2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country First Drive

2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country

Austin, Texas -- When Chevrolet planned to enter the premium pickup segment, it steered clear of gates with wrought-iron lettering. Maria Rohrer, marketing director for Chevy trucks, wanted something other than cow-calf operations and haystacks coming to mind with the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country. "It was meant to be ranch agnostic," Rohrer said.

Yes, this is Chevy's new competitor for the Ford F-150 King Ranch. In Texas, which accounts for a ridiculous percentage of pickup sales, the King Ranch name is known and revered. In the expansive style that typifies the Lone Star state, the King Ranch (the actual ranch, not the truck) is larger than Rhode Island. So Ford has the premium range all staked out. Meantime, Ram has entangled itself on the misnomer Laramie Longhorn (even though shorthorn cattle predominate in southeastern Wyoming), and the Toyota Tundra is bogged down in irrelevance with the 1794 Edition.

"I wanted a truck name and a sub-brand that appeals everywhere," Rohrer said. The 2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country came about after "quite a scientific internal selection process." She said it had to be seen as a step up from the Silverado LTZ trim. "It had to be something that every part of the country could look at and say, 'You know what? I've got a little bit of that terrain in my territory.' "

We also have parkways and cul-de-sacs all over the land. To remind anyone and everyone what you're really all about when you drive this truck, it is is adorned with insipid High Country badges in confirmation that all the camping gear you'll throw into the cargo bed was paid for with your REI loyalty benefits.

More than just a trim package

The 2014 Silverado High Country introduces the new 6.2-liter V-8 to Chevrolet's truck lineup. It will also be available in the Silverado LTZ. This third-generation EcoTec engine with aluminum block and heads optimizes overhead-valve architecture by incorporating three important technologies: direct injection, variable valve timing, and cylinder deactivation. It nets a class-best 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. Maximum towing capacity is 9500 pounds. As we tested the 2014 Silverado High Country in the Texas Hill Country northwest of Austin, fuel economy was still being determined at the EPA's Ann Arbor, Michigan, lab. Update: The 6.2-liter V-8 is rated at 15/21 mpg with two-wheel drive and 14/20 mpg in 4x4 configuration.

Compared with the High Country's standard 5.3-liter V-8, which is already offered in other 2014 Silverado models, the 6.2-liter's extra displacement is achieved by increasing bore by 7.25 mm, to 103.25 mm. A simple, gear-driven pump sends fuel under 1800 psi of pressure to the combustion chambers. The big engine has a slightly higher 11.5:1 compression ratio, and premium fuel is recommended, although powertrain chief Sheryl Balsley estimated that using regular would result in no more than an approximately 1.5 percent drop in power. Michael Norrito, who led the vehicle integration effort at GM's Milford Proving Grounds, estimated a 0 to 60 mph time of 6.4 seconds.

The V-8 is mated with the HydraMatic 6L80 six-speed automatic, which is a bit of a letdown after the Ram's exceptionally good eight-speed, but we think the differences would be more noticeable on the open highway with a heavy payload or trailer than on the ridges and plunges of this karst plateau. Despite being two ratios down, Chevy officials intimate that a class-leading result will be among the Silverado's claims when the EPA finishes up.

Where we did get the opportunity for a good run, the 6.2-liter V-8 operated with the smoothness of a college football coach in a recruit's living room. Transitions into V-4 mode were imperceptible except for the dashboard indicator light. Beyond half-throttle, the engine sent an indifferent moan, but on the other hand we heard no hissing from the direct injection system, and at the 5600-rpm shift point the V-8 settled back down without protest. It's an excellent combination of power and civility.

Saddled with competitors' clichés

Along with the big-bore engine, the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country introduces unique accents such as the chrome grille, body-colored bumpers, and 20-inch wheels. Front and rear parking assistance will keep you from squashing the Scion iQ that had no business being at the lumberyard in the first place.

Inside the crew cab, heated and cooled front seats are standard, and there's a bright eight-inch touchscreen. From the high seating position, we were aware of the truck's mass, but the nose was easily placed in the tightest bends through fissured terrain. Although the electrically assisted power steering was just a touch light at times, we saw no reason to occupy the state capitol in protest. The brakes -- with new rotors that are claimed to last longer while also keeping silent and smooth -- were just as transparent about their actions and as highly refined as every other onboard system.

So we've met the new competitor for the Ford F-150 King Ranch. Having run our hands over the thick leather upholstery in an almost Pavlovian way, we say the High Country measures up, cliché for cliché to its competitors. All that's missing inside the cabin is a saddle horn on the dashboard and stirrups instead of LED-accented running boards when you step out.

There are some flaws we could nitpick, like two tones of black trim on the door that clash with each other and the browns of the premium inserts. Additionally, the test truck we drove listed at $54,565, which was $85 more than a GMC Sierra Denali we'd driven earlier -- and the Denali was nicer, with leather on the dash and better color treatments.

But a broader question occupies us: Why do pickups have to be Western? One overly obvious thing Chevy has omitted is to cue the Bose sound system for Gene Autry's "Back in the Saddle Again" as the startup greeting. Having recently driven a slew of trucks, we've had enough of riding the range. If only, when the High Country goes into production in October, it could have a sleek, metro-look interior by Audi. But then, "High Country" would have a different connotation.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country

Base Price: $45,100
As Tested: $54,565
On Sale: December 2013
Engine: 5.3-liter direct-injection OHV V-8 with variable-valve timing and cylinder deactivation, 6.2-liter direct-injection OHV V-8 with variable-valve timing and cylinder deactivation
Horsepower: 355 hp @ 5600, 420 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 383 lb-ft @ 4100 rpm, 460 lb-ft @ 4100 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Two- or four-wheel
Curb Weight: 5156-5429 lb
Towing: 9400-9700 lb
Fuel Economy: 6.2-liter V-8: 15/21 mpg 2wd, 14/20 mpg 4wd
Ecoboost V8
That's right, why they have to be western themed, the GMC Sierra Denali and the Ram Laramie Limited are the way to go.

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