We'll say this for the 2009 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid: Its high-tech powertrain is great conversation fodder for cowboy cocktail parties. A true dual-mode hybrid, the crew-cab-only Silverado can accelerate to 29 mph solely on the strength of its twin 60-kilowatt electric motors, though there'd better not be anyone behind you.
The transmission is a complex brew of four fixed ratios alongside planetary gearsets that operate like a CVT (continuously variable transmission). There's something undeniably neat about whirring to a near-silent stop under electric power in an enormous truck. As an engineering exercise, the Silverado Hybrid — like its Tahoe Hybrid platform mate — earns top marks for proving that dual-mode hybrid technology can work in a beefy utility vehicle.
Unfortunately, the Silverado Hybrid's low-rent "work truck" interior and underwhelming performance likely aren't what truck shoppers are looking for at our test truck's eye-watering $49,275 price point. Even when you factor in this top-of-the-line hybrid's $2,200 federal tax credit, it's still slightly costlier than a comparably equipped Silverado 1500 4WD LTZ Crew Cab, which boasts a better-performing conventional 5.3-liter V8, standard heated seats and an upscale Tahoe-sourced dashboard design that's unavailable on the hybrid.
The only reason to buy the hybrid instead is its edge in city fuel economy (20 mpg vs. 14 mpg for the LTZ) — so unless you do a whole lot of urban driving and insist on spending as little on gas as possible, it's probably not for you. We appreciate the engineering effort on GM's part, but the Silverado Hybrid demands too many compromises at its elevated price to merit consideration by a wider audience.
The four-wheel-drive 2009 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Hybrid 2HY is powered by a 6.0-liter hybrid V8 rated at 332 horsepower. GM engineers say that the twin 60-kilowatt electric motors boost peak horsepower to 379. A regenerative braking system charges the 300-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack during deceleration, and a cylinder-deactivation function can turn the big V8 into a four-banger for efficient cruising under light loads. The "electrically variable transmission" (EVT) employs four fixed ratios along with planetary gearsets, yielding a Frankenstein transmission that alternately behaves like a conventional automatic and a CVT.
Unfortunately, this advanced powertrain's performance doesn't live up to its on-paper promise. Unlike Toyota's Camry Hybrid, say, which actually improves on the performance of an ordinary Camry, the Silverado Hybrid lags behind its conventional V8-powered brethren. Maximum towing capacity is adequate, if not earth-shattering, at 5,900 pounds. However, the sprint from zero to 60 mph takes a leisurely 9.2 seconds, a time that we suspect even the Silverado crew cab's base 4.8-liter V8 could match.
The culprit here is simply the complexity of the powertrain. Floor the Silverado Hybrid's throttle from a stop, and you'll notice a prolonged hesitation as it starts in electric mode, fires up the gas engine, processes your request for all-out acceleration and then finally gathers itself and takes off. There's another hesitation at the first shift point — 4,500 rpm — where acceleration is interrupted while the transmission unhurriedly swaps ratios and engine speed drops to 4,000 rpm. A further quirk is the perceptible surge of extra electric power that comes online just before 60 mph. We doubt many truck buyers would want to trade the linear, responsive acceleration of a conventional V8 powertrain for the hybrid's inconsistent behavior.
Braking, too, is unimpressive. Thanks to low-rolling-resistance tires and that fancy regenerative braking system, the Silverado requires 144 feet to stop from 60 mph, a full 20 feet longer than the last non-hybrid Silverado we tested. Handling is about what you'd expect from a full-size truck: awkward on the test track but satisfactory in the real world given this vehicle's utilitarian purpose.
The sole highlight here is the Silverado Hybrid's rated fuel economy, which comes in at 20 mpg city/20 highway versus 14 mpg city/20 highway for the LTZ with the 5.3-liter V8. The impact of this difference on your wallet depends entirely on how much city driving you plan to do. In our time with the Silverado Hybrid, we averaged just 17.1 mpg in a mix of city and freeway driving.
The Silverado Hybrid 4WD 2HY bucks and bounces over expansion joints like a wild stallion, as full-size pickups are wont to do, but impacts are rarely harsh. Wind and road noise are impressively low, even at highway speeds. The steering wheel doesn't telescope, however, and the power-adjustable pedals don't fully compensate. The absence of a dedicated driver footrest is annoying, particularly on longer drives.
The leather-trimmed front bucket seats are satisfyingly comfortable, with ample space for occupants of all sizes. The rear seat cushion is pleasantly high, providing rare under-thigh support for longer-legged riders as well as decent legroom, and the seatback angle isn't ramrod-straight as in trucks of yesteryear. The rear headrests are woefully inadequate, though — they don't extend upward nearly as far as they should, leaving the longer of torso with only the rear glass as a cranial backstop. Overall, we'd give the Silverado Hybrid a passing grade in the comfort category, but it's nothing to write home about.
The 2009 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid's workmanlike center stack is canted toward the driver, though the rightmost controls are still a bit of a reach. Buttons are the order of the day, and the ones for the climate control system are clear enough, but those for the stereo are tiny and nearly impossible to distinguish from each other at a glance. While the 2HY model's standard touchscreen navigation system works intuitively, the navigation graphics are rather rudimentary by current standards. The Bose audio system delivers above-average sound for a truck.
Crew-cab interiors are supposed to be all about versatility, and in this respect the hybrid is as competent as any other GM full-sizer. In the front compartment alone, there are four cupholders and two gloveboxes. There's also a gigantic cargo bin under the center armrest, and the expansive center console is covered with cubbies and shelves. Outside, the mandatory 5.8-foot short bed should prove adequate for most hauling purposes, but the flimsy plastic anchors employed by the hybrid's standard tonneau cover can be a pain to manipulate.
Design/Fit and Finish
The Silverado Hybrid doesn't depart much from the standard Silverado styling equation, set apart only by its "Hybrid" badges and standard 18-inch chrome wheels. Inside, the only available dashboard design is the standard "work truck" layout you'll find in a base-model Silverado; the conventionally powered LTZ, on the other hand, gets the upgraded center stack and nicer materials familiar from GM's full-size SUVs. Given the Silverado Hybrid's price, we don't understand why Chevy didn't swap in the Tahoe Hybrid's ready-made upscale dashboard. Build quality was good on our test truck — we didn't notice a single squeak or rattle.
Who should consider this vehicle
Truck shoppers who want to save on gas during city driving — and don't mind dealing with the 2009 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid's shortcomings relative to its gas-powered siblings.