By Jon Thomson

There is probably a reason why our cousins in the US call vehicles with a tray behind the cabin, trucks and not utes as we do. That is probably because, unlike our utes, their pickups are mighty big and are trucks in reality.

While climbing aboard Chevy’s Silverado 1500 for the first time can be a little daunting for Aussies used to a dual cab one tonner or a Holden or Falcon ute, the reality is you quickly adapt to the size and the impressive performance, handling and ride, not to mention the amazing space they deliver in the cab and in the load bed.

The extraordinary thing about this Big American is that it is the tiddler in the Chevy Silverado range, with the larger 2500 and humungous 3500 sitting above this dual cab model. The 3500 truly is a truck and is bigger than some of the light duty trucks sold by Japanese truck makers here in Australia.

The Silverado 1500 LTZ we were testing, like every other Chevy that comes to Australia, starts life as a good ole’ US left hand drive pick-up and is imported and converted to right hand drive right here in Australia. This particular one was completed by the authorised General Motors converter in Australia, the Walkinshaw organisation, better known as HSV in the past, but of course with the demise of that famed Aussie brand it will probably morph to GMSV in the future.

In the States the pickup sector of the market is the highest selling vehicle segment in the country, led by rival Ford’s F Series with Chrysler’s RAM brand is also near the top of the overall sales charts as well.

Down under it is more a specialty market, not least because of the much higher prices as a result of having to convert to RHD after it arrives here. While Stateside you might pay around $US60,000($AUD80,000) for an equivalent LTZ 1500, here in OZ the same truck will set you back around $AUD113,000 before on road costs and exploration of the extensive option list.

For all of that, US-sourced pick-ups are growing in popularity here, largely as a result of the price leading RAM 1500 models which start at about $80,000 for an entry level model, but also thanks to the genuine factory authorised conversion Walkinshaw produces from its Melbourne factory. Ironically Walkinshaw also handles the RAM conversion in a joint venture with Australian distributor Ateco, in a separate but adjacent factory in the Melbourne suburb of Clayton, so it has the experience and engineering knowledge to make the conversions seamless.

The fact is that the US auto makers have such an enormous market for pick-ups in their homeland means that they don’t see any need to go to the bother of building them in right hand drive and see it all as a bit too hard. So the Silverado comes to Australia as a complete left hand drive machine as you would buy in any Chevy dealer there, and its disassembled and then re-configured with the wheel on the other side of the cabin. Climb behind that repositioned wheel and it is nigh on impossible to tell that the Chevy started life as a left hand drive, the quality is excellent, the engineering is very thorough and the standard is OEM level.

Saying the 1500 LTZ is the ‘tiddller’ in the Silverado line up is a bit of an misnomer, given it is 5585 mm long and 2000mm wide and is just shy of 2600kg in weight, so negotiating the Westfield parking lot is a challenge, but not impossible.

While most of the Japanese sourced dual cab pick-ups use diesels the power plant beneath the bonnet in the Silverado is a traditional, normally aspirated 6.2 litre V8 producing 313 kW of power and a massive 624 Nm of torque, which helps this large machine to easily lift its skirts for a dash when called for.

Despite its size it can accelerate from 0-100km/h in a very respectable time of around 5.5 seconds, which given it weighs more than 2.5 tonnes is quite amazing. The price you pay for experiencing that sort of acceleration is the fuel gauge drops in the other direction almost as quickly. However when driven carefully the Silverado can be surprisingly frugal. We had the average fuel consumption down to around 10.5 litres/100km on a cruising highway trip up the coast with the big 6.2 litre purring along at a shade over 1000rpm, barely ticking over and the Dynamic Fuel Management system which seamlessly and automatically deactivates up to six of the eight cylinders on cruise.

This system is so good you barely know It is happening. Along with that there is stop-start technology that saves fuel burn while stationary at the lights or in traffic. However the major key to the impressive performance and fuel efficiency is the 10-speed automatic transmission, which in one of the great pieces of corporate cooperation, is a joint development with arch rival Ford, and is basically the same auto found in the Ford Mustang and a bunch of other vehicles from both makers.

The 10-speed auto is smooth, quiet, efficient and shifts without fuss no matter what situation. The Silverado gearstick is a throwback to another era though, and is in fact a column shift, which is fine when you get used to it, but a little cumbersome to start with. There a manual shift function, but strangely and it is activated by a button midway along the gear selector, and it only works in L1 not in D. Again once used to it, this becomes second nature, but it just takes a little getting used to.

Give that big 6.2 litre bent eight a boot-full from a standing start and it rockets down the road with a hearty V8 growl and impressive aplomb.

Our test Silverado was a Z71, a long time GM code for added performance models, which in this instance particularly means enhanced suspension. However while it boasts sports car like acceleration don’t expect sports car handling. This is after all a big and heavy pick up and when pushed hard in corners you realise it takes a lot of physics to get it around the bend. Having said that it generally handles with a flat and controlled nature, but the damping is still a little on the soft side for Australian taste. A run across the Bell’s Line of Road and on to Bathurst and Oberon revealed it can easily cruise along at the speed limit, just don’t expect to have fun at a track day.

Part of the reason why the latest Silverado handles and performs so well for a big pick up truck, is that it boasts a new platform which is lighter and better designed that its predecessor. The latest Silverado 1500 rides on GM’s new T1XX platform which it shares with such things as Chev’s super SUVs the Suburban and the Tahoe as well as Cadillac’s Escalade. The Silverado is 200 or so kilos lighter than its previous model thanks to the new platform and better chassis engineering and design has made the big pick up much better dynamically than previous generations we have driven in the USA.

One design point we did note is just how far back the engine sits in the engine bay when you open the bonnet, it may not be a mod engine sports car but it certainly helps with the balance of the machine.

It is also aided in Australia by the fact that the Walkinshaw organisation uses its store of engineering smarts to apply its own suspension tune to the Silverado, drawing on the expertise it applied to generations of HSV improved Holdens.

On smooth tarmac the big beast handles particularly well, although on rougher broken bitumen and on gravel roads there can so signs of scuttle shake and excessive judder when unladen, however you can’t forget this is a pick up and its built for a load so when viewed through this frame, it performs pretty impressively.

Our test vehicle also boasted an optional Brembo brake package which significantly improved the brake performance with terrific feel through the pedal and consistent stopping power, a factor which is vital in a 2.5 tonne vehicle with this level of urge. The Silverado sits on big 20 inch alloy rims, which allow plenty of room for the massive Brembo discs and also gives the vehicle better handling and ride.

Let’s not forget this is a truck and out behind the big spacious cab is a big spacious load bed which can haul a genuine 712 kg payload while more important for some is the fact that it can tow up to 3500kg with the standard 50mm tow ball or up to 4500kg with a 70 mm ball. That alone makes the Silverado and other American pick-ups hugely attractive to caravan hauling grey nomads. This is further enhanced by an integrated adjuster knob for trailer braking positioned on the dash.

The rear ute tub is lined with a tough sprayed on black ripple coating that resists damage and protect the steel tub underneath. The rear tailgate also features an electric open and close function, so one touch on the tailgate button or on the remote key fob and it can be lowered and raised with ease, handy if you have an armful of heavy items to load into the tub.

The Silverado has selectable 4WD which GM calls Autotrac, with both the normal 2WD and a two speed electronic transfer case for 4WD. We didn’t test the off road capabilities save for poking down a wet gravel road but the sheer size of the Silverado could limit the places it can go in the Australian bush, but this is a surprising machine and it may well exceed expectations.

Interior space is abundant in the Silverado, in fact if there was any more space inside this machine NASA would be needed to manage it. But seriously the room available is tremendous with comfortable room for five large adults, masses of storage space and legroom that could easily cope with five NBA players.

At one stage on our run across the Bells Line of Road, the rear seat occupant joked with the front seat passenger asking him to move the seat forward because he “only had about a metre of legroom to play with”. That is not quite true but squashed is something you won’t feel in inside the Silverado cabin. My wife quipped that the Silverado was clearly “built for extra large Americans”, and she may very well be right.

A clever innovation in the rear is the fold up seat squab, which can free passenger area for luggage or cargo inside the cab rather than in the tray at the back.

There are also heaps of storage bins and holes around the cabin with a pile of USB charging points and a wireless charging pad in the centre console, however we had trouble making this work reliably during our time in the Chevy. The centre console between the two front seats has enough room in it to stage a Barnham and Baileys Circus performance, well maybe not quite that much but it can stow an awful lot of stuff.

The dash is alive with buttons and controls , as is the steering wheel but all is very well laid out and generally easy to use, although some of the buttons are a little small and at times difficult to hit accurately while travelling at speed.

The audio/ infotainment system revolve around an 8.0-inch LED touchscreen coupled to a superb Bose sound system which also boasts Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There are audio and mode control buttons on the back of the steering wheel spokes allowing the driver to control things without taking hands off the wheel and also there are round dials below the unit itself on the dash that allow easy adjustment on the fly.

With the full suite of safety features the Silverado comes with adaptive cruise control, Automated Emergency Braking and lane-change alert as well as blind-sport monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Interestingly active lane keep is not offered just yet, however work to calibrate and adapt it for local conditions is underway the HSV engineering offices in Clayton.

Driving the Silverado for a week makes you realise just how far US automotive offerings have come, particularly in the decade since the GFC, when a near bankrupt GM had to re-focus and start delivering globally competitive machinery. About 30 years ago this writer tested the last of the F150 pickups sold locally by Ford. It was truly terrible, lacking refinement and manners in equal measure. Local vehicles were so much better in every way. The headline on that F150 test was ‘This Old Cowboy has had its Day’ Admittedly 30 years is a long time ago, but the Silverado and other US machines can now sit comfortably alongside products from any other country in the world without embarrassment or apology. This may not be Silverado’s first Rodeo but it also isn’t a broken down old bronco rider either.

Yes, sure the big Chevy is an acquired taste and won’t suit everyone. But if you are looking for more room, towing capacity as well as luxury from a ute and you’re not worried about a $110,000 plus price tag then the Silverado is a big, honest, and likeable option to the smaller Japanese dual cabs and if you are not worried about its large footprint on the planet then it ticks a lot of boxes.