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2019 Chevrolet Silverado: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by James Riswick August 2018

To say the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado is available in a variety of choices would be an understatement as massive as the truck itself. Oh sure, there are the usual selections to be made regarding the bed length, cab size, engine and feature departments. But the number of trim levels has ballooned, and each one features its own styling and general character that goes beyond the usual step-like increase in equipment and price.

Of course, different grilles and increasingly fancy lighting don't matter much if the truck itself can't match or surpass the capability and general excellence provided by the Silverado's age-old rivals, the Ford F150 and Ram 1500. The former received a substantial overhaul last year and the latter was completely re-engineered for 2019, much like the Silverado.

Lighter, Yet Stronger

Although it's easy to focus on the 2019 Silverado's many faces, it's under the skin where GM's truck surgeons really focused their attention. An increased use of high-strength steel throughout the fully boxed frame and cab/bed, plus the introduction of certain aluminum body pieces (hood, doors and tailgate) contribute to a significant reduction in weight -- as much as 450 pounds depending on configuration. Such reductions matter a lot in terms of acceleration, towing, payload and fuel economy. Weight was also saved by utilizing aluminum and composite materials in the suspension, improving the ride and handling.

Yet, despite the trip to Jenny Craig, that lighter frame is 10 percent stiffer than before, and dimensions have grown. The Silverado crew cab is 1.2 inches wider, 1.7 inches longer and has 3.9 extra inches of wheelbase. You don't have to read the interior specs to know the back seat has gotten bigger as a result, matching the limo-like room you'll find in the F150 and the Ram. The new back doors are gigantic.

The bed has also increased in volume thanks to taller and thinner walls, offering 63, 72 and 89 cu ft. of volume in the short, standard and long beds, respectively. Notably, they're nearly 7 inches wider. The steel floor has also been strengthened, and the standard bumper steps used to access it have been enlarged.

New, Advanced Powertrains

As for what's under the hood, no other truck matches the 2019 Silverado's powertrain diversity. Things start off familiarly, with the bottom three trim levels equipped with a standard 4.3-liter V6 engine (285 horsepower, 305 lb-ft of torque) or optional 5.3-liter V8 (355 hp, 383 lb-ft). Both are paired to a 6-speed automatic transmission and active fuel management (it cuts fuel to a set number of cylinders under low-load conditions to improve fuel economy).

From there, things get interesting. The volume-selling LT and new RST trim levels come standard with a new 2.7-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engineered specifically for truck use. Yes, four cylinders. It outdoes the base V6 with 310 hp and 348 lb-ft and is paired to an 8-speed automatic.

Optional on those trims -- and standard on LT Trail Boss, LTZ and High Country -- is the same 5.3-liter V8 optional on the bottom trims. It comes paired, however, to that 8-speed automatic and a new technology known as Dynamic Fuel Management that features 17 different variations of cylinder deactivation instead of AFM's two. It can actually run on one cylinder. According to GM, DFM represents a 9-percent improvement in efficiency over the 5.3-liter with AFM, and according to our first drive in the 2019 Silverado, it's impossible to detect. DFM is also found on the range-topping 6.2-liter V8 (420 hp, 460 lb-ft of torque) along with a new 10-speed automatic shared with the revised Ford F150. See, rivals can work together.

Ah, but it doesn't end there, as a new 3.0-liter turbodiesel 6-cylinder will be offered early next year on the top two trims. GM didn't release specs, but like the Ram and F150 diesel engines, it should get the best fuel economy.

Putting Them to Work

We only got a chance to test the DFM-equipped 5.3- and 6.2-liter V8 engines, with and without 6,000-lb trailers attached to their hitches (and monitored by a new collection of handy cameras). Though they lack the lusty smoothness of Ford's turbocharged V6 engines, these are stout workhorses that capably towed those trailers up 6-percent grades at around 7,000 feet of altitude in Wyoming. The 8- and 10-speed transmissions make a big difference here as well, as so many ratios make towing an easier and more serene experience.

In terms of actual figures, the 5.3-liter is, at best, capable of towing 11,600 pounds, while the 6.2 can manage 12,200 (both are up by 400 pounds for 2019). That's not a massive difference, and indeed, we didn't observe a massive difference behind the wheel. The smaller V8 is more than capable and all you really need. The 6.2 is really for those who value bragging rights (or have the money to shrug and go "why not?").

Regardless of engine, throttle response has been greatly sharpened for 2019, as the Silverado no longer resorts to a spongey accelerator to coax you into saving fuel. There's even a new "sport" mode that sharpens things further, while also tightening the steering. That too has been improved regardless of whether you're in a Tour or Sport, and contributes to a truck that feels more solid and confidence-inspiring than the one it replaces.

The ride has also been thoroughly improved. A trip in a Chevy Suburban, which is mechanically based on the outgoing Silverado and theoretically the more comfortable vehicle, revealed perpetual vibrations over even the smallest road imperfections. To appropriately evoke Bob Seger, the 2019 Silverado was solid like a rock over the same pavement. Only the High Country and its massive 22-in wheels introduced impact harshness, but stick to the 20s, and Chevy could certainly challenge the coil-sprung Ram for comfort.

On the Other Hand ...

That's not the case inside, however. All the effort that was put into engineering the chassis and powertrains was not matched in the design and execution of the cabin. Quality-wise, the materials are unremarkable. Functionally, it doesn't match cleverer storage solutions in the F150 or new Ram (Chevrolet's curious, hidden rear-backrest compartments not withstanding).

Worse, none of this really improves as you go up the trim ladder. Compared to the LTZ, the range-topping High Country only gets strips of very fake wood on the doors, some bronze plastic trim on the dash and steering wheel and the availability of two-tone color schemes. Chevrolet says the High Country is meant to compete with the range-topping Ford F150 Platinum, King Ranch and Limited, or the Ram 1500 Long Horn and Limited. However, those offer genuinely luxurious upgrades featuring better materials and elevated style choices over lesser versions (plus some items Chevy doesn't offer). None of this matters if you're just seeking a no-frills work truck, but there's a reason Ford and Ram offer multiple high-dollar trim levels: They're popular. Chevy's offering just isn't luxurious enough despite being comparably priced.

The Many Faces of Silverado

So, even if there aren't enough differences inside, those on the outside are about as obvious as it gets between the eight trim levels. The Work Truck, Custom and Custom Trail Boss stand out with bold CHEVROLET script across their grilles, which differ in their finishing. The LT retains the familiar gold Chevy bowtie within an enlarged chrome bar that meets upgraded headlights and LED accents. All the LT's front-end chrome turns into body-colored trim on the new, sporty-looking RST, and gloss black trim on the also-new LT Trail Boss. Both get a black bowtie.

As for those Trail Boss models, they may differ in powertrain choice and comfort/convenience equipment, but both receive a 2-in suspension lift, Rancho monotube shocks, Goodyear Duratrac all-terrain tires and red tow hooks, plus the rest of the Z71 Off-Road package that includes a two-speed transfer case, automatic locking rear differential, skid plates and a heavy-duty air filter. They look mean, and after crawling over a variety of gnarly terrain, we can report they act the part.

From there, the chrome trim and gold bowties return in the LTZ and High Country, although the latter receives some bronze highlights in its unique grille and slightly-different LED accent lighting. The top trim levels are also the best (or only) way to experience all of the 2019 Silverado's new features. These include multiple cameras for parking and trailering; a handy trailering app in the revised 8-in MyLink touchscreen for towing experts and novices alike; a power opening and closing tailgate; forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking; lane-keeping assist; and a color head-up display. These join standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, on-board Wi-Fi and OnStar.

So interior ambiance notwithstanding, the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado is an impressive effort that builds upon its predecessor's capability, drivability, efficiency, feature content and style. Chevy loyalists will not be disappointed. Those unmarried to a brand should consider it, and with so much variety, there's a lot to ponder.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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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.
2019 Chevrolet Silverado: First Drive Review - Autotrader