By Lesley Wimbush, Driving.ca - When you live in the city, it's easy to dismiss pickup trucks as being over-compensating gas-guzzlers, hauling air while hogging most of the road. To truly appreciate the beauty of a good truck, you've got to experience it in its own environment. And there's nothing like 10 kilometres of unplowed cottage road to make a four-wheel-drive truck seem as attractive as any premium German sedan.
The unpaved road north of Apsley would've been completely impassable in any but the toughest of all-wheel-drive cars. Heavy snow through the forest gave way to patches of yellow mud in the clearings, warmed by the sun and thick as gumbo. Treacherously greasy, it sucked and pulled the wheels of the 2016 Chevrolet Silverado, skewing us sideways down the slick incline.
When we ground to a halt, bogged down to the running boards and flanks spackled with muck flung by the spinning rear wheels, it was time for intervention. Switching to 4-LO engages the heavy duty locking differential, and with power driving all four wheels, we easily shook free of the mud and continued on our way.
Canadians bought more than 46,000 Chevrolet Silverados last year; it's one of the most important products in GM's portfolio. For 2016, the Silverado receives a couple of important changes to help it stay competitive in a field that includes a fully revised Ford F150 and the Ram 1500, with its popular coil spring and air suspension.
The Silverado's boxy styling is subtly updated for 2016, with new trim-specific grilles and LED head and tail lamps, while upper trim levels get segment-first LED fog lights. Divided by a strong, horizontal bar, the truck's new face appears wider, and a revised hood gives it a stronger, more muscular look.
Perhaps more important than the external changes is the increased use of GM's eight-speed transmission, which is now available with the 5.3-litre V-8 engine on LTZ and High Country models. It's a big improvement on the six-speed, providing quicker torque delivery, faster acceleration and better fuel economy.
The Silverado is a handsome beast, particularly in my tester's LTZ trim, which eschews chrome bling for a more subtle look. Running boards finish off the look nicely, and corner bumper steps provide easy access to the bed. I particularly liked the "EZ Lift and Lower" tailgate, which can be locked remotely, keeping cargo safe beneath the tri-fold tonneau cover.
The cabin retains its blunt and chunky design, with most of the changes centred on technology. The crew cab is an enormously roomy environment, and even the rear seats have enough legroom for a pro basketball player. The flat and boxy centre console has plenty of cubby space, and a gigantic storage area beneath the armrest.
The eight-inch colour touch screen now features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and there's on-board 4G LTE Wi-Fi and wireless cellphone charging.
Safety systems include adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, driver's safety-alert seat, and a rear-view camera. There's a heated steering wheel and front seats are heated and ventilated. Surprisingly, given the amount of sophisticated technology, there's no push-button start, even in this upper-trim-level tester.
Although you never forget that you're driving a very large vehicle, the Silverado is well mannered and very quiet, with a minimum of road and wind noise. While the lane-keeping assist initially feels rather intrusive, it doesn't take long to appreciate its ability to keep the big truck within the lines. Combined with adaptive cruise control, it takes a lot of stress out of commuting in congested traffic.
The big V-8 features active cylinder management, which shuts down four cylinders during light load for better fuel efficiency. It's smooth and seamless, with only the TFT display informing you that the truck is operating as a four-cylinder.
Steering is very good, with the right amount of heft for a vehicle this size, but having separate adjusters for tilting and telescoping the column is confusing.
Apple CarPlay is literally plug and play; tethering an iPhone instantly launches the application and it's ready for hands-free messaging. But the Bluetooth system had the annoying habit of occasionally interrupting the audio system to make contact with my phone.
The Silverado Z71 is a formidable off-roader, with Rancho shocks, transfer case, locking differential and underbody shields. Equipped with the Max Tow package, it's capable of towing up to 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms), which is less than the F-150's 12,200 lbs. (5,535 kg) but just over the Ram 1500's max rating of 10,800 lbs (4,900 kg).
Although the Silverado is up against some stiff competition with the Ram's cushy, self-leveling air suspension, and the F-150's slick new trailer backing-up technology, there's a lot to like about this smooth and capable pickup truck.