Few things in the automobile industry are as fierce or entertaining as the battle for the hearts and wallets of full-size pickup truck buyers, who now are royalty tempted with limousine-like products.
The stakes are enormous and there are only a few scrappy players. Pickups deliver the highest profits of any vehicles and they consistently top the sales charts, never mind that customers eagerly pay premium prices. In the United States in 2012, six nameplates combined for more than 1.6 million sales.
Of the six, four are from American manufacturers: Ford, Chevrolet, Ram (from Chrysler) and GMC. Two Japanese companies, Toyota and Nissan, are also-rans. Ford is a consistent leader with 645,316 F Series pickups sold in 2012.
But Chevrolet and its General Motors sibling, GMC, work in tandem to overtake Ford. They accounted for 575,497 sales in 2012. Together, Ford and General Motors built nearly 75 percent of all the pickups sold in the country.
Ram has been coming on strong as well, accounting for 293,363 sales in 2012. Moreover, its latest design won it the North American Truck of the Year award last January, conferred by an independent panel of automotive journalists.
With all that, it's news when one of the big three manufacturers introduces an all-new pickup, as with the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado.
From its bold and vertical "fist in the wind" front styling to its engines and underpinnings, the Silverado demonstrates the competitive engineering and design that characterizes the modern pickup truck. It no longer is enough to add a feature here and there. Now every component, no matter how small, must contribute capability, comfort and bang for the buck.
One example of many on the tested new Silverado Crew Cab four-door is the mounts that connect the body and cargo box to the frame. There are six, two of them hydraulic, and they tune out horizontal and vertical flexing.
The immediately noticeable result is a surprisingly smooth ride when empty, which is unusual in a pickup with a solid rear axle and multileaf springs to carry heavy loads.
The ride was in keeping with the orientation of the tested 1500 LTZ Z71 model, which combined comprehensive four-wheel drive capability with an interior that was as quiet and classy as a luxury car. No apparent wind or mechanical noise intruded, and road noise was muted.
Two engines were offered at the introduction: a 355-horsepower, 5.3-liter V8, as on the tested Silverado, along with a 285-horsepower, 4.3-liter V6. Both get the power to the wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually and adjusted for towing. The V6 can tow up to 7,200 pounds and the V8 up to 11,500 pounds. A 6.3-liter V8 arrives later in the year.
Unlike competitor Ford, the engineers at Chevrolet have eschewed turbocharging to improve fuel economy, which is an imperative in today's market. Instead, they use cylinder shutoffs at cruising speeds, which Chevy calls "active fuel management." Both the V8 and V6 engines switch to four cylinders when cruising at low-load steady speeds. The back and forth is imperceptible.
The result of all this wizardry is an EPA city/highway fuel consumption rating of 16/22 mpg on the tested V8 Silverado Crew Cab -- not bad for a vehicle that weighs 5,292 pounds empty. Contributing to the rating is an aluminum hood, low rolling resistance tires and close attention to aerodynamic exterior styling.
Convenience items for truckers include a torsion-bar tailgate that operates easily, access steps in both sides of the rear bumper, multiple tie-down points in the cargo bed and interior control knobs and buttons that can be operated with gloved hands.
About the only thing that is clumsy on this truck is its length of 20 feet, including a cargo box that is 6 feet 6 inches long. Don't figure on getting into any tight spots at the shopping center parking lot and make sure you make wide turns at corners.
Aside from that, however, the Silverado handles reasonably well for such a huge vehicle. The handling is aided by tactile electric power steering mounted on the steering rack for additional precision.
The base price on the tester was $44,460, which included the Z71 off-road suspension system. With optional lane-departure warning, motorized sunroof and Chevrolet's MyLink telematics system with navigation, the bottom line sticker came to $51,210.
Model: 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ Z71 Crew Cab four-door pickup truck.
Engine: 5.3-liter V8, 355 horsepower, 383 pounds-feet torque.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with selectable all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive with high and low range.
Overall length: 20 feet (with 6.5-foot cargo box).
Weight: 5,292 pounds.
Payload: 1,883 pounds.
Towing capability: 9,300 pounds.
EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 16/22 mpg.
Base price, including destination charge: $44,460.
Price as tested: $51,210.