What's New for 2012
The 2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Hybrid now offers an available hard-drive-based navigation and audio system.
Make no mistake, the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Hybrid is a real hybrid. This isn't the mild hybrid Chevy introduced seven years ago in the previous-generation Silverado. Critics denounced that truck as little more than a "green poseur" with barely negligible fuel economy increases through its start-stop system.
The 2012 Silverado Hybrid utilizes a technically advanced and sophisticated hybrid powertrain that's constantly selecting the most efficient means of moving along -- whether that's under full electric power, the gas engine alone or a combination of both.
The result is a full-size crew-cab pickup that gets 20 mpg around town. That's better than a compact four-cylinder-powered Toyota Tacoma, if you compare EPA estimates. And when needed, you still get a big V8 with enough torque to get this heavy truck out of its own way. This "two-mode" hybrid powertrain was co-developed by GM, the old DaimlerChrysler company and BMW. The system juggles the operation of the 332-horsepower 6.0-liter V8 engine, two electric motors and multiple gearsets and clutches. A nickel-metal hydride battery pack is located underneath the rear bench seat to run the electric motors, and a regenerative braking system helps recharge that battery pack during deceleration.
With the electric motors kicked in, the combined output is 379 hp. And to maximize fuel efficiency, the V8 will shut down four cylinders under certain conditions including light-load cruising or when driving downhill. Other fuel-saving tricks for the Hybrid include low-rolling-resistance tires, a tonneau cover to help reduce vehicle drag and an electrically driven air-conditioning compressor.
Sounds good on paper so far, but you'd better check your wallet. Available only as a crew cab, the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid costs more than $39,000. That's $7,000 more than a comparably equipped Silverado LT with a 5.3-liter V8, but you'll likely only save about $550 every year in fuel savings according to the EPA. We don't have to tell you that doesn't exactly make financial sense. Add in an uneven power delivery and unremarkable towing capacity for a full-size truck, and the Silverado Hybrid's appeal diminishes further.
So what's an eco-minded truck buyer to do? Well, the base V6s found in the Ford F-150 and Toyota Tundra provide combined fuel economy within 2-3 mpg of the Silverado Hybrid, while costing much less. They aren't available with a lot of equipment, however, and don't exactly produce spirited acceleration. The best compromise, then, would be the new turbocharged F-150 EcoBoost. Its 18 mpg combined is obviously less than the Hybrid's, but it costs less, is vastly quicker and can tow 5,300 pounds more. While the 2012 Chevy Silverado Hybrid may be a real hybrid, it isn't really a good choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Hybrid is available only as a crew cab with a 5-foot-9 cargo box, and Chevy offers shoppers a choice of just two trim levels: 1HY and 2HY. The base 1HY provides 18-inch alloy wheels, a soft tonneau cover for the cargo bed, privacy glass, heated mirrors, a locking tailgate, full power accessories, remote ignition, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, a cloth-upholstered 40/20/40-split front bench seat, a tilt-only leather-wrapped steering wheel, OnStar, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. A six-way power driver seat is optional.
The 2HY adds foglamps, power-folding and driver-side auto-dimming mirrors, rear parking sensors, a hard bed tonneau cover, a rear defroster, power-adjustable pedals, leather upholstery, six-way power front bucket seats (manual recline), a front center console, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an upgraded Bose sound system, a rearview camera, a navigation system, real-time traffic, a touchscreen interface and an iPod/USB audio interface. A sunroof is optional.
Powertrains and Performance
Available in either two- or four-wheel drive, the Silverado 1500 Hybrid is powered by a 6.0-liter V8. It's joined by two 60-kilowatt electric motors supplied by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack under the rear seat. On its own, the V8 is rated at 332 hp and 367 pound-feet of torque. GM engineers say that combined output with the electric motors is 379 hp.
The unique transmission houses the electric motors along with three different planetary gearsets and four traditional clutches. It's complex to say the least, but simply put, it maximizes efficiency by adapting itself to current driving conditions.
In Edmunds testing, a 4WD Silverado Hybrid took a leisurely 9.2 seconds to get from zero to 60 mph. By comparison, a regular V6-powered F-150 is a full second quicker, while its turbocharged V6 model does it in 6.5 seconds. The Hybrid's maximum tow rating is 6,100 pounds (5,900 pounds for 4WD), which is between 1,000 and 3,600 less than a Silverado crew cab with the 5.3-liter V8.
EPA fuel economy estimates are 20 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 21 combined. The city is where the Hybrid shines -- most full-size trucks are in the 14-15-mpg range.
Standard on the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Hybrid are stability control, traction control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, seat-mounted front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. OnStar emergency communications is also included. The 2HY trim gets rear parking sensors and a rearview camera.
In Edmunds brake testing, the 4WD Silverado Hybrid came to a stop from 60 mph in 144 feet, below-average performance for trucks of similar heft.
In government crash tests, the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Hybrid received an overall score of four stars (out of five), including four stars for overall frontal crash protection and five stars for overall side crash protection.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested a gas-only Silverado 1500 and gave the truck a top score of "Good" for frontal-offset crash protection, a second-best score of "Acceptable" for side-impact protection and a second-worst score of "Marginal" for roof strength.
Interior Design and Special Features
It's simple: 1HY is a truck with a solid supply of equipment and functional decor that is well fortified in black plastic trim. The 2HY trim stands out with a console, leather bucket seats, power-adjustable pedals and upgraded audio. Since there's a premium price to get the hybrid and a 2HY trim, one could argue the even higher-quality cabin found in the regular Silverado's LTZ trim would be in order.
Otherwise the 2012 Silverado Hybrid's crew cab treats its passengers as expected with a quiet ride and roomy seating, although the rear comfort level could be improved with a better seatback angle.
Upon first drive, the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Hybrid may not feel like there's a string of 379 ponies under the hood. There is a learning curve in becoming familiar with its quiet electric operation and the transition from electric-only to gas. Some drivers may sense a noticeable pause as the truck creeps forward in electric mode, and then it hurtles away once the gas engine comes online. Others may feel acceleration surges at higher rpm. It just takes a little practice to optimize one's driving pattern for the most fuel-efficient and enjoyable driving experience.
Taller axle gearing is mostly responsible for the perceived lack of low-end grunt. Truck owners are somewhat accustomed to the snap of 3.73:1 or 4.10:1 gearing when accelerating. The Hybrid's 3.08:1 axle ratio contributes to a healthy 23 mpg on the highway -- which translates to a cruising range of more than 500 miles with the 26-gallon fuel tank -- but doesn't multiply the torque like the lower gears most truckers prefer.
The Silverado 1500 Hybrid uses electrically driven variable assist power steering. This arrangement contributes about 0.5 mpg to the Hybrid's fuel economy and is responsive enough with appropriate levels of effort. Brake feel, however, alternates between artificial and frustrating. There's a delayed response to actual braking force, then grabby deceleration upon engagement. But once you get accustomed to the response you can utilize the regeneration mode to help reduce brake-pad wear and increase battery power.