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2007 Silverado & Sierra - Class Leaders or Have-Beens?

2007 Silverado & Sierra - Class Leaders or Have-Beens?

Posted October 4 2006 01:25 PM by Edward A. Sanchez 
Filed under: Opinions, Opinions, Truck News , Chevy

2007 Chevy Silverado

It used to be a predictable two-way horse race between Ford and General Motors for who made the best, most modern, most capable, most powerful pickup trucks. For decades, the two domestics battled it out alone. Then Dodge, in 1994, fielded a credible contender in the new Ram and has remained competitive in the segment since. But if only GM and Ford were so lucky that they only needed to worry about a third rival.

With Nissan's still powerful Titan and Toyota's upcoming all-new Tundra, it's a five-way race for full-size pickup supremacy. Granted, the "Big Two" still dominate the field but it would be naive and false to claim they haven't been affected by the foreign competition.

The new Silverado and Sierra pose an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, they handily trump all the other half-tonners in the number of body, cab, engine, and drivetrain configurations, a competitive advantage in the a la carte-oriented full-size market. Both claim 10,500 pound maximum towing capacity, trumping even Toyota's initial claim of 10,000 for the new Tundra. (However, I fully expect Toyota to tweak their rating upward closer to the truck's launch date next January.)

But a closer look at the spec sheet reveals some disappointments. Remember the old pushrod 90-degree 4.3 Vortec V-6? Well, it's not just a memory. It hobbles forth as the base engine in the '07 models despite the existence of the excellent, modern Vortec 4200 inline-six, which produces nearly 100 more horsepower and incrementally more torque. While it's certain the hoary old bent-six is cheaper to build than the straight-six (and maybe GM figures sales of the gardener's special V-6s are so marginal anyway), when you've historically been the class leader in the segment and are fighting off hungry, ambitious competitors, your excellence should be across-the-board, not selective.

If I were GM, I'd take a gamble and drop the six altogether. After all, the 4.8 Vortec V-8 gets nearly the same mileage as the 4.3 six and is infinitely smoother and livelier. If absolutely necessary, I'd offer the tired six as a fleet-only special much in the way the Chevy "Classic" was the leftover Malibu for the rental fleets once the Epsilon-chassis Malibu rolled into dealerships.

Then there's GM sticking with the tried-and-true 4L70-E four-speed automatic when Nissan, Dodge, and Toyota are all offering 5-speed automatics (if not 6-speeds). Granted, it's a rugged and proven transmission, but it should offer a few more cogs to maintain a competitive advantage. Right now, the $50k-plus Sierra Denali is your only choice if you absolutely insist on six gears for your pickup.

The final point is somewhat controversial, but worth mentioning. After introducing the T-800 chassis trucks for the 1999 model year, four-wheel discs were standard across the board. Some models then reverted to rear drums due to issues with the parking brake. The new trucks have rear drums available on many models and, interestingly, so do the Toyota Tacoma and the current Tundra. Will the new Tundra have drums, too? Doubtful, but possible. Many analysts claim that the functionality and packaging of drum brakes makes perfect sense for trucks, allowing the elegant integration of the parking brake into the overall mechanism. I don't know. It seems a little recessive to revert back to old technology when they are increasingly being relegated to bottom-feeder economy cars and vinyl-seat delivery trucks.

Will the Silverado and Sierra sell well? There's no doubt in my mind, having spent several years in truck-country Texas. Customers don't get any more brand-loyal with many buying simply by virtue of the badge on the grille. But even this is no guarantee of success like it once was. 2007 will indeed be an interesting year to watch the full-size pickup market.

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