2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
January 30, 2012

It counts a savvy Hybrid model in its ranks, but mostly, the 2012 Chevy Silverado appeals to the prosaic truck buyer that doesn't need as much in the way of infotainment.

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.

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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.

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2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500

Styling

The Chevy Silverado's good looks can seem pretty quiet and tame when it's parked next to its louder, brasher competitors.

Largely carried over each year since it went on sale in 2007, the Chevy Silverado could use a style injection. Like its cousin, the GMC Sierra, the Silverado still looks tidy and neat--but in this case, it's maybe a little too neat, as the truck world around it has gone nuts with exaggerated, hypermasculine looks (Ram, F-150, Tundra).

The Silverado's a simple, plain-looking piece. The headlamps grew larger in this generation, and the gold bowtie has too. There's little else to make the Silverado stand out in a full-size crowd. The generic-looking banded grille and plain taillamps are echoes of the straight-edged cabin, and save for some metallic trim here and a deeper chin spoiler there, the entire Silverado lineup backpedals its talents behind an ordinary truck body. All that said, the look is aging well, where we don't think the Tundra and Titan have grown old with much grace.

Inside, the Silverado and its GMC Sierra sibling are unique among pickups in that they offer two different instrument panel styles. The "pure pickup" versions have a high dash with low-gloss black plastic and no center console for three-across seating. Upscale LTZ versions get a wide console, bands of wood grain trim, and metallic-painted pieces that look far richer and more appealing—and mimics that of Chevy's Tahoe and Suburban large SUVs. It's almost carlike compared to the more upright design on base versions, which also get larger door handles and controls to make operation easier for big hands with gloves.

Both interiors share large, clearly marked gauges and soft blue backlighting, a meaty steering wheel, and humongous cup holders tucked either into the dash or the fold-down armrest, or molded into the console.

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2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500

Performance

Handling remains a virtue, and so does the 5.3-liter V-8, in the 2012 Chevy Silverado.

Chevy's wide-ranging assortment of engines, transmissions and related hardware gives the Silverado lots of distinct, useful personalities. We think most buyers will be satisfied with the best-selling V-8 version, unless they have fleet-type use in mind.

Chief rival Ford has an edge in fuel economy and performance over Chevy's two base engines. The work-truck staple of the Silverado lineup is powered by a 4.3-liter V-6 with 195 horsepower, an engine teamed with a four-speed automatic. Fleet buyers only need apply for this kind of utilitarian duty, and they may as well pass on the flex-fuel-capable, 302-hp 4.8-liter V-8. It's also coupled to a four-speed automatic, and while it's strong enough for lighter towing, fuel economy lags behind even better Chevys above it in the pecking order.

The Silverado to buy--for most of you looking for an all-around player--is one driven by a flex-fuel 5.3-liter V-8. With 315 hp and cylinder deactivation for improved fuel economy in XFE models, this and a six-speed automatic make for a responsive drivetrain with excellent fuel economy for the size, and a nice, crisp exhaust note and off-the-line acceleration. There's a much more powerful 6.2-liter, 403-hp, flex-fuel V-8 in top-line LTZ Silverados, but few buyers really need its draining gas bills for the extra hauling capability it provides.

For those who want to go green, at any cost, the Silverado Hybrid has a sophisticated two-mode hybrid powertrain combining an all-aluminum 6.0-liter V-8 featuring variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation, to which GM adds an electrically variable transmission (EVT) with two electric motor/generators and four fixed-ratio gears, as well as a 300-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. In all, the hybrid system is rated at 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque, which pushes EPA fuel economy to 20 mpg city, 23 highway. Performance feels like that of the 5.3-liter V-8 engine, except for the almost absurd smoothness and quietness as the Silverado runs up to 27 mph on battery power alone.

Almost the entire Silverado lineup comes in either rear- or four-wheel drive. Basic versions use a single-range transfer case, with pricier models graduating to dual-range 4WD or, on top models, electronically controlled four-wheel drive. Properly equipped, a long-bed, rear-drive, V-8 Silverado can tow up to 10,700 pounds. Even saddled with more weight, the Hybrid tows 6,100 pounds with 2WD, or 5,900 pounds with automatic dual-range four-wheel drive.

Aside from its on-paper strength, the Silverado also has some more nuanced skills that aren't shared by many other full-size pickups. It's one of the easiest full-size pickups to drive, with more communicative steering than other trucks. Ride quality has been matched and exceeded by the Ram 1500, but the Silverado still can feel like a smaller truck in most situations. As for the Hybrid, it has less of the natural steering feel--its electric steering isn't as well-tuned as the newest units from Ford--and it feels less satisfying to drive as a result.

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2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500

Comfort & Quality

It could use more comfortable rear seats, but space abounds inside the bigger versions of the 2012 Chevy Silverado.

When it was new in the 2007 model year, the Chevy Silverado broke sharply with its utilitarian roots. The work-truck ethic still showed up in base versions with up to six-passenger seating, but slick five-seat versions with all kinds of luxury features became a much more important part of the Silverado mix.

Those luxury versions also compelled GM to lift the Silverado's game across the board, by improving its interior quality and fit and finish.

In any of today's Silverado pickups, space isn't much of an issue. The Ram 1500 or Tundra may have a few inches more to spare in some directions, but very few big adults can quibble with excellent head and leg room. The seats themselves are a separate issue: whether it's bench or bucket seats in front, the Silverado's comfort is good in terms of seat width, but support is lacking, particularly lateral support.

Depending on the passenger configuration, the front seats also have excellent knee room--if there's no center console--or they are split with a very large storage area with a bin big enough for a netbook, a couple of Big Gulps, and some rubber-lined trays sized to hold smartphones and the like. The Silverado's big gauges and big controls can be operated when wearing gloves, too.

For back-seat room, the Silverado depends on buyers choosing the four-door Crew Cab. The Regular Cab version has just a sliver of space behind the seat, and Extended Cabs are marginally better, with space to hold toolboxes and gear, but not much more. Crew Cabs are fitted with a rear bench and are good for three-across adult seating; the stadium-style rear seat has a 60/40-split design and can be folded up for more cargo space. However, the back rest sits too close to vertical for long-distance comfort. The back seat in Hybrid models is somewhat like that in other Crew Cab models but under-seat storage gets compromised, to make room for batteries.

Across the Silverado 1500 / Hybrid lineup, bed sizes range from 5'8" on Crew Cabs and Hybrids; 6'6" on all versions except the Hybrid; and 8' on all versions except the Hybrid.

Throughout the Silverado lineup, the cabin is unexpectedly hushed and refined, thanks to increased sound deadening and tight build quality. Wind noise has been further reduced for 2011.

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2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500

Safety

Safety scores are muddled, but the Silverado has options for some advanced safety technology to go with standard airbags and stability control.

Safety scores for all kinds of new vehicles have been shifting since last year. That's when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) both changed the way they crash-test vehicles and how they calculate the end results.

With the Silverado, the crash tests don't give a complete picture of safety, but they do produce some data for all three body styles. The IIHS says the Silverado is a "good" performer in frontal impacts, without specifying a body styles. However, they also find the side-impact protection to be only "acceptable," and roof strength "marginal."

The NHTSA, on the other hand, rates all body styles at four stars overall, including a five-star rating for side-impact protection.

Side and side curtain airbags are standard on all Silverado 1500 models, while anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, OnStar, and tire pressure monitors are all included. A rearview camera is available, as are power-adjustable pedals.
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2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500

Features

The 2012 Chevy Silverado runs the gamut from luxury family pickup to bare-bones work appliance.

The overwhelming array of body styles, bed lengths, and drivetrains is enough to make a Silverado shopper weary before they set foot in a dealer. Ah, but it doesn't end there--the Silverado's features list spans just as much of the automotive realm, with work trucks lining up on the same order sheets as $50,000 hybrid trucks with real-time traffic and DVD entertainment systems.

The basic Silverado's a spartan workhorse, though. It comes with few creature comforts: the windows wind up by hand, the locks lock that way too, the bench seats are covered in vinyl, and the AM/FM radio goes away if you want to save a hundred bucks. That's one extreme. The other extreme--with lots of steps between SL and SLT between--piles on luxury hardware like satellite radio with NavTraffic; navigation; OnStar; leather seating; a power sunroof; a power sliding rear window; Bluetooth; a USB port for media players; and of course, dozens of cargo-securing features, down to the bedliner itself.

Options and features are more selective on the Hybrid edition. The base version has cloth seats; steering-wheel audio controls; a USB port; and remote keyless entry. The upscale edition has leather; Bluetooth; navigation; and satellite radio.

Last year, GM updated the Silverado's OnStar system to version 9.0. It now includes automatic crash response, crisis assist, and stolen vehicle slowdown, with a one-year subscription to the Safe and Sound plan.
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2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500

Fuel Economy

It's not green by mass-market passenger-car standards, but among trucks, the 2012 Chevy Silverado is among the best in its class for efficiency.

Gas mileage is a factor that rarely weighs in a pickup truck's favor. While the 2012 Chevy Silverado does better than most--much better, in the case of the Hybrid--it's still a relative laggard in overall fuel-economy ratings.

The Silverado's gas-only editions fare better with fuel bills than almost all other big trucks, save for the Ford F-150. The basic V-6 and V-8, though, aren't as good as Chevy's biggest seller, the 5.3-liter V-8. In part it's because the fleet-duty six and eight are sold with four-speed automatics, while the 5.3 gets a six-speed automatic. But the 5.3 also has cylinder-deactivation technology and an aero-smoothed XFE edition. The largest V-8 has the six-speed as well, but it's the lowest-rated by the EPA.

If you're looking for the most fuel-efficient Silverado, the winner by far is the Silverado Hybrid. With EPA ratings of 20 mpg city, 23 highway, whether you get 4WD or not, the Silverado Hybrid is the green choice for full-size truck shoppers.
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April 28, 2015
2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 4WD Crew Cab 143.5" LS

Drives smooth, very reliable, comfortable seats, 4WD easy to activate, I like my truck.

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Drives smooth, very reliable, comfortable seats, 4WD easy to activate, I like my truck.
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