Payne: Hearty Chevy Silverado serves meat and potatoes

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 30, 2018

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I love the pickup wars for the same reason I love muscle car bouts. Both are uniquely American segments boasting big engines, big capability, and Big Three automakers clawing at each other to be King of the Hill.

The Battle of Muscle has been white hot in recent years as General Motors, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler introduced their latest weapons — Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger — boasting state-of-the-art performance. The three brands bring unique talents and flag-waving partisans scream themselves hoarse urging them on. Crossing sides is a traitorous act — the partisan divide makes D.C. politics look like tiddlywinks.

Camaro partisans cheer their warrior’s handling, Mustang fans adore their gorgeous-styling, and Challenger faithful recite Herculean horsepower figures. When the armies clash and the V-8s roar, you can hear them for miles. They are light infantry compared to pickup battles.

The Truck Wars are far more consequential because, with millions of sales at stake, they are the core moneymakers of Detroit’s Three. Tens of thousands of standard pickups are sold every year to company fleets, flooding the landscape with worker ants doing the daily essentials of American commerce: building, landscaping, towing.

With this summer’s introduction of the long-awaited 2019 Chevy Silverado pickup, the truckmakers — like their muscle car cousins — have finally lined up their state-of-the-art steeds.

While Detroit pickups are loaded with power, tech and 4WD capability, they have distinct signatures. The Ford F-150 struts high-tech with an aluminum chassis, turbocharged engines and semi-autonomous trailering. Ram (independent of Dodge since 2009) wows with knockout looks, sculpted logos and a Tesla-like, iPad console. GMC’s Sierra wows with style and 6-way bed (tune in for next week’s review).

Chevy? It’s the meat and potatoes brand.

Eschewing the exotic tech and jewelry of its cross-town rivals, Silverado is an all-around star — a fundamentally sound, reliable utility player that does everything well. So good are its fundamentals, in fact, that you wish it would borrow a little flash from its Chevy Camaro and Bolt EV siblings.

Take Silverado’s rock-solid chassis.

When Ford introduced its tin F-150 four years ago, all the smart people declared it was a game-changer. Aluminum was the future. Chevy and Ram had to follow. And like with so many things these days, the smart set was wrong. Silverado’s exterior plating consists of aluminum doors, hood and tailgate to be sure — but the core body is virtually all high-strength steel.

Using innovative welding to bind the bits together, Chevy makes the lightest, most athletic bod in town. The extraordinary engineering reminds of cousin Camaro — hands down the best-handling pony car ever — as I tossed the big brute around the Teton mountains outside of Jackson, Wyoming.

Utilizing hydraulic engine mounts and softened leaf springs, my Silverado LT Trail Boss felt small under my whip, the behemoth rotating through hairpin turns, then downshifting smoothly to stay in the meat of the V-8’s torque band.

It’s a Camaro with a bed.

I pined for more. Imagine if Chevy exploited the Silverado’s gym-toned physique as it does the Camaro. Rather than limiting the Trail Boss performance model to a 5.3-liter V-8, what if Chevy gave it a supercharged, 6.2-liter engine like the Camaro ZL1? Or a battery pack like Volt for low-end torque?

High-tech Ford makes a Mustang GT350 to battle Camaro. And an F150 Raptor super truck with the same guts that power the Ford GT supercar. Where’s Chevy’s Raptor? Ah, perchance to dream.

Silverado is content in the meat of the market. Starting with the segment’s meatiest bed.

In a true test of Ford customer loyalty, Chevy bounced a tool kit off Ford’s box — puncturing holes in the tin. Ford customers yawned and snapped up the F-series in record numbers. But the demonstration left no doubt of the Silverado’s toughness with beds made out of rolled steel.

“The working end of every pickup is the bed. It’s like the head of a good hammer,” said GM product boss Mark Reuss, when introducing Silverado last January. “I don’t think we’d get much work done with an aluminum hammer.”

Oh, these war generals are tough. Reuss & Co. backs up the steely talk with truckdom’s biggest bed and most versatile tailgates. Silverado scalloped out fistfuls of room, adding seven inches of width and a whopping 12 tie-downs.

Where Ford wows with optional side-rail cleat tech and Ram packs the rails with toolboxes, Silverado just goes yuge. The standard Chevy bed is bigger than competitors’ long boxes. Meat and potatoes stuff.

Beyond the bed, Chevy is content to upgrade its cameras and sensors (auto check of your trailer’s tire pressures!) for better tow management, but doesn’t bother to counter Ford’s semi-autonomous trailer backup innovation.

Elsewhere, Silverado doesn’t shy from tech, and its automatic liftgate is a first, complete with remote operation. Other firsts include an available, 2.7-liter turbo-4 engine (old nail V-6 is the base) and head-up display.

Premium-trim interiors pale in comparison to the exquisite suites found in competitors like F-150 (cowboy-chic stitching) and Ram (12-inch tablet screen). The Silverado High Countrys I tested weren’t obviously different inside than the 10-grand cheaper, black LT — its seats and console devoid of fancy embroidery.

Chevy would rather talk to you about its cavernous rear seat (expanded 3 inches courtesy of that clever chassis) where you can spread out while on the work site, working on your laptop via 4G Wi-Fi connectivity and scanning documents on the scanner you stored in the clever storage bins integrated into the seatbacks.

The exterior is more aesthetically pleasing, if still not up to the standards of GMC’s Sistine Chapel grille. The old, blocky fenders have been smoothed out with some beautiful stampings, while narrow LED lights — more Camaro inspiration here – lend the grille a touch of grace and menace.

The LEDs come in with the mid-level, LT option. The trim packaging is part of a major expansion that groups Silverado’s diverse, 585,000-strong customer base into three groups: Work truck (corporate fleet customers), LT (small biz owners, off-roaders), and high trim (LTZ and High Country society).

There’s a truck for every taste as long as you like meat and potatoes. Eclectic tastes looking for Raptor speed or King Ranch cream can go elsewhere.

Put on your jersey, bring your beverage cooler, and get a seat at the pickup wars. It’s gonna be good.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2019 Chevrolet Silverado

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear and four-wheel drive, five-passenger pickup

Price: $36,095 base ($54,095 LT Crew Cab 5.3-liter V-8 and $62,290 High Country Crew 6.2-liter V-8 as tested)

Powerplant: 4.3-liter V-6; 2.7-liter Turbo-4; 5.3-liter V-8; 6.2-liter V-8

Power: 285 horsepower, 305 pound-feet torque (4.3-liter V-6); 310 horsepower, 328 pound-feet torque (2.7-liter Turbo-4); 355 horsepower, 385 pound-feet torque (5.3-liter V-8); 420 horsepower, 460 pound-feet torque (6.2-liter V-8)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic (V-6, 5.3L V-8); 8-speed automatic (Turbo-4, 5.3L V-8); 10-speed automatic (6.2L V-8)

Performance: 0-60 mph, est. 5.7 seconds; Towing: 12,200 lbs. (4WD 5.3-liter V-8 Crew Bac, mnftr); Payload: 2,180 lbs. (2WD 5.3-liter V-8 Crew Bac, mnftr)

Weight: 5,008 pounds (4WD, 5.3-liter V-8 Crew as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 15 city/21 highway/17 combined (4WD 5.3L V-8); 16 city/20 highway/17 combined (4WD 6.2L V-8)

Report card

Highs: Big bed, big interior; fun to drive

Lows: Homely grille designs; supercharged Raptor fighter, please?

Overall: 4 stars

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