First drive: 2019 Chevrolet Silverado

Chevy looks to leapfrog the field with its latest half-ton overhaul.

More and more, we talk about pickups the way we used to talk about sedans. The emphasis seems to have shifted from capability and ruggedness to comfort and convenience. That's no accident, of course. As mainstream buyers started to eyeball trucks, it was inevitable that manufacturers would build to the trend.

Love it or hate it, the pickup truck has become the commuter car of choice for a massive chunk of the American driving public. But while a large number of buyers may want a truck, they don't all want the same truck.

If you think the luxury car market is over-saturated with options, do yourself a favor and just go to your happy place for the next paragraph or two, because the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 is offered in eight different trims with six different engines and three different transmissions.

Not every trim can be had with every engine, and each engine is mated to a specific transmission, but the long and short of it is that you can get the Silverado in 19 different configurations of just those three variables, and we haven't even touched on things like cab size or bed length yet.

And keep in mind that we're only talking about the Silverado 1500. There's also Silverado HD and a forthcoming, medium-duty variant (which Chevy insists is different enough to be a unique model).

The spread

To make it a little easier to understand the 2019 Silverado's trim walk, we're going to break it down into three categories: base, mid-grade and premium.

More basic models come in three flavors: Work Truck (WT), Custom and Custom Trail Boss. All three come standard with the 4.3L V6 (305 horsepower, 283 lb-ft of torque) and max out at 8,000 pounds of towing and 2,500 pounds of payload. Those bump up to 11,000 pounds and 2,430 pounds, respectively, if you go for the optional 5.3L V8, which makes 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque. In these trucks, the 5.3L is a carry-over and paired to the older 6-speed automatic.

What differentiates these three? Well, Work Truck is the absolute base of base models. Custom is effectively an appearance package, adding nothing in terms of feature content but dressing the truck up to look more like an LT. Custom Trail Boss adds the Z71 off-road package (which we'll break down later), a two-inch suspension lift, Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac all-terrain tires and monotube shocks.

In the middle of the pack, we find the LT and the RST. Both come with the new 2.7L turbocharged four-cylinder as a standard engine, with the 5.3L V8 and 3.0L I6 Diesel available as upgrades. The four-banger makes 310 horsepower and 348 lb-ft of torque (max 7,200 pounds towing/2,280 payload). The 5.3L V8 makes the same power as the variant found in the more basic models, but comes with a newer eight-speed automatic transmission and features an updated cylinder deactivation system. It also gets a bump in max towing (up to 11,600 pounds) but a dip in payload capacity (2,190).

The diesel is not yet available, and Chevy has not finalized its power output or EPA figures, though the company insists it compares favorably to the competition. It's paired to GM's new ten-speed automatic.

LT makes all of the exterior upgrades of the Custom trim standard and gets you interior upgrades like the 8-inch infotainment screen. This is also the first trim where leather seating is available. LT is Silverado's bread-and-butter trim, with popular equipment options available for those who want more content. RST features what Chevy calls a "street performance" look, with LED lighting, body-colored trim and available 22-inch wheels.

The premium end of the spectrum is occupied by the LT Trail Boss, the LTZ and the High Country. All of these come with the 5.3L V8 and eight-speed automatic as standard equipment. LTZ and High Country models are also available with GM's ubiquitous 6.2L V8 (making 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque here) or the aforementioned diesel, both of which are mated to the ten-speed automatic. The 6.2L offers 12,200 pounds of towing capacity and 2,100 pounds of payload. For the time being, these are the best numbers for the 2019 Silverado.

While we're calling the LT Trail Boss a premium offering here due to the standard V8, its equipment set is based on that of the mid-grade LT. Like the Custom Trail Boss, it's differentiated by the Z71 package and other off-road features. LTZ takes the RST's premium looks and adds interior content to match, like standard leather seating.

High Country is where the price tag really starts shooting up. It goes up against its competitors' Limited trims, both of which have been making noise for punching ever deeper into the luxury space and boasting price tags to match. You'll find standard leather, stitched dash accents, wood grain trim and a power tailgate, along with a plethora of other convenience features.

Z71 is now available on every Silverado model, and it bundles Rancho twin-tube shocks, hill descent control, a two-speed transfer case and locking rear differential (non-Z71 4x4 models get a single-speed transfer case), skid plates, a beefed-up air filter, Bridgestone Dueler all-terrain tires and dual exhaust outlets on V8 models.

The updates

Silverado's engineers will proudly boast that the new truck is larger and lighter. You'd probably expect the biggest weight savings to be in models equipped with the 2.7L four-cylinder. Not so. The most significant gap to the outgoing truck is actually the 5.3L V8 short cab/short box configuration, and it's down 450 pounds from the variant it replaces.

Close to 200 pounds of that weight reduction comes from the body and frame, each roughly 90 pounds lighter than before. Unlike Ford, GM elected to stick with old-fashioned steel for its fixed panels and frame. "Swing" panels (anything on a hinge) are all aluminum, including the tailgate.

Chevy offers four different tailgate packages, ranging from a simple manual piece to a power up/down unit on higher trims--a feature currently exclusive to Silverado in this segment. Other small updates, like the use of composite second-stage springs on some variants, shaved even more weight.

The new Silverado also boasts a longer wheelbase and slightly increased overall length. They didn't increase in proportion, which means the new truck has more space between the wheels (and, consequently, shorter overhangs, particularly in the front).

To make better use of that extra room, Chevy took the opportunity to re-think its bed construction. A new five-piece configuration opens up more than six inches of lateral bed space (wall-to-wall), giving the Silverado's short box more raw volume (up to 20%) than even its competitors' standard-length beds.

The new bed also offers 21 total tie-downs (12 fixed, nine moveable). The 12 fixed tie-downs can individually handle a 500-pound load before deforming. Using multiple tie-downs obviously distributes those forces over them; in other words, 500 pounds is not the max you can secure. 120-volt power and bed lighting are also available.

Inside, the Silverado gets lots of behind-the-scenes upgrades, but not so many visual ones. This was intentional, or so Chevy's program managers say, anyway, claiming that customer feedback overwhelmingly indicated that the interior didn't need to change.

That said, some of the updates are pretty cool, including the new built-in trailering app which allows owners to manage and control features such as available integrated hitch and mirror cameras along with dealer-installed trailer cameras and trailer tire pressure monitoring sensors.

Owners can create profiles for their trailers which will allow them to track mileage/hours and maintenance schedules and store dialed-in trailer brake settings, diagnose electrical issues (such as dead trailer lamps) and remotely run a light test from a companion application available for smartphones.

The experience

We had just one day to spend with the 2019 Silverado, so we had to triage our time behind the wheel (not to mention jockey with two-dozen other journalists). Chevy says that more than half of its trucks leave dealer lots with one of the two available gasoline V8s, so that's where we chose to focus.

Chevy's route took us on a circuitous route from Jackson, Wyoming, west to Victor, Idaho, and then south and east (and back over the border) to Alpine on our way back to home base.

Jackson itself sits at roughly 6,200 feet, and we saw elevations as high as 8,400 feet over Teton Pass. The 2.7L turbo-four was probably downright lively in this environment, but the 5.3L V8 in our LT Trail Boss felt the effects of altitude. It was more than capable of maintaining speed through the Pass, but it worked its eight-speed automatic pretty hard to do it.

What impressed us the most about the Trail Boss was just how quiet and composed it was. Sure, sharper impacts would get the Z71's off-road suspension a bit jiggly, but that's to be expected from a stiffly-sprung, solid-axle half-ton truck. We spent the entire drive cruising with the radio off and never noticed any objectionable levels of road or wind noise. Color us impressed.

In Alpine (about 600 feet lower than Jackson), we grabbed a 5.3L LTZ model with a 6,000-pound load behind it and took it out on US-26 for a taste of towing. Between the elevation and the load, the "little" V8 was working hard, but managed to negotiate curvy roads with 55- and 65-mile-per-hour speed limits with very little drama. Acceleration was a bit leisurely, but, all things considered, it was more than adequate.

Alpine also gave us the chance to take some Z71 models on a purpose-built off-road course set up just for the occasion. It was a short course designed to briefly highlight each of the package's prominent features--logs for the locking rear differential; a pit for hill descent control; rocks for articulation and the all-terrain tires; and mud puddles because, hell, they're just plain fun.

Did we learn much from it? Honestly, no. It was far too small and controlled for any meaningful evaluation. Just know that, given a wide enough trail, a Z71-equipped Silverado can hang just fine. That shouldn't come as a huge shock.

From Alpine, we headed back east in a 6.2L High Country. Where the 5.3L V8 got the job done just fine, the 6.2L is an absolute gem. It pulled much harder than its 10-percent power advantage would suggest, and it felt and sounded much better doing it. Even with the Dynamic Fuel Management system working in the background, it never put a foot wrong, and it delivered better than 20 MPG during the course of our drive. It's a shame only 10 percent of all Silverados are sold with this wonderful engine.

The catch

By choosing to focus our seat time on V8 models, we effectively pigeon-holed ourselves into the premium end of the Silverado spectrum, but we managed to set aside some time to sit in the lower trims for comparison's sake.

If we're being honest, crawling around inside the various trims just gave us a sense of déjà vu. A redesign this significant seems like the perfect opportunity to make a splash in the one place customers see most. If GM's customers don't care, then maybe we're off-base, but having spent time in the new Ram 1500, we're willing to bet at least some buyers who have no particular brand loyalty might find their eyes wandering.

Chevy's response may be to argue that the Silverado can do "truck stuff" better than the Ram (or the F-150, for that matter), but that presupposes that all half-ton buyers are actually interested in doing "truck stuff." One look around a Trader Joe's parking lot will demonstrate otherwise. More to the point, you don't offer 19 variations of a truck if all of your buyers are after the same thing.

Focusing for a moment on the premium end of the segment, we're of the belief that Chevrolet is becoming increasingly hamstrung by the existence of its GMC sister brand when it comes to really exploring the luxury truck space. Sure, it's all the family, but the very existence of Denali puts an effective ceiling on Chevrolet's efforts to explore that profitable niche.

Leftlane's bottom line

The 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 is, as expected, one heck of a truck. We're a little let down by what feels like a carry-over interior design, but it doesn't detract significantly from a comfortable, capable package that is sure to remain a powerhouse seller in a market hungry for half-tons.

2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country Crew Cab base price, $56,300; as-tested, $65,655
6.2L engine, $2,495; 22" polished wheels, $2,000; Technology package, $1,625; Iridescent Pearl finish, $995; Safety package II, $745; destination, $1,495

2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ Crew Cab base price, $48,700; as-tested, $54,730
LTZ Convenience package, $1,550; 20" polished wheels, $1,100; Iridescent Pearl finish, $995; Safety package I, $890; destination, $1,495.

2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT Trail Boss Crew Cab base price, $48,300; as-tested, $54,095
Convenience package, $1,805; Convenience package II, $1,420; 20" painted wheels, $800; trailer brake controller, $275; destination, $1,495

Exterior photos by Byron Hurd. Interior photos courtesy of Chevrolet.

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