SAN ANTONIO - General Motors paid special attention to smoothness and quietness, neither normally associated with big pickups, in redesigning its full-size trucks for 2014.
Knowing that a majority of pickups are used as personal vehicles at least some of the time, the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra were tested by GM over many miles of smooth roads and normal highway surfaces as well as on cratered paths.
It worked. The 2014 Chevy Silverado crew-cab models tested here are, in fact, remarkably smooth and quiet - a big deal if you take road trips with your family or work crews.
The 2014 trucks go on sale in June, but only as crew cabs with 5.3-liter V-8s. Other engines and cab/bed configurations come later this year.
To do more work with less fuel, GM trimmed weight, using more aluminum. A typical configuration is a crew cab, 5.3-liter V-8, with four-wheel drive (4x4) weighing roughly 5,200 pounds for 2014, about 200 pounds less than the 2013. A similar Ford F-150 or Toyota Tundra is close to 5,600 pounds. Chrysler's Ram 1500 is about 5,300 pounds.
If your truck weighs less, it generally can carry more. Test Drive thinks that's more important in a pickup than towing capacity. Almost everybody carries stuff. But most people don't tow - understandable because it can slice your mileage in half and make you nervous as an over-caffeinated cat if you're not used to it.
Without special-duty gear to boost capacity, Silverado crew 4x4 V-8 totes 1,957 pounds of people, cargo and accessories, according to Chevy. A similar Ford: 1,700 pounds. Tundra maxes at 1,575 and Ram's just 1,490 pounds, according to the automakers.
Towing capacity is harder to compare. Automakers don't necessarily measure towing capacity the same way. Assuming GM and Ford are close in their methods, the Silverado configured as above, without heavy-duty towing gear, can tow 6,600 pounds or 9,600 pounds, depending on axle ratio. The Ford: 7,700 to 9,300 pounds.
Lighter weight also should mean lower fuel consumption. In real-life runs around here, V-8, 4x4, crew-cab Silverados turned in low to mid-18s on the trip computer's mpg meter. That's about 1 mpg more than a similar F-150, driven similarly.
Texas, the biggest truck market in the U.S., gets about half the factory's production the first two months, so it might be awhile before your local dealer is awash in 2014 Silverados.
Testing was done with two adults aboard and was done without cargo; with 1,200 pounds in the bed; and with a tow of 8,700 pounds. Driving included mostly Texas two-lane blacktop, plus meandering on a really lame "off-road" course (a rural Midwest gravel driveway in winter would be more challenging).
Regardless of conditions, the Silverados maintained remarkably smooth, quiet poise.
Besides good manners under all conditions, what else stood out:
Powertrains. The new base 4.3-liter V-6 and optional 5.3-liter V-8 are dramatically updated from the engines of the same displacement they replace. Aluminum block and heads, no more cast iron. Both scoot quickly, pull loads gracefully and deliver decent fuel economy. Six-speed automatic works well and doesn't leave you feeling as if you're missing something by not having an eight-speed as Chrysler Group's Ram does. The 6.2-liter V-8 wasn't available to test.
The engines will run on E85 (which is, despite the name, 83% alcohol) and have higher power ratings doing so. The engine computer retunes the engines a bit to take advantage of alcohol's higher octane. But E85's energy content is 27% less than in pure gasoline, the Department of Energy says, increasing fuel use.
Seats. Comfort varies. Test Drive liked the cloth bench seat the best, and many must agree: Chevy says 70% of its trucks are built with the bench seat. Physiques differ, and yours might like the buckets.
Column-mounted gearshift. Loud applause for using a lever instead of a knob or push-buttons, and for keeping the shifter where it belongs in a truck.
Instruments. Big tachometer, big speedometer, four smaller gauges, all arrayed on the instrument panel. No goofy screen that you're supposed to customize. More applause.
Styling. Pickups aren't sports cars, and styling is secondary. Even so, Silverado looks a bit cartoonish, with an overdone grille (unless you get the Z71 package) and fender bulges. The rectilinear wheel openings, though long a Chevy signature, still look like a round peg is being stuffed into a square hole. At some angles, in some colors, the goofy look fades and Silverado looks pretty cool.
Interior. Well put together, and the surfaces are attractive to see and touch, but some of the bulges and angles seem needless, as if trying too hard to make a statement.
Infotainment. Continues GM's good execution, easy operation.
Plugs. The high-end test trucks had multiple USB plugs, two 12-volt outlets and a 115-volt outlet. That's how a truck should be outfitted.
Cargo bed. Spray-in bed liner's now a factory option, for those who prefer that to a drop-in liner but don't want to trust their new truck to Joe's Bedliner, Bait and Barley Shop. The optional soft-drop tailgate is a welcome feature that should be standard on all pickups. Not unique, though. Tundra's had it since 2007.
Back seat. Bigger aisle between the seat and door pillar makes it less likely you'll tangle your feet getting in, and 2 more inches of rear legroom is welcome. Yet, it still doesn't look or feel as spacious as rivals.
Stew it all together and you have a truck with excellent manners, solid performance, top-flight capabilities that's so-so on eye appeal and still needs a better back seat.
What? Full remake of full-size pickup, which is General Motors' best-selling vehicle.
When? Four-door, five- or six-passenger crew cab with 5.3-liter V-8 on sale in June.
Extended cab, standard cab and V-6 engine available about two months later; 6.2-liter V-8 will be available this fall.
Where? Silao, Mexico. Extended and standard cabs, Flint, Mich.
How much? Base crew cab with V-6, rear-wheel drive starts at $32,710 including $995 shipping. Typically equipped V-8, crew cab, four-wheel drive is about $45,000.
What makes it go? All engines now use aluminum blocks and cylinder heads.
Base 4.3-liter V-6 rated 285 horsepower at 5,300 rpm, 297 pounds-feet of torque at 5,300 rpm (297 hp, 330 lbs.-ft. using E85 fuel).
Optional 5.3-liter V-8 rated 355 hp at 5,600 rpm, 383 lbs.-ft. at 5,600 rpm (380 hp, 416 lbs.-ft. on E85).
Optional 6.2-liter V-8 not yet rated.
All use six-speed automatic transmission.
How thirsty? 5.3-liter V-8 rated 16 mpg in the city, 23 highway, 19 combined city/highway (rear-wheel drive); 16/22/18 (four-wheel drive). V-6 and 6.2-liter V-8 not yet rated.
Trip computers in test trucks on rural two-lane roads, using some full-throttle acceleration and two adults aboard, registered:
V-6, four-wheel drive; no cargo: 17.5 mpg (5.71 gal./100 mi.)
V-8, rear-drive, no cargo: 18.5 mpg (5.41 gal/100 mi.)
V-8, four-wheel drive, no cargo: 18.2 mpg (5.49 gallons per 100 miles)
V-8, four-wheel drive, 1,200 lbs. of cargo: 17.8 mpg (5.62 gal./100 mi.)
V-8, four-wheel drive towing 8,700 lbs.: 9.5 mpg (10.53 gal./100 mi.)
Burns regular (or E85), holds 26 gallons.
Overall: Gentrified workhorse.
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)