The ink was hardly dry on the Silverado SS press kits when the first wave of panic hit the Internet. Word on the "virtual" street was that Chevy's new muscle truck was a tad light in the loafers when compared to its contemporaries-those being the Ford Lightning, Ford Harley Davidson F-150 and the upcoming 500-hp Dodge Ram SRT-10. No doubt by now, the "big three" car mags have made literary mincemeat out of the Silverado SS's 345 hp and hefty 5298-lb. girth.
From a pure performance standpoint, the SS does not deliver the goods. With a weight-to-power ratio of 15.3 lb./hp, the SS is flat-out left to choke on the fumes of its rivals (the Ford Lightning by comparison is a stout 11.8 lbs./hp). To say otherwise is to be in complete denial of the laws of physics, so the real issue is defending the SS's worth in terms other than performance.
Those responsible for the Silverado SS make their business case logically. Simply put, they do not want a one-fourth slice or even one-third slice of a "pie" which is a small niche market of 20,000 vehicles-and on a good day at that. Chevy is thinking far larger than that, as one exec told this author, "performance variants historically run at or near 10 percent of the total business, which for us is 600,000 to 700,000 units annually."
Chevy will in effect build its own high-performance, grown-up person, work-truck niche with this product, which it concedes is probably around 30,000 units. That's the plan at least.
And what exactly, if not horsepower, will lure buyers into showrooms this fall when units go on sale? For starters, Silverado SS features full-time all-wheel drive. If you don't think this feature is valued by consumers, you haven't driven on public roads in the past 10 years. Then there's comfortable seating for four adults. The extended cab is a plush leather-swathed environment for mature individuals, no apologies made. A 7,500-lb. tow capacity is also part of the package, so when coupled with the torquey LQ9 6-liter engine, the Silverado SS doubles as one serious work-a-day truck.
As you can see, there is a compelling business case for a truck with the specifications of the Silverado SS.
So why have gearheads gotten all bent out of shape by the SS? The reason is simple: By affixing the moniker "SS" to such a product, you have made the tacit promise of uncompromised straight-line performance, and under those terms, the SS is severely disadvantaged. It's relatively lackadaisical performance notwithstanding, you might presume with the "SS" badge, it is still the quickest truck in the Chevy fleet. That, however, would not be true-not by a long shot.
So what truck in the Chevy fleet is most deserving of the "SS" performance badge? Gather 'round and listen up 'cause this gets good.
The distinction of the fastest Chevy truck belongs to a standard-cab 1500-series 2WD LS with the LM7 5.3L Vortec, i.e., the biggest available engine in the lightest package. You'll need to know more than this, because to maximize your "E-ticket" ride there are other options on the order blank which much be checked. (Keep in mind that we used the chevrolet.com web site which contained 2002 ordering data. This loophole may yet be closed for MY2003.)
First, we chose the LS trim (RPO 1SB) because it keys several convenience and comfort features which bring it up to "SS" standards (A/C, power windows, power mirrors, cruise control, power locks, keyless entry, leather steering wheel, theft alarm and AM/FM/CD sound system to name a few). Next, we equipped it with the 285-hp LM7 Vortec ($1,495)-the most powerful engine available in this model. Although not as powerful as the SS's 345-hp LQ9, the LM7's diminutive power is offset by the LS's lighter standard cab, two-wheel drive and short bed, making the 1500 LS a whopping 1,219 pounds lighter than SS.
In order to get the LM7, you must also opt for the 4L60E 4-speed automatic transmission ($1,095), which also gives you a 7,500-lb. towing capacity. We also discovered we could choose a high-capacity air cleaner ($25) on the chance it would free up the induction. A locking rear with 3.73 gears (GT4, $50) was also a no-brainer. Finally, we couldn't resist checking the box for dual 6-way adjustable electric bucket seats (A95, $905).
Now here's where things get a little tricky. If you're looking beyond stock performance to the day when you start sprinkling go-fast goodies on your 5.3-liter, you'll check the box for the L59 engine. The L59 engine is identical to the LM7 (it costs the same too), except for one crucial thing: it's compatible with E85 fuel (it can run off an 85-percent ethanol, 15-percent gasoline blend). Although you won't get any more power from the L59 engine (like the LM7, it's rated at 285 hp at 5200 rpm), you'll get bigger injectors and a bigger fuel pump. Just run it on pump gas and you'll never know the difference. Of course, if you do run it on E85 (relax, it's available practically nowhere) you'll get a 7-percent bump in hp up to 304 hp. Mainly, L59 gives you a better fuel system for later on.
One other key option is the PRO-TEC sportside body (RPO E62, $795). Here, the steel bed is replaced with a lightweight injected-molded composite bed. Owners of short wheelbase 1500-series trucks with this bed report it lowers overall vehicle weight to 3,800 lbs. (Vehicle weight for the E62 option was not posted on Chevy's web site.)
So what does all this cost? With all these options, our LS stickered at $26,474, which includes destination charges. In all likelihood, this truck could be purchased for $25,000, a far cry from the $35,000 we expect the Silverado SS to sell for. And while our special-order 1500 LS won't exactly make hay with the Lightning, it will have a far better weight-to-power ratio of 13.5 lbs./hp (compared to the SS's 15.3 lbs./hp). You'll also have about 10 grand left to shop for a few "goodies."
Yes, readers, you do have a performance alternative that keeps you in a Chevy!