Review: 2009 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid
This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2013.
By Larry E. Hall of MSN Autos
For full-size pickup trucks, these are tumultuous times. The segment peaked at more than 2.5 million units in 2004 and 2005 and is expected to fall to fewer than 1.5 million this year, and even fewer in 2009. As gas-gulping trucks are parked or replaced by fuel-efficient small cars, Chevrolet’s Silverado Hybrid offers a compelling reason not to dismiss the pickup: substantially improved fuel economy. And it does this while meeting most of the needs of a family or a construction worker.
When it arrives at dealers in the first quarter of 2009, the hybrid truck will be available in only a 4-door crew cab body style with a short box. There is, however, a choice of either two- or four-wheel drive.
Like the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid SUV, the Silverado is adorned with can’t-miss “Hybrid” stickers to let others know the owner is a member of the green club. But unlike the Tahoe, the truck did not undergo major cosmetic surgery to provide improved aerodynamics. Instead, the Silverado receives a barely noticeable chin tuck (a deeper, full-width front air dam), a slightly lowered ride height and a standard tonneau cover on the cargo bed.
Under the Hood
If you’re not familiar with it, the two-mode transmission is a marvel in packaging. In the same space as the truck’s 6-speed automatic transmission are two 60-kilowatt electric motors, three planetary gearsets and four fixed gears.
In simple terms, the first mode is efficient at low speeds when the truck operates solely on electric power, or a combination of the electric motors and gasoline power. Mode two operates at highway speeds where four fixed gears are still the most efficient way to manage power and fuel economy. When the truck comes to a stop, the gas engine shuts off.
Power for the battery pack is supplied by capturing energy that is normally wasted when the vehicle is decelerating or the brakes are applied.
The wizardry of a hybrid powerplant isn’t the pickup’s sole fuel saver. The big V8 can also operate in an economical 4-cylinder mode from around 40 mph up to nearly 70 mph. Master this technique along with the characteristics of two-mode transmission, and the 26-gallon fuel tank will let you cruise for more than 500 miles on unleaded gasoline with the 2WD model.
The dash is almost elegant in its styling, with flush-mounted controls, quality materials in look and feel, and nearly invisible seams. There’s enough head, shoulder and legroom that even with five people (it can seat six) there’s a feeling of spaciousness.
Details of the standard equipment list haven’t been published, but expect all the convenience features that most buyers want: remote keyless entry; air conditioning; cruise control; power windows, locks and outside mirrors; a navigation system; a nice-sounding audio system with XM Satellite Radio; and GM’s OnStar system.
Also expect all of the modern safety features: anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control and a full complement of airbags.
On the Road
On the trail the vehicle exhibited a solid, stable feel. On the highway the ride was as close to a nice sedan as you'll ever find with a truck. The electrically boosted steering was on the numb side, but there was no need to constantly adjust the steering wheel.
Driver control dynamics belie the hybrid's 5,641-pound curb weight. The truck's handling stability is due in part to a fully boxed frame, coil-over-shock front suspension and a wide front and rear track (the distance between opposite wheels).
Mash the accelerator and 367 lb-ft of torque melds with the engine's horsepower as a reminder that there's big iron under the hood. But that's not what the Silverado Hybrid is about, and that's where things didn't seem to work correctly.
Unlike Tahoe Hybrids I've driven, this pickup could never reach the mid-20 mph range in electric-only operation. As for running just four cylinders at 50, 55 and 60 mph, unlike the Tahoe, it would do so only for very short times.
Engineers are still calibrating the control system that optimizes the transmission for best performance and economy, and I was told this was an anomaly to the specific vehicle I drove.
Right for You?
Towing capacity for the rear-drive Silverado Hybrid is 6,100 pounds; for the 4WD it's 5,900 pounds. That's down from 8,700 pounds and 8,500 pounds, respectively. Payload capacities are also lower by about 200 pounds, to around 1,450 pounds.
If you can live with that and a price that should be considerably less than the difference between the Tahoe and Tahoe Hybrid, enjoy your 500-plus miles of cruising.
Larry Hall is the editor of Northwest Auto News Service and a freelance journalist based in Olympia, Wash. Formore than 20 years, he’s covered the automotive industry for numerous trade journals, newspapers andbusiness publications.
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