Overview

While vans, minivans, sport Utilities and smaller-size pickups have spurred soaring light-truck sales, the backbone of the market remains in the full-size pickup arena. Since the '60s and perhaps even earlier, the full-size segment has been a battleground between Ford with its F-Series trucks and Chevrolet with what it now calls its K Series. The two have been playing "Can You Top This?" for years. Chevrolet dominated the market through the '70s, but Ford has made continuing progress, finally finishing ahead of Chevy in 1993 sales.

Chevrolet and its sister-GMC full-size pickups (called Sierras) were restyled for the 1993 model year. Like most players in the light-truck field, Chevrolet's major activity in full-size pickups for the 1994 model year involves safety features to comply with federal standards that will come into play in the next few years. The 1994 pickups now boast steel side-guard door beams and center high-mounted stoplights. Chevrolet also added two engine variations to its offerings, which now include a V6, two V8s and three diesel V8s.

Variety is a must for success in the full-size segment. Chevrolet offers many combinations of body styles, load capacities, interior trim packages and power trains. We chose to test a 1994 Extended Cab Sportside Silverado, Pickup. In the 4x2 configuration, it was well-equipped with options such as high-back reclining front bucket seats, a 5.7-liter V8, air conditioning, four-speed automatic transmission and more. With a base price of $16,266, our truck dressed out at a final sticker $22,457-about that of a decently equipped full-size sedan.

Walkaround

This is an eye-catching full-size pickup. Our truck was two-tone, red over silver. The dividing line between the colors was a substantial bright metal/compound black bodyside molding in line with the front and rear bumpers. The bumpers (the rear is stepped), a distinctive horizontally split grille and the mirrors were bright metal.

Pop-open rear quarter windows are part of the extended cab configuration; the sliding rear window is an option. The Sportside style involves a narrower pickup bed than a slab-sided or Fleetside pickup. However, this is a full-size pickup, and the width of 49.1-inches is enough for 4-by-8 panels. The cargo box sides are notched for timbers to support two-tier loading. The extended cab version of the Sportside is available only with the short-78.7 inches-pickup box. You'll have to leave the tailgate down or remove it entirely to carry' anything that is more than 6 feet, 8.8 inches long.

The new center high-mounted stoplight is located over the rear window land is flanked by two white lights-controlled from the driver's seat-that illuminate the cargo bed.

Fit-and-finish are much better than they used to be and are car-like in quality. Our Sportside had the optional chrome wheels. The look worked: This truck announced its presence.

Interior Features

Inside, the Silverado version is one of the most alluring, comfortable and useful extended cab pickups available. The layout is sedan-like. Front high-back bucket seats flank a wide console with storage space and a tray. Cup holders are configured for two sizes. The driver gets a fold-down armrest next to the console as well as a sturdy four-spoke steering wheel. Mirror, door and window controls are mounted atop a left armrest built into the door.

People room is good. These bucket seats rank among the best in full-size pickups. Our truck had the optional six-way driver's seat. And both seats had reclining features.

Controls, switches and gauges are easy to see and reach. We have an ongoing complaint with GM products about the inclusion of the cruise control on the same stalk as the wipers-we think it's awkward and would like to see the cruise control on the steering wheel.

The rear bench seat is comfortable but would be a squeeze for three adults. You have two options back there when using it as a cargo area: Fold the bench seat bottom up (it provides 40.5 cubic feet of space) or fold the seatback down. Although Chevrolet says it has increased the forward travel of the front seats for better access to the rear seating/cargo area, the rearward adjustment of the front seats limits knee room in the rear. This seems to be a built-in problem with extended cabs because it occurred on every one we tested.

Driving Impressions

As mentioned, our Extended Cab Chevy Sportside Silverado came with the 5.7-liter 210-hp V8. This is the truck version of GM's ultra tried-and-true 350 CID and ranks as one of the most reliable, durable engines in the business. Coupled with the four-speed automatic transmission, this pickup had neck-snapping power. Traveling light, you must watch your speed because it tends to want to go fast. This power train gives you the ability to haul serious cargo and trailers. You have a towing capacity of 7,500 pounds and a cargo capacity of 1,736 pounds.

As for the time you'll spend driving between hauling and towing, this is a very pleasant truck. Sure you're driving a truck, but it acts like a car - a very powerful, substantial car.

Ride and handling are very good. The truck was tight-free of rattles and road noise. Handling was excellent.

Our truck was 218 inches long on a sizable 141.5-inch-wheelbase. It meant there was no choppiness in the smooth, stable ride. We had the sport handling package, including special springs and Bilstein gas shocks. The package stiffened up the ride some but provided rail-like tracking.

We had an opportunity to try another 1994 Chevrolet Extended Cab Silverado (a Fleetside) with the same power train when towing a classic 30-foot runabout to a boat show. While we were very conscious of the combined truck/boat and trailer package-more than 45 feet long and weighing more than 16,000 pounds the truck handled it all without breathing hard.

Summary

This truck is state-of-the-art. It has many attributes of a car while providing the strength and versatility of a full-size pickup. You can take people to lunch, carry serious cargo and tow some big loads. You also enjoy a great ride, good handling and attention-getting throttle response.

We think the neck and neck fight for full-size truck leadership between Ford and Chevy will continue, and Chevy might close the gap with products like this.

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