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2017 Silverado LTZ Long-term Test – 10,000 Miles and Counting

It seems like yesterday, but it was six months ago when I took delivery of my 2017 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ Crew Cab Long Bed with the much-desired Max Tow package. I’d taken a pretty major hit at a local skatepark just two days prior; although I had to play down the extent of the injury so I didn’t get booted off a big European car test, now that everything’s done I can mention that I’d broken six ribs and fractured my right arm.

I also want to mention that the beds in Switzerland tend to be the consistency of slabbed granite and that cobblestone roads can make you vomit if you have enough blood floating around in your mouth already.

Oh well. Half a year later, I’m about 90 percent rehabilitated and the Silverado has gone everywhere from South Carolina to Detroit and back again, performing a broad range of trucky jobs and doing a variety of trucky things. I’d like to tell you that it’s been 100 percent trouble-free, but that has not been the case.

Let’s start with all the good stuff. Ever since my first encounter with the 6.2-liter Silverado crew cab in February of last year, I’ve thought that it was a genuine spiritual successor to the early-Seventies Chevrolet Kingswood big block— right down to the bland look of suburban menace conveyed by the overly busy grille. You can argue that this role would be more properly filled by a “six-two” Suburban Premier, and I would agree. But we don’t have one of those in showrooms yet, and it may never come.

For now, the Silverado is close enough. It has absolutely zero social cred or upscale desirability, but it hauls everything out there including its own ass and it lacks only the most recherche of luxury features. At Danger Girl’s explicit request, we chose one in Work Truck White without sunroof, power running boards, rear entertainment systems, or lane-keeping computers. It does, however, have full-feature front seats, the upgrade sound system with navigation, and the Max Tow package that adds a locking rear differential, a bigger rear axle, trailer-brake controller, a transmission cooler, and the elephant-ear mirrors that visually distinguish a working truck from a white-collar one.

I know that the Max Tow 6.2 will effortlessly pull a 9,000-pound enclosed trailer with a BMW E34 inside and a full weekend’s worth of racing spares, because that’s what we did with the press vehicle we had back in February. Our truck has had an easier life, pulling nothing more demanding than Marilyn, our MX-5 Cup Car, on an open trailer.

In that configuration, it returns an easy 15-16 miles per gallon on the freeway, even with several hundred pounds’ worth of spare wheels, tools, and 90cc motorcycle in the bed, plus four occupants in the cab. About 1,200 of the total 10,150 miles on the odometer have been spent towing something, with another 500 or so spent with 500 pounds or more in the six-and-a-half-foot “long” bed.

The choice of the so-called longbed turned out to be absolutely essential. When you’re pulling to a race, that extra foot and a half gives you room for four extra wheels or two large toolboxes or four Hunsaker quick-fill fuel jugs. Truth be told, if they’d offered the eight-foot bed in a half-ton crew cab I would have taken that, because the Silverado can’t quite carry our full load-out for an endurance race.

The bed has also been profoundly useful for bicycles. I’ve used the truck to go to a variety of skateparks and BMX race tracks, often with four people in the cab and four or five bikes in the bed. You couldn’t do that with a Suburban because the bikes don’t neatly pack and stack inside the Burb’s relatively short “trunk.” Of course, I have a hitch rack for just that purpose because I owned a series of Land Rovers over the years that couldn’t take both bikes and cargo. All things considered, however, it’s better to have them in the bed than hanging off the end of it.

The 6.2 requires 93 octane to achieve maximum power and efficiency, so that’s generally what I give it. We are in an era of relatively low fuel costs, anyway. The extra money both up front and at the pumps is worth it any time you want to get to an open spot in traffic or simply dust-off a tailgater. It’s no trouble to reach the computer-chip-mandated top speed of 98 mph before the end of a quarter-mile. I don’t know how I keep winding up with vehicles that hit an artificial Vmax before the end of the quarter — my Honda CB1100, which can knock on its Japanese 112mph limiter well before the beam, is another such creature. Regardless, the Vette-ish V8 in this truck is the proverbial hella strong.

A few weeks ago I had a kid in a tuned-up Fiat 500 Abarth try to drop me on a two-lane. The result was that I had to back off the throttle lest I accidentally add the Fiat’s weight to the Chevy’s already overwrought front end.

My son’s karting season was made much easier by the Silverado, which had enough room to simply roll his Birel C28 in and out without drama. This, to me, was the killer app that prevented us from buying an Escalade or Denali XL; last year we put his TopKart cadet 50cc in the back of Danger Girl’s Tahoe, which struck me as both unsafe and uncomfortably noxious thanks to the two-stroke fuel wafting around the cabin. Our fellow competitors tend to tow a trailer behind the back of their Escalades, but I don’t have unlimited funds or storage space.

Pretty much everything about this truck works exactly the way you think it should, from the sliding rear window to the power-locking, soft-drop rear tailgate to the massive and multi-functional center console. There are three 12-volt outlets, four USB outlets, and a single 110-volt plug, all easy to reach and use without compromising other functions. The rear seat is comfortable and the storage space under it is extremely useful for things you’d like to not have flying around the cabin in a crash, such as a low-profile toolbox, an air pump, or a couple of baseball bats. The “corner step” bumper is a much better solution than Ford’s “Man Step,” even if Chevrolet is going to copy that feature from here on out.

Which brings us to the aluminum-bodied elephant in the room. Do I wish I’d gotten the F-150 instead, even if it meant waiting for the 2018 F-150? Well, there’s the fact that the equivalent Ford product to my Silverado is made in the United States, while certain GM trucks (mostly four-doors) are made in Mexico. Given a choice, I’d like to have the American-made truck, even if it means paying more.

Beyond that, however, and despite the fact that I’ve been a Ford loyalist for much of my life, I simply prefer the underlying principle of the Silverado to that of the F-150. The F-150 is basically a lightweight tribute to the Super Duty trucks. It tries its level best to look, feel, and act “trucky.” That’s apparent everywhere from the cartoonishly outsized controls to the Kenworth-bluff front end. The Chevrolet, by contrast, is far more car-like. It is designed with a horizontal bias, while the Ford is designed with a vertical one. I care nothing for pretensions of super-duty mega-manhood and never have cared about them. I want a vehicle that is easy to use for its intended purpose. For that reason the Chevrolet fits my needs best. And that’s before I get into my feelings about using boosted V6 engines in trucks. At the very least, the Silverado should be much cheaper to repair when the mill finally lets go.

Alright, those are the good parts. Here’s the bad stuff. It’s possible to make the front end “clunk” under low-speed reversing conditions and the dealership has so far proven unable to fix it. The 1-2 shift sounds and feels like it’s going to rip the diff out of the axle, which is a common complaint about the eight-speed transmission in these vehicles. The AWD mode, which lives between 2WD and 4-High and which is basically the “4WD” in the Escalade/Denali, is laughably slow to respond to spinning rear wheels.

The door handles feel like they were made by China’s Lowest Bidders. The fake wood inside isn’t up to the standard set by the vinyl applique on the flanks of a ’73 Chevy wagon, much less that of any modern competitor. The leather wouldn’t pass muster in a Jaguar or even an Audi. It could use a tighter turning radius, even given its aircraft carrier-length wheelbase. Under certain conditions, it displays the “GM Wobble,” which is a steering vibration common to this generation of truck.

All things considered, however, this is a lot of vehicle for $58,000 before discounts. (Which, by the way, are not easy to come by; 6.2-liter trucks aren’t eligible for the 20-percent-off deals.) I’m glad I got it before the new model came out, because I don’t much care for the looks of the new one and I doubt they’ll have it sorted out at Job One. If you have the chance to pick one of these up, as the man says, I highly recommend it. We’ll return in six months and 10,000 miles.

So, from me, my son, Uncle Rodney, and the rest of our karting/BMX racing team — see you then!