Let’s make one thing abundantly clear: Chevrolet never claimed that it had a Raptor fighter on its hands when it unveiled the Silverado Trail Boss at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show. It’s a mildly modified version of the Z71 1500 LT 4×4 model, and for all intents and purposes, isn’t trying to be something that it is not. There are no over-sized, dual-pass shocks with remote reservoirs or terrain-specific traction settings, nor is there a heavily revised powertrain for Trail Boss output and additional exhaust noise.
What you get instead is a capable, comfortable, cleanly packaged work pickup, that doubles as a ruggedly styled weekend warrior. It’s something that takes the already outstanding Z71 Silverado, with all of the upgrades found in this latest generation, and tosses in a few fancy finishing touches.
Before we begin, here are some noteworthy engineering numbers, starting with GM’s steel box frame, which now features a total of seven high-strength cross members and 12 fixed tie-downs rated at 500 pounds each It has a curb weight that has been reduced by 450 pounds due to mixed materials and a wheelbase that is now four inches longer. 2019 Silverado buyers also get the benefit of owning the largest bed box in the segment, with the 10 additional cubes gracing short and standard variants being brought to you by higher sidewalls and the elimination of “dead-space” between panels.
For 2019, Chevrolet went all-in on the Silverado, giving every angle of the truck’s exterior an upgrade. From bumpers and bed, to hood and headlamps, it’s all been overhauled in order to aid both practicality and appeal. Engineers have even gone as far as redesigning the roof in order to help reduce bed drag, and together with scooped side vents, and active aero on certain models, makes for a far more efficient pickup.
Chevy has also ditched its squared fenders for a more traditional, rounder style, and installed side panels that borrow heavily from the SUV side of the brand. Slapping accents like a twin-bar front grill, bumper-integrated dual-port exhaust, LED lighting at every corner, and CHEVROLET stamped into the tailgate all add to the Silverado’s curb appeal.
On Trail Boss models you get all of this, but instead of starting with a base model, you are building upon Chevy’s tried-and-true Z71 package, which externally offers things like skid plates, blacked-out accents, and brand-specific badging. From there you get a unique set of black alloy wheels to match the bow tie out front, Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires in a 275/65R18 configuration, a 2-inch lift for obvious reasons, off-road engineered Rancho shocks, red recovery hooks, and Trail Boss graphics. It may not be extreme, but it should be enough to help you stand out from the crowd, especially with those optional assist steps attached.
As for the interior, Chevy has taken a truck that was already known for having a spacious cabin and doubled-down on storage smarts, tech connectivity, and small stuff that people tend to take for granted. So bring on the 120-volt power outlets, recalibrated knobs and switches that are easier to reach and allow greater control, as well as superior driving visibility. Although its plain cloth seats could use some Z71 stitching for added flair, and there’s nary a sign of Trail Boss branding to be seen, this cabin is still a brilliant balance between work-focused, family-friendly, and tech-connected.
For fans of cubbies for work gloves and places to leave muddy boots, Chevy has gone as far as bumping up the volume within each storage pocket, revising its shallow tray designs, and throwing a stow box beneath the rear bench. If that’s not enough, you also get a duo of exclusive 10-liter “smuggler stashes” within each rear seatback. It’s a simple, yet incredibly practical touch that makes you wonder why automakers weren’t doing this sort of things decades ago.
Control-wise, everything is easy to reach, intuitively laid out, and for the most part, reminiscent of the previous generation. There are a million places to put your phone, charging ports aplenty, and oversized cupholders in abundance, as well as more tech than you can shake a piston at, including 4G LTE Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, wireless phone charging, OnStar safety, and more. Being that crew-cab models now pack three inches of additional rear legroom (permitting 44.5 inches up front and 43.8 inches in the back), there’s really not a bad seat in the house either. With dedicated rear vents and extra plugs for the second row, comfort, convenience, and charging appear to be key to this truck appealing to passengers.
Being that this is the Trail Boss version, performance comes tethered exclusively to GM’s 5.3-liter V8, which is a bit of a disappointment considering how good the 6.2-liter V8 and Duramax 3.0-liter diesel are, especially since they now come mated to 10-speed transmissions. Don’t get us wrong, 355 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of twist are respectable. Maybe it’s the way in which the exhaust has been muted, or how even in sport mode this pickup feels snappy yet uninspiring; whatever the reason, there’s definitely room for performance upgrades here if you’re an aftermarket fanatic.
On the upside, buyers do get things like a two-speed transfer case, an auto-locking rear differential, optional tow package upgrades, a 3.23:1 rear axle, controls for both 2WD and 4WD usage, downhill descent control, and a larger air induction system. Although a series of lockers like what we found on the Colorado ZR2 would have been nice (as would some various traction setting for varying terrain), the Trail Boss does a solid job of offering pickup buyers a middle-ground between work truck and 4×4 without over complicating things.
On-Road Driving Impressions
When I met with Scott Damman, Lead Development Engineer for the new Silverado, he informed me that GM brought in specialists from Cadillac in order to tackle anything related to noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH), in order to provide what he called “unparalleled road refinement.” At the time I was not so confident in this claim, but after spending a week with the Silverado Trail Boss I can attest that this is indeed an accurate assessment.
Sure, those meaty tires provide some road noise, and there’s a lot of V8 roar up front under throttle, but outside of that this pickup is about as close to silky smooth as it gets in the segment. It may not have all of the fluidity of Ram truck’s air suspension, but I also didn’t feel myself jarred out of place when a pothole unexpectedly appeared. Between the revised Rancho shocks, sound deadening and cabin material fitment, amazing driver visibility, and balanced steering, acceleration, and braking, this truck is a pleasure to pilot on-road. Now if only it had a little more power and an exhaust note that matched its mean looks…
Off-Road Driving Impressions
Our proving ground for the day was out in Kentucky, where I spent most of the morning exploring the hilly terrain atop the mountain overlooking a farm. Climbing up rock-covered inclines and over grassy embankments, the Silverado roared its way to the top, kicking mud and moss alike into the air behind it. While there certainly was plenty of grip to be had on rocky terrain and slick embankments, and breakover points did not yield any notable contact, I was left feeling a bit confused by the pickup truck’s badging.
There are a few missing key off-road components on this truck that would both enhance its performance appeal and reinforce its “Trail Boss” marketing credibility. While all of the package additions are appreciated and practical, this Silverado is missing some crucial ingredients for making a truck a “boss,” starting with dedicated locking differentials, which it does not have. Sure, there’s an auto locking rear diff and downhill descent control, but outside of that and a 4HI/4LO setting, that’s about all you’re going to get in regard to traction support.
You also don’t get dedicated front-facing, side, or under-chassis cameras for helping you safely clear obstacles or crest steep inclines, and as with any 4×4, the absence of a power-folding mirror button is a huge miss when things get tight along the trail. Another issue I encountered were the dealer-installed side steps and lower front air dam. Both can be removed, but when attached, they reduce clearance to 11.5 inches on either side. It made me reconsider quite a few approach angles that day.
As for the two-inch lift unique to the Trail Boss, a spacer in the rear sits between the leaf and the axle, whereas the front receives a higher perch point for the spring itself. It’s nothing extreme, so ride quality is not compromised in any way, making it an ideal option for anyone looking for a work truck with a tad more height. I also was quite impressed with the way GM’s engineers routed the exhaust, tucking it up as closely to the chassis as possible, and then integrating it into the rear bumper for additional clearance out back.
From a daily-driven standpoint, this is a very user-friendly vehicle, with power features adorning everything from the windows and rear glass to the in-bed 120V plug and auto liftgate. It’s almost Cadillac-quiet on the road, scores high points for its spacious bed and smartly packaged, tech-filled interior, and with the proper trailering upgrades attached, it can tow up to 9,500 pounds.
Although the Silverado was redesigned from the ground up in grand fashion, it pains me to discover that the Trail Boss tastes a tad half-baked. Without manual locking differentials, various terrain traction settings, or a throaty-sounding exhaust, the Trail Boss feels more like a “Trail Boss in Training” than a true head honcho. It’s really close to being the perfect blend of practical, powerful, and primal GM engineering, with plenty of curb appeal thrown in for good measure; it just needs more ZR2 undertones for it to truly live up to the name bestowed upon it.