2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country and GMC Sierra Denali 1500 6.2 First Drive
GM's Biggest Half-Ton Engine Delivers Refined, Plentiful Power
At one time a relatively uninteresting segment with major changes only happening every 7 to 10 years, the full-size truck market has become cutthroat, with significant changes almost annually, especially among half-ton trucks. General Motors is rounding out its 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500 half-ton lineups with the addition of its king-of-the-hill 6.2-liter Ecotec3 V-8. For the time being, GM takes the half-ton horsepower and torque crown with 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque from the new fifth-generation 6.2-V-8.
With the 2015 Ford F-150 not far off, it's unknown how long GM will hold the most-powerful half-ton crown, but for those buyers for whom the optional engine holds appeal, they will get a smooth, refined, and capable powertrain.
Unlike the 5.3-liter Ecotec3 V-8 and 4.3-liter V-6, the 6.2-liter does not have flex-fuel E85 capability. The 6.2-liter is also the only one of the new fifth-gen truck engines that recommends use of premium unleaded for optimal performance. Both the 5.3 and 4.3 have a relatively high 11.0:1 compression ratio, enabled due to the cooling effect of direct fuel injection. But the L86 6.2 cranks it up a half-point further to a 11.5:1 compression ratio, the same as the Corvette's LT1 V-8.
The L86 engine is a stand-alone $1995 option in most Silverado and Sierra trim levels, but the primary showcase for the big mill will be the new Silverado High Country and GMC Sierra Denali trims. The proliferation of premium trim levels among trucks leaves us scratching our heads for the need of all these seemingly overlapping models, but GM says there is a practically insatiable demand for them from customers and dealers, and being the larger volume of the two truck brands, it was imperative that Chevrolet have an entry in the segment. GM is the only company in the full-size truck segment with two brands selling a full line of trucks, so product differentiation was important in the packaging and marketing of the new High Country trim. Maria Roeher, Chevrolet Trucks marketing director, said Chevrolet was careful in its positioning and packaging not to encroach too much on the Sierra Denali.
"Thirty percent of truck buyers are buying models transacting at $40,000 and above. Dealers were asking for something just a little above the LTZ trim. Many of these trucks are daily drivers, not just utility vehicles. Relative to GMC, we were very careful positioning the High Country both in amenities and pricing, so that GMC will still be a notch higher than us. We wanted to find that space in-between a LTZ and Denali. We are positioning the High Country against the F-150 King Ranch, and the Denali would compete against the Platinum. There's space for more than one trim in the $40,000+ price. The (High Country) was really one of the few holes in our portfolio we thought was an opportunity for us."
Looking over the spec sheets, the mechanical similarities between the L86 6.2 and the Corvette's LT1 are undeniable, with the two engines sharing displacement, compression ratio, and peak torque output. But as installed in the full-size trucks, the L86 feels like a natural fit. It starts with the familiar small-block burble, and settles into a quiet idle, with only the faintest noise of direct injection, something that plagues many other DI engines. The placement of the injection pump in the valley between the cylinder banks helped attenuate much of the noise, and from within the cabin it simply sounds like a smooth, refined, small-block V-8.
With the 3.42 axle ratio, the 6.2 pulls strongly from low speeds, with a generous, linear torque curve, and just enough engine noise to let you know you've got a genuine V-8 under the hood, but not to the point that it's obnoxious. The new inset doorframe design on the GM trucks helps silence wind noise, and the 6.2-liter models employ active noise cancellation to further add to the refinement. We've noted the exceptionally good noise, vibration, and harshness characteristics of all the 2014 GM trucks, and the new High Country and Denali take it a step further still.
Driving a Silverado LTZ equipped with the 6.2 and max tow package back to back with an F-150 equipped with the 6.2-liter V-8 was an eye-opening contrast in refinement. The 6.2 is the standard engine in the deliberately assertive F-150 SVT Raptor, and its throwback musclecar soundtrack fits with that model's aggressive packaging. But the same level of NVH tuning in a more mainstream trim comes across as coarse and raw, especially after getting out of the GM models. The seat-of-the pants difference in power output between the Silverado and F-150 6.2 models with 5000 pounds in tow was not dramatic, but the delivery of the power was. The Chevrolet seemed much more deliberate with its shifting, holding gears for longer, whereas the Ford seemed busier upshifting and downshifting on the same driving loop.
Big Engine, Small Share
For more than a decade, the 5.3-liter V-8 has been GM's volume seller in the Sierra and Silverado, representing more than 70 percent of sales. Initial estimates for the take rate on the 6.2 are around 10 percent. Most buyers will be fully satisfied with the balance of power and economy offered by the 5.3-liter EcoTec3. Only a select few will want or need the power offered by the 6.2, and those that think they "need" the power of the 6.2 in the 1500 would probably be better-served with an HD truck.
A lot of the 6.2's appeal, frankly, is in driveway and drive-in bragging rights, with owners saying, "It's got the 'Vette engine" or "It's the most powerful truck you can get." For those buyers, the nearly $2000 premium is well worth it, and they'll be rewarded with an engine that's smooth, powerful, and easy to live with on a daily basis. Although final fuel economy figures were not released on the 6.2, projections are that it will be competitive with rivals' smaller-displacement offerings, and significantly more economical than the Ford 6.2-liter.
The fact that both the High Country and Denali will be offered standard with the 5.3-liter engine is evidence of the realization that many customers may want the trim and amenities of a high-end truck, but don't need or care about having the biggest engine.
The 6.2-liter engine rounds GM's already impressive 2014 half-ton lineup, and for a select group of buyers, it fills a need. But the 5.3 will continue to be GM's bread-and-butter truck engine, and for most buyers, will amply fulfill their power and economy needs.
|2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country/GMC Sierra Denali 1500 6.2|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$55,260|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 2/4WD, 5-pass, 4-door Truck|
|ENGINE||6.2L/420-hp/460-lb-ft direct-injected OHV V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4199 lb (52/48%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||230.0-239.6 x 80.0 x 73.7-74.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.2 sec (est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||15/21 mpg (est)|