A near-twin of the GMC Sierra, the aging current-generation Silverado has been on sale since 1999. The all-new Silverado will arrive during calendar year 2006--well ahead of previously announced schedules--in an attempt to help right GM's listing corporate ship. By contrast, the new, more-refined Ford F-150 has been at dealers since late 2003, and other competitors have also received more recent renewals.
The most notable news on the 2005 Silverado is the Hybrid package, which may sound pretty good efficiency-wise, but erase those images of a Toyota Prius-fighter; this "mild hybrid" system is basically a higher-powered electrical system that allows the engine to shut down stop at traffic stops while keeping the accessories going, for a minor 10-percent savings in fuel economy. The "starter/generator," as GM calls it, can also be used as a source of 120-volt alternating-current power when the truck is parked. Unfortunately, the stop/start system feels like an annoying passenger who insists on reaching over and killing the ignition every time you're about to take off from a light.
The Chevy is a big, all-American truck, and it looks the part, with its wide face and stylish yet slab-sided flanks. Ninety-degree angles dominate here--unlike most of the Silverado's more modern competitors--and the horizontal chrome strip along the grille ensures the truck's dramatic road presence. The Silverado is currently offered in nine exterior colors, all of them reasonably conservative. The "sportside," or step-side, pickup box adds flair to the short-box Silverado, but bed cargo space is diminished from that of the regular short box. The long-box layout--available only on regular- and extended -cab 1500s--provides a maximum bed length of 97.6 inches. The light-duty crew cab comes only with the short box, measuring 69.2 inches.
The interior of the Silverado is functional but dated through design and finish, and ultimately, it's not as pleasant to inhabit as that of its competitors. Chevrolet didn't use a lot of cutting-edge--or even attractive--interior materials in this truck. Buyers' interior options are many: three colors of leather, three colors of cloth patterns, and one basic vinyl color.
If your dinner table is set for more than two, you'll probably want to opt for the extended- or crew-cab trucks. Adults taller than 5 feet 5 inches won't want to spend much time in the back seat of the extended cab, but the crew cab gives rear-seat occupants the legroom of a mid-size sedan (though the seatbacks are a bit too upright for sustained comfort). Both cabs are convenient if you have gear you want to be able to protect without a tonneau cover, or if you have items you want to access while on the go.
Either bucket or bench seating can be specified for front passengers, while all rear seats, whether in the extended- or crew-cab trim, have three seatbelts. Three-across rear seating in the extended cab is less than ideal due to legroom constraints, however, making the crew-cab configuration preferable for a full work team.
Climbing up into the 4x4 models takes a hearty step up, but ingress and egress is eased for nimble folks thanks to wide-swinging doors, obligatory grab handles, and seatbelts integrated out of the way in the front seatbacks. Extended cabs feature a rear-opening half door, while crew-cab Silverados have four regular full-size doors.
A few nice options can dress up the interior: redundant, steering -wheel-mounted audio controls, XM radio, and DVD entertainment.
The exclusive (except for the corporate twin Sierra) availability of OnStar in-vehicle safety and security system puts Chevy ahead of the competition in one safety arena, but in nearly every other, it lags behind. The Silverado scores worst among full-size trucks in the NHTSA's frontal crash tests (three to four stars out of five), though rollover ratings are equal to those of the Dodge and Ford (four stars).
ABS and front airbags are standard on all models except those with the Quadrasteer four-wheel steering system. Traction control is available, but stability control and additional air bags do not grace the Silverado's option sheet.
Four-wheel-drive Silverados feature a useful automatic four-wheel-drive setting, which, when selected, uses only the rear wheels in most situations and sends power to the front wheels only as needed, improving fuel economy.
Acceleration of the Vortec 5.3-liter is quite good, but still not as quick as that of the stronger Hemi-powered Dodge Ram. The V-8 engines (4.8L, 5.3L, 6.0L) are common throughout GM offerings, and derivations have powered past Chevrolet Corvettes.
The torquey Silverado V-6 helps the truck achieve a tow rating higher than that of all competitors' six-cylinder models. However, the V-6 isn't powerful enough to be offered with the heavier crew cab.
The most sporting player in the Silverado lineup is the pricey, all-wheel-drive Super Sport (SS), whose high-output 6.0-liter delivers 345 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque. A rear-wheel-drive version will soon join the lineup.
Most Silverado buyers make do with the four-speed automatic transmission (a five-speed isn't available in the 1500), while a gas-saving five-speed manual comes standard in a few models (mostly six-cylinders) and isn't offered in the light-duty crew cabs.
Behind the wheel
The Silverado provides its driver with a commanding seating position. On the road, this truck is unintimidating and easy to drive, with a number of carlike characteristics. Four-wheel-drive, Z71-optioned trucks are also extremely capable off-road when put to the test.
Ride quality is predictably trucklike and rough at times, and overall refinement lags behind that of the Nissan Titan and Ford F-150. The Silverado still does a very good job of achieving its intended hard-working mission, but is showing its age when compared with newer competitors.
The half-ton Silverado 1500 is a good fit for nearly all private use, with three cab configurations, several powerplants, numerous equipment grades, and proven ownership value. Due to their variety, it's more important with trucks than cars to find the right combination for your needs, as overdoing it will cost upfront, at the pump, and possibly in the resale.
Properly equipped, the Silverado scores middle-of-the-road for the key truck factors, such as payload and towing capacity. (If these numbers don't matter to you, then consider a smaller truck, or even an SUV.) Beware that options can quickly drive the price of a Silverado to over $35,000. Deals abound, however, as sales managers we've spoken to say that thousands off the sticker price is not uncommon on well-equipped examples. Beyond purchase price, a key factor in full-size truck ownership today is the impact of elevated fuel prices, especially with real-world mileage falling in the teens for a V-8-powered pickup. The Silverado's fuel economy is on par with its competitors'. While being mindful of not choosing a bigger engine than necessary, note that the 4.8L V-8 matches the V-6 in the EPA mileage ratings.
Chevrolet covers the Silverado with a three-year/36,000-mile, bumper-to-bumper warranty that includes roadside-assistance services. Rust-through corrosion is also warranted for six years or 100,000 miles. While there are elements to criticize, the Silverado has been an absolute winner in the annual IntelliChoice Best Overall Values of the Year awards, claiming titles in multiple categories for consecutive years.
The Ford F-150 is the best-selling truck in this segment, and it betters the Silverado in areas such as interior execution and towing. The Nissan Titan offers fewer variations, but its pricing and packaging are attractive.
A solid value and proven workhorse, the Silverado sells hundreds of thousands each year for a good reason, though smart shoppers will want to consider the key competitors before making a final decision.
Chevrolet offers a first-of-its-kind "mild hybrid" truck, though availability is very limited. Other significant new features for the 2005 model year are an available power sunroof, updated tire selections, and the standardization of anti-lock brakes on all models save those with the Quadrasteer (a clever innovation that dies after this year due to lack of consumer interest).
Options we wouldn't go without on the Silverado are the automatic four-wheel drive, which sends power to the front wheels on-demand, and the side-view-mirror turn signals. Off-road adventurers should spring for the Z71 off-road package on 1500 models, which adds underbody skid plates, an automatic-locking rear differential, and an upgraded suspension.
Others to Consider
Ford F-150, Dodge Ram 1500, Nissan Titan