That said, Chevy truck buyers have been let down before with some underwhelming six-cylinder engines—such as the lumpy and weak former 4.3-liter (also small-block based, but never as fully baked, or conceived for trucks), or the smooth yet very thirsty 4.2-liter Atlas six (from the Trailblazer, and originally intended for more trucks). The 4.3-liter seems burdened with its badge, as it’s so much better.
That's not the case here: Who needs all 11,500 pounds of towing capability anyway? For all the full-size buyers who never tow more than a modest pleasure boat or a trailer of snowmobiles or ATVs, this V-6 has more than enough muscle for the job. We towed a 4.700-pound camper-trailer with the V-6 and had no problem merging into rapidly moving traffic or maintaining speed on the region's sudden, rather steep hills.
First off, the aluminum-block V-6 has an additional balance shaft to keep it smooth, and it stays seamless and unobtrusive, even though the instrument display shows that it's a surprisingly aggressive cylinder deactivation strategy—aided in part by a special flapper valve in the exhaust that helps prevent resonance. We saw it running on four cylinders whenever we coasted or decelerated, and even for a time when we were maintaining about 50 mph. V-8 models revert to V-4s as well under light load.
Fuel economy ratings aren’t out yet either for the V-6, but what we saw anecdotally in a test drive might prove the automaker’s arguments true. On a 42-mile loop of hilly two-lane country roads, we averaged 23 mpg in a V-6—when driven normally, and a bit briskly. In about the same kind of driving—unloaded, on empty but hilly two-laners—we saw in the range of 19-20 mpg according to the trip computer (the V-8’s rated at 16 mpg city, 21 highway).
Two stronger-than-ever V-8 options
Of course, the temptation is that on these trucks, the V-8 is only an $895 option. This 5.3-liter is a step closer to small-block perfection—as smooth as ever at idle, with that characteristic purr and thrum, yet with a better combination of low-rpm torque and higher-rev passing and grade-conquering power than the pre-variable valve timing engines. By the numbers, it makes 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft.
The automaker hasn’t yet ramped up production on the 6.2-liter V-8—and it’s saving all the numbers for this engine for a later controlled burst—but based on what we’ve seen in these other two engines we anticipate the largest one to be a heavy-duty-caliber powertrain, for those who want to stick with a light-duty truck for its better ride quality and handling the majority of the time, yet have the capability to haul a horse trailer or heavy construction equipment when needed.
You can indeed get eight-speed automatic transmission in some competing trucks, but the six-speed automatics in these GM rigs still not only do the job, but do it without ever missing a step. Ratios seem right for these engines, which have torque sweet spots as wide as the rack of a Texas steer. Upshifts are never jarring, even when pulling a load, and they're right there with a downshift when you need it.
Drives better in every way
How's the new Silverado drive otherwise? Like the outgoing GMT900 models, only better. Across several trim levels that we sampled, the new Silverado avoids a lot of ride harshness while handling as neatly and predictable as something with its length, heft, and weight distribution can. A new electric power steering system actually feels better than the hydraulic steering before it—precise on center, without requiring too many corrections, and it loads up very nicely off center. Plus it's stout enough to handle an upcoming factory snow-plow option. Meanwhile brake-pedal feel is firmer, with engagement higher up than before; it seems GM has finally realized that even truck buyers don’t like spongy brake pedals.
One of our criticisms of the last-generation trucks was that while they’d sound brawny, like a muscle car, at best, they could also simply be too loud on the highway or under load. This time, Chevy has resisted the urge and really packed in the noise isolation, with top models adding a final hush of engine rumble and road roar with active noise cancellation.