THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: Genuine Cowboy Cadillac, strong powertrains, good on gas
- What’s Worst: Outmoded six-speed automatic, ho-hum styling, ‘Shakerado’ vibrations
- Typical Used Prices: 2014 - $27,500; 2017 - $38,000
Chevrolet’s very first pickup truck was bound to appeal to the do-it-yourself crowd and future Ikea shoppers. The half-ton 490 Light Delivery chassis-cowl was actually a Chevy 490 automobile with beefed-up rear springs – but missing most of its body.
Introduced in 1918, it used the car’s chassis, engine, transmission and the front sheet metal, but customers were expected to provide their own cab and body. Some purchased bodies from an independent supplier, such as Detroit’s Fisher Body, while others went to the lumberyard to finish their truck in wood.
You’d expect a half-finished vehicle to be inexpensive, and at $595 it was, although the fully completed 490 automobile was even cheaper at $490, undercutting Ford’s wildly popular Model T by $5.
Chevrolet is marking 100 years since its first simple, utilitarian truck was produced by the nascent manufacturer in Flint, Michigan. Today’s half-ton Chevrolet Silverado is a heckuva lot more expensive truck compared to the 490, but at least it comes fully assembled. And it’s impervious to termites.
Chevrolet’s light-duty pickup is in its 12th generation (give or take) since inception – demonstrating that trucks don’t follow the auto industry convention of undergoing a redesign every four or five years. The current Silverado was introduced in May 2013 as a 2014 model and rides on the new GMT K2 chassis, using a fully boxed frame composed of hydroformed high-strength steel.
While rival Ford leapt ahead and created an entire body of weight-saving aluminum for its F-150 truck, Chevrolet limited aluminum to the hood, engine block and control arms. The Silverado’s bed is made of roll-formed steel instead of stamped steel in order to gain strength and trim mass. The diet worked: The Silverado (and GMC’s Sierra twin) is barely heavier than Ford’s headline-grabbing aluminum truck.
The extensive engineering work paid dividends under the skin, but buyers saw little to distinguish the new Silverado from the outgoing truck. Designers bolstered the fender flares, enlarged the grille, added projector-beam headlights, and generally beefed up their truck to look more, well, trucky.
While it looked the part, the engineering goal was to make it ride like a Cadillac. The power-steering rack is electrically assisted, the revised suspension is tuned for smoothness, and the wheels are a half-inch wider for better stability and handling. The doors are inset into the body instead of wrapping around to meet the roof, reducing road and wind noise, as do the triple door seals.
Inside, occupants are greeted with big comfy seats and a new dashboard that features an optional large touchscreen front and centre to access the MyLink interface. A traditional column shifter frees up space on the console. An available Driver Alert package bundles lane departure warning, forward collision alert, safety alert seat, and front and rear parking sensors. Overall, the materials and build quality are notably better, especially in the lower trim lines.
“While the sheetmetal is only a tad different than the 2013, the interior is a quantum leap forward and the powerplant’s truly advanced. I’ve heard the term ‘Cowboy Cadillac’ before, now I know what it means,” wrote a new owner online.
Body styles include a regular two-door cab, an extended double cab with four doors, and a full-size crew cab. Three box lengths are available: 5 feet, 8 inches; 6 feet, 6 inches; and 8 feet. The tailgate boasts an internal torsion bar and rotary damper to make raising and lowering smooth and easy. There’s a built-in step (“CornerStep”) in each corner of the rear bumper to ease access to the bed – an elegantly simple solution.
With a new emphasis on fuel efficiency, Chevrolet introduced a competitive 4.3-L V6 that makes 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque, and can tow up to 7,200 pounds when properly equipped. Along with the 355-hp 5.3-L small-block V8 and the 420-hp 6.2-L V8, all three “EcoTec3” engines utilize an aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection and cylinder deactivation. The deactivation system cuts fuel and spark to four of the cylinders on the V8s, and shuts down two cylinders on the V6 under light load.
Rear-wheel drive was standard and 4×4 off-road capacity was optional. All the engines came with GM’s six-speed automatic transmission standard. A new eight-speed automatic was introduced for 2015, but paired only with the 6.2-L V8.
For 2016 all models received updated front-end styling, while inside, two available touchscreens provide quicker response times and gain Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. The eight-speed automatic transmission migrated to the 5.3-L V8 on upper trim levels.
DRIVING THE SILVERADO
The V6-powered Silverado offers decent power for an entry-level pickup, taking 7.7 seconds to reach 97 km/h. The engine is said to be refined, although testers have noted that it runs coarser than the Ram’s Pentastar 3.6-L V6. The popular 5.3-L V8 can haul a 4×4 crew cab to highway velocity in 6.7 seconds, while the big 6.2 can do the deed in a sports-sedan-like 5.7 seconds.
While the Silverado’s ride is stiffer than the Ram’s and the Ford’s, the steering is more responsive with better feedback. There’s a direct, engaging feel to how the Silverado drives, leading a few to suggest that there’s some Camaro DNA lurking inside. The Silverado seems to drive like a smaller vehicle, and it’s not entirely an illusion as the truck is 5 cm lower than its competitors.
Every manufacturer claims great fuel efficiency numbers, but the reality is trucks come in so many permutations that it’s not easy to make the published figures. However, Silverado owners have lauded Chevrolet for making fuel-efficiency gains, largely thanks to cylinder deactivation technology and tall gear ratios.
OWNERS TALK RELIABILITY
Chevrolet and GMC have a very competitive product in their most recent truck generation with its smartly engineered platform, three strong engines and good design inside and out. GM has so far resisted adopting fussy turbochargers, as well as betting the farm on aluminum bodies. Consumers gravitate to the steadfast GM twins because they’re familiar and proven.
Still, every new vehicle generation presents the prospect of new hiccups and setbacks, and the Silverado is no different. Almost immediately, buyers of the all-new 2014 models noticed some issues, including an annoyance referred to as the “Chevy shake.”
“Silverado LT two-wheel-drive crew cab is a nice truck, but on the highway it shakes terribly between 70-78 mph. I have had the tires rotated and road-force balanced twice and it has not helped,” reads a common online complaint.
Dealers can use a device known as a PicoScope to detect vibrations and frequencies in the chassis. Sometimes the vibration can be isolated to the wheels and tires, but replacing them doesn’t always resolve the problem.
A GM technical service bulletin recommends re-tightening the body mounts, correcting pitchline runout and driveline angles, inspecting the ring and pinion gears for issues, and more. The driveshaft frequently comes under scrutiny.
“I saw my driveshaft cartwheeling about 8 feet. It turns out that the knuckle on the rear of the shaft had snapped, violently vibrated and the shaft dropped, ripped apart about a foot behind the transmission and came out from under the truck,” one owner posted online.
The current thinking is that the driveshaft has to be trued and balanced to eliminate the shakes, which can be done in a performance shop. Some dealers have told customers that there’s an “acceptable” level of vibration that all trucks exhibit. Not so.
Other issues reported in the Silverado (and Sierra) include: shifting driver’s seat, short-lived air conditioning condenser, poor-shifting transmission, oil consumption, peeling paint and early rust. The electric power-steering unit can spontaneously fail at speed, which renders the steering wheel very stiff, but functional.
Overall, the Chevrolet Silverado is a good, serviceable truck. It’s prone to mechanical issues, but then so are Fords, Rams and Toyotas. It’s wise to take a prospective used Chevy truck on a long highway test drive to ensure it’s no “Shakerado.” If it passes, it’s likely a keeper.