Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: September 21, 2018
INUVIK, Northwest Territories - The Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway is the first highway in Canada to reach the frigid Arctic Ocean and is barely a year old as of writing, completed in November of 2017. This lengthy stretch of gravel stretches 138 km, is layered on top of permafrost, took four years to build in the darkness of winter where the temperature dips below -67 C, and opens the path to communities that were previously only accessible by air in the warmer months and by ice roads in the colder months.
And what better way to put the new Chevrolet Silverado to the test than on this untravelled terrain, a testament in itself and a proving ground to truly evaluate its handling prowess on multiple surfaces, its off-road capability, and new technologies. Our adventure took us from the working town of Inuvik to the small settlement of Tuktoyaktuk that is home to just under 1,000 people. But let’s talk about the rig that will be getting us there because this road is no walk in the park, even in the autumn where temperatures hover around the freezing point.
For 2019, the Chevrolet Silverado receives meaningful upgrades that promise to make driving, towing, and connecting easier for customers. The Silverado is bigger than before and the wheelbase is 100 mm longer - most of that added length went to the rear cab and bed. This light duty truck also offers a plethora of reworked and more fuel-efficient engines, a one- and two-speed transfer case, an electro-hydraulic braking system like the one in the Cadillac XT4, and a two-inch suspension lift kit that depending on the trim, comes standard or can be installed straight from the dealer.
Chevrolet tells us that no two truck buyers are alike and as a result, have structured their trim lineup with oodles of customizable options to tailor it towards every type of buyer. There are eight different trims to choose from, six engine and transmission combinations available, the choice of four-wheel drive and cab length, and a host of aesthetically pleasing paint colours and body kits. Furthermore, the new front grill, LED lights, and sporty RST trim make this truck look nothing short of spectacular. I’ll try not to spoil it, but the Custom Trail Boss in the Crew Cab body style with its 2-inch lift kit, locking rear differential, Rancho shocks, Duratrac off-road tires, and “CHEVROLET” graphic running across the grill is the one to go for - can’t say I’ve seen a better looking truck this far up north.
A heavy talking point during the vehicle presentation was the amount of lightweighting that went into the Silverado. Simply put, anything with a hinge is made with aluminum – light and easy to replace – like the doors and front hood. Unlike competitors like the Ford F-150 though, the heavily used areas are still high-strength steel to take the abuse that many trucks go through. Even so, Chevrolet claims a weight loss of 204 kg, yet have somehow shaved a half second off the 0-60 mph time across the Silverado lineup.
Also impressive is the fact that the new truck sits about an inch higher than previous models, and the bed, arguably the heart and soul of the Silverado, is deeper and wider with stronger tiedowns (12 in total), available storage boxes, LED task lighting in each of the corners, a 110v power outlet, a power tailgate that lowers and raises with the touch of a button, and larger bumper steps so that those wearing large work boots will have an easier time hopping up.
On the topic of towing and trailering, Chevrolet has focused their efforts on developing technologies to bridge the knowledge gap between people that know and don’t know how to tow properly. This includes an in-vehicle and in-phone trailering app that gives you step-by-step instructions with a checklist and glossary of terms, an abundance of cameras all around the vehicle to ensure hitching up the trailer is as easy as possible, a truck-specific stamp right below the VIN number that lists out the numerical towing capabilities, and even a light flashing test so you can check if the trailer has been properly connected.
The interior has been spared an intensive makeover and still sports a functional and clean design that most truck owners will appreciate. Large dials and knobs, an 8-inch touchscreen that works with thinly padded gloves, a column-mounted gear stalk, and a beefy steering wheel with audio controls mounted where paddle shifters will normally be, will keep most owners content. Chevrolet still offers first-row bench seating on most trims, and the center console can double as both a seat or storage section with a center passthrough. The back seats in the Crew Cab models are incredibly spacious as well, almost limo-like. On the top-end High Country models, they have added a larger head up display and the Rear Camera Mirror that first debuted with the Cadillac XT5.
With six engine and transmission combinations available, things can get confusing but I will list them down here for you:
4.3L V8, six-speed automatic, AFM (Active Fuel Management)
5.3L V8, six-speed automatic, AFM
2.7L turbo-four, eight-speed automatic, AFM
5.3L V8, eight-speed automatic, DFM (Dynamic Fuel Management)
6.2L V8, ten-speed automatic, DFM
3.0L turbo-diesel inline-six, ten-speed automatic (not available yet)
We only had the 5.3L and 6.2L V8 engines to sample on our drive around the Northwest Territories, both with the new Dynamic Fuel Management system (DFM). We know what Active Fuel Management (AFM) is - it’s basically cylinder deactivation where the engines will shut off half the cylinders when the power loads are low. We’ve seen it on a handful of other GM models, but it’s DFM that is making the news in the Silverado, and is essentially cylinder deactivation but with up to 17 different combinations of active cylinders that optimizes performance and efficiency based on the required power delivery and driving conditions. Chevrolet engineers tell us that this alone contributes to a 5% improvement in fuel consumption, and I will tell you that the transitions are so smooth that whatever magical trickery is happening under the hood, I could barely feel a thing. The cylinders fire up without a hitch and shut down without any fuss.
The 6.2L is the workhorse here and is my preferred engine out of this lineup. Immensely potent and undeniably thirsty, this V8 pushes out 420 hp and 460 lb-ft and mixed with its clever four-wheel drive system, translates power to the ground like clockwork no matter what the surface may be. There’s a wallop of mid-range punch that keeps the truck moving along without any hiccups or drama. The mated 10-speed automatic is equally polished and refined with nary a jitter or lunge when transitioning between cogs, and the V8 will accompany the propulsive thrust with an appropriately burly exhaust note.
We also had a chance to drive the 5.3L, which energetically produces 355 hp and 383 lb-ft but lacks the same low- and mid-range thrust as the 6.2L. The 8-speed automatic is impressive and performs in the same fluid and unobtrusive manner as the 10-speed. All Silverado models come with a selectable Sport Mode, which tunes the stability control system, throttle mapping, and shift points, and this kept the Silverado appropriately primed and on its toes for aggressive maneuvers.
So what do all these revisions do to the overall driving experience? Well the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk isn’t exactly the smoothest gravel road around, but the Silverado was not only entertaining to drive but felt invincible as it trampled over the many rivets and bumps littered across the highway, giving the Silverado a proper challenge, shake, and shimmy as it searched for traction. Even with the tail eager to swing out, the four-wheel drive system and grippy tires kept the body in check no matter the velocity.
Is it fun to drive? I’d say so. This truck instills a flavour of driver confidence that makes you unafraid to put the hammer down. The steering is light but loads up faithfully and allows you to correct your line without too much rotation. Even with the considerable stretch in wheelbase, Chevrolet engineers have managed to retain the same turning radius as the outgoing model, keeping the Silverado agile in narrow lanes and parking scenarios. The 18-inch wheels are still the way to go in terms of on-road comfort, but it’s hard to deny the striking appeal of the 22s.
The spectacular drive took me right to the shores of the Arctic Ocean in Tuktoyaktuk, a humble community brimming with culture and charm. And as I admired the breathtaking sights and never ending sunset, I had to pinch myself to believe that this was reality, that a truck got me up here in this frosty weather, all in the comfort of heated seats, the OnStar guardian angel, and a well-tuned suspension that made short work of what some would call a treacherous piece of road. The journey to the Arctic may not be an easy one but the Silverado was meant for this. No, it was built for this.