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2012 Chevrolet Silverado Road Test

Too little too late: Chevy's last ditch effort falls just short before its 2014 replacement steps in

What It Is
Chevrolet's full-size pickup truck enters its final year before a much-needed refresh is slated to commence.
Best Thing
Putting your foot down on the gas pedal, and listening to the Silverado's 5.3-liter V-8 engine sing to you.
Worst Thing
Fuel economy.
Snap Judgement
While Chevy's half-ton hauler is a solid competitor in the full-size truck segment, we'd recommend waiting to see what's up GM's sleeve in 2013 before purchasing a 2012 model.


The 2012 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ came to us asking to be driven like what it is, a truck. Now just exactly what a "truck" is depends on a couple of variables with the important ones being price, engine and transmission configuration, and what trim it comes dressed up in. A truck owner has a reputation consisting of many layers. Some layers are more enjoyable, while some can be just downright annoying.

The Silverado LTZ we tested checked in with a price tag of $48,419, so right off the bat, a few assumptions can be made about its potential buyer. For example, is anybody who drives a truck with that price tag just going to cruise around town, or are they actually going to tow a fifth-wheel trailer, or back all the way down the boat launch and actually into the water? If they are going to do those things, what's the Silverado like the rest of the time? Does it still hold up against the Ford F-150 Ecoboost we drove not too long ago? We were determined to get answers to these burning questions.

What We Drove

Chevrolet offers up its full-size light-duty load-hauler in five different trim configurations: WT, LS, LT, XFE, and LTZ. We had a top-of-the-line LTZ at our disposal for a week with every bell and whistle Chevy puts forward. The two-wheel LTZ starts at $36,055 while four-wheel drive commands a price of $39,205; ours was an LTZ Crew Cab, so the base price was $42,440. The Silverado LTZ is handsomely equipped with power heated leather front seats, dual-zone climate control, a navigation and media center that includes a USB port, seven Bose speakers that line the cabin, Bluetooth, foglamps, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. Our Silverado was equipped with the LTZ Plus package, which adds a locking and EZ lift tailgate, rear wheel house liner, adjustable pedals, and rear-park assist for $605. Other options included the $2,250 navigation system, a $995 power sliding sunroof, $745 worth of 20-inch chrome wheels, $689 six-inch tubular chromed assist steps, a $450 rear vision camera, and a $250 power sliding rear window. Throw in all the options, plus the $995 destination charge -- and then take away the $1,000 "LTZ Crew Cab Value Discount -- and you have a final price of $48,419.

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If safety is a primary concern, standard safety features include head curtain side airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, and dual stage driver and right front passenger air bags as standard options. Other safety features include stability control with trailer sway control, hill start assist, and LATCH points. All aforementioned features are standard while the only other safety features added on with the LTZ Plus Package includes a locking tailgate and a rear parking assist. The 2012 Chevy Silverado LTZ earned four stars in the frontal crash testing conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA also doled out five stars to the Silverado for side crash test results and four stars in the rollover test.

The Commute

A full-size truck is designed with two types of commuting in mind. The first are the typical roads and freeways owners take during their daily commutes around town. The second consists of more gravel, dirt, and clay and less asphalt or cement. Our 2012 Chevrolet Silverado got to experience the best of both worlds as we took it both on and off road. Now before you question our sanity and the rationale behind making a truck worth $48,419 leave the pavement willingly, it had to be done.

Before we get to the roads less traveled we experienced over the weekend, we lived with the truck during our weekly commute to Automotive.com's headquarters in Southern California. Take a 12-mile commute each way, blend that with the stop-and-go traffic that plagues Los Angeles freeways, and your result is horrendous fuel economy. It should noted that fellow associate editors Blake Rong and Jacob Brown saw the Silverado's average fuel economy hover around 13 mpg in a similar commute to and from the office. When getting up to freeway speeds the Silverado took a second as it searched around for the right entrance into the 5.3-liter V-8's small block torque curve. When it was finally located, all 315 of the Silverado's ponies promptly greet you under your right foot and away you go. Hearing all eight cylinders singing at once is one of many joys a daily truck driver can indulge in even as they watch the needle on the fuel gauge continually free-fall towards "E," and the Silverado has no problem getting up to freeway speeds, even when they're actually the posted limit.

The center console provides commuters with modern amenities like a USB port and an auxiliary input. The touchscreen entertainment and navigational system are easy to use once you acclimate yourself to it. Some buttons can appear almost cryptic but spending five minutes with the system will decode anything that appears foreign. iPod integration is pretty good; it cataloged my iTunes library automatically, and I was able to pick songs and move through my libraries with the Silverado's buttons just like I was using an actual iPod. Another clever touch is how the Silverado's navigation system lets you know where gas stations are when your fuel level gets low. A simple push of a button on screen will dictate if you opt for directions to the nearest refill spot...or you can just ignore it if you're headed to your familiar gas pump.

Even though there were a lot of features, the interior was still hit and miss, especially considering the near-$50,000 price tag. For example, while the seats were so comfortable that they begged for road trips, a reoccurring complaint was the poor fit of the dashboard and other interior panels, with gaps big enough to accumulate crumbs or get sticky with spilled drinks. The cheap feel of the plastics and the tired wood-gloss paneling were just out of place. For a truck that has bloodlines running over eight decades deep, the Silverado's shortcomings in the interior can't be saved by what lies under the hood.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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The Grocery Run

The beauty of owning a truck is all the space that awaits your next load of cargo in said truck's bed. The annoying part about this is that you instantly become the "guy with a truck" to your friends, and everyone at work, getting drafted into honorary cargo and goods mover duties. Having the 2012 Silverado for the weekend gave me the opportunity to be both the guy who owns the truck and that annoying guy at the office who needs your services.

My first stop was the local grocery store where I was able to load the Silverado's extended cab with enough milk, eggs, and bread to soothe a native Northeasterner as they wait for the impending 10-day long blizzard that's in the forecast. The rear 60/40-split folding bench seat bowed to make way for what appeared to be a never-ending load of groceries. The Silverado's interior provided way more than enough space to house enough groceries to keep a small army full for a week. While driving home with all of my recently acquired goods, the Silverado's ride was so quiet that the only thing making a sound were the plastic bags rubbing up against each other when I encountered a bump in the road.

If you haul kids instead of groceries in the Silverado's extended cab, you're in luck. There's plenty of space for three, from toddlers to teenagers, and the only real obstacle for little ones will be the height of the truck itself. Big, hulking trucks have a reputation for big, hulking doors, but the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado's doors are quite the opposite. Anyone from a young girl to a full-grown man can open the doors without losing their balance, and we even had to remind people not to slam the doors so hard. Thank the never-ending quest to boost lagging fuel economy numbers for the lightweight doors.

Since I was afforded the ability to be both the truck owner and that annoying guy who needs a truck for a few hours, I took advantage of the situation and also tested out the Silverado's bed. We loaded it up with all the necessary makings for two shelves and a dresser. While the wood didn't fill the Silverado's six-foot bed, all of the goods stayed put throughout the entire trek home. The tailgate is notably lighter than the previous generation, and closes with a few fingers from one hand. On the other hand, the Silverado's helpful rearview camera is awkwardly placed on the tailgate handle, where it sticks out like a bunion on your big toe. It also makes it impossible to use the camera if you're hauling a longer load that requires an open tailgate, when you might need one the most.

The Weekend Fun

While the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado we had came dressed to the nines in LTZ trim, that wasn't enough to excuse it from our off-road testing. We started the weekend with a 40 minute ride on the clogged freeway roads that pass through Los Angeles as we made our way towards the mountains north of the city. Once the city was behind us we opted for the serpentine routes that infest the backcountry roads of the mountains. There, the Silverado was hampered by its wide turning radius, and the brakes that felt spongy when coming to a stop in normal traffic felt even worse when a three-point turn was needed to reposition the truck.

After rumbling around in the mountains, we headed to even more backcountry, where pavement was in short supply. A two-lane road was flanked by a lane of gravel on each side, so the Silverado went to greet it. Both the truck and gravel were met with an underlying rhythm section not seen by the naked eye, but the Silverado's Z85 suspension handled it without an issue. One of five suspension setups available on the 2012 Chevy Silverado, the Z85 configuration is designed to better the full-size truck's handling and trailer towing. When we were done battling the gravel road surface, we made a pit stop at a stream that was off the paved road a little to squeeze in some quality fishing before the sun went down for the night. The Silverado had no trouble pushing itself over an embankment giving me all of the necessary control needed to descend a short but steep hill, with the Silverado's locking rear-differential enabling the truck to go where ever it pleased.

Summary

The 2012 Chevrolet Silverado performs all the necessary tasks required from a truck of its size, but leaves something to be desired. We blame the price, which hovers just below $49,000 as tested. While it's a solid truck, the Silverado didn't do anything that made us feel it was worth that much money. The navigation and entertainment system were far and away the best thing about the Silverado's cabin, with the ability to adjust the distance of the pedals to your feet at a touch of a button coming in a distant second.

However, even with a few glaring miscues found both inside and out of the Silverado the name alone will still move units. Still, does the name, a big bundle of technology features, and a steering wheel borrowed from a Chevy Impala warrant such a high price tag? If you're looking for a fully-loaded ride that will get you noticed without dipping into the muscle car pool, then the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ is worth looking at. However if you're the type of truck owner who expects to get value in return from your vehicle we'd recommend saving a few dollars, and looking at one of the four less expensive Silverado models.

Spec Box

$48,419 (as tested)
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 15 mpg
EPA Highway: 21 mpg
EPA Combined: 17 mpg
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Above Average

Notebook Quotes

"As far as price goes it's as far removed from a work truck as the Queen Elizabeth II is from a tugboat. But on the inside, it still resembles its work truck roots." - Blake Rong, Associate Editor

"It's incredibly easy to drive in spite of how big it is. The large windows buck the gun slit trend, and the truck is incredibly easy to see out of. It's comfortable, both in the front and rear." - Jacob Brown, Associate Editor

"Overall, I'm impressed. Despite the years on the market, to my eye Chevy still has a competitive product. But its days are clearly numbered, and the new Silverado can't come soon enough." -Keith Buglewicz, News Director

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