By now, most people, when you say, "hybrid," assume you are discussing a fuel efficient vehicle. That's because the goal of a hybrid is higher mileage. However, as the hybrid phenomenon expands to more vehicles, the assumption of high fuel efficiency has to go. Now, think of it as offering improved fuel efficiency, sometimes not by much.
Last week in this space I addressed the midsized Honda Accord hybrid, which earned 23.7 miles per gallon. That certainly beat the standard Accord V6, by perhaps 30 percent. Now, I have to tell you about the GMC Sierra Hybrid. In this case, GM claims up to 10 percent better fuel economy. This means that a two and a half ton truck gets 12.5 miles per gallon instead of 11.5. That's hardly compelling.
I will say that as a huge truck, the Sierra is first rate. It has big, comfy seats, dual climate control, a man-sized, easy to grip interior door handle, and plenty of carrying capacity. My tester, an extended cab SLE model with four doors, was capacious, although the rear doors, being of the "suicide" variety, were hinged in back rather than in front, which made entering and loading awkward in narrow spaces.
GMC cleverly added blinkers to the outside mirrors, battery rundown protection, oil life monitoring system, and an engine hour meter. This is a serious working truck!
To get that work accomplished, my Sport Red Metallic tester had a big 5.3-liter V8 engine tucked under the tall hood. The hybrid system saves gas and reduces emissions by turning off this hearty powerplant, with its 295-horsepower and 335 lb.-ft. of torque, when the truck is stopped. The starter generator from this system instantaneously restarts the engine with a touch of the gas. The EPA gave the Sierra fuel economy ratings of 17 city, 19 highway, but my real world mileage was just 12.5 miles per gallon.
The hybrid system also turns the Sierra into a power generating station. There are four plugs filled with 120-volt current that you can use to run tools as needed without carrying around a generator. But this hardly produces gas mileage that lets you sneer at OPEC.
Otherwise, my tester was a nice, feature loaded, full size pickup. Besides the creature comforts, such as dual-zone air conditioning, automatic on headlamps, and the Driver Information Center, there were extra sturdy things, like the hydroformed frame rails, front recovery hooks, and lots of long-life engine parts for rugged duty.
My tester was the four-wheel-drive model, controlled by a little section of buttons on the dash. You can not only select two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive low or high, but an Auto setting allows the truck to decide if extra traction is needed or not.
Being an SLE, a long list of things was included on my test unit, including chrome styled steel wheels, body side moldings, and fog lamps outside. Inside, the SLE gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power locks and windows, remote keyless entry, and more.
Typical for American pickups, there are plentiful options available, and my tester had $8,043 worth of them. The Hybrid System itself costs $2,500, and is available on two and four-wheel drive extended cab models. For a few pennies less than the hybrid system, my truck had the Safe and Sound package. This included six-way power seats, Bose speakers, and the life-saving OnStar system, as well as the highly entertaining XM Radio. Leather seats added $800. Even things like the heated outside folding mirrors and steering wheel radio controls cost extra. Suddenly, my hybrid pickup wasn't generating much better mileage than the nonhybrid version and was still costing me $39,593.
The GMC Silverado hybrid is available in limited quantities, only in selected areas in California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada and Florida this year. You can assume that if the trucks beat sales expectations, more states will get them.