Two years ago, the only non-GM truck eligible for our annual Truck of the Year event was the Ford Explorer Sport Trac. That year, the Chevrolet Silverado walked away with the coveted golden calipers, but since then, competition from cross-town rivals Ford and Dodge has heated up. Chevy hasn't been resting on its laurels, though. The company has rolled out more and more options for Silverado buyers, doing everything it can to stay one step ahead of the pack.
Though the Silverado wasn't updated significantly enough to qualify for the 2009 Truck of the Year event, we were still able to pit it against the latest offerings from Ford and Dodge, as well as those from GMC, Nissan and Toyota. Once again, the Silverado prevailed, but only by a hair. Close on its heels was the Ford F-150, which follows a similar mantra of a truck for every driver.
Chevrolet has updated the 2009 Silverado with a six-speed transmission with manual shifting capabilities and rolled out the Silverado Hybrid. With Chevy's newfound affinity for efficiency, a road trip was in order to find out just how much of a difference the improvements have made.
After a call to Chevrolet, an Imperial Blue Metallic 2009 Silverado LT Crew Cab arrived in our parking garage replete with the Z71 off-road package, 18-in. wheels wrapped in Bridgestone Dueler A/T tires, 5.3L E85-capable V-8 with 315 hp and 338 lb-ft of torque and Active Fuel Management and the optional six-speed automatic transmission. Our trip would take us on a nearly 1400-mile journey from Los Angeles up into Northern California and the Sierra Nevada mountains and back. After escaping Los Angeles, the trip would consist of mostly freeway driving, with some in-city travel, snow driving and a windy canyon road thrown in for good measure.
Though the current-generation Silverado's styling debuted several years ago, the truck still feels larger than you would expect in a half-ton. The brawny, squared-off sheetmetal and wide stance can be unnerving at first in city traffic, but the Silverado's excellent sightlines make its size easy to adapt to. Quick, accurate steering inspire confidence and a smooth ride makes the Silverado a pleasant commuter -- until you have to park it. Still, seasoned truck drivers won't have any trouble with it.
Inside, our LT came with a nicely appointed interior, albeit not the top-of-the-line package found in the LTZ. Still, the seats remained comfortable despite the distance and the XM Satellite Radio and auxiliary input jack on the face of the radio kept us entertained for the duration of the trip. That said, the center stack, like many of those found in GM vehicles, is still a boring slab of gray plastic when the Navigation box hasn't been checked on the order sheet. The stereo and small upper glove box, which requires two hands to open, were the only detractors from an otherwise nicely finished dash.
Unfortunately, inclement weather was predicted for our trip, necessitating the loading of luggage in the cab rather than the bed. Here, the Silverado shined again with its 60/40 split-folding rear seats that could be raised easily with one hand. Folding the larger portion of the seat allowed us to a weeks worth of luggage for three people behind the drivers seat and still leave ample seating for a third passenger in the rear seat.
On the road, the Silverado was exceptionally pleasant to drive. The ride was very smooth for a truck and bumps and pavement imperfections were soaked up nicely. The steering was nicely weighted and communicative and the manual shifting buttons on the shift column came in handy on long hills or when passing. Climbing up the narrow, windy Feather River Canyon, the Silverado handled nicely and never felt underpowered or too wide for the road.
When conditions got snowy, the Silverado remained unfazed. The automatic four-wheel drive setting handled slippery roads nicely, and full four-wheel drive kept the truck from having any trouble with deeper snow. Not once did the truck feel unsure or disconnected from the road. Occupants deeply appreciated the automatic transfer case and the lack of manually-locking wheel hubs, which kept the four-wheel drive functions inside the cockpit where it was warm.
Upon our return to Los Angeles, we had traveled 1,364 miles and from sea level to nearly 4000 feet and back. Along the way, we spent $148.71 on 79 gallons of regular-grade gas, averaging 21.7 gallons per fill-up at about $39.99 every 380 or so miles. By the end of the journey, our trip computer was reading an average of 18.2 mpg, though our calculations indicate the actual average was closer to 17.2 mpg, well within the EPA-estimated 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway, but not in agreement with the computer. Still, the instantaneous fuel-mileage readout on the dash was fun to play with, though it quickly became apparent that only moderate throttle input was required to bring the engine out of four-cylinder mode and back to full V-8 power. The cruise control seemed to be much better at keeping four cylinders shut down.
After spending nearly 1400 miles in the 2009 Silverado, including a marathon 13-hour trip covering most of the length of California, we'd happily do it again. Minor quibbles aside, the Silverado gave us no reason to complain and plenty of reasons to love it. Its place atop our recent comparison and its 2007 Truck of the Year award were well-deserved, and we hope to see continued improvement from Chevy in the future.
| 2009 CHEVROLET SILVERADO LT 4X4 |
| Base price || $19,765 |
| Price as tested || $39,019 |
| Vehicle layout || Front engine, 4WD, 6-pass, 4-door Truck |
| Engine || 5.3L/315-hp/388-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8 E85-Capable with Active Fuel Management |
| Transmission || 6-speed automatic |
| Curb weight || 5286 lb |
| Wheelbase || 143.5 in |
| Length x width x height || 230.0 x 79.9 x 74.0 in |
| EPA city/hwy fuel econ || 14/19 mpg |