It's a turbulent time for full-sized pickups. For the past three decades, the Ford F-series has been the segment's undisputed king of the hill. But a recent slowdown in demand and production means its crown may be up for grabs. Toyota's gearing up to launch the newest Tundra, the product of a titanic undertaking to match the domestics on their own turf. And then there's General Motors, which is launching its latest full-size light-duty pickups — the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra — this month, and they no longer want to merely be a part of that action, they want to dominate it. And damned if they aren't ready for a brawl.
The 2007 Silverado and Sierra, twin toolboxes in GM's lineup, are entirely different vehicles than their predecessors were. GM's spared little expense reworking its light-truck platform and the sheetmetal that shrouds it. Payload of the Silverado/Sierra is up with a base carry of 1,564 lbs, and topping out at 2,160 lbs. Towing capacity is up too, starting at 4,300 lbs and topping out at 10,500 lbs. Naturally, as GM execs are thrilled to point out, such numbers give the new pickups claim to the nominal title of best-in-class, as do EPA ratings (of the 4.3L V-6, the least powerful engine configuration) of 17 mpg city 21 mpg highway, numbers we actually saw on a recent test drive in the Arizona desert.
The cold endorsement of mathematics notwithstanding, these new pickups are out to avenge GM's honor on the streets as well as on the job site. Confronting the dichotomy between stump-pulling utility and carlike refinement, GM offers an option book full of engine and suspension configurations, from that fuel-sipping 4.3L six-valve all the way up the chain to the 367 hp "Vortex Max" 6.0-liter V8, coupled with a heavy-duty four-speed transmission, 4.10 rear-axle gears and locking diff. In that combination, the Silverado rivals the long-time leader in horses, the 5.7-liter, 335 hp HEMI in Dodge's Laramie Edition Ram. As in previous years, GM also offers the off-road-capable Z71 package, which adds off-road shocks, skid plates, an automatic locking rear diff and a high-capacity air cleaner. And thanks to a new rack-and-pinion setup the steering feel's smoother and more precise — unlike it's older sibling, which made you feel like you were moving a land barge.
Inside, Chevrolet aimed to correct a multitude of sins from Silverados past, mainly, the acres of cheap n' flimsy materials marring earlier models. There's still plenty of cheap n' flimsy to go around, but new fabrics and plastics and a deft designer's touch make the cab feel less institutional and more familial. The elegant binnacle and console setup straddles the line between minimalism (e.g., Dodge Ram), and techie-modern (e.g., Nissan Titan), while smart touches like storage units and folding rear seats that give way to a flat loading floor (one of the coolest features on the truck) add up to what could be the best interior in its class. The more luxe GMC Sierra shares a dash and molded center console with the more lavishly appointed Yukon SUV. It's the most notable differentiation between the Silverado and Sierra, two cousins that were once as close as twins.
The verdict? GM's made a costly run at Ford's 27-year dominance, which many said was unassailable. For its trouble, the Silverado's ahead in the numbers game. But more important, the close attention paid to these high-margin vehicles shows up in just about every aspect. They're far more civilized and better capable for backbreaking work than the trucks they replace. The next move may be Toyota's — but for the time being, the General's atop the hill, wearing the crown.