2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 First Drive
Grit Over Glitz
When it comes to the new 2014 Silverado, we're sure Chevrolet is feeling some pressure. The truck is one of the best-selling vehicles in the Chevrolet stable and key to the brand's ongoing success, and its fans are rabid and vocal. If they don't like it, the world will hear about it online within seconds. Piling on, the last time the Silverado underwent any major changes was for the 2007 model year, and six years is now considered a long time in the truck world. Not only was that before the Great Recession that led to GM's bankruptcy and bailout, but it was also before Ford and Ram (then still sold as a Dodge) came out with respective new technologies that improve efficiency, performance, and the driver interface.
When you look at the new truck standing on its own, it doesn't seem like that big of a visual change. But when the 2013 is side by side with the 2014, the difference is noticeable. The lines are more technical; the front end significantly more vertical; and the overall effect is much bolder, tougher, and more in your face. The engineers improved aerodynamics in other places to ensure the truck could have a bold nose. They redesigned the side mirrors, increased the windshield rake by one degree, added a tailgate lip, and changed the shape of the airdam and underbody to improve the way air flows around and under the truck.
Fuel economy is becoming a key battleground even in the truck world, where improving fuel economy without sacrificing capability is the top priority. General Motors has done a lot to increase both, and while not all of the numbers have been announced, these trucks are on their way to being tops in both categories. Fuel economy for the 335-hp, 383-lb-ft, 5.3-liter V-8 is estimated at 23 mpg on the highway, which would be best in class, and maximum towing capacity is a segment-best 11,500 pounds. With the 285-hp, 305-lb-ft, 4.3-liter V-6, which has the most torque of any naturally aspirated six-cylinder offered in a truck, maximum towing capacity is a best-in-class 7200 pounds. Despite the success of Ford's EcoBoost V-6, Chevrolet opted to stay on the traditional route: V-8 engines with a base V-6, all overhead valve with two valves per cylinder. The company is certainly considering different technologies -- including eight-plus-speed automatics, stop/start, and grille shutters -- and when asked about implementing some of these features in Chevrolet trucks, Silverado executive chief engineer Jeff Luke said it's just a matter of when. The 5.3-liter crew cab goes on sale first, followed by the V-6, double cab (which replaces the extended cab), and regular cab this summer. The 6.2-liter and the High Country don't go on sale until the fall.
We had the chance to drive a few 2014 Silverados, some powered by the 5.3-liter V-8, and some with the 4.3-liter V-6. Despite unchanged displacement, these engines are new and feature direct injection, continuously variable valve timing, Active Fuel Management -- even with the V-6 -- and all-aluminum construction. We started by getting into an LTZ Crew Cab with the 5.3-liter and took the truck on a route that included a mix of highways and twisty roads. Acceleration feels greatly improved over the 2013 model, not just because the 5.3-liter puts out an additional 40 horsepower and 48 lb-ft of torque, but also because the truck weighs less. Though more extensive use of lightweight materials (the hood is now aluminum) and high-strength steel, the base 2014 Silverado has a curb weight of 4387 pounds, almost 300 fewer pounds than the 2013's 4643 pounds. Crew Cabs are lighter, too -- the lightest Crew Cab with the 5.3 weighs 110 pounds less than the 2013 XFE. It also helps that the peak torque is available at 300 lower rpm than in 2013. Having said that, we haven't had the chance to drive them back-to-back, but it feels like the Silverado accelerates quicker than the F-150 with the 5.0, but slower than the EcoBoost and the Hemi with the eight-speed automatic. That makes sense, considering the engine's displacement. The transmission is well-matched to the engine. Chevrolet's decision to back all of its engines with the 6L80 six-speed was a huge step up, but switching to all six-speeds is a decision Ford made back in 2011, and Ram has left its six-speeds in the dust.
Those who remember the previous 4.3-liter V-6 as being, well, awful, can consider that a thing of the past. The new engine offers plenty of power when driven unloaded and enough torque to be a capable tow vehicle. It may not be the fastest when towing, but it feels the least stressed of the segment's V-6s and is not merely there as a low-cost fleet offering.
In the case of both engines, we couldn't really tell when Active Fuel Management had shut off cylinders. The transitions were very smooth and there was no change in sound. To reduce noises that would indicate that cylinders were being shut off, Chevrolet added components to the exhaust system, including a passive flapper valve. The only way we knew the valves were shutting off was through an indicator on the screen that shows if the truck is in V-4 or V-6/V-8 mode.
On the road, the 2014 Silverado feels more precise and better put together than before. Steering, now electric power assist, feels more accurate than in the 2013. Brakes are more responsive and the pedal feels firmer. While the front discs are only a hair larger than before, rear brakes have gone from drum to disc and from 11.6 to 13.6 inches in diameter.
Part of the reason the truck feels so much more confident -- and has notably fewer vibrations -- is the dramatic upgrades to the frame. It is now fully boxed, with hydroformed side rails in front. The main rails, as well as the crossmembers, are made of high-strength steel. Chevrolet also revised the suspension. The front coilover control-arm setup has been updated, with forged- and cast-aluminum components that are lighter and stiffer than the steel components they replace. Depending on the application, the coil springs are up to 30 percent stiffer. While these changes have certainly improved the truck's handling, the ride is smooth but firm.
The rear suspension has not changed as much as it did up front. It uses a Hotchkiss-style setup, with two-stage semi-elliptical multi-leaf springs. V-6 trucks use an 8.6-inch axle and V-8 models use a 9.5-inch one. Those who opt for the Max Trailering Package get a 9.75-inch axle with a 3.73:1 ratio. That package, however, isn't available with regular-cab trucks.
We were impressed by how easy it is to use the bed's corner step, but still think the F-150's tailgate step is a better solution to reaching gear in the truck bed. GM is considering offering a deployable step on the side of the truck in the future to make access easier.
One of the most surprising things about the new Silverado is the cab. The previous truck's interior hadn't changed in a long time, and competitors have set the bar high with their latest trucks, but Chevy has caught up. The cabin is surprisingly quiet on the road thanks to active noise cancellation and generous amounts of sound-deadening material. There are new features, such as Chevrolet MyLink, a steering wheel that now tilts and telescopes (although only manually), and the availability of a heated steering wheel. In the 5.3-liter truck we drove, there were five USB ports, traditional power ports, and a 115-volt plug. Another plus: Remember the counterintuitive four-button Driver Information Center controls that were the only way you could clear the trip and toggle through screens? That system thankfully is gone, replaced by easy-to-use steering-wheel buttons.
Back-to-back drives of the 2013 and 2014 Silverado showed how dramatic the improvements are, but the big question is whether these changes are too conservative. Chevrolet has taken a huge leap forward -- not only has capability not been sacrificed, but the Silverado has become best in class in many ways. However, considering how fast the truck market changes, we wonder how long it'll take the competition to overtake the Silverado in some of these key categories -- and how long it'll take Chevrolet to respond.
|2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500||LT Z71 Crew Cab 4WD||LTZ Crew Cab 4WD|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$46,400||$48,935|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck|
|ENGINE||4.3L/285-hp/305-lb-ft OHV 12-valve V-6||5.3L/355-hp/383-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed automatic||6-speed automatic|
|WHEELBASE||143.5 in||143.5 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||230.0 x 80.0 x 74.0 in||230.0 x 80.0 x 74.0 in|
|CURB WEIGHT||5139 lb (mfr)||5218 lb (mfr)|
|MAX GVWR||7100 lb||7200 lb|
|PAYLOAD CAPACITY||1936 lb||1957 lb|
|TOWING CAPACITY||5900 lb||9800 lb|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||Not yet rated||16/22 mpg|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||Not yet rated||1.06 lb/mi|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Summer 2013||Spring 2013 (est)|