Pickup trucks, pronounced all but dead when fuel prices spiked to record levels during the middle of 2008, made a remarkable rebound last year, and their sales are continuing to rise so far this year.
Among the most popular - on both the new and used markets - are the full-size, light-duty models from General Motors, which include the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. They are virtual clones of each other that, when counted together, outsell the Ford F-150.
Good used GM pickups are in short supply, but the automaker is cranking out plenty of new ones with prices designed to fit almost any budget.
Today's pickup buyers generally are people who need trucks for their work, rather than consumers who, before gasoline prices scared them off, bought them for commuting and everyday family use. Sure, some of those buyers, called "casual truckers," are still around, but in greatly reduced numbers.
But for consumers who have a real need for the utility of a pickup, nothing else will do. It's just not possible to haul materials to a job site in the back of a Toyota Prius, no matter how great the fuel economy is.
There are valid recreational uses for pickups, as well. If you're into off-road exploring or have boat, horse or travel trailers to pull, pickups can do those jobs quite well - especially this week's test vehicle, the 2010 Chevy Silverado 1500 LT extended-cab four-wheel drive model (base price $32,275 plus $995 freight).
Ours came with the Z71 off-road appearance package ($995), which added the Z71 decals on the rear fenders, along with 18-inch aluminum wheels and off-road tires, rancho shocks, a special instrument panel, bright sill plates, chrome tow hooks, body-color door handles and outside mirrors, a unique front bumper, body-color grille with chrome inserts, and fog lights.
Giving more trail capability was the off-road suspension package ($275), which also brought underbody skid plates to protect the vehicle from rocks and other obstacles, and a high-capacity air cleaner for dusty trails.
The base engine on this model is the 4.8-liter Vortec V-8, which is connected to a four-speed automatic transmission. But our tester came with the Power Plus package ($1,780), which gave us the optional 5.3-liter V-8 with active fuel management, a six-speed automatic, locking rear differential, trailering package and heavy-duty cooling system.
With this engine and transmission, the Silverado, even with four-wheel drive, has decent EPA ratings of 15 mpg city/21 highway.
For an additional $1,075, we got a 40/20/40 split leather front bench seat, which holds three people when the middle section is raised. The package also included a six-way power adjuster for the driver's side.
With a comfortable three-person rear bench seat, this truck can seat up to six people, although with the extended-cab length, rear legroom is less than what you would get in the crew-cab model. The front doors also have to be open before the rear doors can open, but I kind of like that feature when I have grandkids in the back.
Our vehicle also had the standard 6-foot-6 bed length, which made it more maneuverable in tight parking spots, but roomy enough for most do-it-yourself project supplies or an ATV or motorcycle, if you'd need to carry one of those. Other available cargo-box lengths, depending on the model, are the short bed, at 5 feet, 8 inches, and the long bed, at 8 feet. The crew-cab model comes only with the short bed, however. An eight-foot sheet of plywood will hang out over the tailgate.
The Exterior Plus package ($410) on our vehicle added a locking easy-lift tailgate, universal garage/gate opener and remote vehicle starter system (activated from the remote key fob); and the Interior Plus package ($470) gave us dual-zone automatic climate control, steering-wheel audio controls, a Bluetooth phone connection, and a USB port on the CD player.
With a "power pack savings" discount of $500, the total sticker on our truck was $37,775, including freight and options.
In the most recent redesign, the Silverado's exterior was made more aerodynamic, helping to increase fuel economy, which is now the best in the light-duty full-size pickup segment. The truck has a 57-degree windshield angle designed to reduce wind noise inside the vehicle as well as improve fuel economy.
The 315-horsepower V-8 engine has a fuel-management system that cuts out four of the cylinders during highway cruising to increase gas mileage.
For 2010, the Silverado is offered with a regular cab, as well, which has no backseat but can hold up to three people.
Four engines are offered: a 4.3-liter V-6, the 4.8-, 5.3-liter V-8s, and a 6.2-liter V-8. Standard is the four-speed automatic. There also is a gasoline-electric hybrid model available with either rear- or four-wheel drive, and EPA ratings of up to 21 city/22 highway.
Maximum towing capacity for the Silverado 1500 is 10,700 pounds, which can handle many of the horse trailers, boats and RVs that Texans like to pull. Our vehicle was limited to 10,400 pounds as configured.
Even the extended-cab models can handle bulky cargo in the back seat, thanks to rear doors that open to the rear almost 180 degrees.
Among standard features are fully-lowering rear power windows; theater-style folding rear seats; well-placed interior lights; dual glove boxes; OnStar; AM/FM/compact-disc stereo with XM satellite radio; leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel; a full-size spare tire; power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote; illuminated vanity mirrors on both sides; air conditioning; cruise control; heated outside mirrors; power rack-and-pinion steering; a driver-information center; and battery rundown protection.
The Silverado's exterior has the same proportions as those of the Chevy Tahoe full-size SUV, but the grilles, hoods, headlights, taillights and side moldings are different from those found on the Tahoe and the SUV-pickup combo known as the Avalanche.
The Silverado uses a single-piece body-side stamping and bolt-on door hinges, designed for better fit and finish.
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