CAVE CREEK, Ariz. -- Four huge 20-inch blackwall tires on a new iteration of Silverado, Chevrolet's full-size pickup, plow through sand as an intelligent transfer case distributes big-time engine torque to all wheels to maintain traction during our trek across the cactus-spiked Sonora Desert.
When on-board sensors detect wheel spin, the smart transfer case -- dubbed Autotrac -- automatically switches from standard rear-wheel two-wheel-drive (2WD) traction to a four-wheel-drive (4WD) mode which applies the engine's power to the front as well as rear wheels.
Also enhancing tire traction on our Silverado is the StabiliTrak electronic yaw controller, which links to revamped brakes with four-channel and four-sensor electronic anti-lock brake system (ABS) to check lateral skidding and manage precision stops for the multi-ton machine.
We're strapped into the contoured driver's seat while gripping a padded steering wheel and putting our foot into substantial V8 muscle to transport us securely across the sandy desert -- and in surprisingly comfortable quarters.
Our desert test truck is the 4WD Extended Cab LTZ edition in a new generation of designs for Silverado 2007, which scores a top-to-tail remake based on a new platform from General Motors with best-in-class power, trailer tow ratings and fuel economy scores.
Silverado's new platform has boxed frame rails stretching from bumper to bumper to create a firm foundation.
Also, there's a wider track for front and rear wheels and a lower center of gravity for the structure, which makes this Silverado more stable in motion and, when coupled to a new front suspension mounted on the frame, improves the ride quality and the truck's ability to move through a curvy course without much body roll.
Actually, we're surprised by the agility and easy-driving nature of the new Silverado -- it doesn't behave like a big-rig truck.
Yet the new styling for Silverado's external package, smooth with clean lines which seem to diminish the hulking scale of a full-size pickup, doesn't appear at first glance that different from the previous generation.
The sheetmetal has changed, however, starting up front with a fat-lip fascia fitted with square-hole foglamps and faux skid plates, a twin-port horizontal grille with narrow mesh insert, and squarish headlamp clusters covered by sparkling clear lenses.
There's a sharper rake to the windshield and a bulging power dome on the hood, squared wheelwells on flanks with subtle fender flares but smooth sides on the doors, save for a single strip of protective molding.
Wheels are bigger now, with the standard size bumped up to 17 inches and options reaching to 20 inches.
The suspension is a new coil-over-shock arrangement in front and a Hotchkiss-type live axle at the rear with splayed arrangement of rear axle shock absorbers to improve the ride quality.
The steering system is a rack and pinion mechanism which brings quick and predictable response from the steering wheel.
Brakes consist of front discs and rear drums or a disc at each wheel, with linkage to the computerized ABS and optional StabiliTrak.
Silverado for 2007 comes in 1500 (half-ton) series for three different trim designations -- entry-level WT (Work Truck), well-equipped LT and top-tier LTZ -- with a choice of rear-wheel 2WD or 4WD traction.
But Silverado for 2007 shows so many models.
* There are three different cab styles -- Regular Cab (two doors and a bench or buckets), Extended Cab (bench or buckets in front of a back bench with two wide-swing access doors tucked behind the two front doors), and Crew Cab (a spacious four-door cab with front buckets or bench and a big back bench sized for three adults).
* There are three different lengths for the rear truck bed -- Short Box (69.3 inches), Standard Box (78.7 inches) and Long Box (97.6 inches). All of the boxes feature two-tier loading with pockets stamped into inner side panels to accept 2x8 planks stretched across the width of the box, as well as built-in bulkhead dividers.
* There are five different suspension packages, including the Z71 off-road package and one to maximize towing capacity (a Z85 suspension with 46-mm monotube front and rear shock, 9.5-inch rear axle and 17-inch wheels).
* And Silverado stocks a slew of powertrains -- there's an economical six-cylinder plant for Silverado Regular Cab and Extended Cab, plus three different V8s including FlexFuel versions which burn gasoline or E85 ethanol.
The 4.3-liter V6 nets 195 hp at 4600 rpm and 260 lb-ft at 2800 rpm.
Vortec V8s begin with a 4.8-liter plant off an iron block with aluminum cylinder heads. It punches out 295 hp at 5600 rpm and torque to 305 lb-ft at 4800 rpm.
Silverado shows four variations of a 5.3-liter V8 rigged with GM's Active Fuel Management (AFM) technology which cuts by half the number of cylinders engaged in the combustion process when boosted power is not needed in order to conserve fuel.
The 5.3-liter V8 AFM plants make 315 hp at 5200 rpm with 338 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm.
Two versions (one with an iron block, the other with an aluminum block) offer FlexFuel capability.
And for Silverado Crew Cab, there's a line-capping V8 available that's ideally suited for trailer tow work.
The 6.0-liter V8 AFM muscles up to 367 hp at 5500 rpm and adds top torque numbers of 375 lb-ft at 4300 rpm.
All of Silverado's engines team with a GM Hydra-Matic four-speed automatic transmission up to a heavy-duty 4L70 unit for that 6.0-liter V8.
Silverado's new design extends to the handsome passenger compartment for a radical re-do. There are two different interior themes -- either a pure pickup (nothing fancy here) or luxurious treatment (lots of fancy here).
Up front the typical bench is split 40/20/40 with a center fold-down armrest containing a storage bin.
For Extended Cab and Crew Cab versions the rear bench seat stands tall stacked stadium-style with the seatback split 60/40 and folding. The floor in back is flat and works as a cargo bay when the bench tucks down.
Chevrolet offers Silverado in a broad range of prices -- with MSRP figures running from $17,800 to $38,100.