DEER LAKE, NL -- Full disclosure: I'm a lifelong fan of General Motors trucks.
But, despite that, I've felt the General has been on autopilot in recent years, at least when it comes to pickups. So much so that I've even waxed poetic about the Ford F-150 and, for a short week last summer, completely fell in love with a Dodge Ram decked out in Laramie Longhorn trim.
It wasn't that there was anything wrong with the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks; it was just that the competition kept getting better, while the General seemed to sit back and watch.
The Silverado, for instance, hasn't been significantly altered since 2007. So, when word of a brand-spanking-new 2014 model first hit my inbox last year, the anticipation was akin to the arrival of a new baby.
I had the chance to check out the new Silverado last fall at the Detroit Auto Show, and was on the fence with its looks. But last week, in what was surely the most whirlwind trip of my budding auto journalism career, I hopped a plane to Deer Lake, Newfoundland, for a one-night stay and a long-awaited test drive.
On the surface, this new baby doesn't look dramatically different from its predecessor, but looks can be deceiving. This new Silverado is abundantly smarter, more powerful, easier on fuel, and much more thoughtfully designed.
The 2014 Silverado 1500 will be available in seven distinct trim levels, including a pair of works trucks, (WTs) and the LT and LTZ models that are available with the Z71 off-road package. This fall, the Silverado High Country will debut, giving Chevrolet a new entry in the popular premium-pickup segment.
From the curb, the new Silverado has a square look about it that initially takes some getting used to. But, as the day wore on and my eyes adjusted, it quickly began to grow on me. There are three models available: regular cab, double cab and crew cab. The suicide doors on the double cab are gonzo -- they open the right way now, and you don't have to open the front doors for access.
Under the hood, the new Silverado is available with a choice of three new EcoTec3 engines -- a 4.3L V-6, a 5.3L V-8 and a 6.2L V-8. Although these engines may share the same displacement as their Vortec predecessors, these mills are brand new and loaded with the latest fuel-saving technology, including direct injection, cylinder deactivation and continuously variable valve timing.
As well as being more fuel-efficient, these new engines pump out more power. The new 4.3L V-6 makes 285 horsepower and 305 lb.-ft. of torque. This engine provides more than enough power for most buyers, and is a huge improvement over the old Vortec engine. It pulls hard, and even the exhaust note sounds better.
The big news, however, is the new 5.3L V-8. an absolute jewel that makes a whopping 355 horsepower and 383 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel consumption is rated at just 8.7L/100km on the highway, the best of any V-8 pickup and, according to GM, better than the Ford EcoBoost V-6. Take that, Fordboy. Official numbers for the new 6.2L V-8, available later this year, will also surely feature whopping power numbers and increased fuel savings. All three engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
All these numbers, however, really don't mean much until you actually get behind the wheel and, although I didn't have time to get "Screeched In" while visiting the Rock, I can tell you that on a deserted highway, with the ocean at my back and a mountain in my face, I screeched the living daylights out of the tires in a 5.3L Silverado.
General Motors wrote the book on small-block V-8 engines, and they had much riding on this new one. So, as a GM guy, I'm happy to report that they hit this out of the park. You can accelerate from zero to hero in the blink of an eye.
We even had the chance to do some off-roading and, while the course wasn't as harsh as the goat path the RM of Springfield passes off as the road I live on, my pal and co-pilot Steve Bochenek did our best to scare the bejesus out of the GM exec who unwisely climbed in the backseat for our off-road hell runs. Given the Cadillac ATS test-crash I made last fall, I suspect he may have been there by design. It was pretty quite back there as we hammered repeatedly through the course.
Another lament among Chevy fans was the boring interiors offered on previous truck models. It looks like they heard us, because these new trucks have a level of fit and finish never before found on a Chevy. The interior is roomy, thoughtfully laid out and surprisingly luxurious.
Chevy has also figured out that us techno-geeks drive trucks too, loading the new Silverado with enough places to plug in a myriad of electronic devices. In the model we tested, there were five USB ports, two 12-volt power points, a new 110-volt outlet and a spot on the console designed specifically for cellphone storage.
Stevie and I travel with enough electronic gadgets to do a Mission Impossible, and for the first time ever we weren't fighting over places to plug all our gizmos in. I'll save all the technical jargon for a deeper future review, but rest assured that GM's MyLink system allows you to hook up all your Bluetooth stuff with plenty-of-fish efficiency.
Storage also seems to have been a huge mandate in the design of this truck. The cab is loaded with places to store water bottles, tools, maps and even a laptop computer, which can be tucked out of sight in the cavernous centre console. That may not see like a big deal at first blush, but spend a few days with this truck and you'll welcome a place for everything and everything in its place.
In the business end of the truck, the box, there have also been a few subtle but welcome changes. First up are the nifty steps found on both sides of the back bumper, previously offered in the now discontinued Chevrolet Avalanche. These bumper notches make climbing up into the truck box a breeze, even for an oaf like me.
That dorky handle/step setup in the Ford F-150 tailgate works well, but requires you to open the gate to access the box. With the Chevy, you can climb into or simply access the truck bed without opening the tailgate, which also opens and closes with a soft touch -- the best way to describe it is like an old-school cassette deck.
Silverado crew cabs with the available 5.3L EcoTec3 V-8 are already arriving at Chevrolet dealers across Canada, while the remainder of the line-up will hit showrooms throughout the summer. MSRP for the regular cab is $25,540, double cab is $29,435 and crew cab is $30,995.
While there's no doubt that I liked the new Silverado, the big question is did I LOVE it? You bet. With a few small tweaks to the exterior styling that I'm certain will emerge in the next few model years, there's little doubt that Ford and Dodge once again have a formidable comprtitor in the race for truck supremacy.
My overall impression of the new Silverado can be summed up with two words ... Yeah buddy!