he pickup world is abuzz with talk of Ford’s new F-150 and its revolutionary (for a pickup) aluminum body. But the Chevrolet Silverado 1500
is no wallflower, having topped a recent comparison test of light-duty trucks. While most of the Chevy’s updates for 2015 are modest, the addition of GM’s new eight-speed automatic transmission to models equipped with the optional 6.2-liter V-8 makes the most of this otherwise traditional rig.
Making the Shift
Available on the high-end LTZ and High Country trim levels, the Silverado’s optional L86 6.2-liter V-8 is a beast, producing 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque and emitting a classic small-block snarl. It’s also clever, sharing much of its tech (aluminum construction, variable valve timing, cylinder deactivation, direct injection) with the Corvette Stingray’s 460-hp LT1 V-8. Paired with the previous six-speed autobox in a test of a 2014 Silverado 1500 4x4, the L86 launched the near-three-ton pickup to 60 mph in a stunning 5.4 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 14.1 at 99 mph.
The 2015 Silverado’s (and the rest of GM’s 6.2-equipped trucks’) new eight-speed Hydra-Matic 8L90 transmission has similar dimensions as the old six-speed but with a greater ratio spread, which aids both low-end grunt and high-speed cruising without incurring a weight penalty. Our 2015 Silverado High Country test truck was actually slightly lighter than the nearly identical 2014 model we drove, weighing 5658 pounds, making it one of the lightest of the species. Although the 2015 model couldn’t match the six-speed truck’s impressive acceleration—5.7 seconds to 60 mph and 14.3 at 98 mph in the quarter—shift action is quick yet smooth, overall drivability is enhanced significantly. The 6.2-liter sounds nice and burly, but no longer are tons of revs needed to get the truck up to speed, the eight-speed’s many ratios leveraging the 6.2’s abundance of torque with minimal commotion. As a result, our observed fuel economy improved from the previous High Country’s 15 mpg to 16 with the eight-speed—not bad for a vehicle this large and quick that is capable of towing up to 9200 pounds to boot.
The rest of the newest Silverado changes little for 2015, which means it’s still on the sharp end of the light-duty-truck segment. It may not float over bumps like the coil-sprung Ram 1500, but it’s more nimble and carlike in feel, with relatively responsive handling and sharp, accurate steering. Overall lateral grip (0.73 g) and stopping ability from 70 mph (186 feet) are modest on the 20-inch Goodyear Eagle LS-2 rubber, but the truck is nicely composed and luxury-car quiet inside. The one demerit pinned to the eight-speed actually isn’t that consequential: top speed, which is now limited to just 99 mph versus 110 with the six-cog unit.
Within the encyclopedia of modern pickup configurations, LTZ Silverados start just north of 40 grand and go up from there, with the High Country approaching $50,000 as a baseline. Opting for the 6.2 V-8 is a $2495 option, which also includes the new eight-speed gearbox, active-noise-cancellation tech in the cabin to quell engine vibrations, and a taller 3.23:1 rear axle in place of a 3.42. Our 1500-series High Country crew cab 4x4 test truck started at $52,045 before adding the bigger engine. It also tacked on a $995 power sunroof and the $950 High Country Premium package (heated steering wheel, power-adjustable pedals, integrated trailer-brake controller, lane-departure warning, forward-collision alert, and GM’s vibrating Safety Alert seat) for a grand total of $56,485.
That’s a lot of money for a light-duty pickup that still swills a gallon of fuel every 16 miles. But it’s also immensely capable and comfortable and surprisingly quick. If you don’t want to spend the extra cash for a diesel heavy-duty truck but still need more power than the Silverado 1500’s 355-hp 5.3-liter V-8—or just want the speediest Silverado available—GM’s new extrastrength powertrain makes for a highly rewarding option.