Motor companies are pulling out all the stops to civilize their pickup trucks in hopes that we will buy more of them, decked out with more profitable goodies, and then—having been seduced by their comforts and conveniences—drive them daily, thus using ‘em up more quickly whilst parading them around as rolling billboards.
However, even my Colorado brothers-in-law no longer drive their full-size crew-cab pickups every day. For daily commuting, they’ve switched to smaller, lighter and much less space- and fuel-hoggish transportation. They save the Dodge, Chevy and Ford (one each) for towing the boat, hauling the camper, and fetching the occasional elk or deer carcass down from the high country.
Speaking of High Country: That’s what Chevrolet has branded its first premium truck, the $52,000 rig featured here. Considering that a regular-cab, rear-wheel-drive Chevy Silverado pickup with a 6-cylinder engine can be had for slightly less than half of that, the word “premium” truly applies.
For starters, this High Country 4WD Crew model has a 6.2-liter V-8—a new Ecotec3 engine with direct fuel injection and Active Fuel Management, so it can dial itself back to just four cylinders when all 420 horsepower and 460 torques aren’t needed. The 4WD comes from a two-speed transfer case—operated by a knob on the dashboard—and a self-locking rear differential. With a six-speed HydraMatic transmission and a 3.42:1 rear end, the fuel burn has been hovering around 15 miles per gallon (in 2WD). Twenty MPG should be possible on the highway, if perhaps not at full capacity—a one-ton payload plus a 9,500-lb trailer behind.
“Premium” notwithstanding, this truck is ready for work. The towing package includes automatic grade braking, sway control and hill-start assist. (Antilock disk brakes, stability control, tire-pressure monitors and so on are standard.) The 5’8” bed is rubberized, with rail caps and four movable and four fixed tie-downs. Along with the usual bed lights on the rear of the cab, there are also two LED lamps under the bed rails. The rear bumper has steps cut into the corners.
All good, and the surprises continue in the four-seat, four-door, size-XXL cabin. But here things get a bit iffy. Where on the scale from power-adjustable pedals and a tilt-and-telescope steering wheel to heated & cooled, 10-way-adjustable leather bucket seats (and a color touchscreen) do we cross the line between hard-working truck and high-maintenance luxury vehicle?
OK, we can make a case for the rearview camera and the front and rear proximity sensors that vibrate the driver’s seat; maneuvering a big rig can be tricky. And turn-by-turn navigation, lane-departure and front-collision alerts, and all the digital infotainment can be pretty nice if you’re trailering a couple of show ponies across the country.
But, like Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Jeep Wranglers, pickups really excel at just one thing. For trucks, that’s good, old-fashioned, dirty-fingernails work that involves severe loads and burly bolt-ons: snowplows, anvils, Class V trailer hitches, winches, heavy weaponry, sawmills. So give us more power, more ground clearance, more load capacity, more traction!
But what about these 20-inch chrome wheels? The Bose stereo and the power sliding rear window? The heated steering wheel? The EZ Lift & Lower tailgate (with a damper to soften its fall, and a torsion bar to help it go back up)? Are we still easing the working man’s burden now, or is this mere decadence and profiteering? It’s a slippery slope, one that truck makers are eager to push us down.
The last time I got judgmental about full-size pickup trucks, a dealer in Texas called to demand that I be strung up with a serpentine belt. I’ll take that over driving such a beast for anything other than work. Leaving aside the gas-guzzling, carbon-spewing and space-hogging—and also the undeniable comforts—let’s look at the High Country’s driving dynamics: in short, poor.
Brooks Brothers doesn’t make dress overalls because most of us don’t intend to wear overalls a moment longer than we need to. A “premium truck” is also an oxymoron, so the question remains: why? Other than enriching the maker, that is. Darn, it’s tough being a guy these days.