Latest version of the full-size pickup brings improved drivability and mileage, and adds a competent turbo-4 engine to the lineup
If it seems as if pickup trucks keep getting bigger, it could be because they are. Case in point: the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500, which grew again with its latest makeover.
But it must be noted up front that despite its growth spurt, the new Silverado is as much as 450 pounds lighter (depending on model and trim) than the previous version, which adds up to better drivability and improved fuel mileage.
And according to Chevrolet, the weight loss – accomplished through the use of lightened materials and components – takes nothing away from the truck’s durability or practicality.
While Ford replaced the entire body on its F-150 with aluminum starting in 2015, GM took a more-incremental approach to lightness for the Silverado, much of the body still comprised of steel but with the door skins, hood, tailgate and some other bits made of aluminum and other lightweight materials, losing 88 pounds in the process.
The new frame is now fully boxed for strength while the type of steel – mild to ultra-high strength – varies throughout the structure according to the demands of that particular portion and allows the use of thinner-walled steel in places for lightness. That sheds another 88 pounds.
The GM engineers prowled through the remainder of the truck to find other places to lighten the load, arriving at the current figure. While not the 700-pound weight loss of the F-150, it was an impressive feat and, according to Chevy, resulting in a better all-around truck.
Silverado also boasts an abundance of engine choices for 2019, six in all descending in size from a 6.2-liter V8 with new Dynamic Fuel Management (a more-precise form of cylinder deactivation for power and fuel efficiency), 5.3-liter V8 with DFM (ditto), 5.3-liter V8 with Active Fuel Management (a less-intricate approach to cylinder deactivation), a 4.3-liter V6 with AFM, a 3.0-liter turbo diesel, and a turbocharged 2.7-liter inline-4 with AFM, with which the test truck was equipped.
There are also three automatic transmissions, either 6-speed, 8-speed or 10-speed, depending on the engine choice.
While typical big-truck guys might smirk at the installation of a turbo-4 in a full-size pickup, the specs say otherwise. This highly advanced engine boasts dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder with continuously variable valve timing and variable valve lift, and direct high-pressure fuel injection.
That adds up to a solid 310 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 348 pound-feet of torque starting at 1,500 rpm. For most truck applications, aside from heavyweight towing, that should be enough.
The double-cab Silverado RST with the standard turbo-4 that I drove gets 20 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway, according to the EPA, which is not too shabby for the nearly 4,800-pound truck. And it does so on regular gas instead of premium, as is often the case with high-powered turbo engines. Stop-start technology helps boost city mileage while the AFM raises the highway number.
Chevrolet’s apparent goal with the Silverado is to offer a configuration to suit every potential buyer, with six trim types and configurations, three cab sizes – standard, double and crew – and the myriad of engine choices.
While Silverado has grown in every direction, the biggest gain for 2019 is in overall refinement. Despite its hulking size, the pickup drives akin to a decent passenger car, with composed ride and handling, and a thoughtfully designed interior that is roomy and accommodating.
There’s also plenty of performance from the 2.7-liter engine, which runs smoothly even when accelerating hard, and with lots of pull, so much so that if you didn’t already know what was under the broad hood, you’d swear it had twice as many cylinders.
The AFM cylinder deactivation is essentially unnoticeable. When cruising on the highway with light engine load when less power is needed, the engine might be cut back to running down the road on just two cylinders, which is kind of remarkable; a brawny truck driving as a two-banger without it being in the least bit noticeable from the cab.
Hit the gas and all four cylinders are back at work, a transition that is, again, not perceptible.
The stop-start function, in which the engine shuts down completely when standing still, as in stopped at a traffic light or in traffic, and starts again when you lift off the brake, thus saving gas by not idling, has become fairly common these days.
It works well here, although there is some unwelcome shudder at start up. You do get used to it, though, and can compensate by adding a brief pause between letting go of the brake and pressing the throttle.
The styling is, well, impressively big and beefy with lots of chrome up front. I found the jowls at the lower corners of the front end odd looking – they look kind of like scoops, except that the air passes in the front and right out the back without doing anything.
All told, an impressive effort by Chevrolet in redesigning its best-selling vehicle, making it better as well as bigger. The battle with Ram 1500 continues for second place behind the ever-popular Ford F-150. Each of the competitors have new engine options that slightly top Silverado’s 4-cylinder mileage, but the turbo-4 rules as a sweet and powerful alternative to a thirsty V8.
2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 double cab
Vehicle type: five-passenger, four-door pickup truck, rear-wheel drive
Base price: $38,800 Price as tested: $47,795
Engine: turbocharged 2.7-liter inline-4, 310 horsepower at 5,600 rpm, 348 pound-feet of torque at 1,500 rpm Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 147.4 inches Overall length/width: 231.8 inches / 81.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,793 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 20 city / 23 highway / 21 combined
Assembled in: Roanoke, Indiana