From the outside, this pickup looks like any other Silverado Crew Cab, and you'd never guess that it got better fuel economy around town than a Scion tC coupe or a Volkswagen Jetta. Yup, this truck in two-wheel-drive trim gets 21 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Plus, it can still haul (1,400 lbs) and tow over three tons. The Hybrid version comes as a Crew Cab only with two- or four-wheel drive. There are two trim levels, with the cloth-interior version starting out at about $39,000. A premium model is also available, and it offers more features including leather seats for about $48 large. Frankly, if it didn't have Hybrid stickers on it (a no-cost option), you'd never know that this truck was packing more high technology than the Apollo missions to the moon.

Hybrid Tech Talk
So what's so high-tech about this truck? How about electric power steering? Instead of being run by a belt off of the crankshaft, the rack-and-pinion steering gets its boost from a 42-volt electric motor. Likewise, the air conditioning compressor is no longer belt-driven but spun by a separate, variable-speed 300-volt motor. Yup, this pickup packs a battery pack capable of flowing 300 volts. That's enough to get your attention if you mistakenly cut the main cable!

Even more important than the electrically-driven accessories is the hybrid system's main component, GM's EVT (Electrically Variable Transmission). General Motors, Mercedes-Benz (when it owned Chrysler), and BMW co-developed the EVT. Within a case that looks like a traditional automatic gearbox, GM managed to package two motor/generators and four fixed gear ratios. The EVT attaches to the engine just like a regular automatic, but nothing inside the EVT works like a regular slush box. The engine's output shaft runs into the EVT where the torque is electronically routed out the tail shaft in the most efficient manner. Computers running sophisticated algorithms pick the gears and specific settings for the motor/generators that are at the fore and aft of the gearbox.

Each motor/generator can produce 81 horsepower and 184 lb-ft. This is enough power to run the Silverado on electricity only from a stop up to nearly 30 mph. The extra torque from the motors also adds power when the driver floors the throttle. Four fixed gear ratios are physically sandwiched between the two motor/generators. These motor/generators are planetary gearsets, so the gearbox is capable of an infinite range of gear ratios (like a continuously variable transmission). While regular CVTs are great for optimizing fuel economy, they don't handle heavy loads very well. GM's version of the CVT does. This is where the fixed gears within the Silverado's EVT come into play. When towing, for example, the planetary gearsets lock to let the heavy-duty fixed gears handle the load.

When the EVT isn't sending power to the rear axle (or to the two-speed transfer case in four-wheel-drive models), it's producing its own power (electricity). Here's how it works: if the Silverado is coasting or slowing due to light to moderate pressure on the brake pedal, the Chevy's disc brakes aren't actually slowing the truck. The EVT is. The dual motors in the transmission instantly switch to become generators, and as the truck's propshaft transfers the truck's kinetic energy into the transmission, the generators spin up to produce electricity. The electricity charges the truck's 300-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack for later use.

In addition to the battery pack (which resides under the rear bench seat), ahead of the EVT is where you'll find the third piece that makes the Silverado Hybrid unique; the advanced V-8 engine. The mill is an all-aluminum 6.0-liter that utilizes cylinder deactivation (so it can run in V-4 mode) and variable valve timing (that enables the late closing of the intake valves to reduce pumping losses) to improve fuel economy. The 6.0-liter produces 332 horsepower and 367 lb-ft of torque.

Driving the Electrified Silverado
In the last 12 months, we've put thousands of miles on half a dozen different full-size GM hybrids. These trucks drive like nothing else on the road. At first, the sensation of driving the Silverado Hybrid is weird. In easy-going driving, the engine RPM and exhaust note don't correspond linearly to acceleration. The EVT works like a continuously variable transmission, so the hybrid's 6.0-liter revs to a particular RPM and hangs there while the vehicle's speed seems to play catch-up. But this sensation is nothing compared to when the Chevy accelerates on battery power alone; it's like gliding. All you hear is a distant hum of a motor and some tire noise, nothing else. It's pure engineering magic.

The engine's auto-stop feature also catches drivers off guard at first. Here's what happens; when you are driving and pull up to a stop, the V-8 may decide that it is going to shut off to save fuel. While the engine shut-down is smooth (as is the re-start), a first reaction can be that the truck stalled. Running on battery power, the steering, climate control, and other vital functions remain completely operational in the Auto Stop mode. Full-throttle launches aren't as fast as a Silverado with the 403-horsepower 6.2-liter V-8, but the Hybrid model holds its own with 0-60 mph acceleration in the mid-8 second range. That's about what you'd expect from a two-wheel drive 5.3-liter Chevy pickup, but that truck only gets 14 mpg city, 20 mpg highway.

To help with eco-driving, there is a gauge at the left of the IP that encourages drivers to stay within a "green" zone. Too much acceleration is wasteful, as is too much braking (the EVT's regenerative capabilities can't capture the maximum amount of energy during quick stops). The gauge helps drivers realize that long coast downs and extended soft braking maximize mileage. If you get the navigation system option, more hybrid system information can be displayed on the LCD monitor that sits atop the center stack.

During our time with the Silverado Hybrid, we drove it hauling nothing but air, and loaded with about 1,200 pounds in the bed, and hooked to a 5,550-pound trailer. The truck did everything we asked of it and never seemed bothered by anything we asked. We were concerned that the extra 300 pounds of batteries would hurt the truck's ride and handling, but it doesn't seem to make any difference. GM engineers did put a new hydraulic body-to-frame mount under the cab to help manage the additional mass, and the improvement in ride was so noticeable that they're now using that new mount on all GM Crew Cabs, hybrid and non-hybrid.

The only minor downside we noticed about the Hybrid was that the 300-volt battery pack takes up all of the room under the second-row rear seat, which is a prime location for a speaker enclosure. On a non-hybrid Silverado, this seat flips up against the rear of the cab to open up lots of cargo room on the floor. When you flip up the seat on the Hybrid, there is a large black case that contains hundreds of battery cells. You can load cargo on the battery case, but there is less overall room.

The Hybrid Financial Equation
Does driving a hybrid like the 2009 Chevrolet Silverado make any financial sense? We calculate that in the course of a 15,000-mile year, you'd save roughly 350 gallons of fuel compared to driving any other pickup with a mid-size V-8 and an automatic. You can do the math using whatever the cost per gallon may be when you read this. The payback is certainly better when gas is $4 a gallon compared to when it's $2. With a starting price of almost $39,000, the smart reader is going to ask what part of that price is linked to the hybrid powertrain? The answer is about $4,000 if you do a feature-by-feature comparison. When you do that, you'll see that even the base Silverado Hybrid is loaded with features.

Nearly every automotive expert sees hybrid technology as becoming more common in the next few years. As good as the 2009 Chevy Silverado Hybrid is, we can understand why. Plus, as GM and other manufacturers build more hybrids, the cost will come down and they'll begin offering the powertrain on less expensive models, helping to make the technology more affordable. Now that's something to get juiced about.

Road Test
2009 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid
Equipment & Specifications

Hybrid-Specific Equipment
6.0-liter V-8 with variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation
Electrically Variable Transmission
Electric Power Steering
Electric Air Conditioning
3.08:1 rear-axle ratio
Efficiency IP Gauge
Energy Flow Display (with optional NAV screen)
Tonneau Cover (soft on lower trim level, three-piece hard tonneau on premium level)
18-inch polished aluminum wheels
P265/65R18 low-rolling-resistance tires

Key equipment IncludedIn Hybrid Package
Crew Cab body style
XM satellite radio with CD player and steering wheel radio controls
OnStar
Dual-zone air conditioning
Cloth bench seats
Locking differential
Heavy-duty trailering
Six airbags
Power door locks with remote keyless entry
Tilt steering column with leather wrapped steering wheel
Tire pressure monitoring
ABS
Increased capacity suspension
Spare tire lock
Bluetooth
Premium Trim Additions
Leather bucket seats with power driver and passenger seats
Navigation System
Fog lamps
Rear parking assist
Power adjustable pedals
Universal home remote
Rear window defroster

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