1999 Chevrolet Silverado 1500
1999 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Conservative clothing hides a great new truck.
Chevrolet has completely re-engineered and redesigned its line of pickup trucks. Now called Silverado, the new pickup is better than the old one in every respect. It rides better, it handles better, it stops quicker, it's faster and more powerful and it's more comfortable. The new Silverado is the most luxurious pickup truck we've ever driven. It may be the best full-size pickup on the market.
Our only problem with it is that it looks exactly like the old one. Where Dodge and Ford broke new ground in truck design with their Ram and F-150 pickups, Chevrolet has chosen a conservative design for its new Silverado.
Chevrolet argues that its customers are so happy with their trucks and so loyal to the brand that they want the new trucks to look just like the old ones. That may be, but we still think they look a bit on the bland side.
Underneath its conservative looks is a great truck that has almost nothing in common with the old one. Even the name is new. The old C/K designation has been dropped in favor of the new Silverado name.
The 1999 Chevrolet Silverado is built on a completely new frame that is the stiffest and lightest truck frame General Motors has ever built. The front frame rails are hydroformed, a process that uses high-pressure hydraulics to shape steel. Tubular crossmembers and roll-formed mid-rails increase rigidity further. This stiff structure enhances handling and ride quality immensely, while improving crashworthiness.
Three new V8 engines are available, in 4.8-, 5.3- and 6.0-liter displacements. All three are based on the new GM small-block architecture that was introduced on the Corvette two years ago and shared with the Camaro and Firebird last year. A 4.3-liter V6 is still available and comes with a number of improvements, but the V8s will be sold in much higher volumes.
A 5-speed manual gearbox is standard in the base truck, but most opt for the 4L60 and 4L65 4-speed automatics with a new delayed-upshift feature for towing; they are excellent automatics.
There's a new aluminum short- and long-arm front suspension, with coil springs on 2-wheel-drive models and torsion bars on 4-wheel-drive models. Brakes are large, heavy-duty discs on all four corners, and ABS is standard on all models.
As with the exterior design, the Silverado interior reflects traditional Chevrolet thinking. The doors and door openings are now the largest in the industry, while the cab is the roomiest.
The instrument package looks like a cross between what is found in the new Corvette and what was used in the previous C/K trucks. It comprises a large speedometer and tachometer flanked by four smaller gauges. All use pleasant graphics in white on black. The sound system control panel is located above the climate controls. The climate control system uses a rotary dial layout that works perfectly. There are three 12-volt outlets at the bottom center of the dashboard for radar detectors, cellular telephones, laptop computers, and other accessories.
Our test truck was an LT Extended Cab equipped with leather bucket seats power everything that provided good support in hard corners. The front seats were equipped with optional heaters. The doors lock automatically as soon as you pull away, but this feature can be de-programmed at the dealership.
The LT package comes with a lockable floor console. Large enough to hold a picnic lunch for a family of four, it comes with a reversible, removable cup holder tray and a storage nook in front of the lid. Air conditioning outlets and a set of drop-down cup holders are built in for rear-seat passengers.
A compass is incorporated into the LT model's overhead console, along with three storage areas for sunglasses, garage door opener, and small items. The door trim is a nice combination of vinyl panels and dotted velour that is soft and warm to the touch.
We were pleasantly surprised when we climbed through the third door of the extended-cab Silverado and into the back seat, which has been redesigned and remounted for far greater room and comfort. At 6-foot 4-inches, I'm often uncomfortable in the back seats of extended-cab pickup trucks, but not in this one. When cargo capacity is more important than hauling passengers, the entire rear seat assembly can be removed through the side door with a wrench and a heave-ho.
About the only thing we didn't like was the design of the interior door handles, which operate in an up-and-in arc and felt loose whenever we used them. We think they need more resistance and a more positive feel.
We loved every mile we put on the Silverado LT. It drives like a luxury car and is supremely smooth and quiet--unlike the Dodge and Ford trucks.
That smooth, quiet, unified feel is largely due to the new chassis, which offers a 23-percent increase in stiffness. New mounting and isolation hardware reduces noise and vibration. A cast magnesium beam behind the instrument panel and a lateral steel beam between the magnesium beam and the right side of the dash further reinforce the stiff body. Squeaks and rattles have been completely eliminated, even when flying down a rutted dirt road at 50 mph. This is one strong truck, and its strength lets the suspension soak up and manage all the bumps and ruts and tar strips so well that its overall ride behavior is near-luxury. A long, 143-inch wheelbase improves the ride further and enhances high-speed stability.
A massive four-spoke steering wheel connects to a new rack-and-pinion steering system (recirculating ball on 4X4 models). The steering has a fairly wide dead spot in the center when cruising, which Chevrolet says is designed to minimize steering corrections on the highway. The steering feels a bit too light, but we found it tracks beautifully and handles well on pavement, loose dirt, deep dirt and off-road.
Although the 4.8-liter small-block V8 is the most popular engine for this truck, our Silverado LT had the optional 5.3-liter (324 cubic-inch) engine, rated at 270 horsepower and 315 foot-pounds of torque. That's enough torque to smoke the rear tires at will. This engine has a fat torque curve, which makes it useful for light towing and hauling, but it's also a lot of fun for commuting and touring. The new engine is a much better small-block than before, and we recommend the 5.3-liter over the smaller 4.8-liter version.
Brakes have been improved substantially over the previous model and it's a welcome improvement. The four-wheel disc brakes are huge and powerful and come standard with ABS. Braking force comes into play only an inch into the pedal travel, a welcome improvement over the mushy pedal on the previous C/K pickup. A new feature called Dynamic Rear Proportioning improves stability under heavy braking whether the truck is loaded or empty. Chevrolet promises huge improvements in fade resistance, pad life and heat dissipation, and after beating these brakes hard we believe them.
The Chevrolet Silverado is by far the best among the newest generation of full-size pickups from the Big 3, perhaps because it is the newest design.
The Silverado LT we drove is the smoothest, quietest, most civilized, best equipped, and most enjoyable pickup truck we've ever driven. The new Chevy Silverado ranges from $15,995 for a two-wheel-drive regular cab base-trim model to about $31,365 for a four-wheel-drive 3-door extended cab in LT trim. (All prices include $640 destination charge.) All offer a smooth, quiet ride and quality feel.
The base V6 model offers the same smooth, quiet ride and quality feel. If you're shopping for pickup truck this year that you'll still want to be driving in 2008, check out this Silverado. That is, if the conservative clothing doesn't put you off.
Options As Tested
LT Extended Cab.
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