There was cause for consternation when the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado pickup made its first auto show appearance in Detroit earlier this year. It was given barely a mention at GM's press conference before being shoved awkwardly into GM's booth like last week's bagels. It gave the impression that the company wasn't confident in its new full-size baby.
We now know that with the 2014 Silverado, GM is lifting a page out of Porsche's playbook. No, Chevy's full-size pickup isn't getting a flat-6 in the bed. Rather, the new Silverado is an example of GM honing the core values of its most important model, resulting in a new version that makes purposeful, measured yet undeniably tangible improvements over the outgoing model. Evolution, not revolution. Sound familiar?
New Cabins, Familiar Size
At first blush, the overhauled 2014 Chevrolet Silverado doesn't look all that different from the 2013 version. But when we examined the new truck side by side with the old one (in truck-loving San Antonio), the differences became obvious. The old truck's slab sides are gone, and the new truck's wall-o'-chrome front-end treatment and bulgy-er hood make it look extroverted by comparison.
All-new cab structures for the three configurations (standard, double and crew cabs) bring improved structural stiffness and crashworthiness to the 2014 model. The cabs' basic dimensions are unchanged since they ride on the same frame geometry as before (strategic regauging of the frame's steel has shed some 33 pounds). However, a smidge more rear legroom was liberated by reshaping the back of the front seats, and the front passengers have more fore/aft seat adjustment range.
Gone are the awkward reverse-opening rear doors of the previous extended cab; the newly minted double cab has a traditional B-pillar layout to help the truck meet upcoming side-impact and rollover standards. All doors are now inset into the body rather than overlapping the roof, a move that makes for a quieter truck. The new cabin also rides on improved body mounts that further hush things up, and clambering into the bed is made easier by clever steps and handholds built into each rear corner.
Crew cabs now have the option of a longer 6-foot-6-inch bed in addition to the standard short bed, and there are a variety of axle ratios available ranging from 3.08 on 5.3-liter V8 variants all the way up to 3.73 in the optional Max Trailering package.
Direct Injection for the Masses
Its engine lineup, too, has been thoroughly massaged. The bread-and-butter 5.3-liter pushrod V8 now kicks out 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. A new 4.3-liter pushrod V6 — essentially the V8 with two cylinders sliced off — produces 285 hp and 305 lb-ft of torque. Later this year, a range-topping 6.2-liter version of the V8 of as-yet-indeterminate output will be available.
Don't be fooled by their carryover displacements. All engines in the 2014 Chevy Silverado are members of GM's new Gen 5 small block family, called Ecotec3, which shares its fundamental architecture with the outgoing Gen IV but has almost no parts in common. A primary goal of the Gen 5 engine family is to boost efficiency, so the engines sport direct injection and cylinder deactivation. Elsewhere, efficiency gains were found in the new body's improved aerodynamics and, predictably, by ditching hydraulically assisted steering in favor of electric power steering.
And the results? So far, the only fuel economy data released for the 2014 Silverado is for the 5.3-liter V8. Two-wheel-drive versions earn EPA ratings of 16 city/23 highway mpg (16/22 for 4WD), which is a gain of 1 and 2 mpg respectively over the outgoing 5.3-liter V8. It may not sound like much of a difference in absolute terms, but it is a meaningful gain on a percentage scale.
All those efforts to reduce noise have paid off. In practice, the new Silverado exhibits impressive refinement, with road noise snuffed out and only a whisper of wind noise at freeway speeds. It's a genuinely civilized cabin, probably the quietest in the full-size pickup business according to our eardrum dynos. And the electric steering is well-weighted and natural enough that nobody will mind its lack of feel.
The suspension geometry has been carried over, though tuning changes were implemented to take advantage of the stiffer cab structure. Front springs are stiffer, stabilizer bars are larger and the dampers were revalved. As a result, the new truck feels robust yet compliant, capable and comfortable. It shudders less when bouncing off of rocky trails, maintaining better composure than ever.
The 5.3-liter V8 delivers solid thrust with good manners. Throttle tip-in is a bit softer than we remember from the previous truck, and there's still a bit of shake in the steering when you give it the beans. More seamless than ever, however, is the cylinder deactivation system, which swaps between V8 and V4 modes often and with complete transparency.
Meanwhile, the 4.3-liter V6 engine exhibits similar traits, just with the capability turned down a tick and the volume up a commensurate amount. Another indication of this engine's all-around legitimacy is that it will be available in all trim levels rather than relegated only to work truck variants, as was the case with the old V6.
The sole transmission available in all 2014 Chevrolet Silverados is the six-speed automatic carried over from the outgoing truck. It's a respectable and capable gearbox, but the ratio jumps are still too wide when towing, despite the huskier new engines. The anticipated (but not confirmed by GM brass) upcoming eight-speed transmission will be a welcome addition.
Cabin materials have been upgraded in many areas, and there are noticeably more bins and cubbies in the new truck. A vast array of equipment is available, from a factory spray-in bedliner, lane departure warnings and forward collision alerts (that can, thankfully, be switched off) to a trailer brake controller, a Z71 Off-Road package and beyond. Fancypants LTZ models can even be equipped with heated and cooled seats and have up to five USB ports.
Higher trim levels also offer the impressive new MyLink multimedia interface, sporting a clear, sharp 8-inch display and intuitive screen flow. And because touch-sensitive screens aren't always the best (think bumpy roads) there are redundant knobs and buttons, as well as a truly effective voice command interface.
Towing ratings rise to a maximum of 11,400 pounds with a Max Trailering package, though if we were going to tow something that heavy with any regularity we'd step up to a brawnier 3/4-ton truck. We towed an 8,600-pound skid-steer with a 5.3-liter V8 Silverado, and while there was plenty of reserve grunt and no sweats broken, the ride would probably grow tiresome on a long haul.
More Truck, Same Money
Crew cabs will be the first to launch, available sometime this month, while the V6 rolls in shortly thereafter. Despite the list of changes for 2014, GM has held the line on pricing for the base trucks at $24,585 for regular cabs, $28,610 for double cabs and $32,710 for crew cabs. There are a few adjustments up and down when it comes to equipment, but no real "gotchas" to speak of.
That's welcome news considering the bump in civility and capability garnered by the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado. Loyalists to the brand will welcome the new truck with open arms, as it is demonstrably better than the outgoing Silverado in every meaningful way. Whether it's enough to fend off the accomplished new Ram 1500 and EcoBoost-havin' F-150s among cross-shoppers is a matter that will take time to sort out.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.