2003 Chevrolet Silverado

May 22, 2003
This particular Silverado is an unusual animal -- a truck with four-wheel steering called Quadrasteer. You can turn the feature on or off from a control button on the dashboard, but for the entire 800 miles I drove the truck, I left its steering in four-wheel mode.

From behind the wheel in normal driving, you can't tell there is anything different with four-wheel steering. But General Motors has been fooling around with the technology for more than 15 years, and early in its development I had an opportunity to drive a Chevrolet Celebrity equipped with this feature. It was on GM's test track, and I was able to run the Celebrity through a slalom as well as make fast high-speed lane changes. Four-wheel steering does, indeed, add a surprising amount of stability at both high and low speeds.

Just driving the truck around town and not having the advantage of a test-track comparison, the only thing I noticed was a tighter turning radius. Chevrolet ads for Quadrasteer emphasize its maneuverability for such things as backing horse trailers around obstacles in a barnyard. I know my daughter would like that because she tows a long horse trailer, and always complains about difficulty backing it into tight spaces.

A sobering thing, however, is the price of Quadrasteer and to realize how much complexity it adds to the rear axle. The tab is $5,525, and when you look under the rear of the truck, you see the same tie-rods, links, half shafts, universal joints, and other complexity you see on the front axle of a four-wheel-drive vehicle. With wheel alignment and the normal costly maintenance of front steerable wheels, I figure you can plan on paying double that with Quadrasteer.

However, when banks shake loose with crop loans, and federal price supports come through, there are probably tens of thousands of farmers who won't bat an eyelash with increased maintenance or the $5,000 plus for four-wheel steering. Of course, there are also a lot of suburban cowboys who wouldn't shy away from the $45,300 sticker price, which provides four-wheel drive as well as four-wheel steering.The Silverado we drove is as luxurious as anyone could want a vehicle to be. It is as quiet and smooth as costly luxury sedans. I was able to stay behind the wheel for hours on end without a hint of fatigue.

It has been a long time since I've driven a big GM V8, and the experience provided a lot of nostalgia. The engine in the Silverado, a Vortec 6000, reminded me of the silky smooth V8s in Buicks and Chevrolets I drove as a teenager. The 6000 designator stands for six liters, but describing big engines in liters means nothing to me. It is a perversion of the auto industry brought over from Europe, and I better understand what I am driving if you tell me the engine has 364 cubic inches.

The truck had every bell and whistle you can imagine, much of which I consider overkill. For example, I don't know that both driver and front passenger need separate climate controls. The same goes for the 100-channel digital radio. With 200 channels on my cable TV system, I still have a hard time finding something I want to watch and, with the radio, it was hard to find anything on the 100 channels that I wanted to listen to.

Likewise, I consider the TV screen and DVD player in the back seat unnecessary. That went for $1,295. I think they install that stuff primarily to entertain kids. Yelling at the top of your lungs, "Shut up and sit still or I'm going to smack you," makes kids behave just as well as do expensive mobile TV systems.

The truck averaged 15 mpg on a long road trip, and I found that amazing. My diesel Dodge Ram gets 20 mpg under the same circumstances. I figured there would be a bigger difference in fuel economy. Over 1,000 miles, the Chevy gasoline engine incurs only about $27 more than a Dodge Cummins diesel in fuel costs. For what it is worth, I noticed that my Dodge sits about eight inches higher than the Silverado, which I consider to be a plus for the Dodge. --

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