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2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Test Drive Review
Unless you need maximum towing and payload capacity, the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado to buy is the one with the affordable Duramax turbodiesel powertrain.
Brand loyalty runs rampant among truck owners, explaining how the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado has retained its status as the second most popular vehicle in America despite the arguable need for improvement. Well, that, and big, juicy rebates to keep ‘em moving off dealership lots. This is a fundamentally sound truck, but it needs greater attention to the details. Perhaps that will happen with a rumored makeover for the 2022 model year.
Look and Feel
Shop for a 2021 Chevy Silverado 1500, and you’ll find it comes in three cab styles with three different bed lengths and eight different trim levels—each with a distinctive appearance. Six different engines are available, paired with six-, eight-, and 10-speed automatic transmissions. Naturally, four-wheel drive (4WD) is available, although rear-wheel drive (RWD) is standard.
Our test truck had a crew cab, short bed, and LTZ trim, which is one rung down from the top of the lineup. It had 4WD, and for just $995, an outstanding 3.0-liter inline-six turbodiesel engine—dubbed Duramax—clattered under the hood. Additionally, our test truck had the LTZ Premium Package, the Technology Package, and a spray-in bed liner, bringing the MSRP to $61,165, including a $1,695 destination charge.
Generally speaking, the Silverado is an attractive truck. Boxy, with chiseled details, flared fenders, and a blunt nose, it has a tall, purposeful, and commanding appearance. Shiny and bright, our Silverado had appropriately named Northsky Blue paint, plenty of chrome trim, and 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, making it the rolling equivalent of a constellation.
Unfortunately, the truck’s good looks end when you open the driver’s door. Aside from silver accent trim with an industrial vibe, the Silverado’s cabin looks and feels like it’s a decade old. Glossy plastic, large panel joints, inelegant control panels, and small infotainment screens exhibit a distinct lack of finesse.
Sure, you could argue that a truck’s interior doesn’t need to be modern and sophisticated. But it does need to impart a sense of quality, and that eludes the Silverado.
For maximum towing capability, not to mention the profoundly satisfying rumble of an American eight-cylinder engine, you’re going to want the Silverado’s thirsty, gas-fueled 6.2-liter V8. If such matters are of no consequence to you, then we highly recommend the available Duramax turbodiesel.
First, it is a genuine bargain at $995, costing thousands less than diesel engine options in Ford and Ram full-size trucks. Second, it is effortlessly fuel-efficient. Without trying, our test truck returned fuel economy of 22.6 mpg in combined driving while running it in Auto 4WD. Third, with 460 pound-feet of torque coming on at just 1,500 rpm, it makes just as much twist as the 6.2-liter V8 and at much lower engine revs.
Of course, the turbodiesel’s 277 horsepower at 3,750 rpm is no match for the 6.2-liter’s 420 hp. And there is a short wait for the torque to start flowing as the turbocharger spools up. But after that momentary hesitation, the Duramax delivers nothing but smooth and seamless acceleration.
This year Chevrolet increases the Duramax’s towing capacity to 9,500 pounds (9,100 pounds with 4WD), and payload capacity measures 1,870 pounds. These figures do, however, pale in comparison to the Silverado’s maximum capabilities. The top tow rating is 13,300 pounds. (Double Cab standard bed with a 6.2-liter V8 and 4WD), while the heaviest payload rating is 2,280 pounds. (Regular Cab long bed with a turbocharged 2.7-liter four-cylinder and RWD). So, if you work your truck hard, skip the Duramax.
Chevrolet pairs the turbodiesel engine with a flawless 10-speed automatic transmission. Our test truck also had the electronic Autotrac 4WD system with push-button transfer case operation. And though its 22.6-mpg testing average fell short of its 24-mpg EPA rating for combined driving, we didn’t baby the truck at all to coax maximum mileage numbers.
In addition to recommending the Duramax diesel, we also think you’ll want the Z71 Off-Road Package even if you have no plans to venture off the pavement. It includes a re-tuned suspension with Rancho twin-tube shock absorbers, and, based on previous experience, they do a much better job of controlling the Silverado’s body motions at higher speeds.
As tested with its standard suspension, the Silverado LTZ delivered a firm and athletic feeling in town and the suburbs. On the highway, the suspension allowed an unsettling amount of body movement, and when driving over rough pavement, the truck would get skittish. During a brief off-roading adventure, we needed to traverse ruts, bumps, and dips with extra care because the weak-kneed suspension threatened to slam the Silverado’s nose and underbelly into the terrain.
Trust us. You want the Z71 setup.
Form and Function
Like any full-size pickup truck, the Silverado crew cab is positively huge inside. Wide, flat, supportive front seats await, and in the test truck, they offered 10-way power adjustment, heating, and ventilation. Our Silverado LTZ also came with a heated steering wheel. Without the optional power running boards, our test truck was hard to climb into and step down to exit.
Like any full-size pickup truck, the Silverado has more storage space than a typical car or SUV, including dual dashboard glove compartments. But there isn’t much in the way of innovation here, the areas that exist are on the small side for the segment, and Chevy has missed opportunities such as shelving embedded into the interior door panels.
The rear seat easily accommodates three adults. The cushion feels a little low, but thigh support and Texas-sized amounts of headroom and legroom make you forget about that right quick. The test truck had heated outboard seat cushions and a power sliding center rear window section.
Each rear seatback has a built-in storage area within the cushion, but since they don’t lock, they’re not a good place to stash valuables or forms of self-protection. You can get a locking storage compartment underneath the rear seat.
When it comes to cargo, Chevrolet says the Silverado offers the deepest and roomiest bed among its competitors (except for its corporate sibling, the GMC Sierra). CornerStep rear bumper designs and up to 12 tie-down hooks are useful, and for 2021 a new Multi-Flex tailgate design is optional, offering six different configurations. Our test truck did not have this late-introduction option, but it did provide a remote power tailgate instead.
Chevy’s main rivals, the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500, offer larger infotainment system touchscreen displays. However, aside from its smaller 7-inch and 8-inch screens, the Chevrolet Infotainment System 3 in the Silverado is impressive.
For starters, loading and response times are quick, and with the high-definition 8-inch display, the graphics are modern and pleasing. Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto are standard, and even the basic Silverado WT trim offers access to an available 4G LTE WiFi hotspot through a paid subscription via Chevrolet Connected Services.
Given its status as a Silverado LTZ, our test truck had the fully-featured infotainment system with a larger 8-inch HD display, Bluetooth pairing for two smartphones at once, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (new for 2021), SiriusXM satellite radio, navigation, enhanced voice recognition, wireless smartphone charging, and a 7-speaker Bose premium sound system.
This system is easy to set up and use, and Chevrolet provides both stereo volume and tuning knobs, as well as a few shortcut buttons on the dashboard under the touchscreen. The enhanced voice recognition technology is excellent, responding with prompt accuracy to our commands and requests. But there is nothing “premium” about the Bose speaker components. Audiophiles will want to take a much closer look at the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500.
Chevy’s available head-up display (HUD) covers plenty of real estate and is quite useful. The rear camera mirror option is less so, mainly because the Silverado offers up to 15 different high-definition cameras located all around the truck. Some are useful for towing, some are useful for hauling, and some are useful for improved visibility.
Chevy also offers numerous trailering technologies for the Silverado, but as is true of so many details related to this truck, they fall a little short when compared to the competition.
Some truck buyers prefer nothing more than good value for the dollar, simplicity over complexity, and an interior they don’t mind getting dirty. But the 2021 Silverado falls short concerning a critical metric that should matter to anyone who invites a person to ride shotgun in the front seat.
In crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Silverado earns an unremarkable “Marginal” rating for front passenger protection in a small-overlap, frontal-impact collision.
That means that if you drop a wheel off the shoulder of a country road and run the right corner of the truck into a telephone pole—which is entirely possible since the IIHS says the Silverado’s headlights are rated “Poor”—it won’t do as good a job of protecting the person sitting in the right front seat as a modern pickup truck ought to.
Based on available full-size, light-duty pickup truck crash-test ratings available as this review is written, only the Toyota Tundra is potentially more harmful in a collision.
Testing results from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) aren’t up to expectations, either. The Silverado’s overall four-star rating is dragged down by four-star frontal-impact results for the driver and front passenger.
Given that the Silverado was all-new for 2019, it’s hard to understand how this truck performs so unimpressively in crash-test assessments.
As far as safety features go, Chevrolet offers forward-collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert for every Silverado as either standard or optional equipment. The truck also offers a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, automatic collision notification through a paid subscription to connected services, and, with crew cabs, a rear-seat reminder system. Teen Driver safety technology is standard and free.
Upgrades include adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, and a Safety Alert Seat driver's seat. Part of an optional Safety Package, it vibrates to get the driver’s attention. Features missing in action include stop-and-go capability for the adaptive cruise control, and no lane-centering assistance system is available.
Buying a new truck is a deeply personal decision. In addition to adherence to brand loyalty that may stretch back for generations in a family, you might demand construction in a U.S. factory, require specific towing and hauling capabilities, or want a truck with or without certain features. It might simply come down to how a truck looks, or how a truck feels, or how owning the truck will reflect who you are and what you believe.
These cost-effectiveness measures have nothing to do with price, value-add offerings like free scheduled maintenance, lengthy trial periods to connected services, or big and juicy rebates.
With that understanding, from an objective point of view, the Chevy Silverado’s primary measure of value is its inexpensive turbodiesel engine. Otherwise, this truck misses the bar set by other vehicles in the segment, and that’s true on several fronts.
It doesn’t tow more, haul more, or come in a dedicated off-road performance trim level. It can’t match some competitors when it comes to quality, safety, technology, or utility. And yet, it’s clear that the genuinely likable 2021 Silverado 1500 could be a terrific truck—if only Chevy paid much closer attention to the details.
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