No compromise Chevy Hybrid truck

Published 9:20 am Thursday, March 26, 2009

San Antonio, Texas – Full-size pickup owners generally fall into two categories: (1) people who regularly need the cargo capacity and towing capability or (2) those who haul or tow on occasion but like the idea of driving something larger and higher than other vehicles around them. The cost of gasoline didn’t seem to be the motivating factor for either group, until prices ran amok during the last year. Suddenly, many of the group of occasional users started getting rid of the trucks that were getting 15 or 16 mpg and buying cars, crossovers or anything else that didn’t require a hundred-dollar bill to fill. That left the people who needed these big trucks having to bite the bullet and buy the gas.

Riding to the rescue is General Motors with two new full-size hybrid pickups that get 25 percent better fuel economy overall and 40 percent better in city driving.

The new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks will not only get better fuel economy, but are still able to haul the big loads and pull the big trailer.

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I recently spent a day in truck country (Texas) driving these new pickups and I can attest to the fuel economy increase in city driving. I averaged 25.1 mpg on my test drive through suburban and city areas loaded with stop signs, traffic signals and bumper-to-bumper traffic. My driving partner averaged 23.2 mpg (he said it was down hill on my leg of the drive). I admit I was driving for the best numbers, but can still imagine getting 21 or 22 mpg with my regular driving habits.

I also drove truck a with an 800-pound weight in the bed and pulled a 5,000-pound ski boat. In both cases, the truck felt no different than the standard GM pickup with a 5.3-liter gas engine.

A 6.0-liter V-8 engine attached to the new 2-Mode continuous electric ratio hybrid transmission powers the hybrid pickups. The first transmission mode is for low speed or city driving and operates in an electric power only mode, engine power only or a combination of electric and gas. The second mode works to maximize fuel economy at highway speeds with the V-8 engine. When extra power is needed, for example for passing or pulling up a steep grade, the electric motor adds extra power to the system. It accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds.

The 332-hp, V-8 hybrid engine is equipped with the General Motors Active Fuel Management system that cuts the engine down to a V-4 configuration when the full power is not needed like steady cruising or going down a hill. The engine also shuts off at stoplights and it’s possible to drive for considerable distances as long as the speed doesn’t go much above 35 mph. Combined the system gets an EPA fuel economy rating of 21 mpg city and 22 mpg highway.

The hybrid is only available in the 1500 crew cab configuration and with two-or four-wheel drive. Other than the hybrid drivetrain modifications, hybrid badging, and a 300-volt battery neatly tucked under the rear seat it would be difficult to identify the Silverado as a hybrid. There are some aerodynamic changes to the body, but they are difficult to see. The battery does take up some of the storage space in the rear passenger compartment, but it still has the same comfortable back seat.

It’s difficult to pin down exactly how much the hybrid adds to the cost of the Chevrolet truck because the equipment list doesn’t correspond to any existing models. The base hybrid price is listed at $38,995 for the two-wheel drive crew cab, including the destination charge. The four-wheel drive version with a $6,135 hybrid option package tops out at just over $48,000.

The two new GM Hybrid pickups are a great way for people who need or want to drive a pickup to get better fuel economy and still haul the big loads.