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New Car/Review

The Chevrolet Silverado, The line between cars and trucks becomes thinner

by Larry Weitzman


SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

Chevrolet Full Line factory footage (22:43) 28.8, 56k, or 200k

Over eighty years ago that Chevy started building trucks. For the loyal drivers of these tough trucks, it has been a long tradition that spans generation of families.

To Chevy die-hards, the new 1999 Chevy Pickup is easily recognizable as a bona fide Chevy. But under the new sheet metal is a completely new truck: Frame, engines, suspension, body and most important, a new and enlarged interior.

Research has shown that brand loyalty plays a big part in market share, so when the first new Chevy pickup in eleven years came to market, external design changes were of an evolutionary nature as their market research indicated their customers wanted. The more things change, the more they stay the same. In this case it has the heart and soul of a Chevy.

A substantial amount of the new Corvette (C5) technology has been incorporated in the new Chevy truck. The new frame is now partially hydroformed and the engines are direct family members of the Corvette LS1 V-8.

The new engines range in size from a 4.3L V-6 which is a carryover from the previous generation now producing a substantial 200 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, to a new 6.0L 300 hp V-8 (at 4,800 rpm) with a stump pulling 355 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Filling in the gaps are two new smaller V-8's, a 4.8L that puts out 255 hp at 5,200 rpm and 285 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm and a 5.3L V-8 that punches out 270 hp at 5,000 rpm and 315 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. My subject truck was powered by the 5.3L V-8. It was an Extended Cab, 1500 4X2 with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 6,200 pounds.

GVW or GVWR is the maximum allowable gross weight of the vehicle with fuel, passengers and payload. Since the curb weight- the empty weight with fluids (oil and coolant)-is about 4235 pounds, that leaves a payload capacity of nearly one ton.

My beautiful Indigo Blue test truck had an electronically controlled four speed automatic with a tow/haul switch. Chevy offers two different automatics, a light duty and a heavy duty and two different 5-speed manuals, a light and a heavy duty. An interesting note is that the heavy-duty automatic offers lower numerical gear ratios (sometimes called taller gears, which translates into higher forward speed in each gear). In the manuals, the ratios are reversed and the light duty 5 speed has the taller gears. Go Figure.

The good news is that this new powertrain works incredibly well. Not only is it smoother and quieter than the first generation small block, it is significantly faster, even with a smaller engine, albeit with more horsepower. This Chevy scampers from 0-60 in an average of 8 seconds flat. I had three runs at 7.7, 7.8 and 7.9 seconds. Even with a limited slip rear end, the Chevy can still light up the rear tires.

Passing performance is superlative. 50-70 averaged just 4.7 seconds and ascending a steep grade will only slow that time to 6.6 seconds. Lesser grades will only slow the Chevy to about 5.8 seconds. This is very responsive considering this is a full size pickup with a width of 78.2 inches and height of 71.2 inches. That's pushing a lot of wind.

The tow/haul switch changes the shift patterns by delaying upshifts and preventing hunting of the tranny while under load. It also increases line pressures for more positive shifting. In regular mode, the transmission is very smooth with shift patterns and pressures that are governed by torque output and other parameters. It works very well.

These are still pushrod engines. Chevy felt that it could achieve the same head design and combustion efficiency with pushrod overhead valves as with a more expensive and complicated overhead cam design. The overhead cam designs seem to be smoother and with a shorter valve train can run at higher rpms. But in truck and passenger car applications, unless your running at very high rpms at or near 6,000, the advantages of overhead cam design are minimal, except overhead cams allow for the use of higher output, four valve technology. Even with overhead cam design, the valves are still overhead or valve in head, above the pistons. In that respect, there is no difference.

This 5.3L V-8 proves just how efficient pushrod OHV engines are. I averaged 16.5 mpg in very spirited driving including dozens of short acceleration bursts and little time spent on the highway. The EPA rates this particular new Chevy at 16/20 mpg city/highway. I would estimate at least 18 mpg in El Dorado County driving with just a little restraint on the throttle and highway cruising at legal speeds should yield over 20 mpg. Remember this a 227 inch long, 78 inch wide, 71 inch tall pickup truck that can do 0-60 in 8 seconds. Remarkable.

At 70 mph, the engine is turning only 2,000 rpm. On the highway this truck makes you forget your driving a truck, except for the commanding view of the road. It is absolutely quiet, with only a hint of wind and road noise. The ride is very smooth, which is not surprising. I own a 1989 previous generation Chevy extended cab P/U and it rides very smooth. I contemplated an improvement over the 89 and was rewarded with a ride that was noticeably smoother and quieter. There is only a slight hint of intrusion of joints in some concrete road services. On asphalt, it rides like glass. There are no rattles.

On Ponderosa Road it was smooth and comfortable with little rear end movement in fast, bumpy corners. The ride is supple and well controlled over bigger bumps without a lot of bounce that you sometimes get in trucks. French Creek Road was a snap. I was told it was winding and rough. Not in this Chevy.

In the handling department, this Chevy exhibits little body lean and great grip. This is another area of improvement. Again, I thought my 89 handled well. It does, but the new Chevy just feels easier to control, more relaxed and imparts more confidence. Green Valley, Bass Lake and Carson Road were a snap. Their twisties could be sliced and diced in this Chevy with ease.

With the cold weather, I had a chance to see how a 4X2 with limited slip would do with a little snow in Apple Hill. I was not surprised when the Chevy maintained control and traction in light snow situations. The ABS brakes performed perfectly even when pushed.

The steering is also improved. It still has great road and on-center feel but the power assist is easier. The steering has quickened with the handling.

Many critics think the biggest improvement is in the new passenger accommodations. First in the extended cab models, the third door for the rear seat on the passenger side is standard. It doesn't have four doors as the competition does (it will be another year or two for that feature), but the third door is a welcomed addition. My kids thought it was great.

The new cab has four inches more room, most of which is found in the rear seat. The cushion is almost full size and the seat back rake has been increased from 14 degrees to 18 degrees. It is the most comfortable of any extended cab type pickup. It may be more comfortable than some four door sedans, it's that good. The seat shape and padding are excellent.

If the back is that good could the front be any better? Yes. The new seat design is more supportive, larger, more adjustable and cushier. The new lower lumbar support is easy to adjust and it works. Why can't airliners have seats this good? My test vehicle had the true buckets with a center console. I would prefer the 40/20/40 set up which has similar seats, with a center seat, pull down arm rest and belt for three across seating. When not in use the pull down armrest serves as office storage. It offers more flexibility. The center console did have rear seat HVAC vents that worked and a nice pull down cupholder for the rear seaters.

The new dash is similar to the old, but has a little more style and utility. The pod in front of the driver has a large tach and speedo right flanked with four smaller gauges for fuel, coolant temp, volts, and oil pressure.

To the left of the tach is a driver message center that monitors 15 functions. Below is an automatic transmission temp gauge for the 6.0L V-8 and 6.5L turbo diesel when equipped with the trailer tow package. A nice feature, although the driver message center monitors that function in all models. So if you are doing some severe towing in a 1500 model as my test truck was, it will tell you if your tranny gets to hot, well before it goes into meltdown and you do any damage.

The am/fm stereo cassette CD was mounted in the dash just to the right of the instrument pod. Beneath were the simple, clearly marked and large knobbed HVAC controls. Gloves would not impede the operation of these controls. The five speed fan was a nice touch. Next to the HVAC controls was a key switch for the passenger airbag with an indicator light and there are three power ports underneath.

Another well designed item is the column gear shifter. When in drive it can steady your hand when operating the radio and it is unobtrusive with its tight bent shape.

In front of the passenger seat, besides a glove box and airbag, is a large padded handle. It might come in handy for four wheeling.

Dollars may be the only thing between you and a new Chevy. Prices actually have held the line. The fleetside LS model I drove bases at $22,200 plus $640 for destination. Add to that number $1,295 for the 5.3L V-8 (the 4.8L V-8 adds only $595), $995 for automatic transmission, $285 for the trailering equipment (hitch ,tranny cooler and wiring), $620 for dual six way power seats, $270 for a locking rear axle, an option that is almost a necessity and a bargain (look for order code "G80"), $100 for the chrome rear step bumper, $154 for the rear window defroster, $140 for fog lights, $107 for deep tint glass, $100 for the cassette, CD combination (the am/fm CD is standard), $375 for the bucket seats and $40 for tow hooks. That totals $27,321.

A loaded leather 4X4 lists for about $32,000 and an entry level short bed 4X2 starts at about $17,000. A well-equipped, base truck would be in the $20,000 neighborhood. In a short bed regular cab, the 4.8L V-8 will not only give you great performance, (very close to this test truck) but the fuel economy will be better. A V-8, full sized economy, sport, and performance truck for about $20,000.


Price                              $17,000 to about $32,000


4.3L, OHV V-6                      200 hp @ 4,600 rpm
                                   260 lb-ft of torque @ 2,800 rpm

4.8L, OHV V-8                      255 hp @ 5,200 rpm
                                   285 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm

5.3L, OHV V-8                      270 hp @ 5,000 rpm 
                                   315 lb-ft of torque @ 4.000 rpm

6.0L, OHV V-6                      300 hp @ 4,800 rpm
                                   355 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm                     


5 speed manual

4 speed electronically
controlled automatic


Wheelbase                           143.5  inches
Length                              227.5  inches
Width                               78.5   inches
Height                              71.2   inches
Ground Clearance                    10.0   inches
Curb Weight                         4235   pounds
GVWR                                6200   pounds
Tow Capacity                        8200   pounds
Fuel Capacity                       26     gallons


(5.3L, 4X2 auto)
0-60                                8.0    seconds
50-70                               4.7    seconds
50-70 uphill                        6.6    seconds
Top Speed                           Electronically limited to about
                                    97  mph.  Without a governor I
                                    would estimate 110-115
Fuel Economy                        EPA 16/20 City/Highway.  I estimate
                                    17-18 in El DoradoCounty driving.
                                    Highway mileage of about 20-21 at legal
                                    highway speeds