JACKSON, WY – Truck redesigns tend to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, especially when it comes to large pickups with their historically conservative customer base, and at first blush the reworked ’19 Chevrolet Silverado would seem to fit the bill.
However, going beyond the nuanced sheet metal of General Motors’ best-selling product reveals a host of new technologies improving towing and hauling, driving refinement and roominess, fuel efficiency, connectivity and on- and off-road muscle.
With the truck market booming these days, the new Silverado almost certainly will intensify the long-running pickup war between GM and crosstown rivals Ford and the Ram brand of FCA US. The Silverado also surely will continue to stuff the coffers at GM, where it perennially ranks as one of its most profitable vehicles.
But along with the newly redone GMC Sierra large pickup and coming remakes of the automaker’s 7- and 8-passenger body-on-frame SUVs, it additionally will serve as a cash pipeline to GM’s rapidly growing mobility services unit where, ironically, small autonomously driven electric vehicles play the starring role in a transportation segment expected to radically disrupt the company’s century-old business model.
The stakes are high, and the new Silverado is a royal flush.
The heart of any big pickup is its powertrain and GM surprisingly breaks with a tradition of all-new V-8 powerplants with its next-generation models, choosing instead to stick with 5.3L and 6.2L units brought to market five years ago. Don’t let looks fool you, though. Both add a new fuel-saving cylinder-deactivation technology that GM calls Dynamic Fuel Management. The automaker claims integration work behind DFM was equal to a new engine program.
DFM is a step beyond the Active Fuel Management system previously employed by the engines. It permits shutdown of anywhere between one and seven cylinders depending on the operating condition, whereas AFM allowed 8- or 4-cylinder operation.
The V-8 engines with DFM also operate with fewer than eight cylinders far more often than with AFM to reduce fuel consumption and raise city fuel efficiency 5%.
The latest V-8s receive a refined stop/start technology, too, and models with the 6.2L unit are mated to a new 10-speed automatic transmission specially tuned for smooth operation during cylinder-deactivation events. The 8-speed automatic found in upper-trim-level models with the 5.3L V-8 also is optimized for DFM.
EPA labels between the two generations of the 4-wheel-drive Silverado with the 6.2L V-8 show a 1 mpg (0.4 L/100 km) gain in city fuel economy to 16 mpg (6.8 L/100 km) and a static 20 mpg (8.5 L/100 km) on the highway. Combined-cycle fuel economy remains 17 mpg (7.2 L/100 km).
Unladen testing here returned combined readings of 20.6 mpg (11.4 L/100 km) and 19.3 mpg (12.2 L/100 km) in models outfitted with 6.2L and 5.3L V-8s, respectively. A short stint effortlessly pulling a trailer with ballast taking it to 6,600 lbs. (2,994 kg) saw efficiency drop to an unsurprising 9.0 mpg (3.8 L/100 km) with the 5.3L.
DFM Payback Deceiving, But Genuine
That’s a lot of armchair math to state the obvious: the new Silverado is not terribly more fuel-efficient on paper. But again, looks are deceiving because the vehicle sheds 450 lbs. (204 kg) off its predecessor yet is larger in every dimension, including 3 ins. (76 mm) of additional cab length in each model and up to 4 cu.-ft. (113 L) of extra interior volume.
Output ratings for the two V-8s go unchanged: The 6.2L delivers 420 hp and 460 lb.-ft. (624 Nm) of torque, while the 5.3L provides 355 hp and 383 lb.-ft. (519 Nm) of torque. However, towing and payload capacities rise, including a rather significant 340-lb. (164-kg) max payload increase to crew-cab models.
It’s also a hair quicker than the outgoing model, as the top-of-the-line Silverado High Country crew cabs outfitted with a standard 6.2L V-8 demonstrate time and again here, overtaking slower cars through short passing zones in the mountains and taking down steep grades with ease.
The familiar gurgle of the GM small block from a set of redesigned dual-chrome, integrated exhaust ports never sounded better. As for DFM, it shows no hint of the soft boom or steering wheel thrum that could accompany AFM. Stop/start is downright buttery.
As for interior roominess, the Silverado boasts the spaciousness of the open range here in northwest Wyoming, where only the burliest of ranch hands would come close to ever bumping their knee against the door panel or lower center console.
The extra cabin width allows for a large wireless phone charger and open-storage area to exist side-by-side in front of a deep center-console storage bin. Cupholders include rubber grippers to hold drinks firmly and there’s lots of space between them for each passenger to order extra-large sizes.
Important second-row couple distance, or the longitudinal space between a passenger’s hip and front-row seatback, grows 2 ins. (51 mm) in crew cab models and the difference is noticeable. Second-row passengers also sit more upright for added comfort, and there’s a lengthy 1,465 cu.-in. (24-L) storage bin under the bench and nifty 610 cu.-in. (10-L) cubbies for smaller items integrated into the seatbacks.
The layout of the center stack has been tweaked just a bit, although the knobs and buttons still are good and chunky for easy use with a gloved hand. The piano keys return to the bottom of the center stack but add direct access to additional items such as advanced driver-assistance systems and a convenient single-tap key to bring all four windows down simultaneously.
Unfortunately, the standard 8-in. (20-cm) infotainment screen within the High Country model tested here does not get any larger. If fact, the new trim surrounding the screen makes it look smaller than in the outgoing model. But it works much more quickly, with pages flipping as fast as an iPhone and a cleaner navigation screen that also emulates the device.
Nonetheless, the screen will look tiny to buyers cross-shopping the redesigned ’19 Ram 1500 with its optional 12-in. (30-cm) tablet-like infotainment center.
Chevy Silverado Democratizes Connectivity
An infotainment screen is available throughout the entire Silverado lineup for ’19 (there are eight models to choose from, up from six in the previous generation excluding editions), as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with projection. A 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot also is available. The signal was mostly strong during testing here, with the exception of a handful of blackouts in the back country. No surprise there when cell phone coverage doesn’t exist, either.
A new trailering app within the Silverado’s infotainment center uses a rear camera to help drivers guide toward a hitch, which anyone who has trailered will appreciate, and it provides a comprehensive checklist for towing safety. Owners can customize settings for a range of different trailers. It keeps track of trailer tire pressure and temperature and performs a nifty lighting check. All those functions can be done from a Chevy smartphone app, too, which includes a handy trailer theft alert.
An industry-first trailering label within the driver’s-side door jamb takes the guess work out of towing, displaying key information so owners can match their truck with its exact capacities. But unlike the Ford F-150, there is no available backup-assistance system for help launching a boat or backing into a garage, for example.
GM also sticks with a column-mounted gear shifter, which for generations of truck owners has served as a comfortable place to rest a right arm, but with most vehicles moving to dash- or console-mounted electric systems it looks dated. GM argues its customers prefer the column shifter for the space it frees up in the center console; perhaps so, but it just seems the automaker missed a chance here to innovate.
There is one more curious piece of equipment: A hood-mounted antenna rod. There is probably no question the antenna provides better reception, especially for AM radio and in wide expanses of open land such as here or west Texas. But it looks odd, especially in a truck that has moved past antiquated technologies such as the CD player.
There is a 3-in.-by-7-in. (7 cm-17 cm) available head-up display, which is graphically rich and easily among the largest in the industry, as well as an optional rear-camera mirror and other ADAS technologies such as a surround-vision camera; lane-keep and lane-departure warning; low-speed forward automatic braking; forward collision alert; front-pedestrian braking with last-second automatic braking; blindspot alerts and rear cross-traffic alerts. Those work alongside GM’s safety-seat technologies, which pulses when a safety system detects a threat.
Trail Boss Says, Move Over High Country
It takes a keen eye to notice broadside styling changes. In a word, fluid would best describe the updated look. Change is more distinct up front, where each new model receives restyled grilles. For example, the entry-level Work Truck receives a blacked-out grille with Chevrolet script to give it some genuine personality. Of course, the High Country model gets the most sophisticated treatment: An intricate two-tone chrome and bronze appearance that smartly matches trim along the redesigned steering wheel inside the cabin.
At the working end of the new Silverado is a larger cargo box, including a short box with 63 cu.-ft. (1,783 L) of volume thanks to a floor bed nearly 7 ins. (178 mm) wider than its predecessor. A dizzying 12 fixed tie-downs are enough to send the cattle running scared, and their strength has been doubled to 500 lbs. (227 kg) of force before bending.
And at the risk of ruffling feathers over at Ford, the Silverado’s cargo bed receives a rolled-formed high-strength steel bed. GM employs a higher-strength steel for the ’19 bed with yield strength to 500 megapascals from 340 megapascals previously. No landscape blocks or toolboxes were available to validate the bed’s strength, however, as GM has poked at Ford and its aluminum bed in Silverado advertising.
The High Country, with its 6.2L V-8, 10-speed automatic, gleaming LED lamps and luxury trappings, easily is the big bull in the Silverado herd. But pound-for-pound, the Silverado Custom Trail Boss gets our vote.
An LT Trail Boss tested here costs $6,000 less than the High Country and while it gets the 5.3L V-8 instead of the 6.2L V-8, it boasts factory-installed 2-in. (51-mm) suspension lift and the Z71 off-road package including a locking rear differential, skid plates, red recovery tow hooks, Rancho shocks, 20-in. painted aluminum wheels and Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac off-road tires.
As an LT-trim Silverado, the Trail Boss additionally receives updated front and rear suspensions incorporating new lightweight components such as composite second-stage rear leaf springs. It’s a big truck that drives small, just what today’s pickup enthusiast demands.
The Silverado lineup will grow further later this year and into 2019 with the addition of a turbocharged gasoline 4-cyl. and a 3.0L inline 6-cyl. diesel, a pair of engines targeting fuel economy and light-duty pulling power. A gasoline V-6 carries over.
But as it stands today, the Silverado range offers the broadest choice in its history with enhancements that go far beyond the naked eye.