First Look: 2009 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid and XFE
Pickup trucks of the near future
What's the best way to give the moribund truck market a little pick-me-up? Diesel? Hybrid? V-6? How about a six-speed automatic and better aerodynamics?
Hold off on the diesel for now. Motor Trend readers' favorite post-$4-gas solution is coming, and yet automakers are hedging their bets with other fuel-economy improvements because they're not sure how many average buyers are willing to pay $2000 extra per pickup and 60 cents more per gallon for the privilege of sharing refueling pumps with surly truck drivers.
The hybrids are here early next year, with the same two-mode system used in General Motors and Chrysler sport/utilities going into the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra. Like the GM/Chrysler utilities, the pickups suffer a bit of the engine on-off jolts that make it clear to the driver that he's driving a truck that gets 21/22 city/highway EPA mpg for the two-wheel drive and 20/20 for the four-wheel drive. The Silverado/Sierra Hybrid is offered only in the crew cab body style. Even if the hybrid badging is too subtle, next to the distinctive shape of a Toyota Prius, to convince other motorists and pedestrians that you're driving anything but a gas hog.Oh, well. At least you can sneak up on pedestrians; only to 10 mph or so on level roads, as in a loop less than eight miles long on which I sampled a Silverado hybrid, but up to 25 mph or so on a long downhill. With a tailwind.
These hybrid pickups, combined with GM's venerable 6.0L V-8, shine on the highway, where the two-mode system helps aid cylinder deactivation more quickly. See the table below to see my indicated fuel mileage for that short, in-town-only (including hills) sub-eight-mile loop.
And what of the V-6? Leave that to Ford's coming EcoBoost F-150, for now (and maybe a four-cylinder EcoBoost F-150, as cash-strapped Ford has "suspended" development of the F-100, much like Hillary Clinton has suspended her presidential bid). GM says about 200,000 of its pickup buyers choose the 4.3L engine, mostly for construction crews and other fleets. Coupled with a four-speed automatic, however, the V-6 doesn't get the mileage of, say, an efficient, aluminum-block V-8 and six-speed automatic. Which brings us to our final short-term solution, the Silverado/Sierra XFE models. Available only as 2WD crew cab models, fuel economy is up 1/1 mpg city/highway, to 15/21 mpg. Like the Chevy Cobalt XFE, they were quickly designed from the parts bin.
"We fast-tracked the XFE models to get them into dealer showrooms as quickly as possible," says Gary White, GM's North American full-size-truck chief. Along with a similar line of XFE SUVs, the pickups go on sale in the second half of this year.
The Silverado/Sierra XFE includes the aluminum version of the 5.3L V-8, with Active Fuel Management (cylinder deactivation) and the six-speed automatic. It's lowered about 10 mm in the rear and has the hybrids' lower front-spoiler and front airdam, plus low rolling resistance17-in. aluminum wheels, aluminum lower control arms, and soft tonneau cover. Rear-axle ratio is 3.08:1, and GM claims a best-in-class drag coefficient of 0.412. While the aluminum-intensive mass savings of about 150 lb places the GM twins in a lower weight category, they don't lose any truck capabilities, GM says, with towing capacity up 400 lb to 7000, because of the six-speed and a high-capacity cooling package.
GM also added a hydraulic rear body mount, which helps improve the ride over rough roads, especially expansion-strip highways. Ditching 20-in. wheels for 17s doesn't hurt ride quality, either.
The XFEs have plenty of smooth power for most truck owners, at least those who don't need to make a statement (the Denali's 6.2L engine has been extended through Chevy and GMC's ranges for those who do). The XFE badging is even more subtle than hybrid badging, but it's added only because the EPA won't let automakers show a higher fuel-mileage sticker for options, like the separate items that boost these models' fuel economy, alone.
With the hybrid and XFE models, GM is working hard to keep the V-8 alive. Unlike with midsize cars, in which buyers are now leaving the V-6s behind for four-cylinder engines, there doesn't seem to be much movement from V-8 trucks to V-6 trucks, yet. Truck buyers are looking to save money in this economy, though: Traditionally, crew cabs took more than 40% of Silverado/Sierra sales, with less than 40% for extended cabs and 20% for standard cabs. Last month, the mix was an even 40/40/20.
Indicated (on-board computer) fuel mileage for '09 Chevy Silverado short drives:
LT extended cab with 5.3-liter aluminum V-8, AFM, six-speed automatic: 14.2 mpg on city/highway mix of approximately 15 miles.
XFE crew cab: 16.3mpg (on same route as above).
Silverado Hybrid: 21.7 mpg (on shorter, eight-mile city-only route).
| ||2009 Chevrolet Silverado XFE||2009 CHEVROLET SILVERADO HYBRID|
|Base price||$32,000 (est)||$39,000 (MT est)|
|Drivetrain||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, RWD/4WD)|
|Engine||5.3L/320-hp/340-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8||6.0L/332-hp/367-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8 plus 81-hp/184 lb-ft elec motors|
|Transmission||6-speed auto||2-mode CVT/4-speed auto|
|Curb weight||5400 lb (MT est)||5400 (MT est.)|
|Wheelbase||143.5 in||143.5 in|
|Length x width x height||230.0 x 79.9 x 73.4 in||230.0 x 79.9 x 73.8-74.0 in|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||15/21 mpg||20-21/20-22 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||1.1 lb/mile||0.9-1.0 lb/mile|
|On sale||Late 2008||Early 2009|