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Truck Review: 2005 Chevrolet Silverado LS 1500 4WD Hybrid

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Chevrolet

SPECIFICATIONS MODEL: Chevrolet Silverado LS 1500 4WD Hybrid
ENGINE: 5.3-liter V8 plus Hybrid
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 295 hp @ 5,200 rpm/330 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 157.5 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 246.6 x 78.5 x 70.8 in.
TIRES: P25/75R16
ECONOMY: 17 mpg city/19 mpg highway/15.3 mpg test
PRICE: $36,860

Normally when you think of a hybrid technology vehicle, you think of a compact or-size car. My first hybrid, for example, was the Honda Insight, which is an aerodynamic two-seater. What you normally DON'T think of is a full-size pickup truck with four-wheel drive.

Yet that's what Chevrolet has chosen for its first entry into hybrid technology. Out tester is a Silverado 1500 extended cab with full-sized bed and four-wheel drive. As such, it's way outside the mold for the conventional hybrid. But, it also has a lot to offer.

One feature it doesn't have to offer is better fuel economy. I averaged 15.3 mpg during our test, which included winding roads and Interstates. The EPA listing is for 17 mpg city/19 mpg highway. Yet the Silverado with the normal 5.3-liter V8 engine and 4-speed automatic has EPA ratings of 15 mpg city/18 mpg highway with 4WD. That's not a big difference, although the city reading is higher, as you would expect in a hybrid. Frankly, I would have hoped for at least 5 mpg better than "normal."

The electric side of the hybrid equation resides in a battery pack below the rear seat. This was the extended cab version, not the dual cab version, so access to the rear was through "access doors" rather than full-size doors. The seats are smaller, too.

But under those seats, besides the batteries, are two 110-volt three-prong outlets to power any accessories that require that power. There's no need to plug your laptop into the cigarette lighter and use a converter to recharge it. You just plug it into the rear.

One reason for the relatively modest fuel economy may have been caused by the Silverado's lack of compromises. This truck had almost every option in the Chevrolet "wish book." Besides 4WD, we had HD trailering equipment (part of a $1,580 option package), front leather seats ($800), Autotrac active transfer case ($375), aluminum wheels ($200)air conditioning with dual zone automatic ($195) and a heavy-duty suspension ($95). The hybrid system is priced at $2,500, but there is a $3,000 power pack savings for going hybrid that offsets that additional cost.

The Silverado is an excellent pickup truck. There's adequate power for anything you want to do, and the ability to do it off- or on-road. The column-mounted shifter for the 4-speed automatic transmission was easy to use and the gears were well-spaced for decent operation.

Both my wife and I thought the front seats were exceptionally comfortable. They offered great side support, even though we didn't necessarily need it because this wasn't a sports car in any sense of the definition. Center fold-down arm rests were included, but they almost detracted from the normal ride and we left them up. The rear seats were "occasional" seats and offered reduced legroom, seat room and head room.

The suspension was a puzzle. There were times when the ride quality was definitely truck-like. Every bump was felt and there was a stiffness that was dictated by the truck's intended use as a workhorse. But then there were also times when the ride quality was almost too soft, where we floated over bumps and it felt almost boat-like.

The Silverado rides on an enormous 157.5-inch wheelbase and the vehicle is 246 inches long - more than 20 feet. It weighs almost 5,000 pounds, so a soft ride is not to be expected.

With all that length, the Silverado was difficult to maneuver at times. Unless you have experience with such a vehicle, this isn't a vehicle for mall parking lots during the Christmas rush. One advantage is the back-up sensor that warns you before you smash into the minicar behind you.

The Chevrolet Silverado has a ton of configurations. We counted 38, not including the hybrid. Retail prices range from $19,240 to $37,678 before options. While the hybrid is interesting and may in fact add a couple of miles per gallon to the economy numbers, it's really little more than a gimmick on a vehicle such as this.

But don't let that deter you. The Silverado is still one of the better full-size pickups (Consumer Guide calls it a "Best Buy" for example), and you won't be disappointed if you have one in your driveway.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate