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The Chevrolet Silverado lineup spans a huge swath of the full-size pickup market, from sport trucks to hybrids to heavy-duty models. For 2012, it hasn't changed much, but it still stacks up well against newer trucks like the Ford F-150, Ram 1500, and its close kith and kin, the GMC Sierra 1500.
Chevy's full-size trucks come in a form to suit nearly every possible kind of truck user, from exurban hipsters to urban construction crew chieftans. Shoppers can opt into one of three body styles, and one of two interior designs; from among four gas engines and two automatic transmissions, or one gas-electric drivetrain; and from bed lengths ranging from the smallest 5'-8" bed on Crew Cabs and Hybrids, to the 6-6" bed on all versions save for the Hybrid, to the 8' bed offered on all versions except the Hybrid.The Silverado's styling remains safe and a little plain, when compared to the Ram or Toyota trucks. It's one of the oldest designs on the block and it shows in its less obvious looks. That's not to say it's not handsome--Chevy's trucks have a way of looking good for decades and we suspect today's Silverado is on its way to the same distinction. The interior's unique in that it comes either with a console and more upscale trim, or as a more basic design without the console and without the woodgrain trim, both handsome and organized thoughtfully. No matter how you cut across the lineup, the Silverado look seems to be aging well.
No longer economy or horsepower leaders, the drivetrains offered in the Silverado still are competitive after a few years on the market. The range of engines includes a 195-horsepower, 4.3-liter V-6 that we'd only recommend to fleet buyers. Among the V-8s, there's a flex-fuel, 302-hp 4.8-liter V-8 in some of the less expensive models; a flex-fuel 5.3-liter V-8 with 315 hp in more mainstream versions, and outfitted with cylinder deactivation for improved fuel economy in XFE models; and at the top of the range, a 6.2-liter, 403-hp, flex-fuel V-8 in the Silverado LTZ. A four-speed automatic is fitted to base V-6 and base V-8 versions, while all other models except for the hybrid have a six-speed automatic that shifts smoothly and quietly, and helps keep those gas-mileage numbers in the ballpark of Ford's higher-mpg lineup. The 5.3-liter is our choice of the gas-only Silverados: it has ample power for almost every need, and comes with only a slight gas-mileage penalty over the basic V-6.
The Silverado Hybrid is quite different from the stock-and-trade Chevy truck, thanks to a two-mode hybrid powertrain that pairs an aluminum-alloy 6.0-liter V-8 with cylinder deactivation and variable valve timing, to an electrically variable transmission (EVT) with four fixed-ratio gears and two electric motor/generators, as well as a nickel-metal-hydride 300-volt battery pack. All together, these pieces combine to produce 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque, to a net EPA gas-mileage rating of 20 mpg city, 23 mpg highway. The Hybrid's performance isn't radically different from the gas-engined versions, save for the for the exceptionally smooth and quiet operation of the hybrid drivetrain, which runs on electricity alone up to 27 mph. Regenerative braking helps recapture some energy to charge the batteries. Despite its extra heft, the Silverado Hybrid can tow 6,100 pounds with 2WD, or 5,900 pounds with automatic dual-range four-wheel drive.
Across the lineup, the Silverado has some of the best straight-line performance in the class, though the pack has gotten significantly more competitive with Ford's new 5.0-liter V-8 and Toyota's improved V-8s. The Silverado maxes out at 10,700 pounds of towing capacity--and yet, it's still one of the easiest full-size pickups to drive, thanks to communicative steering and good to fair ride quality, which gets noticeably stiffer with four-wheel-drive models.
The Silverado's cabin doesn't meet the flexible Ram 1500 head-on with nifty features, and its cabin has some foibles that you won't find in the F-150 or Tundra, either. Front space is ample, and though the bucket seats could be more supportive for longer trips, we'd still opt for them over the flat front bench for personal use. On Crew Cab Silverados, the rear seat is placed high, stadium-style, and is split 60/40 so it can be folded down for more carrying space, but the rear seatback is nearly vertical, making it uncomfortable for longer trips. The rear access doors on extended-cab models open 170 degrees, for easier loading of small items like a toolbox or a properly folded tent. Throughout the Silverado range, a hushed and refined cabin is standard, with less wind noise and tighter build quality than some of the other full-size trucks in the class.
The Silverado's chief selling point still is its flexible order sheet. With its perennial appeal to work users, the Silverado comes in a staggering array of configurations and build combinations. Stripped-down work versions sticker in the low-$20,000 range, while loaded Hybrid models are priced near $50,000. Standard equipment even includes cruise control, while the options list counts leather upholstery, a new hard-drive navigation system, Bluetooth and USB connections for cell phones, and GM's OnStar telematics system, for everything from directions to emergency services.