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'99 GMC Sierra Pickup Trucks

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  GMC Sierra

San Francisco:  General Motors was the last of the Old Big Three to redo its full-sized pickups. The new Dodge Ram appeared in 1995 and the new Ford 150 was introduced for 1997. Unlike the Ram's bold "over-the-road" look and the F-150's aerodynamic styling, GM's stylists took a more conservation approach. The restyling of the 1999 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks is more evolutionary than revolutionary. GM says pickups don't need "leading-edge" designs, since consumers surveys put lower priority on styling than durability and engine power. It cannot afford to make a mistake, since pickups are GM's biggest seller, producing more pickups than Buicks and Oldsmobiles combined.

As in the past, Chevys and GMCs share their mechanicals, though now there is more styling differences between the two. While all-new, they still bear a strong resemblance to the previous design that dates back about a decade. You really have to park the 1998 and 1999 models side-by-side to see that the newest version is distinctly taller and wider. Reportedly, GM spent $6 billion on development of these new pickups. Most of this went into less-visible Silverado improvements like new V8s, more capable transmissions, stiffer frames, larger cabs and better braking. For the last 15 years America's second-best-selling vehicle has been the Chevy full-size pickup, the first is the Ford F-150 pickup. GM will continue to offer the "old style" C/K models and corresponding GMC clones in 1999. These include heavier- duty and crew cab models not included in the new Silverado and Sierra lineups.

Silverados and Sierras are offered in several versions, including regular cab and extended cab, 2WD or 4WD, short and long bed and standard and Sportside beds. Silverado trim levels include Base, LS and LT. GMCs come in SL, SLE and SLT editions. There are both 1500 & fractional 1/2 ton models and 2500 & fractional 3/4 ton versions.

With large pickups increasingly being used as substitutes for cars, GM found most people did want more room. Thus, the Silverado's and Sierra's cabin is larger, and extended-cab models get greater backseat legroom. The 4-inch longer Extended Cab has an increased rear seatback angle so passengers feel like they are sitting in a real seat, and not just straight up. The third door on Extended Cab models is the biggest in the industry. Indeed, the Extended Cab version is almost a crew cab and with the rear seat removed you can carry lots of tools and other stuff. Step-in height was lowered without any loss of ground clearance.

Transmissions have been beefed up for longer life and durability. Automatics have a larger sump oilpan, increased fluid volumes and heftier torque converters. Depending on the engine, Silverados and Sierras are available with either light or heavy duty five-speed manual transmissions, though most buyers opt for either the 4L60-E or 4L80-E automatic transmission. The latter feature a Tow / Haul mode which allows the driver to switch with the touch of a button to a more aggressive shift pattern for trailering and heavy hauling. This results in firmer shifts and lengthened time between shifts, for improved stop-and-go drivability and fewer shifts in hilly terrain.

Four-wheel-drive versions are available with manual or "AutoTrac" automatic transmissions. AutoTrac automatically transfers power to the front wheels when the rear wheels start slipping, transferring from 0 to 100% of the power to the wheels with the best traction. I was able to test an AutoTrac equipped Sierra after a heavy Colorado snow storm. It worked well and was able to handle both highway travel on snow pack roads and off-road driving in deep snow. As to pulling power, it ranges from 4500 pounds for trucks with the 4.3 L V6 and up to 10,500 pounds with the 6.0 L V8 in the 2500 series trucks.

The new frame is by far the most sophisticated found on any light-duty truck. It has three distinct sections each with a specific function. The front section uses hydroformed rails, another technology borrowed from the Corvette, that are stronger and stiffer to help improve ride and stability. The front portion of these hydroformed sections are designed to absorb energy by "telescoping" during a frontal crash. The center roll-formed frame section carrying the cab resists off-road twisting forces and acts as a bridge and "fifth" spring between the front and rear axle. The rear section carries the bed and payload, suspension loads and trailer-tow forces. According to GM, the three-piece frame is 23% stiffer and 64% stronger.

Improved braking includes standard four-wheel anti-lock braking (ABS) and four- wheel disc brakes on all models. Disc brakes are known for durability, fade-resistance and excellent stopping power, especially when combined with Dynamic Rear Proportioning which senses load changes electronically and automatically adjusts the required amount of braking to the rear wheels for optimum balance.

For options, even the base models come well equipped with standard equipment like AM/FM stereo, tilt steering wheel, intermittent wipers and a theft-deterrent system. If you go all out, you can get your truck with power-adjustable heated bucket seats, leather trim, a cassette with CD player & aluminum wheels. Plus more options are available. Safety features include dual airbags, anti-lock brake system (ABS) and daytime running lamps (DRL). Disc brakes are used on all four wheels.

Once inside you notice the new instrument panel that looks like the one used on previous models, but with the large speedometer / tachometer layout is borrowed from the Corvette again. There are also gauges for fuel level, voltmeter, oil pressure and coolant temperature. The standard Driver Message Center provides information on 18 functions from low fuel warning and oil level to oil quality and transmission fluid temperature. Both the climate controls and sound system feature large knobs. There are three 12-volt outlets for cellular phones, laptop computers and other toys. The center console is like almost everything else on these trucks, huge.

Nice touches include lockout protection so you cannot power lock the doors if the keys are still in the ignition and battery run-down protection that automatically turns off lights to save the battery. With a "search" feature on the optional key fob, if you forget where you parked, press a button and the lights flash and horn honks though it is hard to imagine how you could "lose" one of these big trucks.

However, the best feature of these all-new trucks is how they perform on the road. The handling and ride quality is more like a luxury sedan than a serious, full-sized truck. There are three optional suspension packages, so you can customize the trucks for the jobs they will performing highway cruising, trailer towing or off-roading. Adjustable Electronic Ride Control, the first selectable damping system offered for a pickup, provides driver-selectable shock damping via an instrument panel switch. Even the tighter turning radius is more car-like. Prices for the base level, 2WD Silverado and Sierra 1500 start at about $16,000 and go all the way up to over $32,000 for a Silverado or Sierra 2500 fitted with all the goodies. By Bill Siuru AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

GMC Trucks Home Page:

Column Name:  "All New But Still Familiar"
Topic:  '99 Chevy Silverado & Sierra Pickup Trucks
Writer:   Bill Siuru
Byline:   AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Word Count:   1373
Photo Caption:  '99 Chevy Silverado & GMC Sierra
Photo Credits:   GM Media
Series #:   1999 - 7

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