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2003 Chevrolet Silverado

Substantial changes improve one of the best.

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by Mitch McCullough April 2003


Chevrolet's full-size pickups get an edgy new look this year. Silverado's aggressive stance is jolting for drivers used to conservative-looking Chevy pickups, but it's an evolutionary change and one that was needed. We'll get used to it.

Hidden beneath are considerable changes. Chevrolet Silverado boasts more than 40 major changes for 2003. Some you'll notice, such as the interior refinements. New audio and climate controls are easier to use and more sophisticated, the latter available with well-designed digital controls. Other changes are harder to discern, but are important from reliability and engineering standpoints, such as the all-new electrical system that eliminates thick bundles of wires and hundreds of connections. V8 engines offer improved throttle response and reliability and reduced emissions, while V6 engines deliver better performance and reduced emissions. (Some of these changes were actually made mid-cycle to the 2002 models.)

Chevy Silverado continues to be one of the best full-size trucks available. It shares that crown with the similar GMC Sierra. Boxed and hydroformed frame rails give the GM trucks a strong, rigid platform. Silverado is a highly capable truck. It rides, handles, and stops as well as, maybe better than, the best of them. It's quick and it's comfortable. These are still full-size work trucks, however, so don't expect a Cadillac ride.

Technology is really improving life with full-size pickups. Quadrasteer, GM's heavy-duty four-wheel-steering system, eases parking and maneuvering in tight places. StabiliTrak, an anti-skid system, improves driver control in avoidance maneuvers and on slick surfaces. Heated seats, a Bose stereo, XM Satellite Radio and other options make long days spent in a Silverado a little more comfortable.

Model Lineup

Like all full-size pickups, Silverado is available in a vast array of versions: two-wheel drive and four-wheel-drive; standard-length regular cabs, extended cabs, and crew cabs; short (6-1/2-foot) and long (8-foot) bed lengths. Three trim levels are available: base, LS, and LT. Full-width Fleetside beds are standard, but retro Sportside beds are available for selected models.

Payload capacities vary. The 1500 series offers payloads ranging from 1593 to 2334 pounds (depending on bed, cab, and drive configuration). The 2500-series models offer payloads in the 2600- to 3200-pound range.

Silverado 1500 models are available with a 4.3-liter V6, 4.8-liter V8, or 5.3-liter V8. 2500 models and the 1500 HD Crew Cab are powered exclusively by the 6.0-liter V8. The 1500 HD model combines light-duty 1500-series styling in a heavy-duty six-passenger crew cab with a 300-horsepower Vortec V8. (2500HD and 3500 models are covered in a separate New Car Test Drive review.)

Silverado SS is a special high-performance model equipped with a high-output Vortec 6000 designed for exhilarating off-line acceleration. SS gets a unique high-performance Z60 chassis package, 20-inch wheels and tires, full-time all-wheel drive, a lower, wider stance, and special exterior and interior trim.

Options include XM Satellite Radio, which provides CD-quality broadcast of 100 digital channels coast to coast, a Bose sound system. Crew Cab models offer a Panasonic DVD Passenger Entertainment System and rear-seat audio controls. OnStar is also available, which puts a human being at your assistance at the press of a button any time of day. OnStar operators can unlock your doors remotely and the system automatically calls for assistance if the airbags deploy.

Passive safety features: A passenger-sensing system automatically deactivates the passenger-side frontal air bag under certain conditions to protect children. Dual-level frontal air bags are designed to provide an appropriate amount of inflation based on the severity of the crash. Active safety features include four-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS) on all models. Auto4WD improves traction and stability of four-wheel-drive models on slippery roads.


The 2003 Chevrolet Silverado shares its aggressive new design cues with other Chevy trucks. It looks similar to the Avalanche sport-utility truck, but the TrailBlazer SUV and even the big Express van sport the new look. The upcoming replacement for the S-10 compact pickup, called the Chevy Colorado, will sport a similar look.

Most noticeable are the new headlights, which angle down at the top, making them look like knitted eyebrows. The grille features a large band running across the middle with a big gold Chevy bow tie in the center. It's all smoothly integrated into the front end with the redesigned headlamps. Silverado's new aerodynamically styled hood suggests power and strength and works with the headlights for an almost menacing appearance. Front tow hooks and fog lamps are recessed into the front bumper.

Along the sides are new front fenders, new body side moldings, and a new wheel line-up. In back, bulging taillamps boast a fresh design that maintains the Chevrolet family look yet clearly identifies it as a new Silverado. Models with Quadrasteer have bulging rear fenders.

The doors and door openings are large. Extended cabs come standard with four doors, though rear doors only open about 90 degrees. Big door handles make getting in easy. Puddle lamps mounted beneath the big side mirrors light the ground along the sides of the truck, handy in the woods and in the city. Those mirrors are also available with redundant turn signal indicators, warning drivers alongside or in the blind spot that you're moving over. Running lights on the roof, tailgate, and leading and trailing edges of the bulging rear fenders on some models add visibility for improved safety. They also look neat.

The bed features built-in tie-down brackets near the four corners. Indentations molded into the bed allow use of boards to form two-tier loading and bulkhead dividers. The Silverado's load floor is 31.6 inches above the ground on 2WD models, 33.7 on 4WD. Short boxes are 78.7 inches long; long boxes are 97.6 inches long. Fleetside boxes are 60.2 inches wide (at the floor); Sportside boxes measure 49.1 inches wide. All boxes are 50 inches wide between the wheel housings.

A PRO-TEC composite box is available for Silverado 1500 Extended Cab Short Box models. PRO-TEC is a nearly indestructible material that's lighter and stronger than steel and resists dents and never rusts. PRO-TEC Silverado tailgates can support a lot more weight than steel tailgates.

Interior Features

The Chevy Silverado is roomy and comfortable. Available in cloth or vinyl, the standard front bench is comfortable and can seat three, giving extended cab and crew cab models capacity for six people. Split 40/20/40, the middle part of the bench folds down to become a center console armrest. There's plenty of head room, leg room, hip room, and shoulder room.

Available bucket seats are comfortable and adjust every which way. Both the premium cloth and the leather are nice. The seats are separated by a deep center console that holds lots of stuff. The top of the lid features a nice rubber-lined indention handy for small items. It would be even better if the rubber would be an insert that could be removed for cleaning. It would be better still if the top of the console wasn't angled forward: Lay a clipboard there and it'll slide off.

A redesigned instrument panel for 2003 includes a large speedometer and tachometer. Smaller gauges to the right display oil pressure, water temperature, fuel quantity, battery charge. Heavy-duty models with the Heavy-Duty Trailering Package come with a transmission temperature gauge on the left. All use highly legible white-on-black graphics. Headlamps and taillamps turn on automatically when it gets dark. A new Driver Information Center is located in the instrument panel cluster that provides various bits of information, including an available engine hour meter.

New stereo systems offer digital controls with large volume and tuning knobs. It's more attractive and more sophisticated than the previous system, but just as easy to use. New dual-zone climate controls are standard. Sliders are used to adjust the temperature on base models with manual controls. Better are the available electronic climate controls, which use two large knobs for driver and passenger. A large LED displays the mode and fan settings. It's a well-engineered system that's sophisticated, yet easy to operate. XM Satellite Radio is a good option for people who want minimal blab interrupting their music or listen to dedicated news or sports channels. Drive across the U.S. without losing your favorite stations.

The back seat in the extended cab offers more room and comfort than we expected. We wouldn't want to ride across the state in the back seat, but three adults can ride in reasonable comfort back there. Most of the time, the back seat is used for cargo. Alternatively, the seat bottom can be flipped up to load gear onto the floor. When cargo capacity is more important than hauling passengers, the entire rear seat assembly can be removed with a wrench and lifted out through the door.

The back seats in crew cab models are roomy and very comfortable, similar to those in a Suburban. The rear seats can be flipped down to provide a big, secure cargo area. This is a great truck for someone who wants a roomy rear seat with interior cargo space and big trailer-towing capability.

Driving Impressions

Revised for 2003, the Chevrolet Silverado is among the best of the full-size pickups.

Silverado feels tight and quiet. There's little road noise and wind noise. Those are benefits of the stiff frame, which minimizes noise and vibration from the running gear. The cab is stiffened by a magnesium beam behind the instrument panel and a lateral steel beam between the magnesium beam and the right side of the dash. This additional stiffening is designed to eliminate squeaks and rattles, and we haven't heard any. The chassis rigidity allows the suspension to soak up and manage bumps and ruts and tar strips. A long, 143-inch wheelbase improves the ride further and enhances high-speed stability.

Like most pickups, the Silverado rides more smoothly with weight in the back. At low speeds, our empty 2003 Silverado 1500 LT with Quadrasteer tended to bounce annoyingly when going over a succession of dips. Could it be that the stouter rear end that comes with Quadrasteer rides rougher? If so, we would still opt for Quadrasteer for the maneuverability it offers. The 4-Wheel Steering Package includes a manually selectable ride control system designed to enhance control when pulling a trailer. Press the Ride Control button when the truck is empty and the system seems to firm up the shock damping, which reduces the bouncing somewhat, but the ride becomes harsher. Ride control is probably best used for towing to reduce the tendency of the truck to pogo as the trailer goes over bumps, but it can also be used off road for better suspension control.

Quadrasteer is no gimmick. Four-wheel steering is a great feature on any Silverado for low-speed maneuverability and a must-have for owners who tow. Let's face it. Silverado is a full-size truck in a world of compact parking spaces. Four-wheel steering really helps when maneuvering in crowded parking lots and public garages. With Quadrasteer, an extended cab short box Silverado can turn around in a 37.4-foot circle (curb to curb). Without Quadrasteer, the same model takes 47.3 feet. That's 10 feet, a huge difference. You can make a U-turn in places that previously required backing up. Where turning around on a narrow street is a five-step process in a standard pickup, it's just a three-step process with Quadrasteer. Quadrasteer helps enormously around town, but we think it is truly a must-have feature for towing trailers. When towing a trailer, Quadrasteer will make you look like a star. First, it greatly improves control, eliminating much of that trial and error that occurs when you're not messing with trailers on a regular basis. Second, Quadrasteer allows you to back a trailer into spots where you could not physically do so without it. Chevrolet's ad showing the cowboy backing a horse trailer through a chute demonstrates the benefits well. Quadrasteer increases the 8400-pound towing capacity of Silverado 1500 models with the Vortec 5300 to 8600 lbs.

1500HD crew cab models do not seem to ride as smoothly as the other models. This is most likely due to the 1500HD heavy-duty suspension. When the bed is empty there is some road vibration, but drivers used to driving pickups should find it within acceptable bounds. Throwing some weight in the bed or adding a canopy should smooth it out some. The benefit is towing capacity: 10,200 pounds with a weight-distributing hitch and sway control. The 2500 models also ride rougher than standard 1500 models, but offer a 10,700-pound towing capacity.

Silverado's steering is responsive and offers the right amount of feedback. Silverado tracks straight and handles well on dry pavement, loose dirt, deep dirt, and off road. It's stable on wet pavement and stays true when the rear wheels spin when accelerating hard in a low-speed turn. Rack-and-pinion steering is used on Silverado 1500 4x2s. Four-wheel-drive and heavy-duty models use recirculating-ball steering. Even the rack-and-pinion system has a fairly wide dead spot in the center when cruising, which Chevrolet says is designed to minimize steering corrections on the highway.

Four different engines are available for Chevy's light-duty pickups, so when choosing one it's helpful to study power ratings, payload ratings, tow ratings, fuel-economy ratings, pricing, and other data. People talk about horsepower, but torque ratings better reflect how the truck will perform.

The V6 model is best for light-duty work when price and fuel economy are paramount. The 4.8-liter small-block V8 is popular in base models and delivers 285 foot-pounds of torque. The 5.3-liter (327 cubic-inch) V8 is rated 325 lbs.-ft., enough grunt for all but the most demanding applications. We prefer the Vortec 5300 over the 4800. Its fat torque curve is useful for light towing and hauling, but also makes it more fun to drive when commuting or out and about. The big Vortec 6000 6.0-liter V8 that comes on the 1500HD delivers 360 lbs.-ft. for pulling big, heavy trailers. Go beyond that and you're into the 3/4-ton 3500 and 2500HD models (reviewed separately).

Silverado's small-block V8 engines are based on GM's SB-2 small-block architecture introduced on the Corvette and extended to the Camaro and Firebird in 1999. For 2003, Electronic Throttle Control provides more precise, consistent throttle operation on all small-block V8s, while new oxygen sensors reduce emissions during warm-up and are designed for improved reliability. All of Chevy's Vortec engines come with 100,000-mile platinum-tip spark plugs, sequential fuel injection, and 150,000-mile anti-freeze.

A five-speed manual gearbox is standard in the base truck, but most buyers opt for the excellent four-speed automatics. Automatics feature a Tow/Haul mode that reduces the tendency of the transmission to hunt between third and fourth gears in hilly terrain; it also shifts quicker and harder, all of which reduces heat buildup for improved reliability. We recommend opting for the automatic unless you run a snow-plowing operation or have a specific need for a manual. With all the advancements in automatics, most of the advantages of a manual are now more imagined than real.

Silverado's frame is the stiffest and lightest truck frame General Motors has ever built. Introduced on the 1999 models, the front frame rails are hydroformed, a process that uses high-pressure hydraulics to shape large and complex components that used to be fabricated from smaller stampings. Tubular crossmembers and roll-formed mid-rails increase rigidity even more. This stiff structure enhances handling and ride quality immensely, while improving crashworthiness. The front suspension comprises aluminum upper and lower control arms, with coil springs on two-wheel-drive 1500s. Torsion bars are used on all 4x4 models and 2500 models.

Silverado comes with good brakes. Anyone familiar with the brakes in older Chevy pickups and full-size SUVs should be very pleased with the vastly improved brake-pedal response and stopping performance of the current models. Braking force on the current models begins only an inch into the pedal travel. The four-wheel disc brakes are huge and powerful and come standard with ABS. Dynamic Rear Proportioning improves stability under heavy braking, whether the truck is loaded or empty. Chevrolet promises excellent fade resistance, with long pad life and good heat dissipation. We worked the brakes hard on our truck and experienced no fade.

Silverado's AutoTrac system lets the driver press a button to shift between 2WD for best fuel economy to 4WD, a traditional part-time system that delivers excellent traction off road. Press the button for 4WD Low for particularly rugged terrain.

Spinning wheels in the rain? Pressing the Auto4WD button cures that problem. Step on it in the wet and there's half a moment of wheelspin as power is transferred to the front wheels and the Silverado takes off. It works very well. Auto4WD is the mode to be in when the conditions are loose and fluctuating, such as icy roads, gravel roads, slick pavement, spotty snow. Auto4WD eliminates that binding of the front and rear wheels in tight parking lot maneuvers, nice in the winter.


Chevrolet Silverado is among the best of the full-size pickups. Changes for 2003 make it more reliable and more enjoyable to drive every day. Roomy, comfortable seats, a stiff frame, a choice of powerful engines make the Silverado a great work truck. A myriad of choices lets buyers choose the right truck for the lifestyle.

Model Line Overview

Model lineup: 1500 2WD: Short Box Regular Cab ($18,191); Short Box Extended Cab ($23,025); LS Short Box Extended Cab ($25,494); LT Long Box Extended Cab ($31,596); 1500 4WD: LS Short Box Regular Cab ($24,631); LT Long Box Extended Cab ($34,578); 1500HD Crew Cab LS 2WD Short Box ($29,905); 1500HD Crew Cab LT 4WD Short Box $37,755; 2500 2WD Long Box Regular Cab ($23,055); 2500 4WD LT Short Box Extended Cab ($36,205)
Engines: 200-hp 4.3-liter ohv V6; 275-hp 4.8-liter ohv V8; 285-hp 5.3-liter ohv V8; 300-hp 6.0-liter ohv V8
Transmissions: 5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard): dual airbags, ABS
Safety equipment (optional): traction control
Basic warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in: Pontiac, Michigan; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Oshawa, Ontario, Canada

Specifications As Tested

Model tested (MSRP): Silverado 1500 LT Short Box Extended Cab 4WD ($34,278)
Standard equipment: Vortec 5300 V8, automatic transmission, four-wheel ABS with dynamic rear proportioning power steering, light package, tilt wheel, floor console, LT includes leather upholstery for front seats, six-way power heated bucket seats with driver memory and power lumbar support, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, AM/FM/CD6 stereo with Bose speaker system, OnStar, remote locking/security system, electrochromic mirror with compass, temperature, and passenger-sensing system signal, cruise control, rear defrost, deep tinted glass, leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, outside mirrors with driver-side auto dimming, power fold and adjust, body side moldings, cast aluminum wheels, trailer wire harness, AutoTrac active transfer case, front fog lamps
Options as tested (MSRP): 5{ring Package ($5715) includes Quadrasteer, roof marker lamps, heavy-duty trailering equipment, ride control manual select, limited-slip differential, 145-amp alternator; XM Satellite Radio ($325); P265/75R16 tires ($240); spare tire lock ($15)
Destination charge: ($745)
Gas guzzler tax: N/A
Price as tested (MSRP): $41,318
Layout: four-wheel drive
Engine: 5.3-liter ohv 16-valve V8
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 285 @ 5200
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): 325 @ 4000
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: 14/18 mpg
Wheelbase: 143.5 in.
Length/width/height: 227.6/83.5/71.2 in.
Track, f/r: 65.0/71.0 in.
Turning circle: 37.4 ft.
Seating capacity: 5
Head/hip/leg room, f: 41.0/61.4/41.3 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m: N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r: 38.4/61.5/33.7 in.
Trunk volume: N/A
Payload: 1481 Lbs.
Towing capacity: 8600 Lbs.
Suspension, f: independent
Suspension, r: live axle
Ground clearance: 8.7 in.
Curb weight: 4919 lbs.
Tires: P265/75R16
Brakes, f/r: disc/disc with ABS
Fuel capacity: 26.0 gal.

Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of October 04, 2002.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges.

N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-222-1020 - www.chevrolet.com

Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc. 

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2003 Chevrolet Silverado - Autotrader