2009 Chevy Silverado Hybrid - First Look

Road Trip

Oct 1, 2009
Photo 2/7   |   2009 Chevy Silverado Hybrid right Side Angle
What happens when you take a truck designed to get 20 mpg on a 1,000-mile road trip loaded to the gills with people and luggage? Does it do as well mileage-wise as when it's only hauling around a single occupant? More on that later.
Like the Tahoe Hybrid we tested in the past, the Silverado Hybrid uses the Two-Mode Hybrid system developed jointly with Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler, and BMW. The powertrain consists of a 6.0L Vortec V-8 with cylinder deactivation just like the many 5.3L-versions we've driven, but it also uses a late-intake-valve-closing, Atkinson-cycle to reduce pumping losses from the engine. The result is an engine that makes less power-per-liter, but one that also uses less fuel than a smaller displacement engine of the same output, hence the jump to 6.0L from the typical 5.3L. The engine bolts up to a hybrid system that takes the place of a typical automatic transmission, with three planetary gearsets like a normal transmission, but with two 300V, 80hp electric motors and no torque converter. At low speeds, the larger of the two motors, located where a torque converter would normally be found, powers the truck alone while the gas engine is off. At higher speeds, the second electric motor near the output shaft works with the planetary gear sets to mimic a continuously-variable-transmission. Other significant additions are electric power steering and an electric A/C condenser so that both can operate while the engine is off. The 2WD versions are rated at 21/22mpg and the 4WD models, like the one we tested, are rated at 20/20.
In the week that we had our Silverado Hybrid we covered a good portion of California's latitude from Orange County in the south to Shasta County in the north, with pit stops in LA County and Monterey County thrown in for good measure. With a photo shoot scheduled in Monterey, I headed up solo, keeping close to the speed limit. At first I tried to maximize MPG by looking at the instantaneous MPG readout in the dash, but soon I discovered satellite radio. What can I say? I have a short attention span. With the cruise control set I was soon toggling back and forth between XM stations to stave off the boredom of driving up California's Highway 101 at night. After an overnight stay in Prunedale, California, and about 100 miles of mixed highway/urban driving, it was off to Monterey for the photo shoot and my first fill-up since leaving SoCal. After 442.7 miles the Silverado took on 22.077 gallons for an average of 20 mpg, right on target.
A good portion of the Hybrid's highway fuel economy had come from the 3.08 gears in the axles, which kept the 6.0L V-8 at around 1,500 rpm at freeway speeds. In addition, a soft tonneau cover served double-duty by lowering drag and concealing any gear in the bed. When we had the Silverado in town, the electric motor handled everything until speed hit about 30 mph if we were gentle on the throttle and had a level road to deal with, but with normal (for us) acceleration, the gas engine fired up at about 20 mph and shut off at around the same mark when we were braking to a stop. The regenerative braking worked virtually seamlessly with the hydraulic brakes-we only noticed the transition on one occasion. The only major difference in performance we noticed was at wide open throttle. There's a hint of lag before the gas engine kicks in, and then a boost of power as both engine and motor work to accelerate. The CVT-like aspect of the two-mode transmission kept the engine in the 4,000-5,000-rpm range while it shifted, there were no huge drops in rpm like in a normal automatic.
Photo 6/7   |   2009 Chevy Silverado Hybrid road Trip Map
Back to the road trip: For the next leg I took on three passengers and their luggage for a four-day trip. The Silverado's soft-tonneau-covered bed was filled to the top with duffel bags, fishing gear, and coolers topped off with nearly enough 12-ounce cans to sink a patio boat. (Guess how I know this!) We increased the speed a bit on this leg to around 75 mph to keep up with traffic and we had a few pit stops for snacks, fishing licenses, and the final winding roads that lead up to the lake. What was the result of the extra load and extra speed? The average dropped a whole 0.3 mpg, for an average on the next two tanks of 19.7 mpg.
To check out the economics of buying a Hybrid Silverado over a standard Silverado, we built a 4WD Crew Cab LS with a 5.3L V-8 on Chevy's website and optioned it accordingly. The MSRP was just over $37,000, making the two-mode about a $4,000 option. Take into consideration a federal tax incentive of $2,200 (according to hybridcars.com) and the difference is now only about $1,800. We typically got around 15mpg in our long-term Silverado, but let's just round up to 16mpg given the new six-speed transmission. With fuel at $2.50 per gallon and 15,000 miles driven each year, the Hybrid will save 187 gallons, or $468. However, if/when gas prices go up, and that's the way they're heading as we speak, $3.50 per gallon gasoline means a savings of $650 per year, which would mean the typical owner would see savings before the truck is even paid off.
Highs:
- Delivered 20 mpg combined, as promised solid.
- Quiet cabin with good ergonomics for a long haul.
Lows:
- Reduced towing capacity: 5,900 pounds for our 4WD model.
- Hybrid not yet available with LTZ trim level or any other cab configuration other than Crew.
Photo 7/7   |   2009 Chevy Silverado Hybrid 2 Mode Transmission
Price (as tested)
$42,420 (including destination)
Engine
6.0L V-8 w/LIVC
Horsepower
332@5,100 rpm (SAE)
Torque (lb-ft)
367@4,100 rpm (SAE)
Transmission
Two-Mode Hybrid
Axle Ratio
3.08
Suspension
Independent with coilovers (f)
Multi-leaf live axle (r)
Brakes
Four-wheel ABS, traction control, stability control, regenerative braking
Max Trailer Weight
5,900 lbs
Seating
3/3

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