We've seen this playbook before: Big truckmaker redesigns a popular pickup truck and it looks like designers mashed everything but the kitchen sink into and onto the new body and frame. Most recently, we saw it with the 2019 Ram 1500, but also the 2017 Nissan Titan and even the 2015 Ford F-150. Now Chevrolet puts its best effort forward in one of the most important (and profitable) automotive classes with the 2019 Silverado 1500. There's plenty to discuss here, but if you just want our driving impressions, skip down to More Sport, More Strength.
All-New, Top to Bottom, Front to Back
Chevy gave us our first opportunity to get behind the wheel of the fourth-generation Silverado half ton in the wilds of Wyoming and Idaho, where we drove several iterations of the new pickup on lonely, scenic high-altitude byways and on a challenging, multi-obstacle off-road course. We also pulled some 6,000-pound trailers around parts of the Snake River. This new pickup is bigger, stronger and lighter than ever before, saving more than 400 pounds of total weight (the hood, tailgate and doors are made from aluminum) while providing more power with more engine options, all of which will offer impressive fuel-saving technology.
This entirely new vehicle has a new, fully boxed frame made from several different types of high-strength and ultra-high-strength steels with nine unique cross-members. The new frame saves 88 pounds from the previous model. The suspension components attached to it have been reengineered to reduce and minimize resistance points to better control ride quality. Also, the truck's body has been computer sculpted with nine different types of metals to save weight and improve strength, as well as help absorb any crash forces that need transferring away from occupants.
The most popular configuration for this class is the four-door crew-cab short-bed (5.5 feet in the Silverado's case) model, which now has a wheelbase almost 4 inches longer than the 2018 model's but increases in overall length by less than 2 inches. This means engineers moved the wheels farther into the corners for more stability. All crew-cab models will provide almost 3 inches of additional legroom for rear passengers and two hidden storage pockets in the seatbacks of the rear seats; seatback will also be wall-mounted to better insulate the cabin from outside noise.
The new Silverado 1500 will eventually have six powertrain choices, doubling last year's number, some of which introduce new Dynamic Fuel Management technology that allows the V-8s to run on just one to eight cylinders to conserve fuel. DFM will offer up to 17 different software adjustments that can control each cylinder individually to provide the most specifically tailored and most efficient use of the cylinders needed at any given point based on load and other inputs.
The powertrains include an entry-level 4.3-liter V-6 with GM's active fuel management (deactivates from six to four cylinders to conserve fuel) and six-speed transmission, a 5.3-liter V-8 with AFM and six-speed, an all-new turbocharged 2.7-liter inline four-cylinder with AFM and a new eight-speed, a more technologically advanced 5.3-liter V-8 with DFM and an eight-speed, the 6.2-liter V-8 with DFM and a 10-speed, as well as the yet-to-be-seen turbo-diesel 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder Duramax engine with a 10-speed. The only EPA fuel economy estimates currently available are for the two engines we drove: the 5.3-liter V-8 with DFM (17/23/19 mpg city/highway/combined) and the 6.2-liter V-8 with DFM (16/20/17 mpg).
A Favorite for Every Fan
The new trim level lineup delivers some interesting choices. What Chevy calls the high-value-category trims begin with the base Work Truck that offers features popular with fleet buyers like vinyl floors and cloth seats with a less stylized overall look. The next trim is Custom, which offers a more personalized look with body-colored trim, chrome accents and even a 20-inch aluminum wheel option. The final choice in the high-value category is the Custom Trail Boss, a more economical off-road truck that will still offer some impressive 4×4 features (a 2-inch suspension lift, the Z71 Off-Road Package, and locking rear differential and extra skid plating). In the mid-trim high-volume category, the LT will have a unique bow-tie grille, bigger touchscreen and available leather. Next is the all-new RST street-performance trim that adds a new all-wheel-drive transfer case, a 22-inch wheel option and LED lighting. The LT Trail Boss gets all the options of the LT along with a unique extra look and the Z71 Off-Road Package. Of the top two high-feature trim levels, the LTZ will include a leather interior and the High Country will get, among other things, a unique grille, a two-tone chrome-and-bronze finish and a class-exclusive power up/down tailgate.
Relatively unchanged for decades, Chevy's new pickup bed includes a few structural changes that could prove important to many new-truck buyers: It has a thinner out wall, providing 7 extra inches of usable inside width. This directly translates into more volume than any other short-bed pickup in the class. Additionally, the bed itself is made from several different materials to both save weight and increase strength; the floor is made from cold-rolled steel while the walls are made from several levels of high-strength steel. Every bed will offer 12 tie-down loops (three vertical stacks in each corner), some rated for up to 500 pounds. Additionally, there are nine other holes (three horizontally in each wall) to allow buyers to add more tie-downs or other bed accessories they may want. The new beds will also offer LED lighting and a 120-volt three-prong outlet as well as a newly reshaped (and more useful) bumper step. Finally, the tailgate will be offered in four variants: a manual gate with no lift assist that's manually lockable, a lift-assist gate with a manual lock, a power-lockable gate with one-touch power-release capability and the top-of-the-line class-exclusive gate that raises or lowers via the key fob, touchpads on the gate or a button in the cabin. As you might expect, the four levels of tailgate tech are matched with different trim packages.
In the technology arena, the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 continues to offer 4G LTE Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and wireless phone charging along with all the benefits of OnStar. But it will also include a new, larger color head-up display and a full-time rearview-camera display in the rearview mirror (full width) that means you can literally see past head restraints, passengers or cargo in the bed for a real-time view of what's behind you. The truck will also offer a five-camera option to provide a stitched 360-degree bird's-eye view on the center console screen, along with auto braking, lane-keeping assist and forward collision warning with vibrating driver's seat alerts. Optional active safety features include a front camera system that can detect pedestrians and employ braking at up to 50 mph, visual and audible blind spot warnings, rear cross-traffic alert and more.
More Sport, More Strength
We drove three different versions of the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 that gave us a pretty good understanding of the breadth and depth of the model lineup. The RST AWD crew cab marked our first chance to drive the new all-wheel-drive transfer case. The system allows for two-wheel drive, full-time all-wheel drive and 4-High, and includes a feature, through the antilock braking system, that allows the big truck to behave as if it has a low-range gear for short stretches of time (the system uses the ABS to create the effect). Chevy said owner feedback indicated they don't use low range much, but they do like having it "just in case," whether for a slippery boat ramp, washed-out dirt road or tugging a friend out of a ditch.
Our time with the RST crew cab was spent running up and down some two-lane mountain highways where we were able to romp on the throttle and carve through some tight S-turns as well as claw our way around a few decreasing-radius corners. Yes, the RST does get street-biased tires and ours did have the 22-inch alloy wheels, so the extra grip shouldn't have surprised us; however, what did surprise us is how well-integrated the throttle response, steering precision and road manners were in a pickup of this size. The quietness of the interior and composure of the chassis are in a different league from the truck it's replacing. We'd guess that the front-end feel would rival a normal European sports sedan. We know that might sound like an overstatement (we've certainly driven more pickups than European sports sedans), but the ride quality matched with tight and versatile steering feel is unusual in a vehicle this large, especially when there's a giant bed in the back.
We should note that all new Silverado half tons receive a two-position rotary dial (one turn for Towing/Hauling and the other for a Sport mode) that controls mapping for the electronically controlled steering assist, throttle sensitivity and transmission mapping. We found the RST loves to be in Sport mode, which drops you down a gear or so, elevates engine rpm and has you jumping in and out of turns.
The RST will be offered with a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine (something many longtime, full-size pickup owners might be skeptical about), bringing back the Tripower name, but our test truck had the 5.3-liter V-8 with the new multi-displacement DFM system. Since much of our test drive with this truck was at an elevation of 7,000, power was down more than 20 percent, but we sure didn't feel it. We found the pedal response immediate and the eight-speed transmission was always ready to jump up or kickdown a gear when called upon. It's like a performance package the lineup has never had. Clearly Chevy is putting its best efforts in the more subtle and invisible details of the chassis and suspension tuning here, matching power with road feel. We like that.
A Better Off-Roader
We also drove the new off-road 4×4 Trail Boss Z71, which has a mild 2-inch suspension lift, monotube shocks, extra skid plating, optional Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires and a better approach angle due to the absence of a lower plastic valance. Our off-road truck also had the standard 5.3-liter aluminum-block V-8 with the DFM system and eight-speed transmission, exactly the combination we had in the RST.
We ran this truck through the Grand Teton mountain range and, even at elevations reaching 9,000 feet we weren't wanting for passing power or carving prowess through the mountain passes. Even with a slightly taller stance than the other trim levels, there was not the slightest bit of "tippyness" to the road feel. The standout feature here during a section of smooth road was during hard cornering: The balance and control of the front end, as well as the composure of the rear live axle when running over choppy blacktop, was notable. We've driven a lot of half-ton pickups that have trouble maintaining their poise when driving empty over uneven surfaces. This is where you can tell GM gave its chassis engineers a lot of latitude.
We were thankful that at the end of our paved mountain drive, Chevy had created a private off-road park with several interesting 4×4 obstacles for us to challenge the Silverado 1500 Trail Boss. Given how controlled and firm the suspension was on mountain road, we found the Trail Boss impressively supple and compliant when navigating in low range over a pile of unevenly spaced logs and ruts. Combine that with the easier-to-use push-button electronic four-wheel drive, and the truck feels like it has a split personality.
Our test truck in the 4×4 park was equipped with 30-inch-tall Goodyear Wrangler tires at full tire pressures, which gave us the climbing power to claw our way over the crest of the steep hill climb. Waiting for us on the other side was a boulder-strewn pathway we had to traverse — it almost looked like those sharp and jagged chunks of broken granite wanted to reach out and slash the body panels. We found the throttle sensitivity sufficiently modulated to allow us to dance along the tops of the rocks without any of the annoying surge and stall cycles we've experienced on some trucks. Thankfully, Chevy kept the column shifter that can control the transmission with a manual rocker switch once pulled down into a manual mode. We crawled the rocks in 1st gear, L1.
Our final obstacle was a 20-yard stretch of mud and muck, just waiting to splash past the bumper and grille to be ingested into the air intake and engine compartment. So, we crawled along slowly, keeping our wheel speed relatively low while in low range, fighting for traction under the sludge. Not much drama there, but we did get some good action shots. You're welcome!
Living the High Life While Towing
Our third and final test truck was the top-of-the-line High Country hooked up to a 6,000-pound closed cargo trailer. The High Country (and the LTZ) come standard with the all-new that makes towing about as easy and safe as we've ever seen on a half ton. Chevy does this by including a departure checklist within the touchscreen, equipping the truck with as many as six cameras, all of which can be accessed on-screen (some with zoom-in capability). There is even a theft alert you can activate that taps into the vehicle's alarm if someone is tempted to unhitch your trailer.
Among our favorite features: The system can check all the trailering lights to make sure they're in working order, as well as give the driver individual temperature and pressure readings for each tire in real time. But the most significant thing Chevy is doing to make trailering safer is putting a dedicated label on every Silverado 1500 that lists the gross vehicle weight rating, gross combined weight rating and maximum payload, tongue weight and trailering capacity for that particular pickup. Everyone will know exactly what their specific pickup can legally tow and carry — no more guessing. We really like that.
The camera settings were remarkably easy to control and adjust; we used the cameras to search around the truck and trailer, and even checked to make sure our chains were crossed properly — all from the safety of the driver's seat. As to ride quality, we suspect the trailer Chevy provided was perfectly weighted with low-center-of-gravity material (maybe lead ingots or bags of cement) and likely had the perfectly apportioned amount of weight on the tongue. It probably was not close to a normal towing experience, but with that in mind, the High Country with the 6.2-liter V-8 was composed and quiet during our 20-mile lake-loop highway drive. We found the 10-speed quick to downshift when looking to pass and it provided energetic downshifts when braking (sometimes two and three gears at a time), especially when in Tow/Haul mode. Our only complaint was that it did not have towing mirrors, which we hear will be an option by the end of the year. They will be electronically extendable and foldable into the truck, similar to what current heavy-duty models offer. Also, although Chevy's tow package gives you a bigger and stronger rear axle and lower axle gear, it does not offer any type of overload spring package to beef up the rear of the truck beyond a composite overload spring that is essentially there to save weight. We'd like to see more here.
The pickups we drove were quite diverse and covered a healthy price range. The RST listed for just less than $50,000, while the LT Trail Boss Z71 was just less than $55,000 and the High Country just less than $65,000. For the full lineup, excluding options, base prices (including destination) start at $29,795 and go to $54,495.
The 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 is packed with new features and an impressive number of upgrades and improvements, but from what we've seen from the Silverado's direct competitors, that's pretty much the price of entry, especially if you want to make some noise and get attention. Manufacturers of other half tons will be watching, because this is what it looks like when a big corporation understands the value of a prized nameplate and gives it full support. Chevy doesn't seem to have skimped on this one. A dramatic look, new features, new trims, new technology and a vastly improved powertrain lineup (especially important to this class) clearly show this is a different Silverado 1500 than we've seen in the past. The Truck Wars are motivating engineers and corporate executives to go all-in to sell profitable pickups and grab more market share — and this half ton is just the latest piece of evidence. The 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 looks like it's going to be a game-changer for Chevy and the class.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears
Custom Trail Boss
LT Trail Boss