2014 Chevrolet Silverado, back in the saddle: Motoramic Drives
For the last half a decade, the full-sized truck market has been the arena for a brutal game of one-upsmanship between Ford and Ram. One year, Ford breaks out a new tow hitch innovation on the F-150, and the next year, the Ram sees that doo-dad and raises a suite of comfy new interior features. A 10 percent increase in horsepower begets built-in port and starboard lockboxes, perfect for storing tools, or, even better, beer. Everything improves constantly, except for the prices, which rise ever upward. As the luxury truck market has reached new levels, top-trim cabs now look and feel like the executive offices of a Dallas mortgage bank. And as the pace of change accelerates, the manufacturers know can’t stop, or they’ll fall behind.
Meanwhile, the Chevy Silverado, un-updated since 2007, has looked sadder and sadder every year, like The Giving Tree waiting for its boy to return. Compared to the developing F-150 and Ram juggernauts, it seemed to wither before our eyes, as forgotten as a filling station on a rural road long ago beaten by the interstate. But the Silverado is a historic product for Chevy, and an important one, a long-standing brand with lots of loyal customers. Last year, it accounted for 25 percent of the company’s sales. Chevy needed a modern Silverado.
For 2014, Chevy has relaunched the Silverado, saying it’s “new from hood to hitch.” There’s a beefy look, with more chrome, broader shoulders, and a grille that seems twice the size as the previous year’s model, an updated interior suite with lots of faux-wood and faux-chrome for the higher trims, extra towing capacity, a 355-hp 5.3-liter V-8 Ecotec engine (with a 6.2-liter one promised later this year). They’ve definitely modernized their full-sized truck up to industry standards. It no longer lingers behind like a wind-up toy in a battery-powered world. But the Ram and F-150s have never been better than right now. Is it enough?
I spent a day recently driving the new Silverado at a ranch between Austin and San Antonio, in the middle of the Texas Hill Country, pretty much ground zero for the American truck consumer. We did a little street driving, some off-roading, and quite a bit of heavy towing. For my road run, I took out a V-8, and it roared down rural (destined to become upscale subdivision) roads. It was fast for its size, and responsive, a real armadillo-flattener. The steering and braking offered me no trouble.
The towing, I did with the help of another car journalist who had more experience with such matters, thereby answering the eternal question: “What would happen if two Jews with severe food allergies hauled a 5,500-lb. camping trailer around Central Texas with a V-6 pickup?” The answer: Things would go very slowly, though it wouldn’t really be because of the drivers. The V-6 version of the new Silverado can tow something that big, but good luck getting it over 45 mph on even the flattest roads. For that size engine, look at a 2,000-pound payload or lower unless you want to feel like you’re riding on an airport inter-terminal shuttle.