PONTIAC, MI – Christmas has come early for GM pickup fans, in the form of all-new full-size trucks for the 2014 model year.
The Chevrolet and GMC brands have been coping with dated products – the current generation of big pickups was introduced six years ago – while rivals Ford and Ram have introduced new models featuring redesigned exteriors, spiffy new interiors and powertrains packed with fuel-saving technologies.
Now GM has reloaded its arsenal and is set to resume the pickup wars in earnest as the company has taken the wraps of its totally revamped 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks.
While specific details such as horsepower, torque, fuel economy ratings and pricing have not yet been announced, we now have a solid vision of the direction GM is heading with the next generation of its full-size, light-duty trucks.
Keeping it simple
For starters, GM is betting truck buyers prefer a more fundamental approach to improved fuel efficiency.
Instead of taking the more complex path of pumping up smaller-displacement engines with turbochargers to achieve better fuel economy while maintaining sufficient power, GM is keeping it simple – a move it says will pay dividends for owners with lower maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle.
It’s using a new iteration of its tried-and-true, pushrod small-block engine configuration, enhanced with such upgrades as direct fuel injection, continuously variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation to get the desired results with its 2014 Silverado and Sierra pickups.
The company is introducing three new EcoTec3 small-block engines – a V-6 and two V-8s, all normally aspirated, with aluminum heads and blocks – that are loaded with fuel-saving technologies, including the ability to switch to four cylinders when power demands permit.
The system, GM says, provides maximum power when it’s needed, but also cuts back to the fuel-saving four-cylinder mode under light load conditions.
Power and efficiency
GM officials say the standard engine, a new 4.3-litre V-6, will have sufficient torque to power a full-size crew cab truck and also pull a substantial trailer while still delivering superior fuel efficiency.
Customers looking for more power can opt for a new 5.3-litre V-8 that delivers more power and better efficiency than the current version, while a 6.2-litre V-8 will be available for those needing the ultimate in power. It’s based on the new engine that will power the 2014 Corvette.
A six-speed automatic transmission, with gear ratios and shift schedules specifically programmed for optimum performance and efficiency, is used with all three engine packages. This transmission also features automatic grade braking, providing downshifts on downgrades to help reduce brake wear.
Trucks with a V-8 powertrain will also get a new rear axle that’s been strengthened to cope with the additional torque output – a 9.5-inch unit with the 5.3-litre engine or 9.76-inch with the 6.2-litre powerplant.
The fully-boxed frame has been strengthened with the use of high-strength steel in the main rails and cross members. Hydroforming has also been used to improve the frame’s strength while reducing mass up front.
The same strong but lighter steel has been incorporated into the new cabin architecture, including the A and B pillars, roof rails, rocker panels and areas of the underbody. The changes not only contribute to a quieter ride, but will help these trucks meet tougher new crash testing requirements.
The pickup box is now made of roll-formed steel. This process results in a box that’s lighter, stronger and more durable than traditional stamped steel units.
There’s a choice of three box lengths, depending on the type of cab. The regular cab can be fitted with either an eight-foot or six-foot-six box; extended cabs get the six-six version, while the crew cab can now be fitted with either a five-foot, eight-inch bed or the six-six unit.
To make access to the bed easier, there’s a corner step built into the rear bumper that allows one to reach into the cargo area whether the tailgate is open or closed. Handholds have also been built into the top rails to ensure a safe, non-slip grip.
The tailgate, too, has been improved with the addition of a torsion bar that dampens the lowering of the gate and assists in raising it. Four upper tie-down heads can be moved to various locations within the bed to improve functionality.
One nifty new feature that will surely be appreciated by anyone loading cargo in low light is the addition of LED lights tucked under the bedrail – they are standard on the Sierra and optional with the Silverado.
All models are fitted with variable-ratio electric power steering and four-wheel disc brakes are standard across the lineup.
The standard suspension system, with coil-over-shocks up front and two-stage, multi-leaf springs in the rear, has been re-tuned for improved handling and a smoother ride without compromising load-carrying capabilities, while the optional Z71 off-road suspension package now includes monotube Rancho shocks and hill descent control.
Available safety features include trailer sway control and forward collision and lane departure warning systems coupled to a safety alert seat.
The exterior of the new trucks, which will make their public debut at the Detroit auto show, has been completely redesigned, yet on first glance it doesn’t look that different from the current models – at least until you start noticing the details.
The front ends on both the Chevy and GMC trucks have been redone to create a more refined look, yet there’ll be no mistaking either when you see them approaching in your rearview mirror – you’ll know it’s a GM truck.
The grilles have been designed to permit enough air for efficient cooling, while the rest of the nose has been sealed to minimize drag. In fact, specific attention to improving aerodynamics has resulted in a five-percent reduction in drag compared to the current models.
Other air-cheating changes include inlaid doors, which fit into the body sides instead of wrapping into the roof, air deflectors that guide airflow around the rear wheels and shields under the body to help channel airflow more efficiently.
Even the roof and top of the tailgate have been tweaked to better manage the movement of air over the truck. In addition to helping improve fuel efficiency, these aerodynamic changes have reduced wind noise, making the cabin the quietest ever.
The doors on the crew cab models are larger, allowing easier access and egress. The rear doors on the extended cab versions have been fitted with front hinges, also improving accessibility, especially in tight spaces such as tight parking spots.
Dramatic interior changes
While the exterior styling is an evolution of the current design, the new interior has changed dramatically.
The instrument panel is a simple, clean design, not garish, with a focus on functionality. Instruments are clustered neatly in front of the driver while a module containing the display screen, audio and heating/cooling controls dominates the centre of the dash panel.
The knobs and buttons are well-positioned and large enough so one can operate them even with gloves on. Generous storage spaces abound, there are multiple USB ports, as well as 12-volt and 110-volt power outlets, and of course there’s latest in connectivity features, including MyLink/Intellilink with natural voice recognition.
The front seats are fitted with more durable dual-density foam and are heated, even with cloth seat coverings.
Production of the 2014 Silverado and Sierra pickups will start in the spring, with the initial build limited to crew cabs, due to the increased demand for those models. Extended cab and regular cab models will follow, with the new trucks expected to arrive in dealers’ showrooms by late spring.
GM says new versions of its heavy-duty lineup will follow next year, along with the redesigned mid-size Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon.