Chevrolet Silverado 1500 truck reviews (2010)

As if to prove that good engineering is more important than size, Chevy's peppy 5.3 liter V8 has higher gas mileage ratings than the V6 or smaller V8 engines in the same pickup — or, for that matter, those of the Ford, Dodge, Toyota, and other Chevy full-sized 4x4 pickups.

2010 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 4WD LT

Smooth, strong pickup truck
Why we’d buy it: Smooth power, gizmos, tops in gas mileage
Why we wouldn’t: Ergonomic nuttiness, strong competitors
Mileage: 15/21 as tested; V6 RWD, 15/20

The Silverado's optional 5.3 liter V8 engine is smooth and strong, and the six-speed automatic feels like it was borrowed from a luxury car. The only powertrain quirk is during kickdowns, when it seems to feel a need to stop and intermediate gears and then go down further, instead of simply going down two gears at once. That delays passing acceleration on the highway, and makes the downshift a little jarring, though each individual downshift is smooth.

Other than that, the transmission tends to be in the right gear for every situation, is subtle during acceleration and deceleration, and has a trailer-towing mode which adds engine braking and firms of shifts for better durability and control.

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The bigger engine makes a huge difference in this truck over the base 4.8 liter V8, which comes with a slow-reacting four-speed automatic that has big gaps between gears. But the PowerPack Plus package comes in at a high price: $1,780 includes the bigger, thriftier engine, the six-speed automatic, a locking rear differential, trailer package, 17 inch aluminum wheels, and heavy duty cooling system. Those are all (save the wheels) useful features but it's still a hefty price. (Our test truck had a $500 discount on the power pack package, bringing it down to a much more reasonable $1,280.)

The Silverado 1500 extended-cab pickup can comfortably carry two people, semi-comfortably carry five. The leather-skinned front seats of our test truck were thinly padded, but adjustable; the rear seats were firm with good head room but skimpy legroom. The rear seats are fine for kids or for short trips with adults; three can fit across with decent shoulder room, and there are three shoulder belts in back. Up front, a mini position between the front driver and passenger (where the center console is placed most of the time) is okay for brief rides but the absence of a shoulder belt and headrest indicates it isn’t meant for most trips. The rear seats can easily be folded up to provide good storage space. Standard heavy rubber floor mats, though not generous in size, are appropriately designed for the application and help keep the carpet clean; slush and snow are contained within the rubber mats, unlike the old, thinner car mats that would let water and mud channel off onto the carpet.

The extended cab door layout makes sense for work sites, but not for the “daily driver” duty the Z71 package seems to be aimed at. It’s not just a matter of the rear seat legroom; it’s also the way the doors open. Try to get out of the truck in a parking lot with a car on each side and you’ll immediately understand why suicide doors are no longer included on mainstream cars. The front doors have to be open for the rear doors to open; the rear doors have to close before the front doors do. The rear doors do have their own latches, for safety and convenience.

extended cab

The interior is largely made of rugged, patterned plastics, with flashy silvered surfaces preventing the dashboard from becoming a sea of black plastic. The overall effect is interesting and looks good, without being distracting.

The Silverado is more comfortable than past big pickups, but it is a big pickup, and the suspension jostles you along unless it's loaded with heavy stuff in back. Bumps are not too shocking, but it’s busy even on relatively smooth roads. Compared to past pickups, it's a luxury-car ride, but compared with a custom-designed SUV or minivan, it's a bit rough - still on par with the Ford F-150.

The ride used to be head-of-the-class, but Dodge grabbed that honor with its coil-link rear suspension; while pricier to build than a standard leaf-spring, it put Dodge up to the head of the class for ride and handling. Still, the Silverado isn't all that far behind, and its cornering and ride are both quite good. A bit more jiggly and bouncy perhaps than the Dodge, and not quite as hard-cornering; but still better than prior-generation pickups from the Big Four.

2010 pickup truck review

A step is cut into the rear bumper, but to use it you have to have the gate up. (The gate itself was light on our test car, which included the “EZ Lift Tailgate” in the $410 Exterior Plus package). Buyers should seriously consider a bed liner to avoid the inevitable scrapes and scratches.

Pickup truck gadgets

The four wheel drive system uses de rigeur electronic controls, with a knob providing access to automatic (on demand), rear wheel drive, four wheel drive, and four wheel drive-low gear. Driving with four wheel drive on increases turning radius, wears out the tires, and cuts gas mileage.

Two standard GM features were included in our test vehicle: XM stereo and OnStar. XM is a subscription radio service with a hundred stations, with music you will not hear on centrally programmed, oligopoly-owned commercial radio. There are few ads, little DJ chatter, and an incredible variety of music. The system is programmed into the radio as just another band, like FM; the name of the channel (e.g. Bluegrass, Deep Tracks, the 1970s) is shown on the display so you know where you are, and you can use presets to return to your favorite XM stations (presets show a little of the station name, and can be mixed with AM and FM presets). If you're on the road a lot, this system is well worth the subscription.

Silverado cabIf you prefer your own music, you can use the cleverly integrated USB port in the dashboard, somewhat disguised to look like the power outlet. A tiny black auxiliary input jack is almost hidden in plain sight on the stereo face, as well.

The included OnStar can quickly make itself useful for those who travel and sometimes need a little help getting un-lost. By automatically calling an ambulance after an accident, OnStar may even save your life. Cellphone connectivity is built in; while it requires some patience (and a little reading) to program telephone numbers in, the process of pairing a new phone is easy and worked well even with our inexpensive "pay per minute" phone. The microphone lends a somewhat tinny sound but deals with high volumes well.

Our vehicle had a compass and external thermostat unobtrusively built into the auto-dimming rear view mirror, along with OnStar controls on the bottom. Also present, though you can't see it, is a system that automatically deactivates the passenger-side air bag, based on the weight and position of the passenger seat occupant, to help protect children and small adults from air-bag induced injury.

The trip computer doesn't have past trucks' annual mileage log and separate personal and business trip logs (which also recorded gas mileage and average speed); but it did have average gas mileage, engine hours, fuel used, and other data built into the odometer display with wheel-mounted controls. The oil life monitor and personal preference panels (e.g. door locking actions) are built into that system, as well; and the system even warns you if you're sitting in the truck and the battery's in danger of being run down (the alert is "Battery low - start engine now.")

GM defaults to automatic headlights, but you can shut them off by twisting the headlight knob to the left, letting you shut them off (with a warning signal and light). It returns to automatic headlights on the next trip. The fog light control is sensibly placed with the rheostat, next to the headlight knob.

Silverado 1500 interior notes

The standard stereo has high-quality sound, with good stereo separation and easy controls. The automatic volume is nice and adjustable, and the controls are sensible and easy to get used to; you can make numerous adjustments without looking to see what you're doing, and some models also have audio controls on the steering wheel.

Interior lighting is good, with dome lights in front and back that double as swivelling map lights. The seat belts are not adjustable, which means they may be too low for some and too high for others (this is true for both front and back seats). Some people have difficulty with the rear seat belt fasteners. Front seats come with minivan-style built-in armrests; they are subtly designed so you can pretend they don't exist.

truck review

Controls are a mixed bag. The new steering-wheel-mounted cruise control is an improvement to all but GM purists, but it's still a awkward compared with many competitive systems. The door handles rise at an odd angle; GM did fix the location of the emergency brake release by going to the even-worse "push to release" mechanism. On the lighter side, all lights are grouped together in one area, all climate control systems in another, and all audio controls in another. The climate control, though, uses GM's unique "up/down" approach to vents: you just keep pressing a button, up or down, cycling through vents until you get what you want, which is harder to use and more distracting than just turning a knob, pressing a dedicated button, or moving a slider. Any of the latter can be memorized and done without looking; pushing up/down buttons really can't.

Another drawback of the GM climate control system is the tiny buttons, which seem out of place in a truck designed for work. Yes, temperature, van, and vent all have big buttons in circular arrangements; but front and mirror defrosters, a/c, and other buttons are tiny. We'd also put the defroster button at the end where it's easier to find by touch or by sight.

There are dual glove boxes, but the top box requires a push on one side of the latch to free the other, which must be pulled. It requires some coordination and long fingers, and is completely unnecessary. The upper glove compartment is fairly small; the lower one isn't that much larger but its shape makes it more practical.

The column shifter makes sense on a pickup. Drivers get into the manual override mode by moving the shifter over one spot past Drive; an up/down control halfway up the stalk, farther from the end than you'd expect, provides fast, easy, and intuitive gear changes. Going back into Drive requires a little care.

The gauge cluster is clear and easy, with full instrumentation and a clear status readout. By default, the outside temperature and compass heading are always shown, while the driver can choose what else appears. The Z71 comes with special speckled gauge backgrounds to evoke carbon fiber.

Z71 gauges

There are many convenient aspects of the cab, including a massive covered center console with a built in coin holder (no pennies allowed) and cushioned top, and a central storage bin including large dual cupholders, all lined with rattle-removing rubber. The rear seats fold down if needed, and all four main seats are generously sized. The high roof means your hat can stay on, too.

Driving the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pickup

On the road, the Silverado 1500 is very quiet at idle, with a well muffled muscle-car exhaust sound under acceleration. Handling is surprisingly good both around town and on the highway. Braking has traditionally been better than equivalent Fords, which is reason enough to choose a Chevy over an F-150. Unlike pickups from just a few years ago, there was no wheel hop.

Acceleration is good, reflecting a well geared transmission and the power under the hood, with a good, gradual tip-in for better control and smooth driving. The engine provides good feedback. We were pleasantly surprised at the lack of chirping from a standing stop, and the lack of wheel hop on acceleration and sharp cornering.

Visibility is good in all directions, thanks to large mirrors, small cab posts, and powerful headlights. The sun visors have built in extenders, but they only work on the side; if you try them in the forward position, they hit the ceiling after around a quarter of an inch. Drivers have to duck out of the way when swinging them to the side, regardless. The large mirrors, on the other hand, swing out of the way to make it easier to walk by or to provide forgiveness if you pass too close to a solid object (no, we didn't).

Z71 4x4 graphicThe base price of the 2010 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT with 4x4 and extended cab is $33,270, which is hefty but a bargain compared with the crew cab. That price includes a far less efficient 4.8 liter V8 engine, four-speed automatic transmission, automatic transfer case, four-wheel antilock brakes, head curtain side airbags with rollover protection, seat-mounted side airbags for the front seats, remote, stability control, tire pressure monitor, chrome rear bumper, 17 inch chromed steel wheels, full size spare, power / heated side mirrors, chrome grille, cargo box light, tinted glass, air conditioning, power locks and windows, leather-wrapped steering wheel, CD stereo, trip computer, tilt wheel, cruise control, and vinyl floor mats.

Like other GM vehicles, this one comes with battery run-down protection, 24 hour roadside assistance, and GM's unusual oil life monitoring system, which can let owners extend oil life well beyond the dealer-recommend 3 months/3,000 mile intervals, without damage or excess wear to the engine. Some owners get ten months out of the same oil, without problems, and the oil monitor helps to extend the intervals with confidence.

Or test pickup had several option packages which jacked up the price to $37,775. These included...

With Chevrolet making trucks like this (not to mention the Dodge Ram 1500), we have to wonder about all those Ford pickup buyers - have they ever taken a ride in a Chevy? The 5.3 Vortec engine is more efficient than its Ford counterpart, the brakes are better, the efficiency is greater, there have been fewer quality gaffes. The interiors are not fancy, but they are functional and comfortable, and look as though they can stand the test of time. These are compelling trucks which would no doubt make more of a dent in F-series sales if they could get more cross-shoppers.

Overall, the 1500 is an top-of-the-heap work truck, even when loaded with consumer goodies like DVD entertainment systems. Don't buy one for commuting, though - the gas mileage and sheer bulk make it less than practical for casual drivers, and the height of the pickup bed make it less convenient for carrying "ordinary" loads. It is designed for heavy towing and hauling, and will be welcome for those who need it.