Like a rock. That is what Chevrolet's 1999 Silverado full-size pickup truck still feels like, although its first major redo since 1988 has made it larger, faster and stronger.
The $15,355-$32,548 Silverado--also sold as the GMC Sierra--is a big deal in the auto industry because the full-size pickup is General Motors' largest-selling vehicle--car or truck.
Ford gave its fairly new full-size pickup shapely styling. But GM has retained its big pickup's handsome, square-shouldered look because that's what its consumer clinics found most people wanted.
The Silverado still basically has a workhorse appearance, although there has been some softening of its lines. The new model looks slicker when parked alongside the old one.
The Silverado formerly was called just the ``C/K'' pickup and gets its new name from the old Silverado top-level trim package.
Looks and name aside, the Silverado is longer, wider, taller, roomier and more comfortable. The cab is bigger, with extended-cab models offering greater rear-seat legroom.
However, extended-cab models only have three doors, instead of the four offered by Ford and Dodge competitors--a definite disadvantage.
And it's almost impossible to squeeze into the rear of the extended-cab model from the driver's side because there's only a small opening when the driver's seat is moved up and its seatback is flipped forward.
But the Silverado's frame is stiffer for a more-rugged feel, and its V-8s are more powerful and efficient.
Four-wheel disc brakes with an anti-lock system that works on all wheels are standard, marking the first time four-wheel disc brakes have been made standard on a half-ton, full-size pickup.
Another ``first'' for a full-size pickup is the optional AutoTrac four-wheel-drive system that can be left engaged on dry roads.
This Chevy remains a pickup that readily can be used as a workhorse, while also serving as a fairly comfortable family ``car.''
Even the air conditioning works faster, and items such as battery rundown and driver lockout protection make the truck more user-friendly.
The Silverado makes its debut in the half-ton 1500-series and light-duty three-quarter-ton 2500 form. There are base, LS and LT trim levels.
Those who still like the old C/K won't be disappointed because Chevy will continue to sell the old models in 1500, 2500 and 1-ton 3500 form for about a year with the Silverado--and GMC Sierra.
The wider frame is stiffer, lighter and more rugged. It's a new three-section frame that provides a strong platform for hard work and a fairly smooth, quiet ride.
Chassis improvements provide better ride and handling. The independent front suspension allows enhanced stability and a reduced turning circle.
There are three optional suspension packages, including Adjustable Electronic Ride Control. The first selectable damping system offered for a pickup, it provides driver-selectable shock damping via an instrument panel switch.
A carryover 200-horsepower V-6 remains standard. The three new V-8s retain the traditional pushrod design, but are actually based on the new Chevrolet Corvette 5.7-liter V-8. They are 4.8-, 5.3-, and 6-liter engines that produce, respectively, 255, 270 and a whopping 300 horsepower.
There also are improved versions of the five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions.
My test Silverado was a 1500 series LS extended-cab model with the 270-horsepower V-8 and automatic.
The Silverado still sits high and thus calls for above-average effort to get in and out. And you have to close the third door in the extended-cab model before the main passenger-side door can be shut. That's something a lot of kids--and many adults--will forget to do.
The cab is roomy, with refreshingly straightforward instrumentation and controls. The front seat is comfortable and provides surprisingly good side support. But the big inside handles for the main front doors are too low and call for too long a pull to open.
There's room for three adults in the roomy back area of the extended-cab model, but occupants must sit in an uncomfortable bolt-upright position; they won't want to be back there for anything but short trips. On the other hand, there's a lots of cargo room when the seat is flipped out of the way.
A huge front center armrest contains a fair amount of storage area, but there is a flimsy plastic mechanism for the dual cupholders that pull out of the dashboard.
Chevrolet takes pains to say the power steering has been improved, but it felt overly light and vague, though it was fast enough during simulated emergency maneuvers.
Handling was quite good. So was braking, although the pedal had a stiff feel that made it hard to modulate during quick stops.
The ride was firm but comfortable even with an empty pickup bed.
My test truck's 5.3-liter V-8 felt as if it really was generating a full 270 horsepower. Merging into fast expressway traffic and 65-75 m.p.h. passing were no-sweat maneuvers.
The engine loafs at 1,800 r.p.m. at 65 m.p.h., but an even mix of city-expressway driving revealed that it loves to guzzle fuel.
The Silverado is clearly superior to its predecessor, but it's too bad the styling isn't more adventuresome.