In pretty much any automotive market class, there are two basic paths to excellence.
The first is to implement some truly dazzling innovation or other outstanding quality. The second is to quietly do everything at least pretty well without screwing up too badly.
In the full-size half-ton pickup truck segment, the best-selling Ford F-150 and No. 3 Ram 1500 take the former approach.
The F-150 is the class’s technological leader, with powerful, yet fuel-efficient, “EcoBoost” turbo engines, and weight-saving aluminum body panels. The Ram has a beautiful interior with top-rate materials, stunning design and an available plus-size 12-inch touchscreen on the dashboard.
The redesigned 2019 Chevrolet Silverado, meanwhile, takes the latter approach. It’s a comparatively gradual evolution over last year’s model owners of older Silverados will appreciate the upgrades, and Chevy took few risks that could alienate them.
Meanwhile, another recently tested pickup takes a third approach: It’s an old 12-year-old design that remains on sale at relative bargain prices. The 2019 Toyota Tundra was an innovator back in 2007, pushing the class toward new standards for acceleration and capability. But it has seen few mechanical changes since then, and it shows its age in some key areas.
Let’s start with the Silverado, the No. 2-selling vehicle in the country and the mechanical twin to another popular model, the GMC Sierra.
Like its leading competitors, the 2019 Silverado is available in a range of body styles, with a wide selection of engines and with content ranging from basic-work-truck, starting at $29,795, to decadent luxury that can reach $70,000.
The tested Silverado LTZ skews toward the latter. Its sticker price of $58,630 includes leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, power-folding exterior mirrors, parking sensors, an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a heated steering wheel, and keyless entry with push-button starting.
Like other modern full-size pickups, the Silverado has plus-sized, agreeably comfortable seats, and the tested crew cab model’s rear seat has limo-like rear leg room. And it’s about as easy to drive as any 20-foot-long vehicle can be.
At the same time, the Silverado LTZ can tow up to 12,500 pounds or handle a payload of nearly 2,200 pounds. As with the competition, the “half-ton” moniker has become an anachronism, given the capabilities of even the lightest-duty full-size truck.
Aside from one new turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which isn’t widely available as Ford’s, the Silverado’s engines are conventional naturally aspirated high-displacement units. The top of the line is the tested 6.2-liter V8, with a standout 420 horsepower and a 10-speed automatic transmission.
Thanks to Chevrolet’s recent weight-reduction efforts and a stop-start system that switches the engine off automatically at idle, even this extra-powerful four-wheel-drive truck achieves an EPA-estimated 17 mpg in mixed driving. In a weeklong test, it managed about 18 mpg. EPA ratings reach as high as 21 mpg in mixed driving with the four-cylinder engine and rear-wheel-drive, and Chevrolet also offers a V6 and a second V8.
Some critics have attacked the Silverado for not making greater strides toward luxurious interior decor. Indeed, some plastics on the dashboard feel more suited to a base work truck, even on higher-grade models. But the cabin is comfortable and user-friendly, and the overall ambiance isn’t aggressively cheap.
Another common Silverado criticism has focused on its ride quality, which seems to be exacerbated by the massive 22-inch wheels on the top-trim High Country model that’s frequently lent to journalists. However, the tested LTZ with 20-inch wheels provided a steady ride on smooth pavement or at least as good as the competition. It jiggled a bit more after hitting a bump, but even with the off-road Z71 suspension, it was never really objectionable.
The Toyota Tundra also does most things surprisingly well for an old truck. It has the same extra-comfortable cabin as the American trucks. It still rides and handles decently, and its most-popular 5.7-liter V8 engine remains competitively powerful, with 381 horsepower and a towing capacity that can exceed 10,000 pounds.
The first-generation Tundra was derided as a “seven-eighths-scale” pickup when it debuted back in 2000, and Toyota maximized its size and brawn for the 2007 model. That advance has helped the Tundra keep pace with a host of newer competitors — at least in many ways.
The Tundra also benefits from Toyota’s brand-wide adoption of advanced crash-prevention technology, including automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping steering corrections. These features are standard on every Tundra but harder to find on the best-selling American trucks. The tested Silverado didn’t include automatic emergency braking even at close to $60,000, and the truck doesn’t offer automatic lane-keeping steering assistance at all.
But other trucks have made great strides toward fuel efficiency and crash-test performance that the Tundra has lagged behind in. The Tundra is heavier than most competitors, and it uses an old six-speed automatic transmission. EPA ratings are just 14 mpg in mixed driving as tested, and even the best Tundra improves only to 16 mpg.
The Tundra also achieved only mediocre scores in the most-demanding new crash tests, on which newer models have evolved to rate more highly.
Inside, the Tundra’s interior is mostly decent-quality and user-friendly, though its 7-inch infotainment touchscreen is on the small side, doesn’t have the world’s crispest graphics and lacks Android Auto or Apple CarPlay smartphone integration.
The Tundra doesn’t have as many trim levels or body styles as the American trucks, with even the base SR model being fairly well equipped. As such, its base price of $34,570 is on the high side, but that’s lower than comparably equipped domestics.
So, with plenty of safety equipment at relatively affordable prices, the Tundra could be a good fit for the right buyer.
Visit tinyurl.com/silverado-sentinel to see more photos of the tested 2019 Chevrolet Silverado, and visit tinyurl.com/tundra-sentinel to see more photos of the tested 2019 Toyota Tundra.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.