First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2014 Chevrolet Silverado

Improved interiors, new fuel-efficient engines among changes to all-new 2014 Silverado

2014 Chevrolet Silverado pickup

NORRIS POINT, NL – Chevrolet media releases describe its 2014 Silverado light-duty pickup line as "new from hood to hitch," but Jeff Luke says that’s not just ad-speak.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado - GM truck boss Jeff Luke.JPG"It’s true," says Luke, an Oshawa native who is General Motors’ executive chief engineer for global full-size trucks. "The number of parts carried over from the previous generation would fit in a small bag."

At first glance, you may have some doubts about the validity of Chevy’s claim, but get closer and indeed, this Silverado is completely different from its predecessor. The sheet metal and exterior trimmings have a fresh new look, the engines are all-new and the interiors are a stunning improvement over the current models.

Chevrolet is the last pickup to the join the party for model makeovers. Ford and Ram have already revamped their truck lineup, even Toyota has given its Tundra a total redo, so the heat has been on Chevy to come up with a fresh new winner.

Trucks account for a large chunk of the Canadian market – 14.4 percent of the nation’s overall vehicle sales last year – and the full-size segment is growing rapidly at 15% in 2012, compared to the industry’s overall growth rate of just 1%.

A successful redo of the Silverado is also critical for Chevrolet because, along with the Camaro and Corvette, this product defines the brand.

In fact, it’s the number-one-selling Chevrolet in Canada, accounting for more than a quarter of all the brand's sales here. So there’s plenty of pressure to get it right – and they did.

The 2014 Silverado offers light-duty truck buyers more advanced technologies and more features, including several segment exclusives, than ever.

Functional good looks

They’re all wrapped up in a very pleasing package with a muscular look and fuel-saving aerodynamic improvements.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado pickup.jpgWind-cheating changes include tilting the windshield back one more degree, tucking the wipers under the edge of the aluminum hood and slimming down the size of the side mirrors to reduce drag. The smaller mirrors still offer plenty of visibility, but their downsizing also helps reduce wind noise.

During my two-day media drive through the hills and valleys of the spectacularly scenic Gros Morne national park, I was quite impressed by the quietness inside the spacious cabin. At highway cruising speeds there was scarcely a hint of noise, from wind or the road, intruding into the cabin.

New inlaid doors and triple seals around the door openings contribute significantly to the reduced interior noise levels. In fact, the ride comfort and quietness in the totally redesigned cabin of my crew cab Silverado tester was more like a premium sedan.

New body mounts are a key part of the improved experience, especially new hydraulic mounts under the rear section of the cab.

Crew cabs to the fore

All the test vehicles for this event were crew cabs with an assortment of trim levels, since this large-format model is by far the fastest growing segment. At the turn of this century, there was zero interest in crew cabs, but by last year the big four-door models were accounting for 65% of sales.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado - Crew Cab rear seats.JPGChanges have been made to increase Silverado crew-cab appeal even further with the rear doors now hinged to the B-pillar, which has been moved forward. Shifting the centre pillar has not only helped stiffen the cab structure, but allowed for even larger rear doors to improve access to the foldable back bench.

In addition, there are now 100 more millimetres of foot swing area, 50 mm more leg room and 5% more space in the foot area under the front seats.

Upscale cabin

The most striking difference in the 2014 Silverado is the improvement to the interior. Across the lineup you will find a cabin and appointments that are significantly better than the current model.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado pickup.jpgThe all-new instrument panel sits upright with a cluster of six guages and a digital display positioned in front of the driver for easy reference. The audio system and climate controls are neatly packaged in the centre of the panel, with a dual-door glove box conveniently placed in front of the passenger.

For truck owners intending to use this cabin as a mobile office, all the essentials are there, including numerous USB ports, 12-volt power outlets and a 115-volt receptacle. And Chevy’s MyLink system is available to solve any connectivity needs.

Storage space is everywhere, with an assortment of cubbies built into the door, plus an array of massive bins and slots in the centre armrest or console.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado Interior.jpgThe cloth coverings on the seats of the lower and mid-range trims levels are made of a new material that resists dirt and stains, yet is easier to clean, while the leather-trimmed interiors are as luxurious as those in any premium sedan.

Heated seats are now offered with cloth interiors, and you can enjoy heated and cooled seats in the upscale trims. French stitching with contrasting thread colours add a classy look.

I found the seats especially comfortable, with excellent lateral and back support – and this was the case regardless of the trim level.

Seven trim levels

In total, Chevy is offering a range of seven trim levels for 2014, starting with the base IWT work truck and moving upscale to the LT and LTZ. The Z71 off-road package is available on the LT and LTZ.

Available box sizes are six-foot-six and eight feet with the regular two-door cab; six-six in the double cab configuration; and five-foot-eight and six-six with the crew cab.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado pickup.jpgIn the fall, a new premium-level model will top the lineup. The High Country edition, with its saddle leather interior, is aimed at similar, western-themed premium models from Ford (King Ranch) and Ram (Laramie Longhorn.)

A pre-production model was on site during our media drive and the luxurious look of the cabin, plus its exterior touches, such as brilliantly polished chrome 20-inch wheels, should make it a worthy competitor in this fast-growing segment.

It’s worth mentioning that Luke, who has overseen the development of this new Silverado, is truly a "truck guy." He loves pickups and lives the life for which these vehicles are suited.

Innovative features

He knows what truck owners expect from their pickup, whether it’s for work or play, because he’s one of them. That awareness has led to some innovative features on this 2014 iteration.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado pickup.jpgThe upper cargo tie-downs are moveable – the truck comes with four units, but there are mounting spots for up to nine, in addition to the four standard fixed brackets in the bed. Extra moveable tie-downs will be available at your Chevy dealer’s parts counter.

This truck also has a simple but effective step built into the ends of the rear bumper that, combined with built-in hand grips in the box rails, makes access to the cargo bed much easier. It’s a far less complex system than Ford’s fold-out step system. I tried it and it works well.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado pickup.jpgThe tailgate, too, has been fitted with a soft dampening system, so the panel won’t flop open with a bang if you lose your grip as you open it.

The most novel touch, though, is the addition of an available LED bed light located under the box rails. Even with a tonneau cover in place, you can turn on the bed light (it operates on the same switch as the overhead bed light) and find stuff in that dark chasm. Brilliant – why didn’t someone think of this before?

Luke says, modestly, that it’s something that just came from understanding how owners use their trucks.

New engines

Such touches are nice, but it’s what’s under the hood that’s most important to truck buyers. Chevy is powering its 2014 Silverados with a trio of all-new FlexFuel, direct-injection EcoTec engines – a 5.3-litre V-8, a 4.3-litre V-6 and later this year, a 6.2-litre V-8 powerhouse borrowed from the Corvette.

All three are naturally aspirated, overhead-valve engines with aluminum blocks and all feature cylinder deactivation, including the V-6, which trims out the middle two cylinders when power demand permits.

The only transmission offered is a Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic.

2014 GM 4.3L V-6 EcoTec3 engine.jpgA pre-production Silverado with the new V-6 was available here for test drives and its performance was impressive. It’s rated at 285 horsepower with 305 lb-ft of torque and that output proved more than adequate for coping with the steep inclines in this scenic area of Newfoundland.

In fact, it felt like there was an eight-cylinder working under the hood – and switching between four- and six-cylinder mode was totally seamless. If fuel efficiency is a priority for you, the 4.3L V-6 is definitely worth considering.

While official fuel consumption figures haven’t been announced, the onboard computer in my tester indicated an average of 13 litres/100 km during its use (abuse?) at this media program.

The engine of choice for most users will likely be the 5.3L V-8 and it proved to be more than capable of performing its duties, whether my Silverado had a bed filled with firewood or a trailer lugging a speedboat or large ATV hitched to its tail.

With 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque on tap, hauling those loads up the hills here wasn't a problem – and the hill-descent feature and new, larger brakes made control on the downhill sections a breeze.

This engine is smooth and responsive – in fact, it loafs along so easily on the highway without a load that you can be easily lulled into costly speeds if you’re not vigilant.

Estimated fuel consumption for two-wheel-drive models is rated at up to 8.7 litres/100 km in highway driving, which Chevy says is better than any other V-8 pickup and also tops Ford’s EcoBoost V-6.

Superior fuel efficiency

Luke says these new naturally aspirated Chevy engines are designed to deliver superior fuel efficiency, especially under heavy load, compared with turbocharged engines dealing with the same load.

To cope with increased demand for power, turbo engines kick into boost mode, which consumes more fuel. "We think we have the right formula," he said. "Our customers want V-8 performance when their trucks are working hard, but we’re giving them the fuel efficiency of a four-cylinder when the load is light."

Fuel efficiency has also been enhanced by significant reductions in the overall weight of the new Silverado. Chassis mass has been trimmed 25 to 30 kilograms, thanks to the introduction of new frame hydroforming techniques, plus more extensive use of high-strength steel and lightweight metals such as aluminum, which is now used for the suspension system’s control arms, as well as the wheels.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado pickup.jpgElectrically assisted power steering has also been added to improve the Silverado’s fuel efficiency. In my test drives, the steering proved to be very responsive with good feedback from the front wheels to the driver. Maneuvering the big crew cab in tight parking situations was effortless.

If towing capabilities is on your check list, you’ll be pleased to learn a Silverado equipped with the 5.3L V-8 and the max towing package, available later this year, has a tow rating of up to 5750 kg (11,500 lb) – the most of any light-duty pickup on the market. The 4.3L V-6 is rated to haul up to 3273 kg (7,200 lb), also class-leading.

Pricing starts at $25,540 for the regular cab and $29,435 for the double cab, which replaces the extended cab model currently offered. The crew cab Silverado starts at $30, 995. A shipping fee of $1,600 is additional across the lineup.

The 2014 Silverado is certainly a leap ahead of its predecessor with its quiet, roomy, well-appointed cabin, excellent ride and fuel-efficient engines, plus all those nifty new touches that truck owners will love. This iteration should continue to define the brand and be a winner in the marketplace as well.

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