Trucks are considered workhorses for farmers and tradespeople in most parts of the world but, in spite of less than stellar fuel economy and growing congestion, in America Ford's F-Series was the best-selling vehicle last year (and has been for 35 years), closely followed by the Chevrolet Silverado. To try and better understand the attraction of these hulking freedom machines, New Atlas sent this wide-eyed foreigner on a road trip in the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ.
Although it could conceivably be used as an out-and-out farm truck, you'd be barking mad to abuse the 1500 LTZ like a workhorse. It's simply too plush (and expensive) for muddy boots and rough treatment, with plush leather pews and enough technology to make most midsize luxury sedans look skint. There's also an unbelievable amount of space to play with, in both cabin and bed.
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I've been traveling for a solid six months now, lugging a huge duffel and, rather foolishly, a fifty-pound ski bag. It's been the bane of my existence that entire time, causing problems in taxis and arousing the suspicion of suss New Yorkers on the subway. Being able to throw it in the back of the Silverado and forget about it, with no annoying seat folding or luggage Tetris, was absolutely blissful.
The amount of space on offer from the wide, cushy seats was also more than welcome, with more headroom and legroom than even the most discerning passengers could ask for. Even with the seat in my 6-ft 7-in driving position, there's space for a fully-formed adult in the rear, although we preferred to use it to store luggage we didn't want slopping around in the tray.
Hopping into a truck instantly conjures images of pointing the nose at the horizon and driving from sea to shining sea, and the cushy Silverado makes that feel like the most natural thing in the world. Beef jerky in the glovebox, Outlaw Country on the stereo and the open road ahead, the star-spangled freedom on offer is palpable.
The engine, a long-legged 5.3-liter V8, doesn't do those long-haul credentials any harm. Although peak 383 lb-ft (518 Nm) of torque isn't available until 4,100 RPM, it feels strong throughout the rev range – at least, when the six-speed automatic is willing to kick down. It can be frustratingly reluctant to drop a cog on the open road, obstinately hanging on to fifth or six gear in search of greater efficiency. As you soon learn, that's a largely futile pursuit.
Ford trumpets the efficiency it can achieve with clever EcoBoost technology, and the downsized V6 F-150 is impressive purely from an engineering standpoint, but there is something reassuring about having a big, lazy bent-eight sitting under the hood. You can't beat the sound from a V8, either, even though the roar is more of a background rumble in the quiet Silverado cabin.
As you may have gathered by now, efficiency isn't really the point here. That's partly because the eco-minded tend to avoid pickups, and partly because the EPA has looser emissions and efficiency standards for pickups. We're not sure why, but rules created back in the 1970s mean trucks don't need to meet the same standards as cars, so 23 mpg (12.5 l/100km) on the highway is perfectly acceptable. In town you can expect closer to 15 mpg (15.6 l/100km). Good thing gas is cheap in America.
Along with its more old-fashioned engine setup, Chevrolet has stuck with a classic leaf-sprung rear end rather than making the switch to more sophisticated coilovers. Depending on who you ask, this is a great idea because leaf-springs are better for heavy hauling, or it's yet more proof of General Motors refusing to get with the times. Your answer will likely depend on what's sitting in the driveway at the moment.
It certainly isn't a sophisticated setup, but there's no question it's effective if you're into heavy hauling. We drove the truck unladen for the full week we had it, but the claimed 11,100-lb (5,035-kg) towing capacity is more than the closest Ford F-150 and RAM can manage, thanks in part to the old-fashioned rear end. With that said, we'd be willing to trade some towing capacity for a suspension that didn't pogo madly over speed humps.
Alright, this isn't the most modern truck under the skin. As the competition has looked for new ways to improve the formula, the team responsible for the Silverado has stuck with what it knows, slowly building on last year's canvas. That doesn't make for flashy headlines, but it does ensure the people who bought the old model won't be shocked or put-off when they walk into the local dealership three years later.
There is one exception to this rule, and it's the tech-heavy interior. The central touchscreen is home to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and media-hungry passengers are treated to a (surprisingly reliable) wireless hotspot in the cabin. There are also more USB ports, power plugs and 12V cigarette lighter slots than you could ever use at once, which means no smartphone will be left flat on long trips.
For anyone who treats their truck like a remote office – and plenty of people do – these are all small touches to make life much easier. If I needed to run my life from truck stops and paddocks, the Silverado would be high on the list of cars to consider. Contractors or tradies spending long periods of time on the road are also likely to appreciate the Bose stereo, which did a great job of drowning out the whistle from the towing-spec mirrors on our tester.
They're also likely to be grateful for the lane-keeping assist, auto-emergency braking and blind-spot warning you get on LTZ spec trucks. Reverse parking something this big is never easy, but the high-resolution backing camera and simple around-view display make it less of a challenge than it may have been in past. We even managed to squeeze the truck into a tiny spot between two Priuses outside an organic grocer in San Francisco.
Would I buy into a slice of America like the Silverado? Er, no. Even in America, land of the free and home of the truck, there's simply no justifying using so much gas and taking so much space unless you live in the wilds of Wyoming or Texas or need to carry a lot of gear for work. Entry to the Silverado 1500 LTZ club isn't cheap, either, with prices for a car in the spec we tested starting at US$47,525.
There's something fantastically American about hitting the highway in a truck. Every petrolhead should do it once, and I can't wait to see how Chevrolet evolves the Silverado package for life in 2017. But for now, the trucking lifestyle isn't for me.
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