Trucks are the single biggest vehicle segment in the U.S. You can thank the rugged individualist self-image Americans have, or the fact that people just haul and tow a lot in this country. But whatever it is, it's a fast-paced segment, one that has undergone radical change in recent years.
So the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado is a bit of a letdown, in that it doesn't look a whole lot different from its predecessor. Oh, sure, if you park them side-by-side, you'll see a ton of differences, and it's immediately apparent that they share no body panels. Still, the resemblance is pretty strong.
Instead, Chevrolet concentrated its development dollars under the skin, addressing virtually every complaint we've had about the old Silverado. The interior is upscale and modern, the truck's bed-shake is nearly as tamed as the Ram 1500's, and there's no shortage of modern technology and convenience inside. Yes, it's definitely all-new. It just doesn't beat you over the head with it is all. But is it enough to take on the likes of Ram, and especially Ford?
We drove a mid-model 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Z71 2WD LT Crew Cab for a week. That mouthful of a name means that it's a half-ton model (1500) with an upscale interior and exterior styling package (LT), an off-road capable suspension (Z71) but just rear-wheel drive (2WD), and an extra bench seat behind the driver with its own set of doors (Crew Cab). Total price before options is a relatively modest $36,850, including the $995 destination charge. Replacing the 4.3-liter V-6 with the 5.3-liter V-8 cost $895; the LT Plus package added a power sliding rear window, rear parking sensors, and power adjustable pedals for $785; and heated driver and passenger seats were an extra $250. An All Star Edition package threw in shiny wheels, power seats, dual-zone climate control, a tilt/telescope steering wheel, remote vehicle start, Chevy MyLink with an 8-inch display, and a rear parking camera for $1,080. A few other options boosted the final price to $40,910, still not too bad as far as full-size trucks go, but not quite as modest, either.
Generally speaking, full-size trucks are pretty solid in crashes, and the 2014 Chevy Silverado lives up to that reputation. It's a five-star performer in federal crash tests, and in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it scores a best-possible "Good" in the moderate overlap test. You can thank the front, side and curtain airbags, and the stability control as well. The Silverado we drove also came with reverse sensors and a backup camera, two features that are quickly becoming essential for safely maneuvering large vehicles like this.
Family Friendliness and Utility
It's a truck--you can haul big loads and tow even heavier ones--so it scores high on utility. Still, after having driven a similar full-size truck from Ram, with its excellent RamBox lockable cargo compartments, we have to admit that the Chevy fell a little short of our expectations. Ours didn't come with a cargo divider for the bed--it's available through third parties--which allows items to roll around in the bed, potentially getting smashed. On the other hand, our truck did come with Chevy's new perimeter lighting system, which uses LED lights mounted under the bed rails to illuminate the entire cargo area. It's pretty handy.
Our truck also came with chrome steps, a $700 option, which made getting into the rear seat much easier for kids. Once there, everyone had plenty of room to spread out. If you use child seats, getting them in and out is a snap, and there's plenty of room left over for the front seats to slide fore and aft.
Comfort and Quality
Driving comfort is one area where the new Silverado really shines, not just in comparison to its predecessor, but to the rest of its class. The ride is remarkably smooth, especially considering that the Silverado still uses old-school leaf springs in the rear, as opposed to the more car-like coil springs that are in the Ram; the Ram still has a noticeably better ride, but not by as much of a margin as you might expect. Then there's the silence: The 2014 Chevy Silverado is incredibly quiet for a truck. Heck, it's silent for a luxury car. Even at freeway speed it stays quiet enough to hold conversations at a normal volume, and it lets you enjoy the audio system, too.
We were also impressed by the overall quality of the interior. Where the old Silverado felt, well, old inside, the new one has a fresher look and better materials all around. We like the Chevy MyLink's big icons, which are easy to tap while driving. There are tons of storage spaces everywhere, and there was clearly a lot of detail-sweating that went into this truck, right down to the "EZ Lift" tailgate, which is counterweighted so it won't slam down when opened.
How it Drives
Having conquered capability, truck makers are now working on the last frontier of truckdom: civility. Let's face it: all modern trucks can tow and haul about the same, which leaves full-size trucks in a race for refinement. By that measure, the Silverado is near the front of the pack. It's quiet and sophisticated in the way it goes about its business; you'd expect it of a luxury brand, but a workaday truck behaving like this is truly surprising. One of our measures of truck prowess is whether our non-truck staffers like it; all of them agreed that the Silverado was sweet to cruise around in.
But aside from refinement, the Silverado doesn't break a lot of new ground. The transmission is the same six-speed automatic we've seen in Chevy trucks for years now; same goes for the V-8 engine. While the suspension is certainly smooth on the road, it bounces and rolls around as you try to make your way through traffic, habits that get old quickly.
Although there's a lot of new technology inside the new Chevrolet Silverado, there isn't much about the truck that advances the state of the art. Instead, the Silverado merely keeps up. While Ram is bringing diesel engines and eight-speed automatics to the market, and Ford has thrown down with turbocharged engines, Chevy is sticking with the tried and true. The Ram has a better ride, it's nearly as quiet, and the RamBox is as handy as it gets. While the Silverado is undeniably better than the current Ford F-150, it's only by a narrow margin. That's little consolation considering that an all-new F-150 about a year away.
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