differential $ 295 Heavy-duty trailering equipment $ 190 LT 245/75 R16 off-road rated tires $ 56 Destination charge $ 745