2014 Chevrolet Silverado First Drive
In four-wheel-drive form, the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 stands 74 inches tall, but in the eyes of General Motors, this truck is nothing short of a giant. Saying trucks are the lynchpin of the General's fortunes in North America is no understatement. Full-size trucks -- especially pickups -- are essential to GM's bottom line. Chevrolet sold 418,312 Silverado pickups in the U.S. last year, making it the most popular model in the division's North American portfolio and the most popular GM nameplate.
Despite the Silverado's significance, GM hasn't exactly kept abreast of updating its light-duty bread-and-butter pickups. Thanks to an economic shakeup, a slow housing market, and the pesky matter of a corporate fiscal meltdown and restructuring, the 2014 Silverado is GM's first attempt at significantly overhauling its full-size truck portfolio. We had our first look at the new Silverado last November, but now that the first examples are starting to trickle to dealers, we had a chance to slide behind the wheel to see what's new.
NIP/TUCKED, BOTH INSIDE AND OUT
Drive past a new 2014 Silverado on the expressway and you might mistake it for its predecessor, but park the two trucks side by side and there's little room for mistaken identity. Yes, the split grille, quad headlamps, massive bow-tie emblem, and boxy form carry through to the new model, but according to design chief Tom Peters, these are all signature Silverado cues that the new truck needed to keep.
The new truck does have those familiar styling elements, but overall it's a little brawnier and more brash than the previous model. The blistered hood gives way to a massive grille opening that's about as tall as those used in heavy-duty Silverados. The grille surround carries into the stacked headlamps, which boast projector low-beam lighting on higher trim models. Fenders and wheel arches are still rather square but look more muscular than before. The visual effect is accentuated by the new Silverado's wider track and stronger shoulder line.
Everything aft of the A-pillars almost looks carried over, but that's not the case. All cabs -- be it regular, double, or crew -- are completely new for 2014. The windshield is a degree flatter to improve aerodynamics, and the doors no longer wrap around the upper edges of the cab. Instead, they're now inset into the cab sides and are triple sealed to cut wind noise. Double cabs ditch the old suicide half-doors for fixed B-pillars and forward-hinged doors, and crew cabs have longer rear doors and a couple extra inches of rear-seat legroom. GM also added reinforcement to the cab and increased the use of high-strength steel while adding enlarged hydraulic body mounts. The result? A stiffer, more isolated cab.
The fully boxed frame, for the record, isn't much different from the last truck. It still boasts a hydroformed front section, but additional high-strength steel in the middle section allowed GM to increase stiffness and shave 44 pounds. The front suspension remains an independent, coil-over-shock arrangement, but control arms are now made from forged and cast aluminum instead of steel, and anti-roll bars are thicker than before. Leaf springs are retained out back but are a little lighter and wider than in prior Silverados.
TEACHING AN AGING POWERTRAIN NEW TRICKS
At first glance, the 2014 Silverado's engine lineup seems old hat. The 4.3-liter V-6, 5.3-liter V-8, and 6.2-liter V-8 have been staples seemingly forever -- but the entire range, now sold under the EcoTec3 moniker, has been significantly updated. All three engines use aluminum blocks and heads, direct fuel injection, 11:1 compression, and cylinder deactivation. The latter isn't an all-new function, but Chevrolet has added a few tricks -- notably some NVH concessions in the exhaust system -- that allow the engines to run on four cylinders for longer periods of time. All three powerplants also eschew hydraulic power-steering pumps in favor of electric power-steering racks.
Predictably, adding direct fuel injection and increasing compression yields more power. The 4.3-liter V-6 is the best example. While the ancient, outgoing 4.3-liter wheezed along with 195 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, the new 4.3-liter serves up 285 hp and 305 lb-ft of torque. Horsepower-wise, that's not quite enough to trump the base six-cylinder offerings from Ford and Ram, but the Silverado's base six does have the most torque in the segment. Spec a regular-cab Silverado just right, and a 4.3-liter truck can tow up to 7200 pounds.
The 5.3-liter V-8's output also increases compared with its predecessor, but not by as much as the V-6. For 2014, the direct-injection V-8 serves up 355 hp at 5600 rpm and 383 lb-ft of torque at 4100 rpm. Early estimates from GM suggest two-wheel-drive Silverados with this engine could be rated at 16/23 mpg (city/highway), while four-wheel-drive models could attain a 16/22 rating.
Figures for the optional 6.2-liter V-8 have yet to be formally announced, but Jeff Luke, chief engineer of the Silverado program, says his team is targeting output in the neighborhood of 400 to 450 hp. We expect the official numbers to emerge shortly before the engine goes on sale this fall.
Even with three engine options, the 2014 Silverado has but one transmission to choose from: a six-speed automatic. The 6T80E is essentially unchanged from 2013, despite the fact that some competitors are rolling out eight-speed automatics. Luke says the new Silverado would show even bigger fuel-economy gains with additional gear ratios but says we'll have to "stay tuned" for some "neat things planned for the next few years." GM officials shy away from talking about its eight- and ten-speed automatic transmission programs, but we wouldn't be surprised if development timetables for either transmission didn't line up with that of the new Silverado.
Thankfully, the previous Silverado's dreary, dated cabin isn't carried over into the new truck. The redesigned interior boasts a dashboard with large, round nacelles that flare from the instrument panel. Switches and buttons on both the center stack and the steering wheel are oversized for use with gloves, and a split-level locking glovebox returns. Regardless of trim, the 2014 Silverado makes do with a touchscreen audio interface with USB auxiliary inputs, although higher trim grades gain Chevy's new MyLink infotainment system with an eight-inch screen. The mid-level LT and top-tier LTZ trims have a new four-inch color information center embedded into the gauge cluster. Sadly, the packaging of the four-wheel-drive system results in a steering column that is still slightly off-center from the driver's seat.
There's plenty of storage space inside thanks to a rash of small cubbies cut into each door panel and a new floor console that's capable of holding file folders, small laptops, and so on. Even models with bench seats boast a sizable armrest storage compartment along with a lockable underseat storage area.
Predictably, the top-tier LTZ and the new, Western-inspired High Country model are the most impressive Silverados, boasting leather-wrapped instrument panels with contrast stitching, leather-wrapped door arm rests, and leather seating with contrast stitching and piping. High Country models go a step further with unique trim accents and saddle-hued leather seats. Step down a grade to the LT, and the cabin loses some of that panache: soft-touch materials are still applied to the door panels, but the dashboard regresses to hard plastic and the interior reverts to a monochromatic black color scheme unless you pony up for the optional convenience package. Fleet-oriented WT models are even more modest, skipping the argent dash accents, wrapping the seats in vinyl trim, and eschewing carpet in favor of rubber flooring.
Higher-trim models come packed with a fair amount of interesting content. A 120-volt household power outlet is available, as are a pair of 12-volt sockets for the front passengers. Models with the bucket seats/floor console combination gain another three USB ports tied to the infotainment system. LTZ and High Country models are available with forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems, which Chevrolet says are firsts for the segment. Later this summer, crew cab models equipped with both the optional Bose audio system and the 6.2-liter V-8 will be available with an active noise-canceling system.
Some of the new features lie outside of the cabin. All Silverados are available with LED lamps located beneath the bed rails and with steps carved into the corners of the rear bumper. LT grades and higher gain a new "EZ-Lift" tailgate that smoothly lowers itself without assistance and needs only one hand to close. LT models are also available with rear park sense detection, but LTZ and High Country models feature front detection as well. Opt for the Z71 package on either a Silverado LT or LTZ, and you'll gain a few unique trim pieces along with heavy-duty Rancho dampers, upgraded springs, skid plates, a locking rear differential, and, for the first time, a brake-based hill-descent-control function.
HOW IT ALL COMES TOGETHER
The new Silverado drives a lot like the old truck, although it's sturdier, quieter, and a little more compliant over long stretches of tarmac. Wind and road noise are less intrusive than before. The electric power steering feels much like the old hydraulic system but is still a little light at highway speeds. Four-wheel disc brakes offer good bite and a firm brake pedal.
The stalwart 5.3-liter V-8 remains plenty powerful, but we walked away more impressed with the revised 4.3-liter V-6. No longer the dog of the lineup, the engine had adequate power for around-town use; we used it to lug a 5000-pound camping trailer around the outskirts of San Antonio without much difficulty. Chevrolet views the V-6 as an entry-level engine for budget-minded customers, but we think that is selling it short -- especially as Ram and Ford continue to find success selling six-cylinder engines in their full-size trucks.
Is the 2014 Silverado the sales giant GM needs? That's a question that still needs to be answered. It is certainly an improvement over the last Silverado, but it doesn't quite alter he paradigm of what a Silverado -- or a full-size pickup, for that matter -- can and should be. Revolution seems to be a thing of the past; instead, evolution and cautious progress are the way forward. It's neat that GM is watching the market when it comes to new transmissions and light-duty diesel offerings, but it'd be great if the company actually stepped forward and once again led the entire segment in terms of innovation.
That said, the 2014 Silverado is a solid foundation to build on as time and technology march on. Here's hoping GM does just that -- but before another seven years fly by.
2014 Chevrolet Silverado LT Crew Cab
- Base Price: $35,260-$38,835 (destination not included)
- On Sale: Q2 2013
- Engine: 5.3-liter OHV V-8
- Horsepower: 355 hp @ 5600
- Torque: 383 lb-ft @ 4100
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic
- Drive: Rear- or Four-wheel
- L x W x H: 230 x 80 x 74 in
- Curb Weight: 5139-5424 lbs
- EPA Rating: 16/23 (2WD), 16/22 (4WD)