Cowboy On A Champagne Budget

2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country

Trucks are more expensive than ever these days. This is a growing trend we've observed over the years, something that we are still taken aback by when having a close look at the window stickers of our new test trucks, and something that you commenters point out just about every time we compose a review. The evidence has been stronger than anecdotal, but until attending the media briefing proceeding a drive event of the all-new Chevrolet Silverado High Country – the most luxuriant trim that the line offers – we couldn't frame it quite so well as we can now.

According to data mined deep within the accounting bunkers of General Motors, the American public is spending more money on new trucks than ever. Some 30 percent of all light-duty trucks sold in the last few years have crested the $40,000 mark. Not surprisingly then, GM minders told us that the average transaction price on pickups has risen by ten grand per truck since 2007. And while products from GMC and its Denali sub-brand have added mightily to that overall MSRP-growth – GMC tells us that Denali products now make up 60-percent of its retail sales. Unsurprisingly, The Big Bowtie is hungry for a bigger slice of the premium pie as well.

Welcome to High Country, pardner.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country

The Silverado looks proper in its high-zoot duds.

Chevy has definitely been studying the playbook of its sister brand GMC when it comes to the exterior styling of a top-trim truck. Any passerby even remotely interested in pickup spotting will easily pick out the gigantic High Country badging on the truck's front doors, and the chromed-out front grille will be equally hard to miss. The truck rides on a set of 20-inch chrome alloys, and both the side-mirror caps and the door handles have been dipped in the shiny stuff as well. There aren't many automotive canvasses these days that can handle this much swag, but we'll come right out and say that the Silverado looks proper in its high-zoot duds.

Inside, the High Country comes standard with a trim-specific saddle brown leather outfit on the seats and instrument panel, some rather subtle (as far as trucks go) wood trim, heated and cooled front seats, an eight-inch touch screen with Chevy's MyLink entertainment system and Bose audio.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country

The box-fresh Chevy had it all over the aging Ford in terms of interior styling, comfort and feature set.

Chevy was kind and confident enough to bring along competitor trucks to sample after we'd spent the morning traversing Austin's Hill Country in the High Country, meaning we were able to grab a few loops in the swank cockpits of the Ford F-150 King Ranch, and the Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn, too. Though the leather trimming the Ford's seats was a touch softer than that found in the Silverado, it was clear that the box-fresh Chevy had it all over the aging Ford in terms of interior styling, quality, comfort and feature set. The Tonka-inspired Ford interior is less charming now than it was when brand new, and even the leathery King Ranch trim couldn't change that fact. The Ram, on the other hand, showed very well with its high-dollar duds. They might be too gregarious to suit every truck owner, but the western-style stitching, butter leather, and ultra comfortable bucket seats still have one over on the High Country. We thought the hidebound Ram had better fitting trim and nicer detailing than the Chevy, too.

Of course, once underway, the Silverado was in a class by itself in terms of ride quality and (especially) in-cabin quiet. Under full-throttle acceleration the Chevy's V8 engine would make itself known, but when cruising at 70 miles per hour or so it was downright tranquil. The Ram had a much louder exhaust note when floored (which some might feel is a positive trait), but it and the F-150 were not even in the same league as the Chevy in terms of road and wind noise at speed.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country

The 6.2L engine lines up as the strongest gasoline mill in this class right now.

This was our very first opportunity to drive a 2014 Silverado with the company's new 6.2-liter V8 engine. Dubbed EcoTec3, the beefy powerplant has been made to produce 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, while offering great fuel economy thanks to a combination of cylinder deactivation, direct injection and continuously variable valve timing. The EPA ratings for the 6.2-liter-equipped Silverado haven't been finalized yet, but GM engineers on hand assured us that internal numbers were "impressive" and hit all of the targets. We will say that, on our 200-mile cruse from Austin to Dallas, in a 4X4 Silverado averaging about 70 mph, we returned just under 20 miles per gallon. That would seem to compare favorably with the numbers for the Silverado powered by the less-powerful 5.3-liter V8, which the EPA estimates at 23 mpg highway and 16 city.

The 6.2L engine lines up as the strongest gasoline mill in this class right now, and there's no question that one can feel that power when boot and throttle meet in anger. We found that the High Country performed a lot like an XL muscle car, especially when the engine got spinning past the 3,000 rpm mark. That said, initial acceleration felt weaker than we'd have expected based on the torque figure.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country

Towing capacity is rated at 9,800 pounds.

Most truck owners are more interested in working capacity than hooliganism, we'd guess, and after some great demonstrations, we can report that the Silverado's new V8 is well up to the task of towing and hauling. Towing capacity is rated at 9,800 pounds, and Chevy had a couple of roughly 8,000-pound trailers on hand for us to test the bulk of that number. While there's no forgetting the load when you're lugging a 30-foot-plus camper on your backside, the Silverado chugged amiably up steep grades and proved really easy to maneuver around curves and in and out of parking lots. The integrated trailer brake controller was an asset here, too.

We praised the ride and handling of the 2014 Silverado when we first got behind the wheel of the rig, and it's certain that the High Country package has done nothing to diminish it. If anything, traveling swaddled in leather and big-speaker audio enhances the quiet, unfussed at-speed experience. One sits rather low down the Silverado's captain's chair (compared with competitor trucks, that is), but we found fore and aft visibility to be still quite good. The truck was actually well able to keep up a good pace around the twisting Texas roads we crested, with Chevy's hydraulic body mounts keeping vertical and lateral movement in relative check. It's a silly (and hilarious) exercise to toss a 5,400-pound truck around Hill Country kinks like you might a sports car, but the truth is that this generation of Chevy pickup will competently understeer its way through such a manhandling. Just make sure you've unhitched your wagons, first.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country

It's extraordinarily competitive with the almost-as-new Ram 1500 edition, and a fair bit better than the older design of the F-150 King Ranch.

The High Country trim line starts at $45,100 (including a $995 destination charge) with the 5.3-liter V8 serving as its basic engine. That price is in lock step with competitors like F-150 King Ranch, Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn and Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition, which is unsurprising considering the tooth-and-nail competition here. For all those customers willing to spend over forty large on a new pickup, optioning up a High Country with this new 6.2-liter V8 (upping the base price to $47,680 before destination) makes a lot of sense on the road, even if our tester's $54,565 sticker price is a bit of a whopper.

So much of which truck you are drawn to, be it at the top or the bottom of its respective range, often comes down to the brand you've grown up with. Ford guys tend to stick with Ford, Chevy with Chevy, etc. This is a conservative, loyal set of consumers. It's generally pretty easy to stick to your guns, too, because the space between Ram, F-150 and Silverado is so slim. At the luxury level in which the High Country is now competing, we think the truck is extraordinarily competitive with the almost-as-new Ram 1500 edition, and a fair bit better than the older design of the F-150 King Ranch (that said, a new F-150 hits the market in 2016).

Bottom line: if you're a cowboy with a checkbook as big as the rig you need to haul, the Chevy Silverado High Country is a powerfully pleasing way to spend a lot of dough. Saddle up.