Test: 2004 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT
Buying gasoline at $2.50 a gallon sucks. Of course we’re talking about the dollars from my wallet. So it was incredible timing that a 2004 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LS Extended Cab hybrid pickup landed on the doorstep. Yep, a true, right off-the-assembly-line, full-size HYBRID American pickup ready to hit the green streets of the San Francisco Bay Area.
But let’s set some expectations before we proceed with the review. At the mention of the words hybrid and pickup in the same sentence some of you may have dreams of Toyota’s Prius dancing in your heads, but that concept would be incorrectly applied to this particular Silverado.
The fuel-sipping, technological marvel that is the Prius is a ‘true’ hybrid. That means it has two engines, one electric and one internal combustion, that move the wheels and power the vehicle depending on driving conditions. The Silverado on the other hand is a ‘mild’ hybrid. It mates a 42-volt electric motor with a 5.3-liter Vortec V8 - the same 295 horsepower / 330 pounds-feet of torque V8 you can find in a traditional Silverado - but this electric motor never turns the wheels. Instead the motor is leveraged to provide juice to internal systems for creature comforts like XM satellite radio and a dual-zoned climate controlled AC while shutting off the gasoline engine at full stops to save on fuel and emissions. As soon as you lift your foot from the brake or apply a light touch to the accelerator the Vortec powers right back up.
With only about 10% better fuel economy than a standard Silverado, the hybrid Silverado’s gasoline savings can’t come close to matching the relatively astronomical savings of the Prius but it doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of utility either versus other full-size pickups the way the Prius does against comparable sedans in its class. In fact you can do a lot more with this truck than you can with the pickup in your driveway, like use its electric motor as a generator to provide 120-volt, 20-amp power for up to 32 hours on a full tank of gas when you run it off the three batteries stowed under its rear bench seat.
An interesting side note: GM recently donated 50 hybrid Silverados after the hurricanes in Florida to help with cleanup efforts so they could be used by recovery crews to run electric chainsaws, refrigerators and air-conditioners in areas without any source of power.
During the week I drove the Silverado it averaged 16.1mpg in mixed driving conditions, traveling an average of 70 miles per day. GM claims an EPA rating of 17 miles-per-gallon in the city and 19 on the highway for the hybrid Silverado while the regular 4WD pickup gets 15mpg in the city and 18 on the highway. In past experience with the standard truck, I’ve averaged 14.5 to 15 miles-per-gallon, reflecting a real-life noticeable difference in fuel economy between the two versions.
The hybrid option adds a modest premium of $2500.00 to the sticker price of the Silverado (it’s around $5000 for a Prius when compared to other cars in its class). The base price started at $30,195 and by the time all the other options and luxury items were added, such as the heavy duty suspension, locking diff rear-axle and heated leather seats, the truck topped out at $37,743.00.
Some of you are probably already whipping out your calculators to see how long it might take to recoup your investment in the hybrid powertrain. This might help. Regular gas in the Bay Area currently sells for up to $2.55 per gallon. With the Silverado hybrid wringing out an average 1.6 miles-per-gallon of gas more than the standard version, you can travel an extra 41.6 miles farther on a tank of gas, gaining you an extra 2.19 gallons of gas on a 26-gallon full tank fill-up. That’s a savings of $5.58 per tank. At this rate, it would take 448 fill-ups to break even or 12-1/2 years if you averaged 15,000 miles per year. If gas were to jump to $3.00 per gallon (lord help us!) you could break even in 10.6 years.
So is it worth it? That’s up to you to decide but it sure felt good to make even a small contribution towards gaining independence from Mid-East oil while reducing emissions at the same time – if just for a week. Go ahead and drive one if you don’t believe me. You will definitely feel superior to the guy sitting next to you at a stoplight with his internal combustion engine idling away while you sit in engine silence with the XM radio cranked up.
And if that’s not enough to persuade you, just wait until your power goes out and your neighbors watch you plug your truck in to your house. Priceless.