Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whateverThe Autance writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ Z71.
Confession alert: I kind of love trucks.
Admittedly, that probably doesn’t seem like much of a shocking revelation, not in a land where pickups are the best-selling passenger vehicles by a country—or city—mile. (Remember, folks: General Motors, Ford, and Fiat-Chrysler sold 2,257,361 full-sized trucks in 2017—which is to say, more than one out of every eight new vehicles bought last year was a Silverado, Sierra, Ram, or F-Series.) But in terms of the pigeonholes we automotive journalists like to nest ourselves into, I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a “truck guy.” Lay out the new cars on sale today in a smorgasbord of sheet metal for me to choose from, and I’ll sprint for the keys to the likes of a manual-gearboxed muscle car or hip-check a septuagenarian for the front-left seat of the latest and greatest sport sedan.
And yet, a long weekend hustling about in the 2018 Chevy Silverado reminded me just how damn wonderful pickups are. Over the span of three days, I scrambled up and down Vermont's beaten logging trails and battered Class 3 roads, filled the bed with furniture and oddities while helping my mother move, and logged 800-plus miles through four states on the interstate, occasionally at speeds that would’ve earned me a hefty ticket had any super troopers snagged me in their radar nets. No speed machine, no luxury sedan, no family hauler could have done all those things; even most SUVs would have thrown up their metaphorical mitts at the tasks.
The Silverado did all that without coming close to breaking a sweat.
- It's not hard to see why the crew cab bodystyle has become so popular with pickup buyers—it welds the people-carrying capabilities of a full-sized sedan with the go-anywhere, throw-anything-in-back versatility of any truck. Like any jack-of-all-trades, that makes it a compromised proposition: you’ll be stuck choosing the shortest bed (unless you find the idea of tilling a vehicle that feels as long as the Queen Mary through the Costco parking lot), and those folks inside better be comfortable sharing their space with their bag, as trunk space is nonexistent. But the Silverado makes peace with these bargains well; at a bit more than five and a half feet long, the bed is still big enough to fit most anything you’d throw back there, and there’s enough room in back to shoehorn loose items into the rear footwells even with three people occupying the rear bench.
- The Z71 package makes jaunting off the beaten path easy as pie. My Silverado so easily conquered soggy, rock-strewn Vermont two-tracks that would rip the exhaust system out of many lesser off-roaders, I never even needed to shift the four-wheel-drive system out of RWD mode. Some of the credit goes to the tall & toothy off-road tires, but the Z71-specific suspension deserves recognition as well, providing a jacked-up ride height that soaks up nasty off-road bumps while still supplying a supple highway drive.
- The 5.3-liter/eight-speed automatic transmission may no longer be the top box on the powertrain choice list, but unless you’re towing mighty loads, it’s all the engine this truck needs; not once did the Silverado feel wanting for power in the time I had it.
- If, as George Carlin once opined, your house is just a place to put your stuff while you go out and get more stuff, the Silverado is perfectly designed to serve a similar purpose. Blessed be GM (and, really, all of the Big Three) for equipping trucks these days with more simple utility features than you can practically imagine. Cubbies, holsters, and crannies for all sorts of personal accouterments abound; should they require power, I counted no fewer than four USB ports, a 110-volt outlet and a 12-volt power hole between the driver’s seat and the shotgun throne alone. And I probably missed some.
- Likewise, every automotive interior design team should ape the way Chevy’s big rig provides hearty, intuitive dials and buttons for all the key interior functions. (That goes double for the dudes and dames down the hall at the Cadillac studio.)
- While pickup truck makers have been loading their wares up with increasing levels of luxury and high-end options in order to fluff up their bottom lines, the LTZ trim strikes a nice balance between price and features. It may not be as thematic as the likes of a High Country or King Ranch, but the comfy leather seats are heated and cooled, the windows power themselves up and down with a single tap, and the climate control lets both driver and passenger regulate their own temperature as needed. Sure, further niceties are out there, but they’re just that—nice, not beneficial.
- Admittedly, the Silverado’s age is starting to show in some of the details. The infotainment system’s screen looks tiny in its plastic-clad frame atop the mighty center stack, and the gauges, which functional, are a bit cheap for a $55,000 vehicle. (And the lack of a redline on certain tachometers will forever be a bugaboo of mine.)
- Be ready to rack up an impressive tab at the local Sunoco. I saw around 18 miles per gallon on the trip computer overall, and that number plunged every time I dabbed the gas pedal into potential-speeding-ticket zone on the highway. (Texans who grapple with 85-mph speed limits best be prepared for 15-mpg averages.) Thankfully, the 5.3-liter only needs regular gas—but with gas prices slowly creeping northward again, even filling the 26-gallon tank with 87 octane can become an expensive proposition.
- There’s zero steering feel. I’d feel stupid saying such a thing about a truck—it’s like complaining about the lack of ground clearance in a Lamborghini Huracan—if not for the fact that full-sized rigs from the likes of Ford and Ram have proven it’s not beyond Detroit’s capabilities to weave a little dynamic response into a giant body-on-frame vehicle’s controls.
- Do you suffer from even a mild case of OCD? Then be prepared to talk to your doctor about upping your dosage after spending time with the slightly-offset steering wheel position.
The 2018 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ Z71, Ranked:
Hauling people: 4/5
Hauling stuff: 5/5
Curb appeal: 3.5/5
“Wow” factor: 2/5
The Bottom Line:
The 2018 Silverado, as The Drive’s resident truck guru Kyle Cheromcha pointed out in his recent review of the Centennial version, is fairly long in the tooth in new-car terms. An all-new model is due on the streets later this year, and just in the nick of time; the fresh-to-death 2019 Ram 1500 serves up a better drive, while the Ford F-150 is coming off a mid-cycle revamp that brings spruced-up styling and new capabilities like a turbodiesel engine option. Any brand-agnostic buyers testing all three will likely find this Chevy’s two primary competitors a better choice—especially if their personal version of the dilemma isn’t weighed by any incentives GM or the local dealership has slapped on the hood of their aging trucks to move them out the door.
But the outgoing Silverado still can do everything Americans depend on trucks to do and desire them for. It can carry five people inside and haul hundreds of pounds of whatever you care for out back, all while laughing its way over terrain rough enough to make cars whimper and die. Who cares if the plastic trim looks a tad cheap, or if the steering has all the sensitivity of your gumline after a double shot of Novocaine?
The United States, since its inception, has always been defined—for better and for worse—as a land of self-determination, of rugged individualism, a place where the measure of a person is determined by his or her abilities when left to them. We honor and celebrate those who not just persevere in the face of struggle, but those who do so solo—those who can survive and thrive on their own virtues and capabilities. Is it any surprise, then, that we so love vehicles like the Silverado, that let us do as many things as possible?
The 2018 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ Z71, By the Numbers:
Base Price (Price as Tested): $50,695 ($55,420)
Powertrain: 5.3-liter V8, 355 horsepower, 383 pound-feet of torque; eight-speed automatic; four-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy: 15 city, 20 highway (EPA estimate)
Total weight of people and cargo it can carry: 1,900 pounds
Best part of the Midnight Edition package: The black Chevy bowties