A proving ground isn't the ideal locale to size up a new model, but we never turn down an opportunity to sample a preproduction vehicle. Sure, the vehicle may not be fully baked and the highly regulated environment limits what you can learn, but the very fact that you've come to a secure facility is a sign that the automaker is giddy about something. Such is the case with the redesigned 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pickup.
In this instance, our attention was directed at two important new engines that power the bulk of the 2019 Silverado pickup trucks you'll see in dealer showrooms this fall. The first is a new turbocharged 2.7-liter four-cylinder that's the base offering on the most popular trim levels. Chevrolet also unveiled a significantly updated version of the 5.3-liter V8 that's optional on four-cylinder trims and standard on premium ones.
The Middle Third of a Six-Engine Lineup
Technically, the 2.7-liter four-cylinder is not the base engine. That distinction goes to the carryover 4.3-liter V6 that powers fleet and budget-oriented trim levels such as the Work Truck, Custom and Custom Trail Boss. At this level, last year's 5.3-liter V8 can be fitted as an option, but it lacks the updates we sampled. Both come mated to a six-speed automatic.
The 2.7-liter four-cylinder and eight-speed automatic combination will nevertheless be the base drivetrain for most customers. This package comes on the bread-and-butter LT and the destined-to-succeed LT Trail Boss and RST trim levels. Don't be fooled by the cylinder count. This engine generated impressive thrust during our brief test drive, and the announced SAE-certified ratings of 310 horsepower and 348 pound-feet of torque feel right on the money.
The optional choice on these trims is an updated 5.3-liter V8 that differs from the carryover engine of the same displacement in its use of automatic stop-start, a new cylinder deactivation system called Dynamic Fuel Management (DFM) and the eight-speed transmission. Just like the carryover one, the engine makes 355 hp and 383 lb-ft when all eight cylinders are active.
This updated 5.3-liter V8 comes standard on the LTZ and High Country. The option for these premium trims is the fifth engine in the lineup: a 6.2-liter V8 with DFM and a 10-speed automatic transmission. This one's still under wraps, but we learned it'll make a cool 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. As for engine No. 6, all we know is that it's a 3.0-liter turbodiesel, it gets the 10-speed transmission and it's available as an option from LT on up.
Inside the Big Four
The new 2.7-liter four-cylinder is a clean-sheet design that was envisioned as a truck engine from the outset with the goal to make it as smooth as a V engine. We drove it before we knew what it was and pegged it as a turbo, but never figured it was a four-cylinder. Chevrolet's hit the bull's-eye on that score.
Such an engine needs balance shafts to pull off this feat, and this four-cylinder has them down in the oil sump. There's also a centrifugal pendulum absorber in its torque converter, which is a trick Chevy first applied to the Colorado's diesel engine. The engine block itself has been configured with an offset crankshaft that orients the connecting rods closer to vertical on the power stroke.
The lone turbocharger bolts directly to the head with no exhaust manifold in between. It's a dual-passage design in which the exhaust gasses spewing from the first and last cylinders combine to spin the turbine from one side while the middle two cylinders push from the other side. It’s similar to a twin-scroll turbo, but not identical. Picture two kids pushing in unison on opposite sides of a merry-go-round instead of on the same side and you’ve got the idea.
There are also sliding camshaft mechanisms that provide two intake cam lobe profiles — one for cruising and another for full power. The middle pair of cylinders takes things a step further. The intake and exhaust cams for those cylinders each get an additional lobe profile that has zero lift. These circular lobes allow those two cylinders to be deactivated to save fuel during very light load driving conditions.
Our drive clearly demonstrated that this engine has guts. It gets the truck moving quickly, and it does so without any raw "four-banger" unpleasantries. But we're not convinced about the calibration of the eight-speed transmission, which demonstrated occasional indecisiveness. For now, we'll attribute that to the work-in-progress feel of many proving ground prototypes.
Dynamic Fuel Management
The cam-switching trick of the 2.7-liter is a good choice for that layout, but the V8 needed something more. Chevy's 5.3-liter V8 has had cylinder deactivation for some time, but it basically swapped between V8 and V4 modes by cutting off two cylinders from each back.
The updated 5.3-liter V8 comes with Dynamic Fuel Management, which can switch off one or more cylinders in 16 available patterns. General Motors engineers call it a fractional approach, and the idea is similar to a sprinkler timer that can water every day, every other day, every third day or every fourth day. They can cut it finer in between these examples by assembling those basic blocks in various combinations.
What results are seamless transitions that defy comparison to the old system. The previous V4 step-change was readily telegraphed to the cabin via changes in exhaust tone and vibration, so you didn't want to have it happen often. The DFM's considerably more graduated transitions can't be felt at all, and that allowed GM's calibration engineers to use it more liberally. They rigged an LCD display to show how it changes almost constantly, but we'd never have known had it been absent.
The point of all this is improved fuel economy, but Chevrolet has not yet released those figures. All of the work and complexity that went into DFM has to move the needle an appreciable degree, but we'll have to wait and see by how much.
A Better-Driving Silverado
While the engines were the focus of this activity, the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 could not hide how well it rides and drives. Chevy didn't reveal any details about what was going on between the tires, except to remind us of things announced at the Detroit Auto Show. The new Silverado Crew Cab rides on a wheelbase that's been stretched by 4 inches, yet certain versions have lost as much as 450 pounds through the use of high-strength steel and lightweight materials.
Back-to-back drives told us more than any spec sheet. This truck's suspension breathes better and delivers a more polished ride than the old truck. It still uses a live rear axle and leaf springs, but the rear end is less skittish through bumpy corners. The steering feels more responsive and connected, and we could swear the ratio is quicker than before. The jury is out on the steering effort, though. One prototype was too light and another was just right — another likely case of unfinished prototype syndrome.
The new Silverado doesn't just ride better, it mostly sits better, too. A new tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel eases the search for the best driving position, and the front seats offer decent support. The cockpit does feel cozier than it really is, however, because of the vertical cliff of a dashboard. In back, the four extra inches of wheelbase produce abundant rear legroom. We're less jazzed about the Silverado's rear seatback angle, which reminds us of an airline seat before you hit the recline button.
Much More to Come
There's still a lot about the 2019 Chevy Silverado that we don't know. Fuel economy remains a big mystery, and we still lack basic facts about towing and payload. We'd like to tell you about the diesel, the 6.2-liter V8 and how they work with the 10-speed automatic, but we can't. We've not yet put a wheel on dirt, and we've only ever eyeballed immobile examples of the Trail Boss.
Even our driving impressions are inconclusive. This was a very brief drive in tightly controlled conditions away from any other traffic. Any acceleration stabs we made were completely devoid of context. We never climbed a grade or settled into a cruise for a solid hour to see if anything got under our skin.
What's needed is an extended drive in the random circumstances you can only find on real roads. That will come soon enough, as it looks like 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 information is destined to dribble out all summer. Come back for more on the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 after we get more information and amass more time behind the wheel.