2012 Chevy Silverado 1500

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There are three main players in the 1500 series pick-up market: Chevy’s Silverado, the Ford F-150 and the Dodge Ram 1500. Why choose the Chevy? I can come up with two pretty solid reasons:

Its Corvette-descended family of overhead valve (OHV) V-8s are proven performers – powerful, durable and much simpler in layout – and probably less expensive to keep up as the miles roll by – than the complicated overhead cam (and turbocharged) engines in the current F-150.

The Ram 1500 has some great OHV V-8s – including the famous 5.7 liter Hemi – but not as great a reputation for the rest of the truck. Chrysler’s quality control hasn’t been the best in recent years. The new, post-bankruptcy Rams are supposed to be much better – and appear to be much better – but we won’t know they’re actually better until they’ve been out there for at least three or four years.

Not that the Silverado’s perfect. Flaws include an underpowered and outclassed base engine in the regular cab Work Truck and an out-of-date four-speed automatic transmission to go with it.  The Silverado’s also the least new of the Big Three pick-ups (Chrysler has an updated 2013 Ram in the pipeline for summer).

That stuff aside, it’s a hard truck not to like.

WHAT IT IS

The Silverado 1500 is Chevy’s full-size pickup, available in regular, extended and crew cab versions and in Work Truck, LS, LT and LTZ trims – with various bed lengths and either 2WD or 4WD. Base price for a regular cab 2WD work truck with 4.3 V-6 is $22,195. A top-of-the-line crew cab LTZ starts at $39,290. A hybrid version is also available (reviewed separately).

Major competitors are the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500 – and to a lesser extent (because of fewer bed/body configurations) the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2012

The optional GPS system has been updated to hard drive-based and trailer sway control with Hill Start Assist has been incorporated into the stability control system.

Cosmetically, there’s a new mesh grille (LS and LT trims) and body-colored surround on LTZ trims.

WHAT’S GOOD

Simple, effective pushrod V-8s. Three of them.

Gas mileage with big OHV V-8s only slightly worse than F-truck’s turbo V-6 and about the same as the Ford’s smallish OHC V-8.

Better reputation than Ram.

A bed/body/trim for every – and any – need.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Base V-6 is weak.

Four-speed automatic (used with 4.3 V-6 and 4.8 V-8) is outdated.

Can be a handful to maneuver in tight spots due to to wide turning radius.

Too-tall box sides – no ladder.

Annoying DRLs.

UNDER THE HOOD

The base regular cab 2WD Work Truck comes with a 4.3 liter V-6 that makes 195 hp. It is a bit less powerful than the 2012 Ram 1500′s base 3.7 liter, 215 hp V-6 – and a lot less powerful than the 2012 F-150′s standard 302 hp, 3.7 liter V-6. It’s also teamed up with a VCR technology four-speed automatic transmission – vs. a standard six-speed in the F-truck.

Gas mileage is 15 city, 20 highway.

The good news is the 4.3 V-6/four-speed combo is only standard in the regular cab Work Truck – a bare-bones 1500 that’s not representative of the series. Most Silverados – even the extended cab Work Truck – come with at least a 4.8 liter, 302 hp V-8. Or, step up to a 5.3 liter, 315 hp V-8 – which also gets you a technologically current six-speed automatic and slightly improved fuel economy: 15 city, 21 highway vs. the 4.8′s 14 city, 19 highway.

These engines may not produce much more hp than the Ford’s base V-6, but their torque output (305 lbs.-ft. and 335 lbs.-ft, respectively) is a lot better than the F-truck’s 3.7 liter V-6 (278 lb.-ft.). For towing or pulling, they’re superior.

The 4.8 and 5.3 V-8s are also an even match for the Ram’s next-up 4.7 liter, 310 hp V-8.

Chevy offers one more V-8, on top of this: a much larger, much more potent 6.2 liter engine that produces 403 hp. This engine massively outguns the Ford’s sole optional V-8 (5.0 liters, 360 hp) and also its top-of-the-line twin turbo 3.7 V-6 (365 hp). It also beats the Ram’s top-of-the-line 5.7 liter, 390 hp Hemi.

Some caveats: A new (2013) Ram is almost here and it will come standard with a much more powerful base V-6 as well as a version of the eight-speed automatic transmission that debuted in other Chrysler vehicles this year. Performance – and economy – should be much improved.

Ford touts the power/performance/mileage of its twin-turbo V-6 as being at least as good, if not better than, a comparably powerful V-8 truck. Well, kinda sorta. I’ll give it to Ford on performance. The turbo’d F-truck gets to 60 in a dead heat with the Silverado 6.2 V-8: Zero to 60 in about 6.5 seconds, very speedy for a full-size pick-up. Gas mileage is also a Ford strong suit: 16 city/22 highway vs. the Silverado 6.2′s guzzalicious 12 city, 19 highway.

However – I’d be reluctant to swap the 2-3 MPG advantage for the down-the-road maintenance/repair costs of that twin-turbo powerplant. It’s probably not an issue for the first eight or so years. But what about after ten or twelve years and 100,000-plus miles? Turbos are bleed-you-white expensive to fix/replace – and the Ford has two of them.

That would scare me off.

How brave are you?

Silverado’s max tow capacity is 10,700 lbs. – not quite as much as the class-leading F-150 (11,300) but slightly better than the Ram (10,450 lbs.)

ON THE ROAD

The only issue with this truck – with any current 1500 series truck – is their sheer size, which can make parallel parking or even just parking a challenge. The crew cab model I tested, for instance, stretches 230.2 inches from stem to stern. That is pushing 20 feet long – a handful for most garages and a close shave in most parking lots. I live on a mini-farm (16 acres) in a very rural area and even in this context, you’re always aware of the big Chevy’s size. Of course, the flip side of this is having so much space -inside and out – that you hardly know what to do with it all. Three very large men can sit without rubbing elbows – and without their feet coming near the front seats – in the crew cab’s rear.  The bed can handle a pair of motorcycles – or a stack of 4×8 sheets. Or a pallet of bricks. You feel like Superman as the owner of a truck like this, because there’s almost nothing you can’t do.

Any of the V-8s will make you happy, as far as power delivery/performance but if you plan to really use this thing, I’d recommend the 5.3 or 6.2 V-8s, because they’ve got the extra oats and they come teamed with the vastly better six-speed automatic.

Ride quality is excellent – even on washboard gravel. There’s some axle bounce if you really go at it, but the reverb is muted by the suspension so that you hardly feel it. On normal roads, the cabin is car-quiet and that really says something – good – about the state of truck development. My test truck with the 5.3 engine and six-speed trundled along at just under 2,000 RPM at almost 80 MPH in top gear. It wasn’t all that long ago that most cars could not do that.

Just a couple of hairs in the soup:

I hate the Daytime Running Lights (DRLs) that GM force-fed the public and continues to include as “standard equipment” with all its new vehicles. Yes, you can turn them off by rotating the headlight control to the left. But they’re not permanently off. Each time you start the vehicle, you have to manually turn off the DRLs, if you’d prefer not to drive around in broad daylight with your headlights burning. I wish GM would include a switch that let you turn off the DRLs – permanently. Or just allowed buyers to say “no thanks” and skip them entirely.

The traction/stability control is fairly nannyish. First, it’s hard to turn it off. You have to press – then hold  – the TCS button to disengage it completely. Then, once off, the system overrides the driver info display in the gauge cluster – forcing you to confront the TRACTION OFF warning and preventing you from viewing any other info until you re-engage the traction/stability control. Why not just a simple “on-off” light on the switch itself?

AT THE CURB

Nothing ugly here (in contrast to the poor misshapen Toyota Tundra). The Silverado’s not as aggressively macho as the Ram 1500 – that truck’s major selling point. It’s closer to the traditional “truck” look of the F-150. Slab sided, boxy and upright – the way a truck ought to be.

You have your choice of regular, extended and crew cab bodies, as well as three bed lengths: eight foot long box, 6.5 foot or 5.8 foot short bed. The Ford and Ram trucks offer the same variations, but the Nissan Titan is not offered in regular cab form and you’ve got fewer bed choices, too. The Toyota Tundra is offered with multiple body/bed styles, but there are fewer trim choices.

In the Silverado – like the F-truck and the Ram – the trim choices cover a wide spectrum from the Work Truck to the top-of-the-line LTZ. You go from rubber mats and a basic four-speaker AM/FM stereo in the Work truck to dual-zone climate control, metal and wood trim for the dash, leather seats, 20 inch wheels and a 10 speaker Bose stereo in the LTZ.

There’s a Z71 off-road package that includes 18-inch wheels with M/S knobbies, jacked-up suspension and skid plates. You can also order a power sliding rear window, electronic cargo management system (uses bar codes and RFID to keep track of things like tools), an EZ lift tailgate, GPS (now hard drive-based) and rear seat entertainment package with LCD monitors.

One of the nice things about this truck is that Chevy doesn’t force you to buy a high-trim model to get many of the higher-trim Silverado’s features – which you can buy as optional equipment in the LS and LT mid-trim Silverados.

THE REST

Ford started a trend that I am not a fan of: The tall-sided bed. It first appeared with the Super Duty version of Ford’s F-truck, then migrated to all F-trucks. And everyone else copied the layout. Chevy included. All 1500s now have the tall-sided bed.

I am 6 feet 3 and the bed’s walls are too tall for me. I need a box to stand on or ladder to reach stuff. At least Ford gives you a built-in step ladder – Chevy doesn’t. In my opinion, the bed sides are at least six inches too high. They make using the bed awkward even for people my size. If you’re smaller size, it can be a real hassle.

Like the current obsession with 20-inch-plus “rims,” this is a design trend that I wish would go away. There’s no functional advantage – if anything, the opposite. And aren’t trucks supposed to be about function more than anything else?

Engines: What the Silverado – and the Ford F-150 (and the Ram) – really need is a 30 MPG diesel. The problem is the latest Federal emissions standards are so stringent they’ve effectively outlawed diesels. This is why Ford went with twin-turbos, which it sees as a way to comply with other federal requirements (fuel efficiency) while still delivering the power/performance truck buyers expect.

It’s too bad all around. V-8s are on the endangered species list because of federal fuel economy edicts (CAFE) but we can’t have high-mileage diesels because of federal emissions requirements. So instead, we’ll get fewer choices – and more expensive choices, like the Ford twin turbo gas V-6.

THE BOTTOM LINE

I’d choose the Silverado over the Ford because a proven OHV V-8 is preferable (to me) over a who-knows-what-it’s-gonna-cost turbo V-6, a can’t tow-much non-turbo V-6, or a not as powerful (and more complicated) OHC V-8. The Ram is a wild card – the soon-to-be 2013 looks to be a realplayer But Chrysler’s still got to rebuild its rep.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  13 comments for “2012 Chevy Silverado 1500

  1. Fenrisulfr
    April 25, 2012 at 1:16 am

    What about the Toyota Tundra? I do not trust domestic automakers.

    • April 25, 2012 at 10:42 am

      The Tundra’s an alternative – but (see SM’s post above) it’s got its own slew of issues, among them, almost comical over-sized proportions and (subjective) uglier than an inbred mule.

      • Fenrisulfr
        June 6, 2012 at 11:45 am

        I’d sooner ride an inbred mule around town than line the pockets of the bailed-out Big 3 and their accursed unions.

        • June 6, 2012 at 11:52 am

          Well, there’s that!

          I also would add:

          Too many mandated “features” I would rather not buy but which I’d be forced to if I bought a new vehicle.

          Too much Big Brotherism (EDRs, traction control that can’t be turned off, etc.)

          Too high MSRP – and taxes. And insurance.

          New cars are becoming unaffordable unless you’re very well-off. Or, if you don’t mind signing up for a debt albatross around your neck!

  2. SojournerMoon
    April 25, 2012 at 3:14 am

    I agree with most of your assessments. As an owner of a crew cab GMC 2008 model with the 6.2L V8, which I do like very much, I’ll add a few points.

    1. to clear the “Traction Control Off” warning on the info system, simply press the “checkmark” button on the bottom of the four stack buttons that controls the display. You get full use of the info display back.
    2. I’m in agreement with the high sides of the truck bed. I will point out that they’re still lower than most, if not all, of the other competitors. The Tundra is probably the worst in this regard. I think much of it comes from, as you indicated, the styling trends, but it has more to do with the external height of the vehicle overall. Nearly all modern full-size pickups are longer, wider, and taller than ever, model for model. Thus the inside of the bed is not really much, if any, taller than a 1980 Chevy box (which I spent many an hour riding in). This has another severe shortcoming that you didn’t mention but that probably has as much, if not more, of a deal with usability. Load in height. Modern trucks have had their tailgates get progressively higher off the ground. This is great styling, but horrible practicality. Imagine loading anything heavy into the back of a truck and picking it up another 4-6″ off the ground just to clear the tailgate. Annoying. As you mentioned, the styling is the problem. As trucks have gotten bigger, longer, wider, and taller, they have kept similar proportions. You can also see this in the fact that the tires and wheels are much larger now. Whereas 15″ steel rims were the standard only 20 years ago, now 18″s are the norm and 20″s are becoming commonplace. Personally I like the style, but it screws up function. Good thing most owners today rarely use their pickups as actual work trucks.
    3. Inflation is killer. When I bought my truck 3.5 years ago, it cost about $9-10k less than the current equivalent trim level (Denali), had more options included (chrome door handles, for one) at no extra charge, and the interior is better on the old model. That’s how much the dollar has depreciated in value in just 4 short years. Thank you Mr. Bernanke.
    4. You can get a 1500 HD model with a diesel (or at least you could recently). Thing with HD models, though, is that EPA doesn’t rate fuel mileage on them, so I don’t really know what kind of mileage to expect, though I don’t think 30mpg is realistic with the current diesel engine options. They’d need a smaller diesel. The bigger problem is that Uncle Sam has effectively killed diesel advantage with the new emissions requirements. Now you have to use Diesel Exhaust Fluid, which has to be added every so many miles, that helps clean up the exhaust, which was already cleaner than most gasoline engine exhaust was 20 years ago. This is an added expense and hassle, but without it the engine will not be permitted to run by the computer system. It’s wasteful and probably more harmful to the environment than just leaving it alone. Plus, the emissions requirements hurt diesel mileage and power at the same time. A 2010 model diesel will get better mileage, power, and reliability than a 2012 model of the same truck. That’s change you can believe in.

    I recently test drove a top of the line Toyota Tundra Platinum, as it’s really the only alternative out there for someone who doesn’t want to reward the big three for stealing my money in the form of bailouts (TARP for GM and Chrysler, a similarly scummy multi-billion dollar bailout under a separate umbrella to Ford at the same time). Toyota and Nissan have the oldest of the existing full-size designs by a large margin. Toyota has updated it slightly with the years but Nissan hasn’t. Next year Nissan will no longer manufacture a full-sized truck and the “Titan” will simply be a rebadged Dodge (unless something else has changed in the interim).

    The Toyota was, if anything, even larger. It’s probably the biggest of the bunch. It rode well and drove well, but no better than the GMC I drive daily. It has a much bigger and better back seat, but it comes at the cost of a much smaller and less usable pickup bed with a cheap drop-in plastic liner that looks about 30 years out of date. More significantly, though, the interior quality was pathetic compared to even a base level Silverado, which surprised me a lot given that the Platinum is their top of the line model. Everything was thin plastic, felt ultra cheap, and didn’t give me much sense that it would last more than a couple of years of even light duty use. It looked like the interior out of a Yaris, not a $50k luxury truck. I walked away from that experience knowing that the current gen Tundra is not an option vs. keeping what I have. Oh, well.

    • April 25, 2012 at 10:41 am

      Good stuff, SM – thanks as always for your thoughtful input!

      On diesel: It’s offered in the 2500 HD… at least, for the moment.

  3. GW
    April 25, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    “Attention Driver! – this is On Star calling – you have exceeded the speed limit and your truck engine will be shut off in 5, 4, 3….”

  4. April 25, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    One small correction. For at least one model, the Raptor, Ford does offer an optional V-8, with 411 horsepower from 6.2 liters, that “outguns” the Chevy.

    • April 26, 2012 at 9:58 am

      Hi Mike,

      Yup – I left out the Raptor because it’s not a standard-run F-150; but you’re right – I probably ought to have mentioned it.

      Ford is moving away from V-8s, though. The company has decided that CAFE and erratic/rising fuel costs make them long-term untenable as mass-market powerplants.

    • SojournerMoon
      April 26, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      I really like the Raptor. I’m glad Ford made it. Problem is, it’s not a very good “truck.” It’s tow rating is only 6,000 lbs. Granted, more than most owners will ever need, but still at least 3,000 lbs shy of what other models in other lines, even Ford’s own lineup, offer.

      Payload capacity is only 1,020 lbs. Again, substantially less than most others. Plus the bed is unusable due to being so dang high up in the air (I’m 6’3″ and it’s around chest height for me).

      It also weighs a lot more and gets much poorer gas mileage than most other crew cabs at 11/16, and most of the reviews I’ve seen say it doesn’t actually get that, even if driven gently.

      It gets to 60 mph in about 6.2 sec, which is very good, especially for a big heavy truck, but it’s no faster than the 6.2L engine available in GM trucks (also clocked at between 6.2 and 6.5 sec depending on test) or the Tundra that tends to get there in about 6.5 sec.

      Still, though, it’s a great idea and a big middle finger to regulators. Therein lies its greatest value. It’s an image car, and an image I like.

      Yes, a 6.2L Chevy will keep up with it on pavement, tow more, haul more, get better gas mileage, and cost a lot less, but it’ll also blend into traffic rather than stand out. And no off-the-shelf truck could hang with it in a desert race.

      • April 26, 2012 at 11:32 pm

        I much prefer the old SVT Lightning; that thing was fierce – much quicker than the Raptor – and it also handled pretty well. It was a pure performance truck, with no pretense made at being a work truck or an off-road truck. Hence, it was much better at hauling the proverbial mail than the Raptor is.

  5. September 6, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    speak to me please about the 6 speed transmission in chevy’s silverado. i just bought a 2012, and have come across 2 situations at low speed that is very dangerous.

    • September 6, 2012 at 1:15 pm

      Can you be more specific? What situations? How are these dangerous?

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