On The Road Review: Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid Pickup

If your best-selling product, a very profitable industry stalwart for over 30-years, an innovator that is often copied, a vehicle that was just recently the “Truck of the Year” is now considered “not what Americans want to drive,” then you have to make some modifications to remain relevant.

GM’s full-size Chevrolet Silverado — and the similar GMC Sierra versions — now offer the pickup segment’s only Hybrid-powered models.

Designed to augment the truck’s in-town fuel efficiency rather than peak highway miles per gallon, the GM hybrid system employs a 6.0-liter V-8 engine and a two-mode transmission, electric motor system. Regenerative brakes help replenish the underseat battery pack that lets the big truck run up to 20 mph in the city on just electric power. The two-mode transmission — think performance like a CVT — automatically cycles the gas engine on and off as needed to conserve fuel, and even adds additional electric torque for situations such as passing and long grades.

Total horsepower output of the combined gas engine and 300-volt electric battery pack is 332 hp — slightly more horsepower than the 5.3-liter V-8 common to Silverado’s, but down about 35 hp to the regular versions of the 6.0-liter VortecMax that is optional in this half-ton platform. Max tow rating is reduced as well from 10,200 pounds to 6,100 pounds.

Just like the hybrid system used in GM’s full-size SUVs, the Chevy’s fuel economy ratings climb from 14-mpg city/19-mpg highway for the regular Silverado with the 6.0-liter motor to 20 mpg in both driving environments. Two-wheel-drive trucks earn EPA ratings of 21/22 mpg.

Key to the Silverado Hybrid’s viability is that city EPA rating. A 40 percent increase in city fuel economy is a definite plus when fuel prices become objectionable again — which could be anytime. And, none of the Silverado’s rivals offers a hybrid-powered pickup truck — not Toyota, not Ford, not Dodge.

In a shortened week — with two days of strong headwind motoring — my tested Silverado 4X4 Crew Cab returned 18.7 mpg overall with very little urban driving. The truck is responsive, even quick, as the transmission maximizes all available power. From a completely silent dead-still standing start waiting at a traffic light (with the tachometer showing no revolutions) the Silverado jumps to attention and motors away without hesitation.

In the most popular four-door Crew Cab configuration, the rear seat remains very comfortable with more passenger space than the eye first reveals. The perch is roomy enough for three with lots of head and leg room on a seatback placed at a supportive angle. Unlike other Silverados, the Hybrid model does not allow this seat to fold up for more cargo room.

Otherwise, the Silverado Hybrid is no different from conventional Chevys. You can get all of the features including navigation, rear camera and rear DVD as you can on other pickup models. Plus, the Chevy offers AutoTrac four-wheel drive, which can be left in 2WD mode, automatic mode or in four-wheel drive no matter what the surface or elements.

The Silverado offers the best balance of ride and handling in the class with an agile feel that is slightly ahead of the competition. The newest Dodge delivers similar handling characteristics, but overall, buyers in this automotive segment are getting the best truck designs ever with chassis that can pull heavy loads while producing responsiveness and ride control that used to be the purvey of family cars. Include spacious cabins with a full array of accoutrements and it becomes easy to see why so many drivers prefer the functionality and versatility of a pickup platform over a conventional sedan.

Silverado buyers can also enjoy two different interiors labeled Pure Pickup or Luxury Inspired. Pure Pickup is a perfectly acceptable design that includes numerous features not found on pickups only three to four years ago. Luxury inspired moves the needle up a notch with textures and materials that are more luxurious and closely mimic the upscale Tahoe and Suburban trim levels.

There is no telescoping steering column, yet the Chevy’s tilt wheel has an easy-to-use lever that still escapes some rivals. Comprehensive vehicle data from the information center is another edge while the front bench seat design — a 40/20/40 split with a console compartment in the bottom cushion and another larger compartment in the folding top cushion — is much more preferable to a fixed console. This layout allows up to six-passenger seating (albeit the middle rider might want to be a lightweight person) yet offers storage options when not in use.

With supportive seats, easier access due to a slightly lower cabin height and new sound deadening efforts, the Silverado strikes a chord with shoppers. Control layout, outward visibility and overall ergonomics make the Chevy as friendly as your favorite chair, shoes or pair of jeans — everything seems to fit just right.

Pickup buyers can also select an XFE (Extra Fuel Economy) version of the Silverado this year, which promises greater highway fuel economy numbers. This model uses the 5.3-liter V-8 engine and the new six-speed automatic with some special aerodynamic tweaks and low rolling resistance tires to increase the EPA ratings to 15/21-mpg.

Unfortunately, GM has temporarily shelved its small-displacement diesel engine. A smaller version of the popular Duramax diesel, rumored fuel economy numbers jumped into the mid-20s with this planned light-duty pickup engine. I believe that many pickup buyers would welcome this option, which would retain the Silverado’s tow numbers and deliver better fuel economy.

With combined Silverado and GMC Sierra sales making this line the best-selling vehicle series in America, GM will continue to refine and invest in this series. The Hybrid model is one sign of that commitment. GM can’t survive its financial crisis without pickup trucks, and no amount of government mandated work with other products will erase that fact.

Just the Facts: Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid Pickup

Silverado pricing starts at $18,965 for base model pickups with 8-foot bed and 195-hp V-6 engine. Base CrewCabs with 4WD start at $31,405. Silverado Hybrid begins at $41,170 with 4WD and $38,995 with 2WD.

Hybrid uses a 6.0-liter V-8 and a two-mode continuous electric ratio hybrid transmission. Peak output is 332 hp and 367 pound/feet of torque. 4WD model CrewCabs weigh 5,882 pounds.

EPA ratings for the Silverado start at 15/20 mpg for the V-6-powered base pickup, move to 14/19 mpg and 14/20 mpg with the 4.8-liter and 5.3-liter V-8 engines, and peak at 15/21 mpg with XFE models with the six-speed automatic transmission. All Silverado models feature automatic transmissions. The Hybrid’s fuel economy ratings are 21/22 for 2WD and 20/20-mpg for 4WD versions.

Chevy offers one V-6 engine, four different V-8 engine choices — including the 403-hp 6.2-liter motor from the Cadillac Escalade — plus the hybrid powertrain in the 2009 Silverado. Tow ratings range up to 10,400 pounds.

Standard CrewCab Hybrid features: Z85 soft-ride suspension, heavy-duty trailering package, head curtain side airbags, Bluetooth phone setup, soft tonneau cover, automatic dual-zone climate controls, 40/20/40 split front bench seat with folding console, steering wheel audio controls, driver info center, Stabilitrak stability control and remote entry. Silverado Hybrid is built in Oshawa, Ontario.

Next week: Lincoln MKS


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