Can GM redefine 4-banger -- in a truck?

DETROIT -- "Four-banger." Two words that generate visions of underpowered rust buckets, appliances on wheels or small, "peppy" cars.

It's not a term ever imagined to describe a full-size pickup from an American car company ... until now. And even though General Motors is using a four-cylinder engine in the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500s, "four-banger" still shouldn't be used to describe a big pickup.

These pickups are not your traditional four-bangers.

GM surprised most, if not all, journalists at a media event this month by allowing us to drive the next-generation Silverado without knowing what was under the hood.

First thoughts? Impressive.

I could hear the turbocharger but not feel it. (Turbo lag was nearly nonexistent -- something GM engineers spent a considerable amount of time on.) It was smooth, fast and capable.

The pickup's performance, including 0-60 mph in under seven seconds, made me believe the new engine was a turbo V-6 to replace the 4.3-liter V-6 and compete against the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine in the Ford F-150 that produces 375 hp and 470 pound-feet of torque.

I was a bit off but not completely out of my mind. GM's 2.7-liter L3B I-4 turbo engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission is replacing the V-6 on the LT trim (likely more in the future), but the engine, at 310 hp and 348 pound-feet of torque, competes more against Ford's 2.7-liter EcoBoost (325 hp and 400 pound-feet of torque).

To be clear, GM is not attempting to get V-8 buyers to hop into a four-cylinder. Instead, the engine is featured on two mainstream trims, including a new RST, for people who likely aren't using the truck as their lifeblood or towing heavy loads on a regular basis.

GM says the new four-cylinder engine is expected to deliver payload capability comparable to rivals' trucks (about 2,000 pounds), with greater torque than the 3.3-liter V-6 in the Ford F-150 XLT and the 3.6-liter V-6 in the Ram 1500 Big Horn.

Fuel economy, payload and tow ratings haven't been released, but for now, the new engine should easily be a choice for any pickup buyer who doesn't need a V-8 and is looking at a six-cylinder pickup.

And maybe even redefine what we think of when we hear "four-banger."

You can reach Michael Wayland at mwayland@crain.com -- Follow Michael on Twitter: @MikeWayland

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