2009 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ 4×4 Review
By Roger Boylan
In Texas, nothing on the road is more imposing yet more anonymous than a big pickup truck. Of course, in such an enormous ranching and farming state, trucks are paramount in practicality and ruggedness; but, as we all know, many of them are simply “lifestyle statements,” especially in college towns such as San Marcos and Austin, where the typical driver with attitude is under 25 with a backward baseball cap and a jacked-up Chevy Silverado or Ford F-150. Some of these vehicles ride 2 to 3 feet above the rest of the traffic, with grill guards, extra-wide tires, and hunting lights, all (or mostly) statements of nothing more than callow machismo. But an imposing sight such a brute undeniably is, especially coming up fast in your rear-view mirror. And yet, there’s an anonymity about even the most thoroughly tricked-out Texas truck, because they’re all over the place–and will continue to be, even in this ailing economy, because Texans just love the things. Well-dressed matrons drive them. Priests and schoolteachers drive them. Even the recently retired President of the United States drives one (a Ford F-250 4×4) at his Crawford ranch, in preference to a car.
Nearly 30% of the state’s vehicle registrations in 2008 were of pickups, most of them products of the ex-Big Three: Ford F-150s, Dodge Rams, and Chevrolet/GMC Silverado/Sierras, with an increasingly large niche for the Toyota Tundra (the Nissan Titan never quite pulled it off). So when my test Chevy Silverado LTZ 4×4 rolled up the driveway, and I swung myself on board, I felt that finally, sixteen years after emigrating from New York, I could pass as a Texan…but nobody would notice.
Beset at first by visions of parking-lot collisions and small creatures being crushed under my 18″ chromed aluminum wheels, I came to enjoy this hulking vehicle and to respect its potential. Of course, mine was the luxury model, the 4×4 Crew Cab at the LTZ trim level, featuring for its (wildly negotiable) $40K sticker price, in no particular order: dual-zone automatic climate control, power moon roof, Bose premium speaker system, XM Sirius satellite radio, rear audio system controls, Bluetooth hookup, color-keyed carpeting and rubberized vinyl floor mats (the latter a reminder that this was, originally, a vehicle destined for the muddy worksites of life, not the Neiman-Marcus parking lot), auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, remote keyless entry, remote vehicle starter system, very comfortable leather buckets (with 10-way power driver and front passenger seat adjusters and 4-way power lumbar control), heated seat cushions and seatbacks, power windows, heated power mirrors, electronic stability control (a very good thing in a vehicle with such a wide weight discrepancy between front and rear), side airbags, head curtain airbags, etc., etc.
All of this was impelled forward by a 315-hp Vortec 5.3L V8 with 338 lb.-ft. of torque. This engine’s excellent cylinder deactivation system, whereby 4 of the 8 cylinders are shut down at moderate highway cruising speeds, renders the cabin almost silent and allows for highway mileage of nearly 20 mpg at 70 mph and an overall average of 18, not quite Prius levels but impressive for a vehicle of these dimensions (7000 lbs. GVW rating). Under acceleration, the baritone burbling of the V8 was a pleasant aural backdrop. Acceleration itself was very good, somewhere in the 7-sec. range for the 0-60 sprint and excellent for passing at higher speeds; I never hit a dead zone in a week of driving, under both expressway and back-road conditions. Power was administered in satisfactory doses by a smooth, unobtrusive six-speed transmission whose unfussy efficiency also contributed to the beast’s surprisingly moderate thirst.
My initial fears of clumsiness and poor maneuverability proved mostly unfounded. Of course, it’s no Miata, but the Silverado handles almost nimbly for its considerable size. Sightlines are straight and uncluttered, so as soon as you become familiar with the truck’s dimensions, and its limitations as a rally car, it’s almost as easy to drive as a Miata, if not quite as much fun; on the other hand, it’s a lot more pleasant for someone of my broad dimensions to ride in. The Crew Cab model seats four with room to spare, five at a pinch. The leather bucket seats are welcoming and ergonomically well conceived, with ideal lumbar adjustment; I could happily drive to, say, Oregon in this thing and not worry about lower back pain. However, my slender wife, although comfortable enough, felt somewhat lost in the leather acreage of the passenger seat and had to stretch to reach the armrest. No question, the Silverado is built for big folks. Even the rear seats are adult-sized, and there’s sufficient leg room back there for a couple of XXL guys. Those rear seats easily fold up, too, thereby providing enough storage space to accommodate five suitcases, or your grocery shopping. I managed to transport gardening equipment, pottery, and a week’s worth of food in the rear of the cab. There’s the cargo bed out back, of course, but in my test vehicle it was the 5.75-ft. short box, more than adequate for bags of mulch, cement, potting soil, and the like, less so for things like ladders and 4X8 planks, which simply won’t fit without the tailgate being lowered. (Or you could go for the Heavy-Duty version of the Silverado and its 6.6-ft. bed.)
The truck is solidly built, emitting no squeaks or groans, and the panels fit tightly together, not always the case in Chevys past. The ride is smooth, especially on the highway, when you would hardly think you were in a truck at all. On rougher roads the suspension betrays its utilitarian origins, but not to the point of actual discomfort. The four-wheel system is a cinch to use: turn a switch on the dashboard once for 4-wheel High, if roads are treacherous, and twice for 4-wheel Low, if you’re wallowing in the Orinoco floodplain. Most of the time leaving it alone will be just fine.
Interior decor is sober, with luxury accents–the supple leather, the walnut trim, faux mais élégant –clashing with some oddly cheap details, such as the flimsy door pockets and the hard plastic on the dash. As in the Silverado’s cousin, the Traverse SUV/Crossover (review here), the HVAC controls are irritatingly fiddly little button things rather than the logical big knobs one yearns for; but after awhile you get used to anything, and by the end of my week’s tenure I was working the buttons by touch, having recalibrated my intuition. The gauges, at least, are well laid out, and if anything excessively informative; I have no need to stay informed of the temperature of the oil, or the exact degree of the battery’s charge, just whether these things are working or not.
After a week of commuting and hauling odds and ends with the big Chevy, I came to appreciate the maxi-pickup mystique. It has nothing to do with how many bags of cement you need to haul, and it goes way beyond machismo. It’s an image, even a romance, that evokes freedom, independence, toughness, self-reliance: all the things Americans used to believe in. Sitting at the wheel of a big pickup is like being captain on the bridge of your trawler, with the deck stretching out behind you and the horizon ahead. But your S.S. Silverado won’t make you seasick, and it smells a whole lot nicer than your average shrimper.
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