April 26, 2009
You can carry 240 cans of pop on ice in the walls of the Dodge Ram pickup.
You can pull steps out of the tailgate to walk into or out of the bed of the Ford F-150.
You can run on batteries in a Chevy Silverado.
So what will it be: cans, steps or batteries?
The gas/electric version of the full-size Chevrolet Silverado pickup is the brainchild of Rick Wagoner, the former General Motors chairman and chief executive deposed in the Obama administration's restructuring of the company.
Yes, the same administration that is demanding more fuel-efficient vehicles boots the guy behind hybrid full-size pickups at Chevy and GMC and hybrid full-size SUVs at Chevy, GMC and Cadillac, two things Ford, Dodge, Toyota and Nissan don't have.
Too bad for him he didn't run a bank, huh?
We tested the Silverado Crew Cab, with its four swing-out doors and a cabin roomy enough to hold the family for play or the gear for work. Need room to haul stuff inside? The back seat lifts and locks against the rear wall.
But the best part is that it's rated at 20 m.p.g. city/20 m.p.g. highway, a big step up from the gas version's 13 m.p.g. city/17 m.p.g. highway.
With that in mind, our initial time in the Silverado was spent trying to take advantage of the battery-pack companion to the 6-liter V-8. This hybrid starts in battery mode to save gas, unless it's cold outside; then it starts in gas to avoid draining the battery pack.
Once started, tickle the pedal rather than kicking it into the firewall, and you can keep it running on batteries up to 20-25 m.p.h., Chevy says. No gas used.
The batteries also provide a power boost when the V-8 climbs or passes; they, along with 4 of the 8 cylinders, rest when cruising or coasting. The Silverado hybrid spends a surprising amount of time in 4-cylinder mode, but you never feel any lurch when it switches from 8 to 4 or 4 to 8.
An instrument panel gauge shows when in V-8 or V-4 mode, plus real-time mileage. When m.p.g. reads 99, you're running on batteries only.
By concentrating on steady pedal pressure, we got up to 28 m.p.h. before the gas kicked in. How long you stay in battery mode also depends on how level the road is. Climb an incline, and 99 m.p.g. is replaced by V-8 with single-digit mileage.
Another factor in battery operation shows up in the rearview mirror. In attempting to operate on batteries in a 30 m.p.h. zone, fellow motorists were more concerned about wasting time than gas and drove within inches of our bumper in disgust or passed at high speed while waving one finger in the air. Perhaps not everyone is interested in conserving fuel as the politically correct police, or the Obama administration, insist.
The Silverado tested was the volume version. No luxuries such as leather seats, sunroof and navigation system on the option list. This pickup is for those who need a truck for work and don't want to spend $6,000 for the premium upgrades.
We missed none of the fashion accessories, except running boards ($395-$695 through the dealer) and a navi system -- yes, you read that right. The running boards prevent those with less than a 32-inch inseam from pulling a groin entering the cabin, and the navi, available only in the premium package, provides a schematic in the map screen larger than the V-8/V-4 mileage gauge to show when in gas, battery or both modes or when recharging. The schematic promotes gas-saving driving habits.
Though XXL in size, ride is pleasant, and occupants don't get tossed about. Wide, well-cushioned seats that offer lots of long-distance support add to the comfort.
However, the XXL size means you don't take corners or curves with the pinpoint handling precision of a sports car. And try finding a space wide and long enough to smoothly park a full-size pickup.
The test vehicle started at $41,170, with goodies such as stability control; four-wheel anti-lock brakes; side-curtain air bags; Bluetooth phone connectivity; power, heated mirrors; cargo-box light; power locks/windows; dual-mode air conditioning; AM/FM stereo with CD player; tilt steering; and cruise control.
The hybrid runs about $3,000 more than the gas version, but a $2,200 federal tax credit eases that pain.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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