On Wheels: Truck's awful pretty, but it's still a workhorse

2010 Chevrolet Silverado Z71 pickup truck
(Courtesy of Chevrolet)
By Warren Brown
Sunday, November 8, 2009

I'd buy it chrome-free.

The chrome wheels and gas cap, the chrome rails on the cargo bed and the chrome-edged running boards were pretty. But they made little sense in the dust and mud and along the rocky paths where I drove the 2010 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT Z71, a four-wheel-drive pickup engineered for off-road use.

The cacophonous chrome cladding, a part of the "Z71 appearance package," was like gilding on a dump truck, which reflects how I used the Silverado 1500 LT Z71 at landfills in Northern Virginia.

The pretty stuff meant more work of the marginally productive kind -- covering the chrome cargo rails to prevent scratching, washing and polishing the chrome wheels, removing gunk from the chrome-edged running boards.

Many of the real truck people I met in my nearly month-long life with the fancily dressed Silverado Z71 shook their heads. Their assessment was that I was a truck poseur, an escapee from an office cubicle more interested in making a statement about reclaimed manhood than I was about doing real work.

On several occasions, I tried explaining that I was a journalist out to learn something about the world of people who need and use pickup trucks every day. But I gave that up, convinced that with each word I was lowering myself in their esteem.

It thus became clear to me why Chevrolet's parent corporation, General Motors, offers 31 versions of the Silverado 1500 pickup, down from 37 models in the 2009 model year.

Pickups are bought for style and function, one more than the other or in equal parts, depending on your station in life.

There are pickups for poseurs, trucks with sparkling exterior options generally eschewed by real truck people. There are single-cab versions, "standard cabs," which are bare-bones work trucks consigned to a hard life of hauling and pulling, largely unconcerned about aesthetics.

There are the extended-cab models, such as the Silverado 1500 LT Z71 driven for this column, which come with two small rear doors allowing access to the rear cabin. There are crew-cab models with four full side doors -- big doors with handles that swing forward in the same direction.

Added to that dizzying array are the following mixes: bed sizes (short, 78.7 inches; and long, 97.8 inches); engines (4.3-liter, 195-horsepower V-6, preferred by people more interested in fuel economy than pulling and hauling; a 4.8-liter, 295-horsepower V-8; a 5.3-liter, 315-horsepower V-8; and the optional 6.2-liter, 403-horsepower Vortec V-8, used for this column, which is capable off running on gasoline or 85 percent ethanol); and interiors ranging from the workaday cloth and vinyl of the tested 1500 LT Z71 to the plusher-than-thou, leather and wood grain interiors of LTZ models.

In the good old days, when regular gasoline was flowing at $2 a gallon and less, when easy credit made all things possible and when jobs were careers, Chevrolet sold all of those models, and did so en masse. But those days are gone, along with some of the models favored by poseurs.

The oddly outfitted Silverado 1500 LT Z71, chrome on the outside and practical as heck on the inside, remains. And after nearly a month behind the wheel of that truck, it's easy to see why real truck people love it minus the pretty stuff. It's a bona fide workhorse, capable of hauling 1,714 pounds onboard and pulling a trailer weighing 10,400 pounds.

It is as much at home in the mud and muck as it is on the highway, where it moves so smoothly and competently, with such easy acceleration thanks to that optional 6.2-liter V-8, it's easy to forget you are in a pickup truck.

GM boasts that its full-size Silverado models get the best mileage in the full-size pickup segment. Perhaps they do, as a group, when available technology such as dual-mode gas-electric hybrids, automatic cylinder deactivation, and flexible fueling systems using ethanol are used.

But I found little to cheer about on that score with a real-world, gasoline-only performance (because I didn't go out of my way in pursuit of E85 ethanol) of 14 miles per gallon in the city and 18 miles per gallon on the highway, powered by the 6.2-liter, 403-horsepower V-8 in the test truck.

Still, I fell madly in love with the Silverado 1500 LT Z71. It did so much work, moved so much stuff without grumble or rumble, I wanted to adopt it as a member of the family.

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