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The new Chevrolet Silverado arrives at a happening time in the big-pickup market.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

In the Netflix sitcom Ranch, rarely an episode goes by in which Sam Elliott’s character Beau Bennett doesn’t pour scorn on his friend Joanne for driving a Chevy Silverado. “Who in the hell parked a Chevy in my driveway?” he yells when she first visits his ranch. “That’s my Silverado,” she responds. “I saw your beat-up old Ford out there. It’s so cute. You could put your truck in the back of my truck. It could go for a ride.”

You’d think that in Beau’s whisky-pickled, John-Wayne-worshipping, sushi-despising, import-spurning redneck brain, it should be enough that Joanne drives an all-American, full-size pickup (as opposed to, say, a Toyota Prius). Why would he care that it isn’t a Ford?

But that’s how it is in the big-pickup market. Rabid brand loyalty is rampant, so conquest sales are not front and centre when Detroit designs a new truck. A greater incentive to build a better one is to woo newcomers. “Our biggest opportunity is the segment growing,” says Carl Hillenbrand, product segment manager for GM light trucks. “We still go after conquests, but it’s a harder sell.”

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The new Silverado arrives at a happening time. Ram is phasing in an all-new 2019 design, while Ford’s sales-leading F-150 is adding a diesel engine for 2019. Despite what Beau and his ilk believe, none of them really make a definitively better truck than anyone else. The distinctions between them are more about providing unique features and attributes that will push the most customers’ buttons.

Among the Detroit Three, GM’s approach is arguably the most conservative, staying with tried-and-true basics, then optimizing the hell out of it. Hence, while Ram has its choice of coil-spring or air-spring suspensions and Ford has its aluminum body and downsized, turbocharged engines, Silverado stays with a steel body structure – including what are now the segment’s largest-volume cargo boxes – along with cart-spring rear suspension and (mostly) naturally aspirated big-displacement V-8 engines.

The new Silverado sticks with its steel body structure, including what are now the segment’s largest-volume cargo boxes.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Said V-8s now feature an astonishing evolution of GM’s cylinder-deactivation technology. Dynamic Fuel Management can automatically vary between 17 modes – including hard-to-get-your-head-around “firing fractions” such as 1/3 (fires every third cylinder in the firing order) or even 4/9 or 6/7 – all for improved light-load fuel economy. The previous Active Fuel Management had just two modes: V-8 or V-4.

Another unexpected piece of technology that isn’t getting a lot of play: “drive-by-wire” active braking. The electronically controlled electrohydraulic brake booster resolves the lack of engine vacuum for a conventional brake booster when the engine is running on a low cylinder count. It also enables a new “terrain mode” on models with a single-speed AWD transfer case that uses active braking to simulate the off-road traction and engine braking of “low range” on a two-speed system.

A less-technical arrow in Silverado’s quiver is to offer lots of choice. Eight trim grades, divvied up into “high-value,” “high-volume” and “high-feature” groupings, can be mixed and matched with six distinct engine/transmission combinations. Besides the 5.3 V-8 (six- or eight-speed) and the 6.2 V-8 (10-speed), there’s a carryover 4.3 V6 (six-speed) while a 2.7 turbo four-cylinder (eight-speed) arrives this fall and a 3.0 straight-six turbo-diesel (10-speed) will come early next year. Exact engine availability depends on the trim grade, but there are two or three choices on all but one of the trims.

Tow ratings? Model for model they are mostly up, though the absolute top rating is down from 2018 because the model that had it (6.2-litre 4x2) is no longer made. That leaves the 6.2-litre 4x4 with a rating of 12,200 lbs. Yes, that’s less than some competitors, but it’s still far more than most 1500 owners ever use. And Hillenbrand says, “One thing we are trying is to move away from the highest number, and focus on the towing experience.”

Chevrolet is also touting the Silverado as “the best-driving truck we have ever built” – but frankly, so it should be. More to the point is how it compares with the competition. First impressions suggest the V-8s combine solid, seamless and refined performance with impressive fuel economy, albeit (for better or for worse) without rivals’ rumbling V-8 sound track.

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As much as anything this size can do, the Silverado handles well, with great on-centre steering feel and taut body control. The ride seemed fine too (on admittedly unfamiliar roads) and remained steady and controlled while towing 6,000 lbs. And the active brake system feels completely natural in routine driving – firm and linear.

Production of crew cab V-8s has already begun, with regular and double cabs coming in the fourth quarter, along with the V6 and four-cylinder engines.

Tech specs

  • Base price: TBA
  • Engines: 4.3-litre V6, 2.7-L turbo four-cylinder, 3.0-litre L6 turbo-diesel, 5.3-litre V-8, 6.2-litre V-8
  • Transmissions/drive: 6-, 8- or 10-speed automatic/RWD or AWD
  • Fuel consumption (L/100 km): Not available
  • Alternatives: Ford F-150, GMC Sierra, Nissan Armada, Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra

Looks

If you can't see the bow-tie grille, the Silverado is still easily identifiable by its sculpted body sides and a kink in the rear side-window beltline.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

The new truck is bigger in every dimension, yet up to 450 pounds lighter. Deeply sculpted body sides, and that kink in the rear side-window beltline, help ID the Silverado when you can’t see the bow-tie grille. Eight models – including two lifted, off-road-equipped Trail Boss models – offer varying combinations of black, chrome or body-colour exterior accents, and wheel diameters range up to 22 inches.

Interior

Chevrolet’s emphasis for the Silverado's interior is on space, function and durability.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

No giant screens, and not much talk about premium decor – Chevrolet’s emphasis is on space, function and durability. There are six finely calibrated analogue gauges in the main cluster, handy knobs and buttons for the HVAC, and a good old-fashioned column shifter that preserves storage space on the centre console. An added 75 millimetres of rear legroom on the crew cab (now best in class) almost seems superfluous, but the 37-mm bonus on the double cab could make a meaningful difference for accommodating adults in the rear.

Performance

The Silverado's V-8s feature an astonishing evolution of GM’s cylinder-deactivation technology.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Both V-8s are refined and feel powerful, despite Wyoming’s power-sapping altitude (that would have less effect on turbocharged engines). The ever-shifting active-cylinders count was completely transparent, and indicated fuel consumption was impressive (e.g. 10.2 L/100 km for a net-uphill, 60-kilometre rural ramble in a 6.2 4x4), though we wonder if the rather anodyne engine acoustics (even when running on all eight) was a side effect of the need to avoid any weird sound quality when running odd numbers of cylinders.

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Technology

Chevrolet’s connectivity and infotainment tech were already cutting-edge, so apart from a segment-exclusive head-up display, 2019 enhancements focus on driver-assist technologies such as lane-keep assist, forward collision alert with low-speed forward automatic braking and front pedestrian braking, and lane-change/side blind zone alert (though no adaptive cruise). Over and above all that, a comprehensive suite of available towing-assist technologies makes it easier to hook up a trailer, improves visibility when towing a trailer, and enhances connectivity between truck and trailer.

Cargo

The crew cab has an added 75 millimetres of rear legroom.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Not just still steel, the cargo boxes are made from a tougher steel than before. And size for size they have the biggest volumes in the segment – mostly in floor width (up 18 centimetres), but also length and depth. According to GM, the Silverado’s short box has more volume (63 cu.ft.) than the F-150’s or the Ram’s standard boxes (62). There are 12 (stronger-than-before) fixed tie-downs with nine more moveable ones available. A power opening/closing tailgate on higher trims is an industry exclusive.

Verdict

8.0

Chevrolet promises the perfect truck for everyone, but gets closest for those who value function, space and driving pleasure over frills and gimmicks.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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