Make sure you look closely the next time you see a truck with a cat-eye front end.
It may not be a Chevrolet Avalanche. It could be the newly restyled Chevy Silverado.
For 2003, General Motors' top-selling vehicle, the Silverado pickup, has a new grille, bumper, fascia, headlamps and hood to make it look more like the Avalanche and another Chevy with a cat-eye front, the TrailBlazer sport utility.
The new front end is just one of more than three dozen changes made to the Silverado for 2003 in what amounts to a major product update.
Silverado taillamps are new, too, this year. So are wheels, airbag systems, ventilation, audio and electrical system.
Even the Silverado's seats now are "Lazy Boy style," according to Terry Woychowski, a chief engineer at GM.
Did I mention buyers now can get XM satellite radio in these pickup trucks? It's a new option that means special tunes and talk shows come in loud and clear nationwide.
All the changes are meant to help bolster the popularity of a truck that has ranked consistently among the top three vehicles in U.S. sales since shortly after its debut in the 1999 model year. Annual sales of the Silverado the past two years have averaged 681,000.
Silverados are big, full-size trucks, sold as light- and heavy-duty models offering two-and four-wheel-drive, different size cabs, different bed lengths and V6 and V8 engines.
GM's innovative Quadrasteer four-wheel steering system, which helps maneuverability and trailer hauling, also is available.
The test vehicle, a light-duty Extended Cab model, is bought primarily by men, who account for 91 percent of the buyers, Chevy spokesman Randy Fox said.
Buyers' average age is 48, and 76 percent are married, he said, adding that average household income is $78,800 a year.
The tester, a 2003 two-wheel-drive model with seats for five, showed it's capable of handling both work tasks and family.
There's a big climb up to get inside -- it was made more strenuous because the truck did not have running boards.
But once there, driver and riders have an excellent view out and over most other vehicles. This helped me manage my speeds and prepare for stops in city and highway traffic way ahead of other vehicles.
I noted, too, that many other drivers gave my Silverado space and didn't ride on my bumper since such a move would mean the driver behind would have no view at all except of my tailgate.
The interior of the Silverado Extended Cab has a spacious feel. The center console between the two front seats is very wide, and the back bench seat can hold three adults, widthwise, with ease.
Then there's the headroom -- it's immense. The 41 inches in the front seat top the 40.8 inches in the Ford F-150. It's more than the Dodge Ram's, too.
Back-seat headroom of 38.4 inches in the Silverado Extended Cab is less, though, than the 40 inches in the Ram Quad Cab. The F-150's SuperCab has 37.8 inches, in comparison.
Still, the Silverado Extended Cab leads the two major competitors in front-seat legroom and has more rear-seat legroom than the F-150 SuperCab. The Ram's four-door Quad Cab has 2.7 inches more.
Riders sink into the Silverado's new cushioned seats. I marveled at how thick the cloth-front seatbacks were in the test truck.
But the back-seat cushion provided support only to about mid-thigh on me, which isn't quite as much as I'd like. I came to appreciate those "Lazy Boy" front seats.
I also noticed that the middle rider in back doesn't get a head restraint, and while all five head restraints in the Silverado are adjustable, none locks into place.
The ride can be quite truckish, even at 25 miles an hour. There's a lot of bounciness that comes through to passengers when the pavement is irregular and when the truck passes over manhole covers.
Then on a concrete highway with expansion cracks, the truck and I shook with such vigor that I wanted to move to another, smoother lane.
Sure enough, on smoother surfaces, the ride in the test Silverado -- with no load in the bed -- was quite pleasant.
In curves, riders can feel the weight shift and body motions of the Silverado. Steering has a somewhat loose feel.
The uplevel 5.3-liter V8 is impressive. On acceleration, it sounded good in the test vehicle -- strong and powerful -- and it felt that way. I pressed down on the accelerator at highway speed to pass cars on a lengthy uphill part of the road and found plentiful power for this 4,500-pound truck.
Horsepower is 285 and torque is 325 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm. This compares with a maximum 260 horses and 350 foot-pounds of torque at 2,500 rpm with Ford's 5.2-liter V8. Dodge's engines include a 345-horse V8 with 375 foot-pounds of torque at 4,200 rpm.
Obviously, fuel economy is not a hallmark with this group. The estimated rating in the 2003 two-wheel-drive Silverado is 16 mpg in city driving and 21 on the highway.
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