SAN ANTONIO -- Chevrolet packs more power and torque, better fuel economy and a much improved interior into the first redesign of its Silverado full-sized pickup in seven years. Yet critics have panned the 2014 Silverado's exterior styling as too conservative.
At a media launch here last week, Chevrolet design and marketing officials sought to quell the criticism by having an outgoing 2013 model on hand to contrast with the new truck's bolder, more chiseled face. They say the 2014 pickup's quieter cabin and refined ride will draw new customers while keeping loyal Silverado buyers in the fold.
General Motors has much at stake: The Silverado is the company's best-selling vehicle in the United States and among its most profitable, with profit margins that can top $10,000.
The basics: Crew cab versions of the Silverado are scheduled to arrive in showrooms late this month or in early June. Regular and extended cabs will roll out later.
The truck will feature three new engines: a 4.3-liter V-6 for the base work truck; a 5.3-liter V-8, which is expected to be the biggest seller; and a 6.2-liter V-8. All three variants can save fuel by cutting fuel to two or four cylinders under light driving conditions. The six-speed automatic transmission is a carryover.
The 5.3-liter V-8 in the rear-wheel-drive model has an EPA rating of 23 mpg on the highway, a mile better than the popular Ford F-150 V-6 with EcoBoost.
Inside, the cabin is quieter than any full-sized pickup, GM claims, thanks to triple-sealed doors, sound-damping wheel-well liners and other tricks.
Notable features: The most noticeable exterior styling changes are on the front end, where power bulges on the aluminum hood and a wider, chrome-swathed grille give the truck a beefier, more angular face. At the rear, "corner steps" on the end of each bumper and a handgrip built into the bedrail enable easier access to the bed.
The new Silverado's ride is noticeably smoother than the outgoing truck's. New shear-style body mounts help to damp the jostling that often occurs when the bed is empty.
The interior is roomier and covered with soft-touch materials. A bigger, lockable console can fit a laptop computer or serve as a mini filing cabinet.
An improvement to Chevy's MyLink infotainment system has made it faster and cleaner than previous versions.
Targeting a key complaint against the outgoing truck, GM squeezed an extra 2 inches of rear legroom into the crew cab model by thinning the front seats and other tweaks.
What Chevy says: "It's designed for how people really use their trucks every day," says Maria Rohrer, Silverado marketing director. The interior is quieter and roomier, she adds, "so you can support both your work and family."
Shortcomings and compromises: While the new engines improve on every measure, they can't match the torque of Ford's EcoBoost. And the lack of a diesel engine or an eight-speed transmission prevents the Silverado from matching Ram's segment-best 25 mpg highway.
The market: The Silverado arrives just as an improving housing market and pent-up demand are stoking pickup sales. Through April in the United States, full-sized pickup sales grew 20 percent vs. the industry's 7 percent growth.
About a quarter of Silverado sales this year will be the 2014 model, GM has said. IHS Automotive expects sales of light-duty Silverados to rise 11 percent for the year, to 345,490, and jump 5 percent in 2014.
The skinny: GM should retain loyal customers and attract some new ones with the big gains in power, fuel economy, comfort and refinement. But in coming years, it will need to expand its powertrain offerings -- possibilities include a twin-turbo V-6, a diesel and an eight-speed transmission -- to keep pace with rivals in a cutthroat segment.