Last year, we had the opportunity to spend some time in the 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe and were rather pleased with that vehicle's vastly improved interior and driving dynamics. With the Silverado now riding on a similar-yet-different version of the GMT900 platform, will the same traits win us over, or has the General's mainstream pickup truck gone too soft? To find out, we recently spent some time in the decked-out LTZ trim level of Chevy's half-ton hauler.
The 2007 Silverado represents the first major update to GM's trucks since 1999, and one could argue that it's the most thorough revamp since the 1988 introduction of the GMT400 architecture. Fully-boxed frame rails are fabricated through a hydroforming process and joined together with more crossmembers (two of them being of the tubular variety) than the outgoing version to provide a platform that is significantly stiffer in torsion and bending. Up front, the coil-over springs and forged lower aluminum control arms are shared with the Silverado's SUV brethren, as is the rack-and pinion steering configuration, but in the rear a properly truck-like leaf spring configuration is utilized to locate the solid rear axle.
As major as the structural changes may be, most eyes will be drawn first to the exterior styling. Here, the laid-back windshield of the Tahoe is carried over, but little else. Breaking with a long-held GM tradition, the Silverado now carries sheetmetal that is almost totally unique, with vertically-stacked headlamp elements, heavily flared front fenders, and the largest Bowtie badge that we've ever seen on a Chevrolet. We were a bit slow to warm up to the new styling at first (as is the case with just about any truck redesign), but it's starting to grow on us. We'll reserve final judgment on the shape of the new sheetmetal, but what isn't subject to debate is the fit and finish. The stiffer chassis means less relative movement between body panels during extreme use, and GM has seized the opportunity to tighten up the panel gaps. Nearly every exterior component shows remarkable attention to detail, and the result is a truck that's assembled like a fine piece of furniture.
The new box is deeper than that of its predecessor, but not so much that reaching into it from alongside the truck is problematic. We also appreciated the load-assist torsion bars in the tailgate, which make closure a one-handed operation. The large exterior mirrors are welcome in a pickup truck, but unfortunately, the generally rectangular shape is broken up by a cut-off lower inside corner. That's the portion of the mirror that provides the best view into a truck's blind spot, and in its absence, it's much too easy to lose sight of a car that's hanging back a half car length in the next lane. The front bumper didn't hang as perilously low as that on the Tahoe, but prospective Rod Hall wannabes should still take a cautious approach to venturing from the pavement. This mattered little, given that our test vehicle wore Goodyear Eagle LS all-season tires on 20" aluminum wheels and therefore was ill-suited for any dirty entertainment.
Inside the Silverado, the theme of quality materials and tight assembly tolerances is cranked up another notch or two. Our decked-out sample carried the "luxury-inspired" interior treatment, with two bucket seats separated by a large console and wide center stack. Thankfully, the gears are selected via a column-mounted lever and not a silly (for a truck) floor shifter. The XM-equipped nav/radio combo features a simple, intuitive interface that can be controlled via the touchscreen, well-placed steering wheel buttons, or voice. In our opinion, it's one of the industry's best. Six large and easily readable gauges are backed up by the informative Driver Information Center. Rear-seat passengers get their own entertainment system (replete with wireless headphones) and a set of HVAC controls. The second row offers plenty of room for adults, and wouldn't be a terrible place to sit during a cross-country trip.
The low beltline and dashboard give a sedan-like feel to the driving position, and we suspect that's exactly what many prospective buyers want from a half-ton pickup truck. We'd personally prefer a set of bucket seats that provide more support than the average Lazy Boy, but the Silverado's units felt more like an overstuffed arm chair than a proper automotive seating surface. Larger drivers might feel a bit cramped by the driver's compartment, which dimensionally doesn't seem to be small but is given a bit of a tight feel by the design of the console and lower dash. The switchgear, however, feels wonderful, the leather feels like quality stuff, and even the hard plastic surfaces make a favorable impression with their matte finish and finely-textured grain. Overall, it's easily the best interior available in a full-size truck. If there is a fault to be found, it's that many of the controls are totally unsuited to manipulation while wearing work gloves or the like; if that is an issue, GM offers up the "pure pickup" interior in lower trim levels.
Under the hood lies a E85-burning Displacement-on-Demand version of GM's GenIV pushrod V8 architecture that displaces 5.3L and produces a healthy 315 HP. The DoD functionality makes itself known on occasion, as the exhaust here is a bit throatier than that of the Tahoe and thus produces a slightly odd note during V4 operation. Otherwise, the engine produces smooth power without annoyance, and an objective observer shouldn't be concerned in the least by the placement of the camshaft or the number of valves per cylinder.
We wish that we could say the same about the Hydra-Matic transmission, but frankly, a mere four forward gear ratios means that the rev-happy engine is frequently left hanging somewhere away from the meat of the powerband. It's not that the transmission is unwilling to shift - it does what it can with its limited resources - but the net effect is that the engine sometimes seems a bit overwhelmed by this vehicle's 5,400 lbs of curb weight. For now, buyers must opt for the GMC Sierra Denali or step up to GM's HD line to get a six speed, and that just doesn't seem right. Drawing far fewer complaints was the Autotrac 4WD system, which offers up 2WD, 4WD Auto, 4WD HI, and 4WD LO modes, and worked superbly in every condition that we encountered during our test.
The ride and handling of the Silverado frankly defies comparison to other half-ton pickups, and is perhaps best compared to that of a large performance sedan. Large bumps result in a single well-damped thud, and smaller road irregularities are filtered out well before reaching the cabin. The steering and brake feel are stunningly good; a comparison to GM's prior efforts defies this author's vocabulary. We hope that GM finds a way to blend this voodoo into every product it builds. With pitch and roll kept under control, spirited driving is neither encouraged nor discouraged by this truck; it won't inspire backroad antics, but it also doesn't object to dispatching a curvy entrance ramp or engaging in emergency maneuvers. There is a quiet, understated confidence to the Silverado's dynamic behavior that should be very pleasing to those who find themselves intimidated by older pickup trucks. Those that accidentally exceed the limits will encounter the StabiliTrak system, which intervenes to bring the vehicle back under control with minimal drama.
The tow rating of our particular tester isn't class-leading, but the 7,500 lb limit is reasonable for most occasional towing tasks (select the 4.10 rear gears if you want to put another thousand pounds out back, and check the box for the 6.0L VortecMAX for up to 10,500 lbs of towing capacity). A payload of 2,010 is also nothing to be ashamed of, and most hauling jobs will be constrained by the 5'9" bed. Rest assured that the capabilities of this truck have not be compromised by its comfort.
Observed fuel economy over the time we spent with the vehicle was 15.4 MPG, with a 50/50 blend of suburban and expressway driving. That's about 2 MPG less than we pulled down during our test of the Tahoe with similar driving conditions, and we lack a readily-available explanation for this discrepancy.
With all of that being said, we still need to answer a simple question - is this the best half-ton pickup truck available on the market? Considering the needs of most buyers, we think that the answer to that is "yes". The exceptional drivetrain of the Toyota Tundra makes this conclusion a bit more difficult to reach than it would have been a few short months ago, but our take on this is that the less intimidating size and feel of the Silverado, paired up with the superior payload rating, is more important to the average truck buyer than superior dragstrip performance.