Join Date: Jan 2002
First review of new Silverado pickup...
Even though the all-new 2007 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups are already on sale and in customers’ hands, General Motors hoped the media would wait until Nov. 27 to tell you about driving their trucks at a recent company-sponsored program in Arizona.
We are abiding by GM’s request and haven’t said a peep in this story about what we learned in hundreds of miles logged over highways, byways and desert back roads in the new trucks. But rather than wait another month to give you our take on the trucks, we took a test drive courtesy of a local Chevy dealer and our drive impressions are based on that journey.
We just thought you’d rather know what we think now instead of waiting a month or two after you’ve already bought your new truck.
In March 2005, more than two years into development of General Motors’ latest full-size pickups, word came from management that these big trucks needed to be in the market 13 weeks ahead of schedule.
GM’s brain trust, faced with a slackening demand for its profitable but aging fleet of full-size trucks and sport/utility vehicles and weak demand for most of the rest of the products in its portfolio, saw these vehicles as its best opportunity to dig out of a multibillion-dollar hole. They also heard whispers that Toyota was planning an early 2007 debut for its all-new, full-scale Tundra. GM didn’t want to come in second in the truck race—and definitely not to its rival for the title of world’s largest automaker—which prompted the pull-ahead.
“Obviously, these pickups are hugely important,” said GM product development vice chairman Bob Lutz. “With the volume they represent, they’re enormously important.”
What kind of volume? Try 998,614 Silverados and Sierras (in 2005), and 10 million since 1998 when the previous generation went on sale.
The 2007 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks, on sale now in limited quantities, represent an enormous leap on the truck evolutionary scale. But they also represent a gigantic step for GM’s product development process.
“We called it BHAG—that stands for Big Hairy Audacious Giant,” said Jully Burau, chief engineer on the full-size trucks. BHAG was an extended-cab, short-box pickup that was built and tested using GM’s powerful new virtual-engineering computer system. The truck is the first product in GM history to be fully developed, engineered and validated in a virtual world before the initial preproduction prototype was built.
Burau said virtual engineering became critical when she had to chop more than three months out of the development timeline, most of it from product validation where engineers make sure all parts fit together, safety systems perform as expected, and durability is assessed.
That virtual-engineering system is now in use by GM’s worldwide product development team under a structure Lutz realigned in January to take advantage of GM’s global resources. In addition to product development design and engineering functions, manufacturing and purchasing are aligned globally.
First to market, though, are these 2007 pickups, based in large part on the already successful and highly lauded 2007 full-size SUVs (Suburban, Tahoe, Yukon) introduced in the past year. Making a pickup from the ute required added frame stiffness, and increased payload and towing capacities. As a result, the truck gets a unique frame from the A-pillar rearward, rear leaf springs (vs. five-link coil springs on the utes), and splayed rear shock absorbers that GM says help smooth the unladen ride while readily handling heavy loads. Otherwise, the truck gets most of the improvements built into the utes: rack-and-pinion steering (replacing a recirculating-ball setup), coil-over front shocks (vs. the old model’s torsion bar), stiffer engine mounts, wider front and rear tracks, Eaton locking rear differential, stronger brakes, and StabiliTrak stability control (standard on crew cab, optional on extended cab).
The trucks come in three cab configurations, three bed lengths, multiple trim levels, five suspension setups and with a raft of engine options. At launch, only the four-speed automatic transmission is available (no manual transmission is offered); Sierra Denali will get a new six-speed automatic when it arrives next spring. Other models won’t get the six-speed until 2008 (2009 model year), but program leader Gary White makes no excuses: “It would be a problem if we didn’t have segment-leading fuel economy.”
GM says the 5.3-liter trucks make a combined average of 21.6 mpg (rwd) and 20.5 (4wd); EPA labels show 22 highway/16 city for the rwd, 20 highway/16 city for 4wd. Once the six-speeds come to the entire line, White estimates they’ll be good for a 3 to 5 percent gain in fuel economy across the board.
GM developed two distinct interiors for the trucks. The “luxury” LTZ interior, borrowed directly from the SUVs, features twin bucket seats and permanent center console, low center stack, single glovebox and passenger-car-like door panels and armrests. But for those who have grown accustomed to the functional interiors in GM trucks, the company retained a more traditional interior. Dubbed “Pure American Pickup,” the alternative interior retains the driver-centric center stack and handy dashboard storage spots, while adding upper and lower gloveboxes, huge armrest grab handles, and a 40-20-40 split front benchseat with a lockable storage bin under the center of the seat.
Exterior styling isn’t radically different, but a careful observer will note a faster windshield angle, more distinctively sculpted fender and hood bulges, and tighter shutlines.
Like the large SUVs that preceded them, however, there is a huge improvement in the driving quality of these new trucks. We test-drove a Silverado Crew Cab Z71 4x4 and found the chassis steady and competent over a variety of road surfaces, its steering crisp with a solid on-center feel, and ample power from the 5.3-liter V8. Road and tire noise was minimal, and the ride was smooth and predictable, especially for a truck fitted with an off-road package. Brakes, known for being squishy on GM trucks, felt confident and strong.
We were particularly impressed with the Eaton locking rear differential, which takes hold under 25 mph whenever sensors detect a 25-rpm variance in the rear wheels. We tested the system in 2wd mode on wet, leaf-covered pavement, with traction control and stability control defeated. We noted a brief moment of wheelspin, but just as the rear end started to wag, the locking differential hooked up, straightening the truck immediately and launching it forward with straight-line authority. Though many owners want four-wheel drive whether they need it or not, buyers in most climates would be well-served by opting for the inexpensive locking differential on a rwd truck, with savings coming on the sticker price, in fuel economy and in long-term maintenance.
We also like the Z60 performance suspension with its 20-inch wheels and tires, paired with the 6.0-liter V8 and an optional 4.10:1 rear axle. We’ll like it even more when Chevy decides to offer those options in the lighter-weight, regular-cab short-bed truck.
Can you say SS?
Not my kind of vehicle, but it is good to know that GM feels the need to improve even their pickup lineup.