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2019 Chevy Silverado first drive review: Brute suit riot

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When the outgoing Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pickup bowed for 2014, it was competitive and it led the half-ton field in some areas. But it didn’t look or feel particularly new. The third-generation Silverado wasn’t flashy in appearance or construction — in fact, it looked similar to its predecessor. Whether that was strategic, or simply because much of it was developed during General Motors’ cash crunch, the old model came across as a familiar friend that was a bit technophobic and a little too set in its ways.

This all-new 2019 Silverado 1500 treads an altogether more aggressive path. It’s here to strut its stuff with a bold new look and gobs of tech — both under the hood and in the cabin. And yet, after a full day behind the wheel in this latest model, the Silverado seems like it’s held on to the essence of what made the old truck so endearing. 

If that preamble has you assuming that Chevy has adopted all-aluminum bodywork and a full line of downsized turbo engines like its Ford F-150 nemesis, think again. If you’re envisioning a hybrid option or an available coil spring suspension under its rear haunches like the Ram 1500… well, you’re wrong there too. 

GM hasn’t abandoned what worked in the past. Instead the company has taken a witheringly hard look at the Silverado’s genetic makeup and executed substantial and effective changes throughout. The 2019 Silverado finally feels like the brand-new truck that it is, especially in higher-end models where its full complement of optional comfort and safety tech is on ready display.

That face

Before I even get on the road, though, I have to discuss the Silverado’s new suit. It’s… not for everyone. While the old model looked like a safe, evolutionary facelift of the previous-generation pickup, this new truck is unlikely to be confused for its forebear. Its bluff, upright new nose has swagger by the bushelful.

The way the design’s fenders wrap into the face is particularly likely to polarize opinions. Those steel fenders jut decisively into the grille, underlining the Silverado’s newly narrowed, glowering headlamps. The protrusions look a bit like anthropomorphized versions of the eye black that football players wear. Those same fenders extend downward, resting over the bumper fascia in unusual fashion thanks to integrated air curtains that guide currents around the front wheels to curb drag. (Despite hitting an inch higher, airflow has has improved on the new truck by seven percent.)

The sun has clearly set on demure Silverado designs.


Mike Cutler/Roadshow

Combined with the 2019 Silverado’s more prominently sculpted wheel arches and a longer wheelbase, the visual takeaway is that this is one massive pickup. Even though its overall footprint is similar (it’s only around 1.5 inches longer), the Silverado looks larger than before, and more imposing than its Ford and Dodge rivals.

This Chevy’s appearance might not sit comfortably with everyone, but I suspect it’s going to go over well with pickup shoppers. In an unsubtle age where tailgates are emblazoned with billboard-sized brand lettering and today’s lifted brodozer style has even infiltrated Whole Foods parking lots, it’s a look that should find plenty of fans. If nothing else, given the Silverado’s ubiquity (Chevy sold nearly 600,000 last year), the design’s initially jarring quality probably won’t last. 

That body

I mentioned the 2019 Silverado 1500’s longer wheelbase, and indeed it’s stretched its legs by up to 3.9 inches. Ride quality is improved, and fortunately the Silverado’s front overhang has been shortened to avoid making its turning circle larger, improving the arrival angle for improved off-roading in the bargain. A shorter front overhang and reworked steering geometry mean that this longer truck doesn’t necessitate a bigger turning circle.

That bodywork isn’t just more deliberately sculpted, it’s smarter, too. The Silverado wears aluminum swing panels — its doors, hood and tailgate are skinned in Al13. The entire truck’s makeup is an impressively optimized mosaic of varying grades of high-strength steels and aluminum. Chevy’s engineers have scalpeled away 88 pounds from the bodywork and a further 88 pounds from the chassis, too.

After years of producing overweight vehicles, GM finally accepted the gospel of lightweighting a number of years ago, and has since become a leading disciple. Chevy says when you compare crew-cab V8 models, this new rig tips the scales at around 450 pounds less than its predecessor, the result of an exhaustive gram-by-gram analysis. 

Increased use of mixed metals, plus aluminum doors, hood and tailgate contribute to a 450-pound diet.


Chevrolet

That bed

If its newfound lightness has you thinking this 1500 is somehow less capable, think again. Nowhere is that more evident than in its bed, which benefits from a clean-sheet overhaul. New stamping methods and higher-grade steel has enabled a bed that’s not only stronger, it’s seven-inches wider and it’s deeper, too. Compared to last year’s model, the resulting roll-formed Durabed offers 10 more cubic feet of space in short- and standard-box guise, and a whopping 14 more cubes in long-box form. Depending on configuration, the Durabed is around 20 percent more capacious than rivals.

The Durabed isn’t just larger, it’s smarter, too. Its dozen cargo tie-downs are rated to withstand 500 pounds of bending force — twice as robust as before. Plus, there’s available LED in-bed lighting and a 110/120-volt outlet to power that big tailgating TV you’ve been eyeing. Large, lockable in-bed bins are also available. The coup de grâce? An optional power tailgate that not only lowers, it lifts, as well. Yes, that’s unnecessarily extravagant, and that’s exactly why it’ll be popular — this market segment is chock full of overkill.

The High Country’s cabin delivers all hat and all cattle.


Chevrolet

The great indoors

There are lots of changes outside, but the 1500’s new interior might just be its biggest quality-of-life upgrade. The outgoing Silverado’s cab was a decent place to spend time, especially because for most of its life, it was the quietest truck in its class.

However, the old truck’s cabin had a number of fundamental blind spots, including its lack of a telescoping wheel, or keyless entry and start. It may sound trivial, but it’s amazing how old a vehicle can feel simply by forcing you to push a button on a separate fob to unlock a door — let alone requiring slotting and twisting a key in the ignition to bring its engine to life.

GM has remedied those deficiencies, and added higher-quality materials and contemporary finishes. There’s also new available tech including a smartly executed multicolor head-up display, USB-C (and standard USB) ports and so on. Chevy seems to recognize that more and more people are stepping out of luxury cars and climbing into high-end pickups and SUVs, and it’s unwilling to sacrifice connectivity and features while doing so.

An eight-inch touchscreen features better-quality graphics and snappier performance.


Chevrolet

The Silverado’s new infotainment system combines crisper, more modern graphics and fonts with minimized latency between commands. While base models receive seven-inch touchscreens, many models will feature eight-inch units, and the available navigation system features single-line address entry and sharper-looking maps. Apple CarPlay and Android auto are aboard, too. The new system isn’t as visually impressive as the optional gargantuan 12-inch vertical Uconnect hub in the Ram, but it’s plenty big.

It’s not just front-seat passengers that are treated well. The Silverado’s aforementioned larger cab primarily works out to three inches of added rear-seat leg room on four-door crew cabs (swelling from 40.9 to 43.9 inches). Whether you regularly ferry backseat passengers or not, that extra floor space will come in handy when it comes time to stash groceries or tools out of the elements. And speaking of stashing, the entire cabin has more stowage space, including twin gloveboxes and novel second-row seatback storage bins.

A new Trailboss trim adds a two-inch lift, plus skid plates, knobby tires and other off-road kit.


Chevrolet

Your way and the highway

While most shoppers will select mid-grade models such as Custom and LT, the 2019 Silverado offers a broader array of trims to better tailor appearances and capabilities to your needs. There’s a new RST street-truck model with body-colored detailing and massive 22-inch wheels, as well as the new Trailboss. The latter adds a two-inch factory lift atop the Z71 Off-Road pack, kitting it out with skid plates, Rancho shocks, knobby tires and a burlier appearance.

You may recognize my test truck’s High Country badges as a new version of the lux’d-up model introduced late in the previous Silverado’s lifecycle. Despite crowding its GMC Sierra Denali brethren in rarified air, the High Country proved to be a big success. Unsurprisingly, it returns here wearing even more chrome frosting and Cowboy Cadillac trappings.

The new High Country’s ride and handling is appropriate for its mission, too. In an old-school meets new-school twist, it uses Corvette-derived carbon composite second-stage leaf springs to prop up its live axle. Doing so sheds a further 24 pounds while allowing engineers to further dial-in ride quality and improve handling.

The High Country’s optional 6.2-liter V8 delivers 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque.


Mike Cutler/Roadshow

All ate up with motors

My High Country tester also packed one hell of a V8. 

While GM will offer the 1500 with the buyer’s choice of a new 2.7-liter turbo four-cylinder, its aging 4.3-liter V6 or an updated 5.3-liter V8, this High Country was spec’d with GM’s full-house 6.2-liter V8, featuring a seamless new Dynamic Fuel Management cylinder-deactivation system that lets it run on anything between one and all eight cylinders as demand warrants. 

At this early drive event, trucks with fewer than eight cylinders weren’t available for testing, and some fuel economy data is still pending. However, GM claims city mileage figures will climb around five percent higher on V8 models, noting that a four-wheel-drive 6.2-liter V8 like my test truck is earmarked to get 16 mpg city, 20 highway and 17 combined.

A 3.0-liter Duramax diesel will also be offered soon.

Combined with an unobtrusive new stop-start system and a new 10-speed automatic transmission, my tester’s big V8 marshaled all 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque to cope effortlessly with the mountain ascents on my test route in and around Jackson Hole, Wyoming. 

The High Country features down-home chrome, and lots of it.


Mike Cutler/Roadshow

When empty, the 6.2-liter makes the Silverado an unlikely rocketship. Even at elevation, acceleration felt like 0-60 runs would register around six seconds, suggesting low-to-mid fives might not be out of the question at sea level.

My test rig felt similarly unperturbed when a 6,000-pound trailer was strapped to its hitch. The High Country is rated to tow over double that figure, but given the area’s 6,000-plus foot elevation, it still felt like an impressive performance.

Despite having so many options at its disposal, the 10-speed gearbox rarely felt indecisive. I do wish it wasn’t necessary to drop the column shifter a notch before using the rocker switch to toggle through the ratios. This requirement feels unnecessary, and it’s annoying when you want to quickly call up extra engine braking on descents or preselect a lower gear ahead of a passing maneuver.

A number of towing-minded options make hitching and hauling easier, including this camera package.


Chevrolet

Towing APPetite 

A new Trailering Camera Package includes a Hitch Guidance mode that makes putting Tab A into Slot B easier, and an optional wired camera can be plunked on the back of the trailer to aid in reversing, too. You no longer need a buddy to verify that your lights are hooked up correctly — a test sequence activated by the touchscreen or via a MyChevrolet phone app makes it a one-person job. 

Speaking of apps, an infotainment app on the optional Advanced Trailering System allows for the creation of different trailer profiles. ATS not only presets the brake gain for specific trailers, it keeps track of mileage, fuel economy and transmission temps, too. Once you’ve got your trailer hooked up, there’s an option group that uses additional sensors to keep tabs on trailer tire temperatures and pressures for added safety.

Another tech topic where the old Silverado lagged rivals was in terms of both active and passive safety gear. The new model greatly improves things. It’s available with forward collision alert with low-speed automatic emergency brake, lane-keep assist and blind-spot alert. Plus, this new truck offers significant technological improvements in visibility, including more powerful LED lights with automatic high beams, an available surround-view camera system and a digital rearview mirror. 

The big-dollar Big Country is ready for big adventure.


Mike Cutler/Roadshow

The (big) bottom line

Sadly, much of the active safety gear remains optional, even in top trims. And of course, none of this technology comes cheap. While MSRPs on base 2WD Work Trucks start a smidge under $30,000, my optioned-up High Country 4×4 rang up at an eye-watering — but ultimately competitive —  $65,655 including delivery. As one GM exec told me, “We have yet to find the price ceiling on pickup trucks — customers want more, but it’s going to cost more.”

The 2019 Silverado 1500 hits streets nationwide beginning later this month — and it’s safe to say you’ll see it coming.


Editors’ note: Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it’s far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow’s editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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