A 4-Cylinder Pickup? Chevrolet Takes a Gamble With 2019 Silverado 1500


Just 10 years ago, the idea that a turbocharged V-6 engine in a full-size, half-ton pickup truck would be an acceptable powertrain was unthinkable. When Ford introduced the EcoBoost V-6 to the world, analysts and pundits were skeptical: Would buyers used to V-8 engines accept something like this? Would anyone buy it? Ford stuck it under the hood of a model-year 2011 F-150 pickup, and now turbocharged V-6 engines power nearly three-quarters of all new F-150s sold every year. The skeptics have been silenced.


We're about to take the next step in seeing what customers will accept when it comes to small, turbocharged engines in pickup trucks. Chevrolet has introduced a  as the new standard powertrain in the 2019 Silverado 1500 LT and RST trim levels (the Work Truck and Custom trim levels will continue to use the 4.3-liter V-6 … for now). According to Chevrolet engineers, this engine started life as a truck engine — it's not a modified passenger-car motor built up for heavier duty cycles. In fact, Chevy says that the direction given to its powertrain engineers was not "give us a four-cylinder engine," but simply to meet some specific power, efficiency and weight requirements for the latest Silverado pickup. And the resulting motor turned out to be this turbo four.

Out on the Street

We'll get into the specifics of this impressive new motor, but first, don't you want to know how it drove on our extended media drive outside Phoenix? The answer: astonishingly well. The four-cylinder fires up to a growly timbre that you'd swear is piped-in sound, but Chevy insists that it's not — the sound you hear from the exhaust is real and live, not an interior soundtrack, as the LT and RST don't use active noise cancellation or pipe in modified sound. Old-fashioned sound insulation mats on the firewall keep unpleasant engine and road noise muted.

Slip the eight-speed into gear and off you go with surprising urgency. The torque curve of the 2.7-liter turbo four is such that there's plenty of oomph from standing stops or rolling starts, and the creamy-smooth eight-speed automatic is beautifully matched to the engine, shifting almost imperceptibly and keeping itself in the proper gear for the conditions. It handily outpaces the seat-of-the-pants acceleration comparison with both the Ford F-150 naturally aspirated 3.3-liter V-6 and the Ram 1500's 3.6-liter , and sounds better than either of those engines while doing it.

Elevation changes don't faze the 2.7-liter engine in the slightest. A light pressure on the accelerator drops the transmission a gear or two, depending on what you've asked for, and the truck surges up with minimal drama. What's even more impressive is the quietness that this engine brings to the Silverado. My drive through Scottsdale, Ariz., and the surrounding highways (which were in amazing condition and often totally smooth) revealed an impressively hushed cabin with minimal road, wind and powertrain noise. Part of the credit surely goes to the high sidewalls of my LT double-cab test-truck's 17-inch tires, which soaked up what few road imperfections there were and went a long way toward helping isolate road noise, but with only an occasional growl from the engine's exhaust upon application of the accelerator to cut into my silent reverie, the Silverado's cabin was wonderfully quiet at any speed.

With that smaller, lighter engine under the hood comes different handling dynamics. If you've only ever sampled GM's V-8-powered pickups, you need to get into this four-cylinder model — handling that's already sharper than competitors gets even better thanks to the lower weight. The truck feels smaller than the massive footprint its considerable dimensions define, almost as if it were a slightly bigger version of the Chevrolet Colorado mid-size pickup. The truck's lightness also gives it a numerical advantage when it comes to truck-style duties: The 2.7-liter-equipped Silverado is rated for almost 2,300 pounds of payload and a maximum towing capacity of 7,200 pounds.

Now, all this praise comes with a caveat: My test drive was done in a completely unloaded pickup with just me and a passenger. It wasn't loaded to the gills with bags of sand, wasn't towing a trailer and didn't have a bunch of beefy construction workers filling all six seats. How the 2.7-liter engine behaves when tasked to do truck-style duties is something we'll be testing soon, but until then, we can't speak to how it behaves under load or while towing.

Under the Hood

Get a look under the hood and you'll realize that this is no ordinary turbo four. At 2.7-liters, it's a big four-cylinder — as much displacement as Ford's turbocharged 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6, actually. It pumps out an impressive 310 horsepower and 348 pounds-feet of torque. That's a considerable 14 percent bump in torque over the previously standard 4.3-liter V-6's output, and also bests Ford's base 3.3-liter V-6 and Ram's 3.6-liter Pentastar eTorque V-6 in the latest 1500. For those keeping score, it's also more power and a lot more torque than the 3.6-liter V-6 makes in the Colorado, which makes us wonder if it might find a home there soon, too.

The 2.7-liter is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and can be had with or without four-wheel drive, in double-cab or crew-cab configurations and on the LT or RST trims — the two most popular models in the Silverado trim pantheon. Comparisons with the old 4.3-liter-equipped LT are also impressive — it's a second faster from zero-to-60 mph (6.8 seconds, according to Chevrolet), weighs up to 380 pounds less than the old model and, according to EPA estimates, can achieve 23 mpg on the highway (20 mpg in the city). We didn't quite hit that lofty gas mileage number. My test loop was rather higher speed and involved considerable elevation changes, so I saw a maximum of 21 mpg according to the trip computer. A dedicated fuel economy test is likely in the near future.


The new engine has several features designed to maximize fuel economy, including active fuel management — that's cylinder deactivation to the rest of us — meaning that under certain conditions, the motor operates in two-cylinder mode. The shift between four- and two-cylinder mode is so imperceptible that I didn't even realize the engine could do it until I was told it did it — hours after I'd already driven the truck. It also features Chevrolet's first application of active thermal management — a system that can send coolant to various parts of the truck's powertrain (the head, the engine block, the transmission) to speed up heating and optimize fuel efficiency. And despite being turbocharged, the compression ratio of 10.0:1 means that the motor can happily run on 87 octane gasoline — regular unleaded, no need for premium like in most turbocharged engines.

Priced to Sell

With the LT and RST trim levels making up the most popular models in Chevy's Silverado lineup, expect to see a lot of these engines appearing on showroom lots around the country. They also operate in the sweet spot for pricing, too, covering the $30,000-$40,000 range where Chevy says it sells the most trucks. The least expensive truck with this engine is a two-wheel-drive LT double cab, which starts at $38,395 including destination fee. My test truck was such a model, but it added a few popular equipment packages and left the factory with a sticker price of $44,900. Start ticking off options boxes on an RST crew-cab 4×4, and you can easily top $60,000 for a four-cylinder turbo half-ton pickup. It's unlikely that many are going to go out the door like that, however. If you're spending that kind of money, you've already likely specified one of the optional V-8 engines.

We'll have to reserve overall judgment on the 2.7-liter as a suitable Silverado pickup engine until we can test one with a load in the bed and a trailer on the hitch. But if your duties rarely include such tasks, which is entirely possible given that people who tow or haul regularly are more likely to go for a V-8, and you find yourself using a truck more for lighter duties, the new turbo engine could be a sweet choice for you and a welcome addition to the Silverado powertrain lineup. photos by Mark Williams



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