Review: 2010 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid is all swing, all miss

2010 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid - Click above for high-res image gallery

For every engineering stroke of genius out there, there are a million duds – projects that someone slaved over in good faith, only to realize that someone else had already come to market with a superior and/or more viable alternative. Both the electronic and automotive industries are awash with tales of second-place finishes in two-man races. Blu-ray vs. HD DVD, VHS vs. Betamax and Oldsmobile vs. Edsel are all stories of outright champions and also-rans. It's rarer, however, to see a company build and sell an ugly duckling right alongside the varsity all-stars of the family, which is exactly what General Motors has done with its 2010 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid.

It's clear that GM desperately wants to mix the seemingly unblendable worlds of full-size pickup trucks and hybrids with its electrified Silverado, and to some degree, they've succeeded. Yes, our tester has a bed, four-wheel drive and a meaty V8 up front. And yes, it packs an electric motor and a mammoth battery pack. But the finished product feels like the road-going equivalent of a spork – a utensil to be used as a last resort. The only problem is, there are far better alternatives, many of which are available from The General's stable.

Photos by Zach Bowman / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

For 2010, the Silverado Hybrid is nearly indistinguishable from its conventional cousins. Chevrolet designers have finally deleted the gaudy HYBRID decals we saw slathered down both sides of the cab when we first drove it early last year, and we couldn't be happier. The fenders and tailgate still wear attractive hybrid badges, but otherwise, the truck is largely interchangeable with its less expensive family members.

By now, the world has largely made up its mind on the merits of the new's Silverado styling, so we won't waste anyone's time by nitpicking. However, we note that the pickup's hybrid nature has dictated an emphasis on improved aerodynamics for better mpg numbers, so this Silverado wears a low-hanging front airdam that shivers at the thought of steep parking lot entrances and gets hung on most parking barriers. This, on a four-wheel drive model.

Things don't get much better inside. We typically wait until the end of a review to beat you over the head with a vehicle's MSRP, but in this case, it's important to point out that our particular 2010 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid carried a sticker of $41,490 without destination charges. Throw in the $995 it takes to get the truck to your local dealer and you're knocking on the door of $43,000 – without a single option. Our tester carried cloth seats, acres of cheapish plastic dash materials and not much else. We did have the benefit of dual-zone climate control, power windows and locks, along with satellite radio, but at this price point, that's like saying the vehicle also comes with windshield wipers. It damn well better.

But don't get us wrong. We completely understand that this is a truck, and that trucks are meant for working. But if this was meant to be a bare-bones work vehicle, it probably wouldn't cost more than a BMW 335i. In order to spend this kind of change on a half-ton truck, we expect leather seats, some sort of navigation other than OnStar and a rearview camera. At least. As long as we're wishing, a power-sliding rear window wouldn't hurt our feelings, either.

The good news is that Silverado Hybrid interior is identical to the standard Silverado. The steering wheel is the exact same unit you'll find in nearly every other GM truck, and while it feels a little thin for such a behemoth, it does its job just fine. We still feel that the steering wheel-mounted GM audio and cruise controls are some of the easiest to use of any vehicle out there, and that doesn't change simply because the pieces have made their way to a pickup. Up front, the seats are comfortable enough for short stints, but start to become uncomfortable after two or three hours on the road. One of the Silverado Hybrid's big strengths is its ability to carry up to six passengers thanks to a center console that converts into a middle throne. We have a hard time imagining burly construction workers getting cozy in the front row, but hey, you never know.

And what about the hybrid drivetrain? First, we have to say that this is the best sounding hybrid on the planet. GM has mated its tried-and-true 6.0-liter V8 to a two-mode hybrid system for a combined 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque, and when you roll onto the throttle, you're rewarded with the kind of delicious cacophony that can only come from a pushrod mill. Doing so completely misses the point of the rest of the eco-savvy tech onboard, of course, but what can you do?

The Silverado Hybrid can drive up to 30 mph on all-electric power thanks to twin electric motors mated to a variable planetary gear system in the four-speed automatic transmission, and a 300 volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack serves up all the necessary power. GM has also fitted the big V8 with a few fuel-saving tricks, including cylinder deactivation and an auto-stop system, and the result is an EPA-rated 21 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. 21 mpg combined actually sounds pretty good until you realize that the non-hybrid Silverado 1500 manages 18 mpg highway and 13 mpg city – that's 15.5 mpg combined – costs $10,000 less and can tow up to 9,500 pounds. Opting for the hybrid drivetrain will cut your towing capacity to a measly 5,900 pounds, begging the question: Is 5.5 mpg worth the hit in functionality and cost?

Around town, the Silverado Hybrid is plenty comfortable to drive, though. The brakes are more than competent and power from either the electric motors or the big V8 is plenty for any sort of driving scenario. The auto-stop for the engine shuts down smoothly enough, and the 6.0-liter mill comes to life with the same kind of show that accompanies starting any V8. The grabby sensation of the regenerative braking system found on older full-size GM hybrid trucks has been all but extinguished, and the high seating position provides enough visibility to see over most low-lying structures. Unfortunately, that trend doesn't continue once you hit the highway.

Like most tucks, the Silverado Hybrid has fairly stiff rear springs designed to keep the tail up while hauling big loads, and the result is that you feel nearly every imperfection in the road surface. Expansion joints, potholes and pavement changes all get transmitted straight to your derriere as you drive. What's really curious is the truck's dampening isn't up to handling all of the weight of the vehicle. Drive through any dip in the pavement and you get the full motion-of-the-ocean effect. It feels like a Crown Victoria mated with a WRX STI and had one horrible, malformed child. After four hours in the driver's seat, we weren't sure which was going to give up first – our kidneys or our stomach.

General Motors had the opportunity to do something really impressive with the Silverado Hybrid, but what we got instead is a vehicle that has all of the right bones, but none of the followthrough to be really worth it. While the drivetrain tech is right where it needs to be for this kind of vehicle, the rest of the beast is still a big, heavy, quarter-ton truck. Instead of opting for a much lighter standard cab, GM bolted a hefty crew cab on the frame, complete with two additional doors for extra weight. Where are the composite fenders and bed sides? Where's the aluminum hood? Why is this truck still rolling on thick, 18-inch chrome wheels that weigh more than our first car? Why is the transmission still a four-speed instead of a more efficient six-speed, and why didn't GM go with its 4.8-liter V8 or even a V6 instead of the big 6.0-liter mill?

The short answer is cost. The General probably realized up front that the Hybrid was likely to be a fringe volume money loser, but in the end, it was more interested in being able to say that it's the only manufacturer with a hybrid pickup, so it pressed on regardless. We've been absolutely amazed at the amount of progress General Motors has made since emerging out of bankruptcy last year. The company has produced a wave of competitive, fuel-efficient models in short order, which is partly why we're so taken aback at how completely the Silverado Hybrid misses the mark. Given the plethora of genuinely capable, incredibly efficient trucks in the General Motors portfolio, we have a hard time imagining why anyone would opt for the Hybrid when it's time to sign on the dotted line.

Photos by Zach Bowman / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

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