You have to credit the folks at Chevrolet for having confidence in their product. The drive of the new Silverado, replete with a new frame, body and powertrains, was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, over a mile above sea level. According to rule-of-thumb math, the naturally aspirated engines were down about 20 percent on power due to altitude, yet Chevrolet had me drive both on- and off-road and do a stint pulling a 6,000-pound trailer around. And yeah, power did not disappoint.
In some respects, however, the seemingly perverse move makes perfect sense. Trucks are more popular in Wyoming than bicycles are in Amsterdam. The state’s wide-open spaces, mountains and dirt make the bigger-in-every-dimension Silverado look diminutive against the landscape. That’s generally true across the truck lineup, but as an example, a crew cab short-box truck is 1.2 inches wider, 1.5 taller and 1.7 inches longer than the 2018 model — now 231.7 inches long or just a few inches shy of 20 feet long. They’re big, but also lighter, more fuel efficient and more capable.
Chevrolet took an evolutionary, not revolutionary, approach with the Silverado in terms of updates. Nothing huge, just iterative improvements across every attribute to add up to big gains. The frame, for example, was divided into smaller chunks and built using several different grades of mild- to ultra-high-strength steel. Using different grades in specific areas allowed the use of thinner-gauge metal, which makes the frame 88 pounds lighter than the outgoing model, all while improving rigidity and crash strength.
Ford replaced the F-150's entire body with aluminum in 2015, which they claimed made the truck up to 700 pounds lighter in certain configurations. Chevrolet has started down the same path, but with a different mindset. Steel, Chevrolet thinks, is still the preferred metal for much of the truck, but the hood, doors, tailgate and other bits here and there are made of the lighter-weight metal. That and more use of the various grades of steel cut 88 pounds from the body. Between the 176 pounds engineered out of the body and frame and a poring over of all aspects of the truck to find every bit of extra weight possible, the Silverado is as much as 450 pounds lighter than the previous truck, depending on configuration and engine choice.
Chevrolet has two new engines for the Silverado among the now six offered. Both are turbocharged — a 2.7-liter inline-four and a 3.0-liter diesel inline-six — yet neither is ready to drive, so I tried the 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter V8s with a new system called Dynamic Fuel Management. Whereas the previous system, Active Fuel Management, switched between running either four or eight cylinders, DFM can independently shut off any one, or combination of cylinders, to more precisely match torque requested from the driver to torque output of the engine.
Less torque wasted means less fuel burned and, according to Chevrolet, DFM is 9 percent more efficient than AFM. The system works by using solenoids to control oil sent to each and every one of the 16 two-piece hydraulic lifters. When oil is cut off, the lifters effectively collapse and do not open the valves of that cylinder. The system takes readings 80 times a second to continually adjust cylinder activity, and Chevrolet found that with the new system the Silverado uses fewer than eight cylinders more than 60 percent of the time. So, if you have DFM, you can no longer say your Silverado has a V8, but up to a V8.
DFM combined with new transmissions offered — eight-speeds with the 5.3-liter and 10-speeds with the 6.2 — net a 5 percent improvement in city fuel economy. All the new powertrains are available on the LT trim and up. If you prefer tried-and-true over shiny and new, the Work Truck, Custom and Custom Trail Boss trims stick with the last generation’s 4.3-liter V6 and 5.3-liter V8, both with six-speed automatics and AFM.
Winding my way around Wyoming and Idaho, if I need to distill the experience of the 2019 Silverado down to one word, it’s civility. The driving feel of a fully independent suspension-equipped passenger car and that of a body-on-frame truck with solid rear axle are starting to converge. Both ride and comfort continue to make big gains in trucks — even when a truck is equipped to tow over 12,000 pounds. It doesn’t feel overly stiff or unbalanced when the truck is unladen.
That’s not because of trick electronic shocks of other programming wizardry, but old-school strength. Because the frame is stiffer and stronger, engineers had more flexibility with bushings, shocks and springs, the latter of which could be softer than before. Softer springs more easily soak up road irregularities and keep the wheels true to the road in a wider variety of conditions. Even when the going gets tough, the steering wheel never jerks out of your hand, nor does the truck struggle to stay on its intended path.
It’s like you stepped into a big and tall Impala. Even as you pull out of the parking lot, steering response is similar, as is the weight and, hell, the willingness to turn in. This is not a wag of the finger at the Impala, mind you, but a tip of the hat to the Silverado. Brakes, too, have the correct initial bite, and pedal travel is similar to a large sedan. Noise, vibration and harshness is similarly filtered. Regardless of the conditions the path threw our way, my co-driver and I found ourselves debating ideal winter home locations and who had better BBQ recipes at a normal volume. We’d all but forgotten it was a big ol’ truck until it was time to parallel park.
And that holds true for towing, as well. With either an eight- or a 10-speed transmission to keep you in the power band, there was no surprise that, even at altitude, there was plenty of pull. It was remarkable just how little the driving experience changes when hauling a load. The truck does not squat on its hind legs, nor does the steering get light. All the things mentioned above hold true. Of course, foot to the floor, the 6.2-liter and 10-speed combination gets up to highway speeds noticeably quicker. But either engine completes the task with little fuss.
Two of the Silverado's three new trims end with the title "Trail Boss." That means your truck has the Z71 off-road package, is lifted 2 inches higher off the ground than standard and has a locking rear differential, skid plates, different shocks and 18-inch Goodyear Duratrac off-road tires. I drove it successfully over a log pile, a mud puddle and a steep incline and descent. It’s sweet and handled the obstacles with little trouble. But my suspicion is that the vast majority of Trail Boss trucks will be purchased for the look and take up two spaces in the mall parking lot. Call me a cynic if you like.
Eight trims, six engines and three different cabs are offered on the Silverado for 2019. Chevrolet is taking a scatter-shot approach to the truck-buying public: Offer more options and increase the chances of one fitting the needs of a potential buyer. A basic Work Truck comes with a V6 and rear-wheel drive and starts at $31,290. The optioned-up all-wheel-drive crew-cab High Country I tested stickered at $65,655. While not literally true, there’s effectively an infinite number of choices in between.
No matter what your price point or desire, Chevrolet almost certainly built a Silverado to try and fit it. How well it fits is not for us to say, but we can attest that it’s built on a rock-solid foundation of civility.
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $31,290
As Tested Price: $65,655
Powertrain: 5.3- or 6.2-liter V8, six-, eight- or 10-speed automatic, RWD or AWD
Output: 355 or 420 hp, 383 or 460 lb-ft
Pros: Loaded with civility and creature comforts. Bigger than ever.
Cons: Bigger than ever.