Environmen-tow-ly Friendly
First Drive: 2009 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid

By: Mike Levine Posted: 08-18-08 15:00 PT
© 2008 PickupTrucks.com

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Toyota is widely accepted as the greenest auto manufacturer thanks to the breadth, depth and sophistication of its hybrid vehicle lineup. However, Toyota has been stumped by its most thirsty vehicles: its full-size trucks, which the Wall Street Journal reported last year won't receive hybrid options until 2013 at the earliest. GM, meanwhile, has found a solution for green truck-buyers: The 2009 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid, which, believe or not, is more fuel-efficient than Toyota Motor Sales’ flagship hybrid car.

A Chevrolet Pickup More Advanced Than Lexus' Top Sedan?

No, not the smug-emitting Prius, but Toyota's top-of-the-line Lexus LS 600h L luxury sedan. According to the EPA, the full-size LS 600h is rated at 20/22 mpg city/highway, while the half-ton Silverado Hybrid 2WD crew cab scores a morally superior 21/22 mpg city/highway.

If Toyota's hybrid hyperbole is to be believed, comparing the Silverado Hybrid to the LS 600h must be the automotive equivalent of "The Beverly Hillbillies," with GM playing the role of Jed Clampett and Toyota as Milburn Drysdale (and Bob Lutz as Granny — kidding, Bob, kidding!). Lexus markets the upper-crust 600h as a way to "minimize our impact on earth without sacrificing comfort and luxury." So how’d a simple Chevy pickup wind up better off than a mansion-dwelling Lexus sedan?

You might think we've inhaled too much CO2, comparing a Silverado Hybrid to the LS 600h, but it’s really not that silly. GM developed the Silverado’s two-mode hybrid system in cooperation with Lexus' archrivals, BMW and Mercedes, and will offer it in upcoming versions of its cars and trucks. Chrysler worked on it too, for the 2010 Dodge Ram 1500 and its midsize SUVs.

It’s not far-fetched to say the Silverado Hybrid's powertrain is more advanced than Lexus'. The Silverado’s two-mode electrically variable transmission houses two 60kW electric motors that can power the truck on their own up to about 25 mph, depending on driving conditions. As the multi-displacement 6.0-liter pushrod V-8 gas engine kicks in, the electric motors seamlessly support it, individually or in tandem, at low and high speeds, helping the engine enter fuel-saving four-cylinder mode sooner and stay in it longer to achieve maximum miles per gallon. The Silverado's EVT provides an almost infinite range of gears, but it also has four fixed gears, like a conventional automatic transmission, that can be manually selected with the column shifter.

The LS 600h also has two electric motors supplementing its gas engine, but only one is used to drive the car’s wheels; the other starts the V-8 and recharges the batteries. Its continuously variable automatic transmission blends the power of two motors instead of three. Lexus' 5.0-liter DOHC V-8 only runs with all eight cylinders firing. There is no fuel-saving four-cylinder mode.

The Silverado Hybrid’s mpg story gets even stronger when you compare several other key specs with the LS 600h.

The 5,640-pound Silverado outweighs the LS 600h by about 600 pounds. The Silverado might pick up an extra half or full mpg of mileage if it shed another 300 pounds, like GM’s full-size hybrid SUVs did.

The Lexus' single-mode hybrid powertrain has a higher net power output of 438 horsepower (389 hp with the V-8 sans motors ) and 385 pounds-feet of torque, versus the Chevrolet's two-mode net output of 412 hp (332 hp from V-8 only) and 367 pounds-feet of torque.

The LS 600h has a super-slippery drag coefficient of .27, versus the Silverado's .412 Cd.

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