Driver's seat: Testing a trio of trucks

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Putting three trucks to the test: 2014 Chevrolet Silverado vs. 2014 Ford F-150 vs. 2014 Toyota Tundra

This week: 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Z71 4WD LTZ Crew

Price: $48,595 as tested. ($43,165 for a base LTZ Crew; a Silverado can be had -- in theory -- as cheaply as $23,590.)

Marketer's pitch: "2014 North American Truck of the Year."

Conventional wisdom: liked the "new, more fuel-efficient engines; improved interior; quiet highway ride" but not the "transmission ratios too widely spaced for optimal towing performance."

Reality: Headed in the right direction.

Trucks for the times: This winter is enough to make car buyers think it's time to get a big rig to get them through anything. It's a good time to do it. The 2015 Ford F-150 is generating a lot of buzz, but a redesigned Chevrolet Silverado also advanced the truck world. And bargain hunters may find good prices on the old-style 2014 F-150, and maybe even the Toyota Tundra (although Toyota has a reputation for not needing you as much as you need a Toyota).

So over the next three weeks, I'll put three big rigs to the test.

Redesigned: It's tough to "redesign" a truck. Designers can't really take, say, the box that was the Elantra and turn it into the new swoopy design that now draws second looks. So Chevrolet (and partner GMC) make much ado about the three new engines (a 4.3-liter V6, the 5.3-liter V8 I tested and the 6.2-liter V8) and other functional elements.

Performance: The 5.3-liter V8 I tested creates 355 horsepower and 383 foot-pounds of torque. Acceleration is brisk, but it doesn't have the rocket surge of, say, the Ram 1500 SRT. The six-speed transmission changes gears subtly. And the engine shuts down four cylinders to save fuel on the highway, which also worked seamlessly in testing.

Handling: Every four-wheel-drive truck is a huge package and can be tough to get around city streets and tight places. But they vary greatly out on the highway and on twisting country roads. The Silverado takes on highways pretty well, but lands in the middle of the pack on curves.

Gauging things: I like all the information trucks offer drivers -- battery life, oil pressure -- but the Silverado seems to emphasize these tiny gauges on top, while the speedometer and tachometer sit down and on either end.

Outside: It's big. It's kind of attractive, with big wheels and a strong look.

Cheeky: I may be alone in this, but I think the biggest news for truck owners will grab them by the seat of their pants. For the $845 option price, the Silverado features the vibrating seat alerts that started in the Cadillac XTS a few years ago. Rather than a bunch of beeps, the seat will vibrate to alert drivers if they're going to, say, back into something. And the alert comes from the left or right side depending on the location of the obstacle.

Play some tunes: The other clever addition to the Silverado is the $795 Chevrolet MyLink audio system. This takes a page from the Cadillac CUE system, which I've liked from the start but which admittedly has not gotten universal raves.

The radio borrows some of the best features from Cadillac as well. The touch screen and the "home" feature all work well, but seven buttons outside the touch screen control what's playing, plus knobs operate volume and tuning.

Steering wheel controls: The attractive controls for stereo and cruise control function simply. Trip and mileage information, which on some vehicles migrates to unusual places in the center console, is controlled by steering wheel buttons as well, as it should be. Triggers on the back of the steering wheel crossbar control stereo volume and change the song.

Keeping warm: Separate knobs provide the toasty Mr. Driver's Seat and Mrs. Passenger Seat individualized levels of comfort, while buttons control where the air comes from and a dial tells it how hard to blow. The vertical vents provide good directional flow of the air, and the dashboard is arranged in such a way that it takes it cues from the masculinity of the grille outside.

Friends and stuff: The storage box in between the seats is almost big enough to hold another passenger. Room all around is excellent. Forget the tight confines and straight-backed seats of old-time crew cabs. Every corner is comfy. The tailgate has hydraulic controls, so it lowers quietly without any effort.

Night shift: The ambient lighting is beautiful for a truck. Oh, wait, this is almost 50 grand. Yeah, it should be nice, shouldn't it?

Fuel economy: The Silverado averaged 17 mpg in a highway-heavy week of testing, and was showing 20 on the highway. This definitely leads the pack among the three.

Where it's built: Silao, Mexico

How it's built: Its reliability history has been average or better over the last several years, according to Consumer Reports, but no prediction is given for the redesigned model.

Next week: The 2014 Ford F-150.

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at

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