If the cap fits

In February 2023, Light Commercial Test13 MinutesBy Dave McCoidMarch 16, 2023

In a world besieged with new, cleaner propulsion options and an increasingly myopic view that internal combustion no longer has a place, we give you the Chevrolet Silverado Z71 LTZ. Although few would disagree that beyond plain old desire, such carriages fulfil a niche transport requirement in markets like ours, we found the big fella wasn’t at all short of surprises.

The two pamphlets on the passenger seat pretty much tell the entire story without having to read a word. In this instance, the passenger seat belonged to the Chevvy Silverado Z71 LTZ we were sitting in at GM Specialty Vehicles in Saville Road, Mangere, Auckland. Rochelle Nelson is national sales manager for the division here in ‘Godszone’, and as she handed over the keys, you could tell she genuinely loved this ‘big ‘ole trerk’ as they would say in South Carolina. There was little doubt in our hearts, looking out over the expanse of bonnet, that we too would soon feel the same way. It has a presence that makes you feel better about yourself.

The LTZ is the flash Silverado Z71, with leather upholstery and all the bells and whistles. The brochure depicted an LTZ with a swanky-as tri-axle horse float in tow, the kind you see at posh eventing gigs or polo matches. The message was clear. If you need to cart something of substance a considerable distance, regularly, in comfort, and purchase price isn’t the over- riding issue, this might just be your wagon.

Big, frugal, and just lovely.

Our mission for the LTZ was far humbler. Load ‘him’ up with a heap of stuff at the Thames office and head to the TMC Trucking Industry show in Christchurch. Rochelle had extended the offer of use to us a week earlier, and it was at that exact moment that she became our new BFF.

First things first, though. Off to the international terminal at Auckland Airport to pick up Mike and Rose Williams, fresh off the bird from the West Island. Mike and Andy Neil host the On the Road podcast out of Australia and Mike also writes for Big Rigs. He was coming to check out the show and have a lash in a couple of Kiwi jiggers at the same time. Shows, trucks, big utes, and like minds…. does life get any better?

If you are not a truck person, at 2063m wide, 5931m long and 1933m high, the Silverado is a big gig to take on. We, on the other hand, had uttered our first ‘I want one’ within 200m of waving bye-bye to Rochelle. We might be heading into a brave new compact and electric world, but we’re emotional beings, and leaving the thump thump of a big bent-eight behind in the pages of history will not be easy.

Australian cargo onboard, it was off to Thames to load up, rest up, and then head for the back of a Cook Strait ferry at sparrow’s fart the next morning.

Unbeknown to us, the inclement conditions greeting us as we pointed the big silver snout south would form the backdrop to the whole trip. Our journey to the Garden City would take us via Motueka, where we would pick up Little Trucker Down Under star Milly McCauley. While in the Tasman, we, also chucked Big Mike into Retro Test 4-Star, ‘Rocky’ the Kenworth W-model, with owner Ed Solly. They would form part of the Sollys Contractors contingent heading to the show. It was all on.

The first thing you notice is just how effortlessly this big brute of a ute covers the kilometres and how much comfort you enjoy as it does its thing. The seats are armchair-like, with leg and head room a giraffe couldn’t complain about. Milly looked downright lost sitting in the left rear corner.

1) A wonderful expanse.
2) The South Island rolls effortlessly beneath the tyres while the occupants stretch out and yarn away. If you’re a cruiser, this is bliss.

The 10-speed auto is silky, but then so is the way power arrives to it via the 313kW (419hp), 624Nm (460lb/ft) 6.2- litre V8. Like a lot of American kit, the output numbers don’t push the capability of the displacement in any way – it’s all about a compromise between output and longevity. That’s not saying it’s any slug either. When you want it to rattle the dags and ditch the 90kph Prius just south of Taihape, it’ll happily get its 2544kg kerb weight, occupants, and cargo, up and humming. And if you’re muttering, ‘Yeah, but I bet you can see the fuel gauge plummeting,’ just hold that thought.

Having run a sweep on how many ‘pingas’ would go west to fill its tummy, we all passed out with shock at the Picton NPD when it clicked off at $220 – the first fill since picking it up. Our new friend had clocked about 10.6l/100km. Although the air was awash with Cupid’s arrows at this point, there were a couple of factors we had to take on board. Firstly, we had about 500kg max on the back – all the heavy stuff had gone down as freight – and, second, anyone who knows me will attest to my nana-like driving style, although Mike certainly gave it the pina colada at times. Key to the impressive consumption was the fact that when you’re in cruise mode, it’ll run on four of its eight pots, only re-engaging the other four when they’re called up for service.

Off the ferry, and with the Whangamoas shut for major works, we got to enjoy the long way round to Motueka via the Korere-Top House Road and Motueka Valley Highway on a dark and stormy night.

A good rest had and having dispatched Mike to play Kenworths with Ed, we aimed for Murchison and the Lewis Pass. The weather was still horrible, but inside the mobile living room, life was sweet.

I could honestly motor along day in, day out, in the Silverado without feeling jaded in any way. The ride is softish without being doughy, and the handling ‘big’. No, I can’t tell you what ‘big’ handling means exactly – stable and positive? If you’re a big-truck person, you’ll get it. Maybe it means great handling if you understand the importance of the throttle pedal to directional happiness.

We cut a path beyond Murchison through the valley of the Maruia and over the Lewis.

For a vehicle of its size with AWD to boot, the lock is ‘eyebrow-raisingly’ good. I loved the hill-descent control – that was really cool. And I have to say it had one of the loveliest adaptive-cruise systems ever, speaking to its ability to just come into line smoothly without the nervous impulsiveness you sometimes get, even on ultra-mod cars.

All that said, it’s a ute that suits me and those like me. The Silverado would quickly become cumbersome and uncomfortable in the hands of the No.1 haircut, wrapped sunnies, double-cabbed ute fraternity who bury themselves up the chuff of whoever’s in front, and hunt their charges through corners in an act of testosterone- fuelled driving psychosis.

3) It may have a big snout but there’s still some motor tucked away out back.
4) Like truck owners who buy show pieces and then say they prefer flying under the radar…it’s never going to happen. The Z71 attracts no end of looks and many questions.

The thing that always strikes me when first entering the cabins of vehicles like this is what a shame the OEMs don’t get big-truck designers to do the ute and light truck interiors (surely there’s an old GMC General or Astro- 95 designer still kicking somewhere?). The cockpit of the Silverado looks like a big car inside, not a small truck.

Two things sell a vehicle to a blokey bloke; outside looks and interior – read dashboard in regard to the latter. A US truck cab designer would likely have made the dash wrap around, and chucked a couple of extra gauges in the wrap. With that gorgeous big bonnet, the sense of dominion imbued from the driving experience would empty the showrooms faster than they could ever make them. The bonus, of course, would be all switchgear at a unform reach… as it is in a big truck

All too soon, the glorious expanse of North Canterbury become the urban reality of the region’s capital. It’s here that the Silverado is least at home. Again, if you’re a big- truck person, it’s immensely doable. I motored around no problem and even took it into the car park of the airport McDonald’s. Backing it into a parking possie, I could still get out comfortably with both my beer-baby and a parked car next to me. Of course, speaking to the truck thing again, the key is backing it into everywhere – made uber-easy via a network of cameras, including a 360° jobby. If you think you’re going to drive it nose first into the supermarket car park and still enjoy a stress-free existence, then prepare for a breakdown of the nervous variety.

The big Chevvy Silverado Z71 LTZ sat outside the New Zealand Trucking Media tent right through show weekend and attracted plenty of interest. People asking what we thought. ‘How does it go?’ ‘What’s the economy like?’ ‘Can I have a look inside?’ And ‘how much does it cost?’ Then to the ultimate questions, ‘What do ya reckon? Would you have one?’

New world aside, if you’re looking for one last, glorious hurrah, the Z71 LTZ must surely be on your short list. Suffice to say, my answer was… ‘OMGoodness, would I ever!”


Thank you to Rochelle Nelson and the team at GM Special Vehicles for the opportunity to see out ’22 in such glorious style.