Who would have guessed that these would be times of trepidation for trucks, or at least the people who make and sell them?

We sensed long ago that big SUVs would get their comeuppance, pressured on one end by political and environmental correctness and on the other by the instability of fuel prices.

But trucks seemed to always fly beneath the radar of either threat. They were seen, both by truckers and suburbanites, as acceptably utilitarian.

But now Dodge has too many trucks in supply and Ford’s vaunted F-Series — one of best-selling lines ever built — is losing some of its luster. It’s an inauspicious time for Chevrolet to introduce its new truck lineup, which features an auspicious remake of its best-selling Silverados.

Consider today’s test truck, the 2007 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 4WD Extended Cab LTZ. The interior is a major upgrade over past models. Its power plants have more verve and are somehow quieter than ever. And its ride, owing to a new suspension and stiffer ladder-frame construction, is more stable than even the redesigned 2007 Chevrolet Suburban that I drove at about the same time.

Great truck, bad timing, is all I can say.

That does not mean, of course, that it should be chalked up as a loss. Plenty of folks will still buy this truck, in all its forms, and with good reason.

Silverado has a western tang that seems to reach back years, yet the tag was only applied to full-sized Chevy trucks in 1999. The company billed its family/gear/construction-goods hauler as “bigger, stronger, faster, smarter .”

Multi powered can be added to the description of the new Silverado — it has four engine options. There’s a V-6, 4.3-liter job with 195 horsepower; a 295-horsepower, 4.8-liter V-8 (haulers of small sailboats and quaint horse trailers, tow away); a 5.3-liter V-8 with 315 horsepower that is flex-fuel capable (where besides Iowa do you readily find this stuff?); and a 6.0-liter V-8 with 367 horsepower.

Adding to the mix, there are eight powertrain combos with two four-speed automatic transmissions, a five-speed manual, three beds of varied length, and three trim levels.

First, pick a cab: regular, with a front seat and some space behind for cargo; extended (as tested in flex-fuel version), with modest back seats and rear-hinged doors; and a crew cab, with four full doors and a big back seat. Beds come in 5-foot-8-inch, 6-foot-6-inch, and 8-foot lengths.

Whatever the choice, variably tuned suspensions give buyers a chance to tweak their rides. Of particular note is independent, coil-over shock suspension coupled with a leaf-spring setup in the rear. In a pickup, leaf springs normally sit high when empty and squat efficiently to absorb heavy loads. This often means a skittish ride with an empty bed. By stretching and lowering the spring height, engineers have made a utilitarian breakthrough without giving up load capacity .
Silverado tilts toward safety, though not quite enough. Dual front air bags and anti lock brakes are standard. Unfortunately, stability control is standard only on crew cab models (what, suburbanites don’t need protection?) and is available on extended cabs. Side curtain air bags are an option that should be standard because most buyers won’t choose to pay for these life-saving devices.

The trained eye will pick up a bolder exterior — though not as brash as the Dodge trucks or as quirky as Honda’s oh-so-sweet-to-drive Ridgeline. To me, it still looks Chevy truck.

Inside, fit and finish are a true upgrade from past Chevy trucks — more in line with sibling SUVs from General Motors — and standard features are plentiful. They include an AM/FM/six-CD sound system with MP3 capability; dual-zone climate control; power locks, windows, and mirrors; and dual glove-box storage.

The test truck’s base price of just under $32,000 got bumped to almost $36,000 with the addition of such options as an off – road package ($625), front leather seating surfaces ($850), 18-inch aluminum wheels ($250), and a power sliding rear window ($250).

This is a fine truck, with many amenities often associated with upscale SUVs. The question is, how far does the plague afflicting SUV sales spread into the previously inoculated world of the pickup truck?

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