Photo courtesy of GM
The 2014 Chevrolet Silverado offers up to 24 mpg on highway and tows up to 12,000 lb.

As contractors are shaking loose from the recession, General Motors is filling dealers' lots with redesigned, light-duty pickups that are arguably its best ever, offering up to 24 miles per gallon on the highway, a 12,000-lb towing capacity and a payload rating of 2,108 lb. With enhanced details, including a standard two-year, 24,000-mile free maintenance plan, GM's 36-month residual values are estimated to rise five to 10 percentage points higher than outgoing 2013 models, according to research firm ALG.

Driving Impressions

ENR recently spent a week test-driving Chevrolet's 2014 Silverado 1500, which plays stable mate to the half-ton GMC Sierra. The rear-wheel-drive, crew-cab model was equipped with a 5.3-liter V-8, 18-in. alloy wheels, interior convenience package and spray-in bedliner, bringing the sticker price to $40,905. Buyers familiar with Chevy trucks know the 5.3-liter V-8; however, it—and all Silverado engines—are redesigned for 2014. It now features aluminum construction, variable valve timing and direct injection.

With 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque, this small block delivers impressive acceleration. A foot-to-the-floor jab of the throttle gets the truck moving in a hurry, and thanks to a six-speed automatic transmission, the vehicle moves smoothly.

Regardless of how aggressive we were with the gas pedal, the power train maintained a high level of refinement both in sound and feel. With the benefit of cylinder deactivation technology, which cuts power to four from eight cylinders under light loads, we averaged 19.7 mpg across hundreds of miles on mostly city and secondary roads. That's a tick above the truck's official 19-mpg combined rating.

By comparison, a similarly configured Ford F-150 with an EcoBoost V-6 is estimated to average 18 mpg in mixed driving. Neither the EPA nor Chrysler has released fuel economy figures for Ram's new 2014 1500 EcoDiesel V-6 model, but we expect it will be more efficient than Ford's and Chevy's.

In addition to overhauled power trains, the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 boasts vastly improved ride and handling. While Ram's coil-spring suspension still reigns supreme in terms of overall comfort, the updated Chevy is surprisingly compliant over rough pavement, with relatively little axle hop. The electric rack-and-pinion steering is appropriately light when maneuvering in tight spaces at slow speeds and a bit heavier when traveling on the highway. Brakes are easily modulated.

Inside, Silverado features durable cloth upholstery, supportive front seats, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, an abundance of headroom and extra touches such as padded window sills. Our test truck included a fold-down front-center armrest and storage unit that was a definite plus; however, when raised, it created a center seat that is hard, flat and generally inhospitable. The crew cab's rear seat, which folds up to create a nearly flat load floor, offers an impressive amount of leg room, and the cabin's plentiful storage includes dual glove boxes, extra cubbies, rubber-lined trays and a few cup holders.

Behind the cab is a cargo box that features a spring-assisted tailgate that is easy to lift but doesn't slam down when unlatched. A new rear bumper sports integrated corner steps that, coupled with grab handles in the bed rails, greatly facilitate access to the cargo area.

The increasing cost of fuel is a primary concern of commercial truck buyers, who also are focused on cutting corporate greenhouse-gas emissions, experts say. With its more efficient 2014 Silverado, Chevrolet is positioned to address those problems, but it's not alone: Ford already is making inroads with its F-150 EcoBoost models. Both Ram and Nissan will soon be joining the fray with powerful and efficient diesel engines.

With the construction and housing markets improving, truck sales have been rising for the past several months, notes Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at "The full-size pickup market has been the fastest-selling segment in the U.S. vehicle market, gaining about two percentage points of market share in the past year," she says. That's good news for companies like Chevrolet, but, more important, it suggests commercial buyers can look forward to a broader selection of economical work trucks.