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BBC Autos

Review

From Chevrolet, the real cowboy Cadillac

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In the 1970s, following the esprit du jour, my family went "back to nature", moving from the suburbs to the country. Correspondingly, my parents bought a pickup truck, because, well, because.

It was an ancient 1956 Dodge with the word "DeLuxe" on the dashboard in curly metallic script. This – my mother explained – indicated that it was the opulently equipped model: it had a heater. Today, according to Chevrolet, some 30% of pickup buyers in the US spend more than $40,000 on their truck. DeLuxe, indeed.

Americans do love their pickups, and none more than Texans, so it was fitting that Chevrolet invited BBC Autos to saddle up the 2014 Silverado in the Lone Star State. The unveiling of the refreshed Chevrolet was headlined by the announcement of a new flagship model, the Silverado High Country, a lavishly appointed luxury truck that takes aim at the Ford F-150 Limited and the Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn.

As the auto industry staggers out of recession, one might believe shoppers would be looking for affordable, bare-bones work trucks. But buyers are actually snapping up heavily optioned pickups as quickly as their manufacturers can build them. The new Silverado offers features and amenities that were unimaginable in the days of 1950s DeLuxe trucks, including heated and cooled seats, a heated steering wheel, a Bose audio system and electric power steering with a decidedly carlike feel. That said, progress costs money. The price tag for the tested, not-quite-top-of-the-line LTZ model was $50,000, and a V6-equipped LT model tops $42,000. Look for a fully loaded example of the even cushier High Country to sticker in well above $50,000.

The average age of a pickup truck on US roads is 10.4 years, notes Chevrolet. When the hypothetical owner of that 2003 truck arrives at the dealer, he or she should be prepared to feel shock and awe. Shock at the high prices and awe at the amazing new equipment. The new Silverado delivers on both counts.

Chevy is rolling out the more popular, and more expensive, four-door Silverado Crew Cab model this autumn, with four-door double-cab and two-door regular-cab body styles following later. In the Crew Cab, rear seat access is much improved, thanks to larger rear doors. And the rear seat bottoms fold up against the seatbacks, creating a broad, completely flat load floor behind the front seats.

Outside, a tip of the Stetson to Chevrolet for a great new detail: a small step carved into the corners of the Silverado’s rear bumper, along with a handle-shaped opening atop the corner of the bed, making access to the bed easier without dropping the tailgate.  This simple solution is superior to the fold-out step that Ford offers on the F-150. “We think this is simple and elegant, with no moving parts,” explained executive chief engineer Jeff Luke.

Providing the power are revised versions of three familiar engines. Each is thoroughly contemporary, with aluminium construction, variable valve timing, direct fuel injection and fuel-saving cylinder deactivation. They also happen to employ old-fashioned (and well-proven) pushrods to actuate two valves per cylinder, rather than newfangled overhead cams and four-valve heads.

On the road, the tested 355hp 5.3-litre V8 and 285hp 4.2-litre V6 whoosh the Silverado forward with little discernable effort, and the six-speed automatic slides imperceptibly from gear to gear. An optional 6.2-liter V8 with 403hp arrives later; it was not available for testing. Significantly, the Silverado’s transmission is operated by a chunky steering-column-mounted shifter, even in up-level models. It remains vastly preferable to the carlike centre-console-mounted shifters offered by Ford, Ram and Toyota. The driver can operate the Silverado’s shifter with both hands on the wheel and quickly determine its position without looking down.

Driving in wide-open spaces around San Antonio, with mostly other full-size pickups and SUVs on the road, the Silverado feels just the right size. It is quiet and easy to drive, but still very much a truck. The Ram 1500’s available air-spring suspension does provide an advantage on rough or broken pavement, when the Silverado’s Conestoga-grade leaf-sprung solid rear axle tends to bounce. Otherwise, however, the Chevrolet’s ride is smooth and the electric power steering is expertly programmed to give the driver a feel for the road while still making light work of helming the behemoth.

Maybe it is good to have those leaf springs; they connect the gracious new Silverado with the austere work pickup of the past, trucks like that DeLuxe ‘56 Dodge, heater and all.

Vital stats: 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ Crew Cab 4WD

  • Base price: $42,684 (plus $995 destination)
  • As tested: $49,930 (plus $995 destination)
  • EPA fuel economy: 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
  • Drivetrain: 355-hp 5.3-liter V8, six-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
  • Standard equipment: 18-inch aluminium wheels, projector beam headlights, eight inch touch screen infotainment display, back-up camera, tow package
  • Major options: GPS navigation, heated and cooled front seats, power moonroof, lane departure warning system, forward collision warning system, 20-inch polished alloy wheels, adjustable pedals, Bose premium audio system, heated steering wheel
Driving in wide-open spaces around San Antonio, with mostly other full-size pickups and SUVs on the road, the Silverado feels just the right size.

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