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Once upon a time, Chrysler had let its full-sized trucks languish, until their market share had dwindled to about 1 in 20 sold. A new platform design system, computerization, employee involvement, hard work, and ingenuity resulted in a new line of Ram trucks. These new Rams boasted more power, better interiors, and much better looks than their General Motors and Ford counterparts, and they quickly boosted their market share by a factor of four.
Fast forward to 2000. Both Ford and General Motors responded to Chrysler's challenge by redesigning their trucks. Ford chose to copy Dodge styling, admittedly without some of the function (the hood only opens on top, while the Dodge hood raises the grille and part of the curved fender). Chevrolet and GMC kept their styling, but changed the drivetrain, suspension, and interior. Both revamped their engines. The result is that Dodge is not quite up to speed in power and economy (except for the diesel and V-10).
We have tested the Ford F-250, Silverado 1500, and Dodge Ram 2500. The Silverado has one clear advantage over all other full size pickups - brakes that pull the huge vehicle from sixty to zero in less time and a substantially shorter distance than the Ford or Dodge. The Ford, in fact, has the longest stopping distance. Brakes are critical on a machine that is not only heavier and higher than a car, but also intended to tow or carry a heavy load.
The braking distances for the Silverado are not just carlike, but actually similar to a car with good brakes. The acceleration is also carlike, reaching sixty miles per hour in about nine seconds, which puts it in the same class as the Accord, Intrepid, and Corolla. The Ram does not accelerate quite as quickly, when similar engines are compared.
GM's engines have been tweaked and refined to (generally) offer superior power and economy over the Dodge and Ford. They operate quietly, which is good because there is also very little wind noise, and the vent fan is quiet - overall, the interior of the Silverado is quieter than a pickup cab has any right to be. Certainly, it is quieter than the Ram.
Our test K1500, an LT Extended Cab, had a heavy duty suspension, four wheel drive, and a 5.3 liter V-8 engine producing 285 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. All heavy-duty pickups tend to bounced around on the road when the bed is not loaded.
When turning around 90 degree corners in town, we found it far too easy to squeal the Silverado's rear tires. On the highway, the handling is better, with no feeling of top-heaviness at reasonable speeds. Without the heavy duty suspension, with a load in the bed, or with different tires, perhaps that problem would not have occurred. The Dodge Ram generally handled better.
The automatic transmission worked smoothly but firmly; the Dodge transmission was firmer, but kicked down more easily.
The Silverado's four wheel drive is activated by a pushbutton, but in general people will stay in automatic mode, and let the truck decide when to go into four wheel drive. If you have driven an all wheel drive car, be aware that four wheel drive greatly expands the turning circle, so that some ordinary turns will require moving back to two wheel drive.
Both the Silverado and Ram have well-designed interiors, with good instrument panels and controls. We prefer the Dodge cruise control and the Chevy stereo, which has surprisingly good sound as well as real knobs for audio adjustments. The Chevrolet also provides an oil change indicator and a low tire pressure warning system, as well as memory seats and a "power memory" which allows use of the radio and power windows after the key is taken out, until the door is opened.
Inside the cabs, things are very civilized albeit trucklike. Both have a cavernous center console, and here we give the edge to Chevrolet, with its well designed coin holder built into the front. The Silverado has three accessory sockets, but you do run the risk of sticking your finger into one of the sockets when opening the door. The Chevy also requires an odd motion to open the doors.
To get four doors in the trucks, both Chevrolet and Dodge use a "suicide door" system - when the front door is opened, it allows access to the rear door handle. The rear doors open in the opposite direction as the front doors. This is a fine system unless you park next to another car. It is easy to get trapped between the doors.
We were impressed by Chevrolet's optional tonneau cover (a cover is available for the Ram, but we could not test it). It installs or is removed easily, and keeps the bed dry and clean while hiding any objects from casual thieves.
These are both work trucks, which should only be purchased by people who really, really need them. The Dakota is smaller but can tow or carry a hefty load, without being quite as expensive or hard to park.
If you really do need a full size, we have to say that, while the Dodge has the edge on style and feel, the Silverado is superior in function. Its reliability has also been well established, while the Ram has sometimes been uneven. Unless you want the excellent Cummins diesel, or can wait for the 2002 Ram - which should feature the new Hemi engine, as well as the 4.7 liter V-8 - we have to tip our hat to the Chevrolet Silverado.
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