With a keen awareness of the growing consumer desire for more fuel-efficient vehicles, for 2009 Chevrolet offers an XFE (Xtra Fuel Economy) model, a two-mode hybrid, and now a six-speed transmission with manual shifting capabilities. The new Hydra-Matic 6L80 is available in Silverados equipped with the 5.3-, 6.0-, and 6.2-liter engines. It was first made available in crew-cab models and later will be offered in regular- and extended-cab models (except with the five-foot-eight-inch short bed) with 5.3- and 6.0-liter V-8s. The new transmission provides a lower rpm at cruising speed, improving fuel economy on the highway.

What better way to find out just how much of a difference the improvements have made than with a road trip? We requested an LT Crew Cab with the Z71 off-road package, 18-inch wheels with Bridgestone Dueler A/Ts, the 5.3-liter, E85-capable V-8 with 315 horsepower and 338 pound-feet of torque and Active Fuel Management, and the aforementioned optional six-speed automatic.

Leaving sunny Los Angeles, we were ready for a nearly 1400-mile journey to Northern California and the Sierra Nevadas and back. Once out of the metropolis, the trip consisted of mostly freeway driving, with some in-city travel, snow driving, and a windy canyon road thrown in for good measure.

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 inspires confidence, and a smooth ride makes the Silverado a pleasant commuter. The LT came with a nicely appointed interior, albeit not the topline package found in the LTZ. Still, the seats remained comfortable despite the distance, and the XM Satellite Radio and auxiliary input jack kept us entertained for the duration of the trip. The center stack is still a ho-hum slab of gray plastic when the Navigation box hasn't been checked on the order sheet, but the stereo and small upper glovebox--which requires two hands to open--were the only detractors from the otherwise nicely finished dash.

Because inclement weather was predicted, we unfortunately had to load the luggage in the cab rather than in the bed. However, the 60/40-split rear seat bottoms are easy to raise using one hand, which allowed us to stow the luggage on the cab floor. Folding the larger portion of the seat gave us a week's worth of gear-stowing for three people behind the driver's seat and still ample seating for a third passenger in the second row.

On the road, the Silverado was exceptionally pleasant to drive, providing a smooth ride--the suspension ably soaked up bumps and pavement imperfections. The steering was nicely weighted and communicative, and the manual-shift buttons on the column came in handy on long hills or when passing. Climbing up the narrow, windy Feather River Canyon, the Silverado handled nicely, never feeling underpowered or too wide for the road.

When the snow came, the Silverado remained unfazed. The Automatic four-wheel-drive setting handled slippery roads nicely, and putting it in 4-Hi four-wheel drive kept us trouble-free with deeper snow. Not once did the truck feel unsure or disconnected from the road.

Upon our return to Los Angeles, we had traveled 1364 miles (including a marathon 13-hour drive covering most of the length of California), 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 $40 every 380 or so miles.