Americans are feeling so comfortable with their bank accounts these days that they’re re-embracing a Super Gulp mentality. They’re eating more hamburgers — at restaurants. They’re back to buying McMansions. And, as the major automakers reported last month, they’re also buying trucks — especially the sort of full-size pickups that could plow sedans asunder.
General Motors reported sales of its Silverado were up an astounding 25.3 percent in May compared with a year earlier — and that’s before its long-overdue update, which arrived at dealers this month with the same $32,710 starting price as the outgoing model, despite massive tweaks.
Small might have been big in a down economy, but for the 2014 model year, big is most definitely back en vogue.
Last overhauled from hood to hitch in 2006, the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 bullies its way onto the market with an aggressive new body style that should be sold with a testosterone air freshener. Gone are the sissy curves of the outgoing model. The new Silverado is all macho angles that show men’s propensity for measuring sticks. Its overall proportions have been manned up, with larger back doors for easier egress, and a new double-decker chrome grille that recalls Jaws from the James Bond film “Moonraker.”
Framed in high-strength steel in anticipation of years of abuse, but hooded with aluminum to reduce weight and help improve fuel economy while retaining its epic proportions, the new Silverado is available with three different engines — a 4.3-liter V6, the 5.3-liter V8 I tested and a 6.2-liter V8 that won’t be available until later this year. All three powertrains showcase Chevy’s Ecotec3 technology, with direct-injection engines made from lightweight aluminum that employ continuously variable valve timing and an active cylinder deactivation system that switches to four cylinders whenever possible to improve mpgs.
Such an innovative combination of technologies is unusual in the highly competitive American pickup truck segment, and it’s unusually effective. The EPA estimates the 2014 Silverado fuel economy at 19 mpg combined — an impressive feat for a 5,042-pound beast that can haul almost 5 tons and still pack a family of six.
Designed in recognition that workhorse pickups often double for play, its brake and accelerator pedals can be moved up or down at the press of a button, in case the little lady needs to take it for groceries. Two USB ports for kids’ competing mobile devices are nestled deep in the front seat’s center cubby, which folds away with the efficiency of a Swiss Army knife, revealing the truck’s sixth seat. Collapsed flush with the fabric, the center cubby could double as a foot stool for rear seat passengers, or be used for its combination armrest/cup holder/snack tray/mobile device plug-in for which it’s intended.
No buttons or levers are required to move this layer cake of front-seat storage. A similar system is at play for the rear seats, which are split 60/40. I just reached under the seats to push them up and out of the way and la voilà — there was enough space for a side of beef.
The second set of doors on the roomy crew cab model I was testing had three rows of built-in cubby space to pack all the drinks one would need to wash that beef down. If the 2013 model suffered from a lack of in-door storage, the 2014 model has erred on the side of overkill with space for all the nature bars, Slim Jims and Gatorades a person could eat. For days, if not weeks.
That’s just inside the cab. A 5-foot-8 cargo bed is standard; for 2014, Chevrolet is offering a longer 6-foot-6 bed as an option. Both are equipped with corner steps that make it easy to leverage a boot and reach inside, and a tailgate that eases into its down-most position hydraulically, instead of with the usual clunk if not guided by a hand.
For all its capabilities, the 2014 Silverado is a genteel brute. Its cabin is quieter than I was expecting, due to various innovations, including a new inlaid door design that changes the course of the wind that whips around the vehicle and, as a result, reduces noise for the passengers nestled inside, making it easier to enjoy many of the Silverado’s new standard amenities.
Like most modern pickups, the Silverado is equipped with carlike features to trick drivers into forgetting about the bed that lies out of view behind its sliding rear window. It’s outfitted with steering-wheel controls that enable voice commands for the Bluetooth and stereo, and, on the LT trim, an 8-inch color touch screen. Instead of the oversized and concentric rings of analog gauges on the 2013 model, the dashboard has been updated with a more modern-looking display and buttons that are intuitive and oversized, to enable easy operation even with gloves.
Despite its long 143.5-inch wheelbase, its turning radius wasn’t the oil rig I was expecting. I had no trouble hugging the curved cement in my neighborhood traffic circles. The electronic power steering made turning virtually effortless on a truck so large it looks like it snacks on sedans for lunch and inspired fantasies of turning my morning commute into a demolition derby, plowing up, over and through whatever was in my way. Alas, I opted to lean back and enjoy the view from a perch so tall I could see over almost everything on the road, though I ducked when I pulled into the Orange County Register’s low-slung parking garage in the Silverado, sensing I was going to peel off the roof like the top of a sardine can.
The 2014 Chevrolet Silverado may have been redesigned as a boxy utilitarian man wagon, but it’s a muscular manservant that even a woman could love.