Now SS stands for Super Smoke!
Just introduced in 2-wheel-drive, the new 2005i Silverado SS boils the tires with all the authority of a John Force half-track burnout. This basic street-cred maneuver had been hopeless in the original Silverado SS with its all-wheel-drive setup. Sure, the AWD Silverado SS would jerk your neck pretty good on a brake-stand launch, and you might get a little bit of tire chirp. But forget about smoke or any serious rubber calling cards on the asphalt.
The updated Silverado SS still won't challenge its direct competition in the halo truck category-the Ford SVT Lightning or Dodge Ram SRT-10-in total power or street performance. But it's a helluva lot more fun to drive and less expensive to purchase. More important, the 2WD version-and a special Intimidator SS from Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet-give us a preview of upcoming features on the 2006 Silverado line. We also heard about a new pickup configuration and a new Allison transmission that will be available in next year's fullsize truck lineup.
I took the new Silverado SS for a quick 30-mile drive along back roads through the North Carolina woods surrounding the NASCAR shop of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. It still pulls hard with 345 horsepower coming from the 6.0-liter LQ9, but I found the aging 4L85-E 4-speed automatic transmission to be sluggish and slow to respond to the pedal. Also, GM went to a higher 3.73:1 rear axle ratio in the 2WD, compared to the 4.10:1 in the AWD version, which doesn't help quickness when you stab the throttle. On the plus side, the truck is 258 pounds lighter without the transfer case and front diff and tips the scales at 4934 pounds. The starting price of $35,590 (not including the $850 destination charge) is also about $3,000 lighter on your wallet than the AWD version.
My first drive hardly revealed all the road qualities and performance potential of the new drivetrain. The pre-determined drive route never found a speed limit over 50mph, and we rarely encountered a long, straight stretch of road without steady traffic. My driving partner, Truckin's Bob Ryder, did find a spot lonely enough to switch off the traction control and light up the tires for my camera. I'm looking forward to a full week of seat time and a couple hundred dollars worth of gas to put the truck through its proper paces.
Although the Silverado SS is challenged when matched with the Lightning or SRT-10, the SS does have many qualities that continue to impress, despite the age of the Silverado platform. The interior is comfortable and roomy. I remain a fan of the Silverado dash layout and instrument panel. I like that it isn't symmetrical and puts function ahead of style. I like that the main audio controls are on the left side of the unit. I like that there is a full array of analog gauges and the tach is easy to differentiate from the speedo. There may be a sea of plastic around of you, but in Dark Charcoal the blandness is well masked. For 2006, GM started offering the Silverado SS in the LS trim, which starts out with a cloth covered 60/40 bench seat, to help bring down the prices. Previous SS models were available only with the leather bucket seats in the LT trim. Either setup is supportive and easy on the backside. Besides the available LT upgrades, other interior options include XM satellite radio, moonroof, Bose sound system and automatic climate control.
One big improvement for 2005 that is found on all Silverado models is the redesigned brake system. GM switched to front disc/rear drum from 4-wheel disc but improved or replaced the master cylinder, power booster, front calipers and front rotors. GM truck brakes have been notorious for poor pedal feel and braking effort. The stopping distance was satisfactory, but the pedal feel hardly instilled confidence. The new brakes are wonderfully balanced and with no more mushy pedal feel.
The SS comes with GM's Z60 suspension that is firm, stable and lowers the ride height to a more aggressive stance. The Z60 includes gas-charged shocks, front and rear anti-sway bars. It rides on P245/75R20 tires wrapped around 20-inch spoked alloy wheels. Exterior styling cues include diamond-mesh grille, air intakes in the lower front valance, chrome exhaust outlet and monochromatic paint. The SS is available only in black, silver and red. All SS trucks are first assembled in the Oshawa, Canada, truck plant, then taken off the line and sent to a nearby Tecstar facility for installation of the SS components.
Our brief drive in the new 2WD SS coincided with a visit to DEI for the introduction of the Intimidator SS, a special edition of the Silverado SS. The unique differences include a honeycomb front grille mesh, the Dale Earnhardt Legacy logo embroidered on the seat headrest, Intimidator badging and floormats, 20-inch chrome wheels and race-inspired tailgate spoiler. The truck also appeared to have the power dome hood, but there was no mention of such a modification in the press literature.
The unveiling came during Dale Earnhardt Day, which commemorated the racing legend's birthday. Thousands of fans from across the country came to the DEI shop for family activities, souvenir buying and meeting other Earnhardt faithful. Just 1333 Silverado Intimidator SS trucks will be produced, according to GM officials. This is the third Dale Earnhardt signature edition of a GM vehicle. He also lent his name to the 2002 Dale Earnhardt Signature Edition Monte Carlo (3333 units) and the 2004 Monte Carlo Intimidator SS (4000 units). Dale Jr. also has a signature series supercharged Monte Carlo from the 2004 model line. Chevrolet makes a donation to the Dale Earnhardt Foundation from the sale of the truck.
Before the introduction, GM officials talked about the Silverado SS and offered a few more details into the 2006 models before we start seeing early previews of the next-generation Silverado. The 2WD Silverado SS features a new 9.5-inch ring gear in the rear differential that will be offered in more models next year.
"This (9.5-inch ring gear) will start allowing us to put the performance levels above what we've had in the past," said Michael Tulumello, vehicle line director for GM's fullsize trucks.
Reading between the lines, it means that an even more powerful engine may become available in the Silverado SS soon and that the LQ9 will be offered in other Silverados. One online source says GM is looking at an engine with nearly 400 horsepower for the Silverado SS as well as offering it in a regular cab, shortbed configuration.
Officials did confirm that the power dome hood will be standard on all pickups next year. They also said a new configuration of the Extended Cab mated with the 68.5-inch short bed from the Crew Cab will be introduced. This combination will shorten the Silverado about 10 inches, making parking much easier and giving consumers who don't need a lot of payload or cargo volume an additional choice. The Extended Cab will be available with 5.7-, 6.5- and 8.1-foot long beds, matching a similar offering in the new Ford F-150 lineup. Finally, officials said a new 6-speed Allison automatic transmission will become available in the 2500/3500 heavy duty trucks. Besides closer gear ratios for improved shifting under load, this new tranny includes a tap-up, tap-down feature for more driver control. No other details were given about the 2006 lineup.