The full-size American pickup is perhaps the most utilitarian vehicle on the market. Since most “lifestyle buyers” have left the segment – meaning fewer 110-pound soccer moms toting 60-pound kids in these 18-foot-long behemoths – the remaining truck buyers value functional capability above all else. While some in the environmental community don’t understand there are occasions when fuel economy has to be forfeited in the name of capability, trades people, commercial users, farmers and ranchers need pickup trucks.

So General Motors made sure the first pickup trucks that employed its Two-Mode Hybrid system would be nearly as capable as their non-hybrid brethren. The two-wheel drive (2WD) versions of the Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid – and its twin toolbox, the GMC Sierra Hybrid – a – a proudly trumpet the crucial stats for full-size pickups. They can tow up to 6,100 pounds, the bed can haul a little more than 1,400 pounds and still deliver 20 mpg city/23 highway with a combined rating of 21 mpg. Four-wheel drive (4WD) versions have the same fuel economy numbers but give up 200 pounds of towing capacity.

A myriad of choices has long been a hallmark of Chevrolet’s Silverado full-size pickup: three cab styles and cargo box lengths, a full range of suspension setups, a shopping cart full of engines and a selection of trim levels to meet any buyer’s needs. Not so for the Silverado Hybrid. The hybrid version is only available in a four-door crew cab body style with a short box. There are, however, two trim levels, 1HY and 2HY, and a choice of either two- or four-wheel drive.

Hybrid Powertrain

It’s no surprise that the Silverado shares the same hybrid system found in the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade hybrid SUVs, since all are built on the same platform and feature the same drivetrains. The hybrid hardware combines a tweaked 6.0-liter 332-horsepower V8 gasoline engine, a 300-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack and a two-mode hybrid transmission, referred to at GM as an electrically variable transmission (EVT).

2013 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid

If you’re not familiar with it, the EVT is a marvel in packaging. In the same space as the truck’s six-speed automatic transmission are two 60-kilowatt (80 horsepower) electric motor/generators, three planetary gearsets and four traditional hydraulic wet clutches.

In simple terms, the first mode is efficient at low speeds when the truck operates solely on electric power, or a combination of the electric motors and gasoline power. When the truck comes to a stop, the gas engine shuts off. Electricity for the battery pack is supplied by capturing energy that is normally wasted when the vehicle is decelerating or the brakes are applied.

Mode two operates at highway speeds. The motor/generators work with the planetary gearsets, so the EVT is capable of an infinite range of gear ratios just like a continuously variable transmission. CVTs are known for optimizing fuel economy, but can’t handle heavy loads. GM’s version of the CVT does so by locking the planetary gearsets to let the four heavy-duty fixed gears – still the most efficient way to manage power and fuel economy – take over and handle a load like trailer towing.

The wizardry of the two mode isn’t the pickup’s sole fuel saver. Four of the V8’s cylinders can take a rest and the engine can operate in an economical V4 mode from around 40 mph up to near 70 mph. Master this technique along with the characteristics of the two-mode, and the 26-gallon fuel tank will let you cruise for more than 500 miles on unleaded gasoline.

Exterior And Interior

The only visual difference between the Hybrid and a gasoline Silverado is the small hybrid badges on the fender and tailgate. Redesigned for the 2007 model year, a bold dual port chrome grille, with a prominent Chevrolet gold bow tie, is flanked by large, vertical headlamps that are pushed to the other edges of the body. A powerdome hood rises from the front end, and the fast, 57-degree sloped windshield aided the Hybrid’s fuel economy due to enhanced aerodynamics.

2013 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid

Unlike the Tahoe Hybrid SUV, the truck did not undergo major cosmetic surgery to provide improved aerodynamics. Instead, the Silverado received a barely noticeable chin tuck (a deeper, full-width front air-dam), a slightly lowered ride height and a standard tonneau cover on the cargo bed, for better aerodynamics – cloth on regular model, a three-piece hard shell if you get luxury trim. These changes add up to a drag coefficient of 0.412. Certainly not an earth changing number, but Chevrolet claims it’s best in class.

The 2007 makeover resulted in a cabin that discarded cheap, flimsy plastics for a look that nudges close to what’s found in an Audi or BMW with quality-feeling materials and nearly invisible seams. The dashboard is simple with large controls – from the door handles to the radio and climate control knobs, most can be operated wearing work gloves. It’s a basic design, but logical and pleasant. For a six-year old design, it sill has style.

Full-size pickups have big seats, and in the base 1HY that’s a cloth covered 40-20-40 split bench seat up front that is power height adjustable for the driver. Combined with the rear bench, this configuration can seat up to six. Grab the premium 2HY and you’ll find comfortable leather bucket seats for the driver and the front companion. Regardless of model choices, this is a crew cab and there’s enough head, should and leg room that even with six people there’s a feeling of spaciousness.

On The Road

Anyone familiar with pickups of the 1970s and 1980s will appreciate just how refined these trucks have become. The Silverado Hybrid drives less like a truck and more like a full-size SUV. Ride quality is quite good; only certain bumps and surfaces betray the solid rear axle. To smooth out the ride, Chevy engineered a mid-body hydraulic mount for the Hybrid. The improvement was so apparent, GM added the mount on all of its pickup trucks.

As with all big pickups, push the Silverado hard on a curve and body roll is noticeable. The electrically boosted steering is on the numb side, but there is no need to constantly adjust the steering wheel to keep it between the white lines. Brakes are impressive for a hybrid vehicle this big. There are three brake systems that are electronically calibrated to bring the Silverado to a stop: standard four-wheel disc brakes, the electric motors in the transmission, and hydraulic regenerative brakes that use the electric motors to capture and store brake energy in the truck’s batteries.

2013 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid

Driver control dynamics belie the hybrid’s 5,641-pound curb weight. The truck’s handling stability is due in part to a fully boxed frame, coil-over-shock front suspension and a wide front and rear track (the distance between opposite wheels).

Mash the accelerator and 367 pounds-feet of torque melds together with the engine’s horsepower as a reminder that there’s big iron under the hood. But that’s not what the Silverado Hybrid is about.

During the Hybrid’s press introduction, consummate pickup guy, Bruce Smith, and I chose to drive a Silverado hooked up to a double-axle trailer loaded with a 5,000 pound, 22-foot Sea Ray powerboat. Within minutes, Bruce mastered the technique of easing from a stop and staying in full electric drive up to 15-16 mph before the gas engine took over the towing duty. From there, the pickup drove just like its gas-engined brethren. I, on the other hand, could only manage up to 10 mph in electric only mode.

Since then, I’ve driven the 2WD and 4WD Silverado Hybrids for hundreds of miles, and both trucks returned fuel economy numbers at, or slightly above, the EPA estimates. We found that accelerating from a stop rather briskly, and then easing off the accelerator to allow the electric motors to take over, gave us the most distance in electric-only drive up to around 30 mph. Same procedure works for implementing the V4 operation of the engine – at around 40 mph, smoothly boost speed and then ease off. Of course when power acceleration is really needed, a quick, firm push on the accelerator unleashes the V8’s 332 horsepower and 367 pounds-feet of torque plus, assist from the electric motors.

Economics

Does buying a 2013 Silverado Hybrid make financial sense? The work-oriented 1HY 2WD has a sticker price of $39,890; the 4WD is priced starting at $43,265. The uplevel 2HY 2WD starts at $46,670 and jumps to $60,045 with 4WD. Both have a high content of standard features, and the hybrid powertrain adds roughly $3,500 to a comparably equipped non-hybrid pickup, which returns just 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway and a combined 17 mpg. Racking up 15,000 miles a year, the hybrid system saves about 175 gallons of gasoline annually. With unleaded fuel again around $4.00 per gallon ($4.09 in the Seattle metro area), that’s a yearly savings of $700.

When comparing the Silverado Hybrid’s price with other trucks, whether they’re Chevys or other brands, it’s important to look at the features, not just the base price. The 1HY is standard equipped with such niceties as Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, and a trailering package. Upgraded 2HY models add a standard navigation system, Bose premium stereo and leather seating. So, if a pickup priced in the $40,000 to $45,000 range is what you are looking for, the Silverado Hybrid is worth a look.

2013 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid

Since a crew cab is the Silverado Hybrid’s only body style, appeal is somewhat limited. And, for those needing either a longer bed or more than the 6,100 pound towing capacity, a regular Silverado or another brand may be the best option. If fuel economy and more towing/hauling capabilities are needed, Ford’s F-150 with the V-6 EcoBoost engine is rated at 16 city/22 highway/18 combined and can tow 11,300 pounds. Comparably equipped, the F-150 starts close to $39,000.

OK, so the Silverado Hybrid isn’t the poster child for the Sierra Club, but pickups are a must for many businesses, especially those in the construction trades. And 23 mpg may still seem profligate to your average Toyota Prius driver, try hauling a load of sheetrock to a job site in a Prius hybrid.

What’ Next For The Silverado Hybrid?

General Motors’ had planned an all-new full-size pickup truck lineup including the Silverado Hybrid for the 2013 model year, but put off production as it worked its way through bankruptcy. A redesigned, re-engineered Silverado line is expected to debut as a 2014 model at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in January or 2013 Chicago Auto Show in February, with production beginning next October.

The big question is, will a Silverado Hybrid – or any of its sibling hybrid models – be included in the redesign? At this writing, it appears the answer is no.

We’ve reported that four sources told GM Inside News recently this was the case – but this news has not yet been confirmed by General Motors. The sources, believed to be reliable, said GM will discontinue development of its next-generation hybrid light trucks including the Chevrolet Silverado, Tahoe and GMC Sierra and Yukon. There is a possibility the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid may be carried forward, but it appears they may all be canceled unless GM says otherwise.

Should the Silverado Hybrid, and its corporate cousins, make an appearance as a 2014 model, fuel economy gains will come from weight reduction, a smaller displacement V8 engine, upgrading the battery to a lithium-ion pack, revised electric motors and possibly, an all-new four-mode electrically variable transmission.

Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.