Nothing in the automotive universe is more quintessentially American than a full-size pickup truck. The market is a hyper-competitive battlefield between Ford, Chevrolet, GMC and Ram (Toyota and Nissan are smaller niche players). This puts additional pressure on designers and engineers at each brand when introducing an all-new pickup, which is what the Chevrolet team faced when it introduced the all-new 2019 Silverado 1500.
One of the criticisms leveled at the last-generation Chevy half ton was that it wasn't sufficiently different from the truck it replaced. And that's a dilemma when redesigning an iconic truck: It needs to be all-new while still showing a clear lineage to the previous generation.
So, when I had the opportunity to get up close with the new 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500, I jumped at it. The drive day started at the historic Barker Hanger at California's Santa Monica Airport. The former hangar now serves as an event venue. Seven new 2019 Silverados in various trim levels were lined up ala a Chevrolet "Real People" commercial. Our test 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country was equipped with the Z71 Off-Road Equipment Package that includes Rancho twin-tube shocks, electronic hill descent control, two-speed transfer case, skid plates, heavy-duty air filter, 18-inch wheels with all-terrain tires, dual exhausts on V-8-equipped models.
Here are the key takeaways from my drive.
The visual changes to the exterior of the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, dominated by the all-new front grille with functional air curtains. The bodywork is more sculpted than before, giving the truck a more refined look. The bed is 7 inches wider increasing payload capacity and giving the popular crew cab a welcome 3 inches of additional rear-seat legroom. The 2019 trucks weigh up to 450 pounds less than the previous versions due to increased use of lightweight, high-strength materials; that provides a small improvement in fuel economy over the 2018 models.
The 2019 Silverado 1500 can be had in eight trim levels: Work Truck, Custom, Custom Trail Boss, LT, RST, LT Trail Boss, LTZ and High Country. provide an array of permutations. I thought the High Country was well-trimmed, but it falls a bit short of the top trim levels offered by Ford and especially Ram. That might be due in part to sister division GMC offering an even more luxurious truck in the form of its Sierra Denali models.
Improvements in fuel economy come from new engines and new technology that improves efficiency across the board. A new with stop-start technology becomes the new standard engine for LT and RST trims with an all-new light-duty 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder coming later in 2019. Most noteworthy is for the popular 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter V-8s. DFM allows the truck to run on one to eight cylinders; it's the next step up from Active Fuel Management, which employs operation of four or eight cylinders. DFM uses 17 different cylinder deactivation modes to maximize efficiency and mileage, making determinations up to 80 times per second. The biggest 6.2-liter V-8 is being offered with a new 10-speed automatic transmission co-developed with Ford.
So how does that affect fuel economy? The two-wheel-drive 2019 Silverado 1500 with the 5.3-liter V-8 and eight-speed transmission gets an EPA-estimated 17/23/19 mpg city/highway/combined; that's a 1 mpg improvement across the board over the 2018. The four-wheel-drive 2019 equipped with 6.2-liter V-8 and 10-speed transmission sees a 1 mpg city improvement over the 2018 equipped with the same engine and the eight-speed transmission. Opting for a turbocharged four-cylinder Silverado 1500 — the first half-ton truck to offer a turbo four — nets 20/23/21 for 2WD and 19/22/20 for 4WD, according to the EPA.
The interiors of the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 have been extensively updated. For those whose priority is towing capability, the new Silverado offers improved tech that simplifies hooking up a trailer. The available Advanced Trailering Package includes the Hitch Guidance with Hitch View that uses up to four cameras and the myChevrolet Trailering App (displayed on your smartphone or the Silverado's multimedia screen) and turns a two-person operation into a one-person job. The app also provides a comprehensive step-by-step checklist.
Maximum towing capacity for the 6.2-liter V-8 with DFM High Country I drove was 12,000 pounds (up 5 percent over 2018), while the max payload capacity for a 4×2 regular cab with the turbo four is 2,500 pounds (an 11 percent improvement over 2018).
Improved safety played a big part of the 2019 redesign, with Chevrolet adding several active safety features including a standard rear camera mirror and available head-up display, surround-vision view, safety alert driver's seat, lane change alert and lane keep assist with lane departure warning, low-speed forward automatic braking, forward collision alert, front pedestrian braking, lane change alert with blind side alert and rear cross-traffic alert.
During the drive event, each Silverado was hooked up to a trailer bearing a Polaris all-terrain vehicle, a combination that weighed 6,000 pounds. Leaving Barker Hanger, we negotiated tight Santa Monica streets on our way to the more traffic-friendly lanes of the Pacific Coast Highway on our way to Calamigos Ranch in the Malibu foothills overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The real test was running up Kanan Dunes Road from the PCH and guess what? My driving companion and I could hardly tell the 6,000-pound trailer was behind us. Going downhill, we did feel a small sense of push, but the brakes were more than up to the task. Chevrolet representatives told us the brakes are identical to those on a Chevrolet Silverado 2500. So, despite the larger size of the 2019 Silverado 1500, it has that elusive quality of driving "small," even when towing a trailer. Another nice touch: Chevrolet now puts a truck-specific label on the driver's door that provides that particular truck's maximum towing capacity, maximum payload, gross vehicle weight rating, gross combined weight rating, gross rear axle weight rating, maximum tongue weight and curb weight. That's everything you need to know to tow and haul safely.
In my all-too-short test drive to Malibu and back, I came away favorably impressed. It seems that Chevrolet stuck with refining the basics, responding to feedback from its customers, especially with regard to the half ton's trailer-towing abilities. The combination of the auto parking brake assist, stored trailer profiles, an industry-exclusive trailer theft alarm, trailer-tire temperature and pressure sensors, the towing label and a trailer light test accessed through the myChevrolet Trailering App are class-leading.
The 2019 Silverado 1500 looks clean and modern, and is instantly identifiable as a Chevrolet. Its improved interior approaches the class-leading Ram 1500 in many ways, while the variety of trim levels and cab configuration approaches those offered by the Ford F-Series.
Bottom line? The 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 looks and feels new and fresh. In the hyper-competitive full-size pickup category, this is critical, but I wish they would have gone further. Most people understand brand loyalty is big among pickup owners, even to the degree that Nissan and Toyota have found it difficult to attract Ford, Ram, Chevrolet and GMC owners away from their favorites. So, Chevrolet may have trouble attracting owners of other brands because many of the changes to the 2019 model are simply evolutionary and that may not be enough for a large number of buyers to jump ship. That said, we like the focus on making towing easier and safer and that could attract a few Ford and Ram buyers if towing is their biggest purchase consideration. We'll see.
Cars.com photos by Richard Truesdell