The Chevy Silverado is designed to offer a smooth ride and confident handling while delivering superior capability and power. Silverado was last redesigned for 2007. As with all full-size pickups, the Silverado is available in a wide range of sizes, engines, and capabilities, so it’s of primary importance to analyze your needs and then select the model that best serves those needs.
The base engine is a 4.3-liter V6 (195 hp/260 lb-ft of torque) with a four-speed automatic, offered only on Regular Cabs and 2WD Extended Cab models with the standard bed. The 4.8-liter V8 (302 hp/305 lb-ft of torque) and four-speed automatic are standard on Crew Cab and 4WD Extended Cab models with the standard bed, and on many LT models.
The 5.3-liter V8 (315 hp/338 lb-ft of torque, or 326 hp/348 lb-ft of torque on E85), with active fuel management that shuts off cylinders to save fuel, and iron or aluminum block, is standard on most LTZ models and is matched with a six-speed automatic.
The top engine is a 6.2-liter V8 (403 hp/417 lb-ft of torque) available on Extended Cab and Crew Cab models; it uses the six-speed automatic. (Silverado HD models are covered in a separate New Car Test Drive review.)
XFE (Xtra Fuel Economy) models use a 5.3-liter V8, six-speed automatic and cruising-biased axle ratio of 3.08:1 to increase EPA ratings. XFE versions feature aerodynamic upgrades in the form of a soft bed cover and extended front air dam, plus aluminum wheels (including the spare) and lower front suspension arms, locking rear differential, and low rolling resistance tires. A trailering package is standard so XFE models can tow up to 7,000 pounds.
The Hybrid, available only in the Crew Cab body style, uses a 6.0-liter V8 (332 hp/367 lb-ft of torque), battery pack, and four-speed automatic with two electric motors in it. EPA ratings are 21/22 mpg. Tow ratings are available to 6100 pounds, and maximum payload is in the 1,400-pound range.
For 2011, Silverado gets few changes. The OnStar has been upgraded to 9.0, there have been enhancements to reduce wind noise, and there are a few new color choices.
Suspension choice is key to the driving characteristics of the Chevy Silverado. The basic Z83 suspension is best chosen for budget constraints (or if you plan to make modifications and throw away the stock parts). The Z85 is similar except that it uses better shock absorbers and is calibrated for how today’s light-duty pickups are often used as daily transportation. The Z71 package is designed for off-highway use and makes maximum use of suspension travel to keep the wheels on the ground when on the trail or dirt roads; this off-road package frequently provides the best ride quality on anything worse than glass-smooth interstates. The Z60 street package replete with 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires is best used for the highway and smooth two-lanes but can be used on a dirt road. The NHT package is designed for maximum loads; ride compliance is good based on how much weight it can carry and tow but driving it around empty may be firmer (harsher) than you want for everyday use.
The Silverado benefits from good brakes. Drivers who tow will appreciate the optional integrated brake controller like that used on the Silverado heavy-duty trucks. (However, be sure your trailer brakes are compatible with it before choosing the option, as some electro-hydraulic disc conversions do not work with the integrated controller.)
Towing capacities range as high as 10,700 pounds with the NHT package. Maximum tow ratings for other models are in the 8,000-8,900 pound range (Hybrid excepted). If your trailer is heavier than 6,000 pounds or so, we’d recommend looking at the heavy-duty Silverado HD models. Remember these trailer weights are usually quoted for an empty truck with a standard-size driver on board. If you’re hauling a lot of gear and people, you need to take that into consideration.
If you want the 15/22 mpg EPA ratings of the XFE on a regular Silverado or need higher towing capacity, minor changes to driving style will routinely net the same (or better) economy increase.
Those with limited vertical clearance either at home or in commercial garages should note that the 4WD versions of the Silverado 1500 Extended Cab and Crew Cab models are fractionally lower at the roof and loading level than the 2WD versions. Some pickup trucks add two to three inches in height for 4WD, and those inches could be critical in tight fits.
The Chevy Silverado offers more choices in light-duty pickup variations than any other, except perhaps GMC and the Ford F-150. It is among the smoothest riding and quietest of all full-size pickups, and can be counted on to get the job done.
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