In the past, before pickup trucks meant big business and billions of dollars in profits for their makers, pickups changed generations at a glacially slow pace. GM’s full-size pickups waited eight model years for their first mid-cycle update (1973-1981) and remained on the market for a ridiculously-steady 15 model years. But the world is different today, and the pace of change is much faster in the full-size truck market.
GM has an awful lot riding on the all-new 2014 Silverado. Despite its conservative appearance that looks very much like a blinged-out version of the previous-generation truck, it’s a huge improvement in almost every way over the truck it replaces.
Rather than talking first about the many things we liked about the new Silverado and tacking on the stuff we don’t like as an afterthought, we’re going to do the opposite. And really, the conservative shape is a disappointment. I understand the reason for it – it takes a lot of courage for a company to significantly alter its cash cow. BMW doesn’t change the 3 Series very much from generation to generation; Chevrolet doesn’t alter from its formula for the Corvette from one generation to the next. But the almost cartoonishly-angular look of the Silverado seems to take conservatism a bit too far.
In LTZ trim, as our tester was equipped, there’s almost an unbearable amount of chrome on the front end. The lower bumper is a real metal chrome bumper, just like old trucks had. The giant grille and headlight frames are plastic-chrome and very, very shiny. If you’re driving in front of this pickup and look in your mirror, you may have trouble telling what color the truck is actually painted with that grille staring you down. It’s not all bad news in the world of exterior design, though – the profile actually looks quite good, with a proportionally-smaller daylight opening and muscular fender flares. The only demerits design-wise on the truck’s profile are for the square fender openings (over – duh – round tires) and the fact that the GMC and Chevrolet share their fenders in this new generation.
The interior gets a huge upgrade. The 2004-vintage infotainment system from the 2013 trucks is put out to pasture, replaced by a beautiful large, high-resolution display. The new navigation screen is placed high atop the dash, closer to the driver’s line of sight (a big safety improvement over the low-mounted navigation screen in the old trucks). All of the controls, except for the power mirror switch, fall easily to hand and are simple to operate. Gauges are large and easy to read (not to mention comprehensive – not fuel, speedometer, and tachometer, but also oil pressure, engine temperature, and voltage). There is also a high-resolution color TFT display between the tach and speedo that serves as an information center for the trip computer, and covers tertiary gauges such as oil temp. It also displays navigation information and audio information.
Interior quality is much improved over the old trucks – and they were definitely showing their age – but it still won’t be confused for a Cadillac. There are many soft-touch plastics and even some dash surfaces boast French stitching, but the shapes are very simple, and at the end of the day – they’re still made of plastic.
At the leading edge of the center console where it meets the center stack, there are a multitude of large power and connectivity choices. One flap hides three USB ports. Another hides a grounded 110-volt outlet. Two in the center hide circular 12-volt power outlets for cell phone chargers or radar detectors.
The vastly improved technology – which, dare I say, may actually be class-leading in the full-size pickup segment – is certainly a much-needed change in the Silverado. Connectivity is very good, and the system was more responsive and easier to use than MyFord Touch. Knobs and buttons are large and generally idiot-proof.
Perhaps the most impressive, most remarkable thing about the new Silverado is just how refined the driving experience is. Just keep in mind that you’re driving a truck and not a corner-carving sports car, and you won’t try anything stupid. The cabin is remarkably quiet, basically devoid of wind and noise at normal highway speeds. When a Chevrolet PR representative asked me what I thought about the truck, I said it was quiet and refined – and he was most pleased, because refinement was one of the Silverado’s engineering team’s primary objectives.
The new 5.3 liter V8 – mated to a 6-speed automatic that’s basically carryover – felt adequately strong enough to motivate the pickup, which is about as heavy of a configuration as you can find in a half-ton Chevy (LTZ goodies, 4WD drivetrain, crew cab). The new 420-horsepower 6.2 liter V8 would surely do a better job of motivating the truck, but at a price of a few MPG and a higher upfront cost. Three hundred fifty-five horsepower is nothing to sneeze at from a midlevel engine, even if Ram’s 5.7 liter HEMI V8 cranks out 390. (Torque for the 5.3 liter Chevy V8 is 383 lb-ft vs. 407 in the Ram, though the HEMI is the Ram’s top engine). Direct injection and cylinder deactivation improve both emissions and fuel economy when compared to both the old GM V8 and to competitors’ naturally-aspirated V8 offerings.
Other than its size, which is considerable, the 2014 Silverado is an easy truck to drive. Visibility is very good, the corners are easy to spot (unless you’re a short person), the throttle, brakes, and steering work capably well, and the ergonomics are simple but good. Yet, something’s missing. There’s not really a “wow” feature in this truck, other than, “wow, that grille sure is gaudy.” No turbo V6 (Ford), no 8-speed automatic (Ram), no coil spring air suspension (Ram). It’s just a truck, an evolution of the breed. That may not wow auto writers, but it’s also likely to keep its loyal fans pretty content.