The 2003 Silverado SS is called the  “Corvette of pickups”

By Bruce W. Smith
Special to GCN

There’s no mistaking the Silverado SS for some other pickup in the Chevrolet line. The monochromatic paint, 20-inch wheels, fat tires, lowered stance, and chrome-rimmed air intakes on the bottom of the front bumper valance give it a distinctly sporty look. The kick from the 45-horspower V8 under the hood is equally appealing. 

 We found that out during a week driving the highways and byways of the Deep South through portions of the southern most regions of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

 Chevrolet touts the Silverado SS as the “Corvette of pickups.” A lofty accolade that does have some sense of accuracy in that the all-wheel-drive (AWD) extended-cab 1500 is the fastest and best handling of the Chevrolet pickups produced to date.

 The new SS can toy with just about any pickup and SUV on the road, able to clip off sub-seven-second 0-60 spurts without spinning a tire—dry pavement or wet.  Throttle response is instant, giving you a strong sense of acceleration even if you’re not trying to make a statement to the driver of the vehicle in the next lane.

 The mid-rpm performance is also strong, which makes passing a pleasure. The 6.0-liter Vortec V8 breathes well and doesn’t seem to lose any of its pulling power even when you are well beyond the typical freeway speed limits and the tach is climbing toward the 5,000rpm line.

 Recent tests by some of the enthusiasts magazines show the Silverado SS rips through the ¼-mile in the high 14s at speeds approaching 90mph—a strong showing for a half-ton pickup that weighs 5,300 pounds. 

Top speed? Let’s just say we know it’s well beyond where the 98mph fuel cutoff is on the rest of the GM pickups.

It stops just as strong as it accelerates, too. The new truck is shod with big disc brakes front and rear that do a commendable job of slowing the Silverado to a rapid halt. Whether pushing the truck hard along twisting backroads or easing through city traffic, the brakes were always firm and steady with no sense of fade.

 We noticed right away that the brake pedal feel is also improved; in years past the pedal felt mushy and would nearly hit the floor in a panic stop. Now the brake pedal provides a real sense of connection with the amount of braking you want and how hard you need to push to get the desired result.

 The steering is just heavy enough to give you a sense that you’re driving a pickup that has a bit more grip on the road than the ordinary Chevy pickup. Fli the steering wheel for a fast maneuver and the SS responds in an instant.

Body roll is minimal, thanks to the Z60 high-performance suspension package that keeps the truck’s attitude flat instead of floaty. It, indeed, is closer to Corvette handling than that of your standard pickup.

 Another aspect that we soon discovered is that the Silverado SS is more than just a sport truck. It handles the daily utilitarian duties with the same ease as it does being a sports truck.

 For instance, its tow-rating is 7,500 pounds and the 6-1/2-foot bed can handle 1,490 pounds of cargo. Those capacities figure well into the equation for the owner who has to justify a $34,300 price tag for a pickup that’s more than just a testosterone multiplier.

 The special interior is roomy and plush, rivaling the top-of-the-line GM SUVs in creature comforts, electronic controls, sound system and other offerings.

 What sets the Silverado SS interior apart from the other high-end GM trucks is it comes with a dark charcoal leather-trim treatment that included the special "SS" embroidered headrests for the front buckets and a distinctive “SS” emblem centered on the console.. 

 The rear-swinging half doors make it easy to access the rear seats so you can bring along a few friends or family members when the need arises for a group outing.  The seatback angle and rear legroom is adequate enough to make it comfortable for adults to handle those 2-3 hour drives.    

 The Silverado SS is also distinctive on the outside. It’s offered in Black, Arrival Blue Metallic or Victory Red. The Arrival Blue metallic is an eye-catcher as was demonstrated by the thumbs-up and accolades we received on numerous occasions.

 Pull alongside a standard 1500-Series Extended Cab Silverado and you feel like a lowrider. The SS has a two-inch dropped suspension and rides on P275/55R20 Goodyear Eagles. The track is 18mm wider, too, which adds to the low-slung, sports truck ambiance. 

 On the performance front, this is not the first GM pickup to offer AWD and the sporty appeal. If you remember, the 2001 GMC C3 was the first full-size pickup in the GM stable to offer AWD along with the Vortec 6000. The difference is the C3 only touted 300 horses and the suspension wasn’t quite as refined as those of the new SS.

 The other hotrod pickup, and the most recognized, was the two-wheel-drive SS 454. That package was a real tire smoker, making 405 lb-ft of torque to go along with 255 horsepower.

 But put the new Silverado SS along side ether the C3 or the venerable SS454 and the hands-down winner will be the Silverado.  While the older SS is doing its best to keep from lighting up the tires in a 7.2 second 0-60mph dash and the C3’s 300 ponies strain to push it to 7.5-second sprints, the new SS clips off times in the low 6s.

But there’s more to that kind of performance than just horsepower. The Silverado SS utilizes a Hydra-Matic 4L85-E four-speed automatic overdrive that has a 3.06:1 first gear coupled with 4.10 gears in the differentials. The other gear splits up the line are closely matched to the engine’s powerband. It always feels like it’s in the right gear for whatever it is the driver’s right foot commands.

 With that kind of gearing, pulling a holeshot on someone at a stoplight or at the dragstrip is usually not a problem. The same gearing makes the Silverado an excellent tow vehicle for boats or other toys and trailers.

 Despite this kind of stellar performance, there are still a couple high-performance pickups that an SS owner doesn’t want to tangle with for fear of being embarrassed: the F150 Lightning and the Dodge SRT10. Without some aftermarket help, the Silverado isn’t in their class when it comes to pure muscle and straight-line go. 

As with most of today’s high-performance pickups and SUVs, fuel economy basically sucks. We saw 13.1 mpg in the city, 15.7 on the open road.

 However, the slightest bit of a heavy foot, nudging the upper speed limits, dealing with heavy stop-and-go traffic, or taking advantage of the Silverado SS’s towing abilities and you find frequent fillings of the pickup’s 26-gallon fuel tank.

 (Be aware, your wallet will be subjected to deeper monetary dips as the Vortec 6000 requires 91-octane fuel.)

 But frequent fill-ups probably will not be a concern to the person who buys the Silverado SS. All they are concerned with is the new pickup’s ability to make them look good while performing all the duties that the typical Extended Cab  Short Bed half-ton pickup is called upon. Chevrolet’s new SS does that in spades.

 The bonus is that the Silverado SS delivers a full compliment of utility value while being able to out run, out corner and out perform just about every other pickup on the road. 

Bring on the bad weather and there’s not a pickup around that can keep up. That’s what a Silverado 1500 SS AWD is all about. 

 Basic Specifications / 2003 Silverado 1500 SS AWD Extended Cab Short Bed

Price Range: $34,300-$36,000
Wheelbase: 143.5”
Track, f/r:  65”/66”
Height: 72.2”
Cargo box length: 6.6”
Cargo box width: 5’
Suspension:  Z60 sport       Front: Independent w/ torsion bars
                                                Rear: Solid axle w/ variable-rate two-stage multileaf springs

Traction control: all-wheel-drive (viscous coupled) all-speed
Tire/Wheel:  P275/55R20 Goodyear Eagle on 20x8.5 polished aluminum

Engine: 6.0L Vortec 6000 
Horsepower: 345 @5,200rpm
Torque: 380 lb-ft @ 4,000rpm
Transmission: Hydra-Matic 4L85-E 4spd automatic

Fuel tank: 26 gal
EPA fuel economy:  12 city / 16 hwy
Tow rating:  7,500 pound
Payload: 1,490 lbs

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