Wednesday, June 13, 2007

WRAP-UP: 2007 Silverado LT2 Z714x4

Four months ago, I left home seeing a '07 Suburban LT2 4x4 parked in the driveway, and I returned to find an '07 Silverado LT2 Z71 4x4 occupying approximately the same amount of space. Consider this: both use the same (approximate) GVWR, platform, 4x4 system and 5.3-liter V8 with cylinder deactivation.

The more things change. C'mon - couldn't they have at least ticked the box for the VortecMAX 6.0-liter before handing it off to the GMT Blog?

Still, even having driven both short- and long-wheelbase GMT 900 utilities, the Silverado makes for a different yet satisfying drive. The changes between it and its SUV siblings are relatively small, yet the differences are enough to make it much more endearing to the weirdo progressive-nonconformist that I am.

First and foremost: I love the pickup-only dashboard. Yes, it's only on the "lesser trims" (W/T and LT), but I find it much easier to live - and drive - with than that on upper trim levels or on Tahoes and Suburbans. HVAC and audio controls - consisting of a multitude of tiny buttons - are now at a level where they can be inspected with minimal distraction. The biggest improvement is the new location of the transfer case switch (right-hand side of steering column). I can now actually see what drivetrain mode I've selected, as opposed to ducking behind the turn signal switch to read the miniscule LED indicators.

I've never owned a car without a front bench seat yet, so I'm enthralled that this truck has them as well. It took GM nearly ten years to copy what Dodge started, but the new span-to-span seat features spacious storage areas built within. The armrest features clips for papers and space for three Big-Gulps (simultaneously). In-seat storage keeps valuables both safe and (thanks to a 12-volt outlet) charged.

I'm also surprised at the truck's ride prowess. Normally, I've found most any pickup to ride harsher over broken surfaces than their SUV counterpart. Not so with the Silverado. Even with the off-road inspired Z71 package, the suspension soaks up rough pavement, potholed gravel and rough trail much better than the base Suburban did.

On the downside, room for rear seat passengers in the extended cab is tight, and the steering feels slightly sloppier than what was in the Suburban. Although the truck remains stable, the increase in feedback transmitted via the steering rack to the point where it almost feels twitchy. I'll attribute this mainly due to the weight bias of a pickup being over the front axle, but I'll be totally surprised - and in love - with a pickup that exhibits little to none of such bump steer.

GM claims its full-size pickup sales are least effected by gas prices than any other competitor, but that didn't prevent them from aiming for good fuel economy. Let's face it - at 15-16 mpg city and gas retailing at close to $3.30 a gallon, it wasn't cheap to keep the grey behemoth's thirst quelled, but the fuel economy was decent for a full-size pickup. Consider this - the V6 SRX that's currently in the driveway gets the same fuel economy, if not worse, despite its smaller motor and stature.

Some attribution for the reasonable fuel economy stems from the "Active Fuel Management" (re: cylinder deactivation), but my gripe with GM's system continues here. No, it's not noticible while switching between modes, nor does it impede accelleration all that much. My problem lies with the fact that it only seems to switch to four-cylinder mode when coasting. This system was designed to switch on during light accelleration as well, but no matter how gently the accellerator was touched, the 5.3 jumped back into eight-cylinder mode.

GM, we know performance is important, but c'mon - can't you give us an economy mode? Can't we (those who pay not only for the truck but for its fuel) a choice between balls-out performance and miserly economy? May I suggest a simplistic button that switches between two types of calibration? And may I also join the groves of armchair quarterbacks and consumers alike calling for the roll-out

My other qualm is surprising: the interior. Yes, I know I praised it not four paragraphs above, but there's still considerable room for improvement. The GM Truck Blog was invited out to GM's Milford Proving Grounds to flog their trucks against the competition. You'll hate me from a domestic-purist perspective, but from a 'all vehicles have an equal chance' point of view, Toyota's new Tundra should quickly become a benchmark for its interior, if nothing else. I've never been in a truck with so many creative storage compartments, including those in doors, armrests, seats, instrument panels, and elsewhere.

I'm also happy to see that an organized center console, capable of hanging file folders, has returned to the segment after the death of the Sierra Professional. Altogether, outside of switchgear, GM should - no, must blow this interior away when it comes to a mid-cycle refresh for the GMT 900.

But in terms of ride quality, performance and fuel economy, the Silverado's hard (if not impossible) to beat. It's been said about previous iterations, but it remains true for this generation of Silverado: it's one rock-solid package.


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