The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 full-size pickup truck is the second best-selling vehicle in America and the top seller at General Motors. Without the Silverado, it's questionable if GM would be the world's No. 1 vehicle producer--or even profitable.
So it's natural that a new, hot SS version is offered to give the Silverado the high-performance status of the hot rod Ford SVT Lighting pickup and upcoming Dodge Ram SRT-10 pickup.
The Silverado was last revamped for 1999, and that was its first major redo since 1988. However, Chevrolet has continually added features to keep the Silverado up to date every year.
That's especially important with a significantly revamped rival Ford F-Series pickup just around the corner and a formidable Dodge Ram pickup competitor that was redesigned for 2002. Not to mention new full-size pickups coming from Toyota and Nissan.
GM has brought back the SS designation, which was on Chevrolet's hottest 1960s Camaros, Chevelles and Impala autos. No wonder the $39,205 SS (Super Sport) is the most expensive--and sexiest--Silverado.
The base $18,950 Silverado has a 200-horsepower V-6, manual gearbox, regular cab with two doors and rear-wheel drive. The Silverado SS has a 345-horsepower V-8, automatic transmission with special gears, extended cab with four doors and all-wheel drive.
The SS also has a full-time all-wheel-drive system that doesn't call for driver involvement and unique Z06 chassis package, including the Silverado's largest-ever 20-inch wheel and tire combination and two-inch-lower ride height.
The Silverado is offered only in black, blue or red paint with monochromatic trim that emphasizes an almost total lack of chrome. There are specially styled aluminum wheels and "SS'' emblems and embroidered headrests.
In between the base model and SS are a staggering array of rugged Silverado models that lead up to the SS, which I recently tested. There's a dazzling variety of engines, transmissions, cab sizes, wheelbases, pickup beds, four-wheel-drive systems--along with a wide range of option packages and comfort, convenience and utility features.
An especially noteworthy new option is GM's Quadrasteer four-wheel steering system, which reduces the turning diameter almost 25 percent and assists high-speed stability. However, it adds height, which is one reason the lowered Silverado SS isn't offered with it.
All Silverados have carlike handling and braking. Standard for all models are anti-lock brakes, air conditioning and an AM/FM radio, with higher-line models getting more standard features.
Chevrolet says there are more than 40 new major features or improvements for the 2003 Silverado. Besides the SS and Quadrasteer availability, new for the 2003 Silverado are fresh front styling, interior refinements, dual-level front air bags and a front passenger-sensing air bag system to protect children.
Also new are availability of XM Satellite Radio, dual-zone heating, ventilation and air conditioning and first-ever Bose audio system availability. A DVD video option also is offered for the first time.
One drawback is that extended-cab models such as the SS have rear-hinged back doors that don't open independently of front doors. Getting into the tall Silverado--even the lowered SS--calls for extra effort. And the rear-seat area of extended cab models need more leg room for 6-footers. However, there is good cargo space with the rear bench seat folded up.
Fuel economy of full-size pickups isn't very good. For instance, the base V-6 rear-drive model with a manual transmission offers the best Silverado economy, and it's only an estimated 15 mpg in the city and 21 on highways. The SS provides 13 city and 17 highway.
All Silverados drive much like a big car, with good steering, handling and braking. The SS version especially shines in those areas. However, rough roads bring out a bouncy ride, especially with an empty cargo bed.
The SS is the most fun to drive of all Silverados. It's fast off the line, but I expected quicker 65-75 mph passing times. The supercharged, 380-horsepower Ford SVT Lightning can outrun it, not only because the Lighting has more power but also because the Silverado has a heavy all-wheel-drive system and gearing for relaxed highway cruising. However, the Silverado's all-wheel drive gives it much greater traction than the Lightning when the snow falls.
The cab is quiet with a straightforward dashboard design. Special white gauges in the SS are easy to read, and that model's front seats are especially supportive.
Radio and climate controls are large, and the roomy front area contains a big covered console storage bin and hefty dual front cupholders. All doors have storage pockets, and the big front doors have unusually large interior handles--although some may find they're too low.
Pickup trucks once were just slapped together. But the Silverado is nicely built, with good fits and finishes and attention to detail. It's pricey for a pickup, but has a lot to offer.
New SS high-performance model. Smooth. Tough.
Tight rear legroom for 6-footers in extended cab models. Bouncy ride on rough roads. Low fuel economy for SS model.