Car Review: 2016 Silverado Z71 Rally Edition

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photo by: the author

Road-Testing GM EFI’s Daily Mule/Tow Rig

We’ve been doing our best to land a road test review of the refreshed Silverado for quite some time, but chalk it up to a need for a tow rig, parts hauler and a general daily driver, and we bit the bullet and just picked up a new truck for ourselves. We shopped around for months, actually looking for a deal on a used Chevy Silverado or GMC Sierra but came up empty. Most trucks in our area were overpriced, worn out or rusted out.

Luckily, we found a deal on this 2016 Silverado Rally Edition Z71 at Stratton Chevrolet, a local dealer to our AutoCentric Media offices. With a sticker price of $49.5k, the manufacturer and dealership rebates, as well as our GM family discount allotted nearly $11k in savings, with our payments landing us nearly comparable to that of a new Cruze.

However, the catch was that we had to select from a specific combination in order to get that much of a savings, so our options combination was limited to a 5.3L Silverado 1500 LT 4WD double cab. If we would have deviated away from that combination at all, we wouldn’t have had nearly the amount of discounts, otherwise.

Essentially, it’s the perfect combination for what we needed; the four wheel drive will be perfect for our Northeastern Ohio winters, the bed will allow us to haul parts for our in-house project cars and the backseat will come in handy when your author has to pull daddy duties or when we’re hauling our friends to the dragstrip. With an 11,100-lb towing capacity from the 5.3L, we can take any one of our current project vehicles to the shop, track or across the country to any of the various events we attend each year.

The Mechanicals

Starting under the hood, our Silverado left the factory with the impressive 5.3L EcoTec3 V8 powerplant with 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque. General Motors also claims that that it has a peak towing capacity of 11,100 pounds — which is more than enough for our single, open car trailer that we intend to use.

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Since our Silverado is based on the LT trim level, we were relegated to the 6-speed automatic transmission, and not the available 8-speed which provides better performance and improved MPG. We’re used to 6-speed manuals and ancient 4-speed autos around here, so a 6-speed slushbox is quite modern to us, anyway.

Out back, is a 3.73 gear ratio which will provide the perfect compliment to the 6-speed auto in terms of performance and low-end grunt. Up front, is the front differential that will allow us to kick on all four wheels when we need it in the snow, muddy conditions after a rainout in the pits at the dragstrip or a steep climb up an icing off-ramp.

Th Z71 package ups the ante, bringing with it heavy-duty Rancho mono tube shocks, a thicker front sway bar, a transfer case shield, heavy-duty locking rear differential, underbody shields, a trailering package, recovery hooks, and Hill Decent Control. It also includes body color grille surround, headlamp bezels, front and rear bumpers, LED fog lamps, “Z71” callouts in the grille, tachometer, brushed metal door sills and usually, callout decals on the bedside. Since we have the Rally Package, those decals become emblems relocated to the doors, but more on that in a minute.

Modern Conveniences

On the outside, of the first things you notice about all 2016 Silverado is the built-in corner steps on the rear bumper. If you look closely at the tailgate handle, you’ll also see the rear mounted backup camera – -which is a huge help when you’re backing the truck up to the race trailer.

Like all other modern GM vehicles, our Silverado is equipped with OnStar, XM Radio, touch screen radio display, dual-zone climate control and keyless entry with remote start. The cabin also houses an impressive information center, both on the dash and in the gauge cluster that let’s you select from what radio station you want to listen to, to displaying your speed, fuel milage average and estimated run-out distance, as well as tire pressure monitoring system.

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The stereo also includes Pandora, Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, a CD player (for those of you stuck in the ’90s), and your choice between a 7-inch or 8-inch diagonal color touch screen. A full instrument cluster works in tandem with the radio display, so you can monitor your radio station even on your dashboard — a great feature to those who are new to the current breed of GM vehicles.

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Space is aplenty, though the double cab made backseat legroom sparce, forcing the front two occupants to slide up their front seats to fit the taller occupants in the rear. We actually had to slide up the passenger seat to fit a 2-year old in his car seat, but otherwise, kids can easily fit in the rear seat.

You can find cupholders and compartments throughout the cabin, USB and charge points just about anywhere you need one and a total of ten air bags for additional safety.

Rally Edition Package

Essentially a $4,995 LT cosmetic package upgrade, the Rally Edition is available in two flavors; Rally 1 and Rally 2. Available only in Black, White, Silver and Red, the difference between the Rally 1 and Rally 2 break down to one thing; 2WD and 4WD. One way to tell the difference, are the size of the wheels. Rally 1s get the black-painted 20-inch aluminum version, whereas the Z71 Rally 2 gets black-painted, 6-spoke, 22-inch wheels, wrapped in 285/45/22 rubber. The door emblem callout is different, too; Rally 1 simply gets a “Silverado” text, and Rally 2 gets a “Z71” callout in place of the Silverado door badging.

In addition to the wheels, the Rally Edition also gets matte black hockey stick stripes, which starts from the aforementioned door emblem, and runs the remaining length of the vehicle — ala’, ’69 Camaro. A set of matte black racing stripes also adorn the redesigned for 2016 hood, black Chevy bowties on the grille and on the tailgate replace the usual gold version, a spray-on bedliner and 6-inch diameter black tubular assist steps all become part of the package.

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The few tweaks to the looks turn the otherwise civilian Z71 Silverado from a typical 4WD pickup, to a menacing street truck — at least in terms of cosmetics. Otherwise, it’s standard-issue Silverado unless you order the available Chevrolet Performance catback exhaust system, which our truck doesn’t have but could certainly use.

The stock exhaust note is pretty quiet, and you can chalk that up to the fact that when we had it on a lift, we noticed three catalytic converters, a massive muffler and a huge resonator after the muffler to quell all of the noise, and more than likely, quite a bit of power from the 5.3L V8 under the hood. If you pick up a new Silverado, particularly a Rally Edition, we recommend ponying up the extra dough for the available performance exhaust system.themule-11

The Rally Edition is basically a pickup truck for the muscle car enthusiast. Those who need all of the utility of a truck, but spend 99% of his/her time on the street; either on the daily commute, hauling crate engines to the shop or towing his race car to the track. The color scheme and the theme of the Rally compliment Wicked6, Phoenix and Redrum quite nicely!

Driving Experience

Whether you’re used to driving in late-model CTS-Vs or thirty year-old G-bodies, one thing is clear; it’s easy to forget how far suspension technology has come in the last few decades. We’re quite used to both of those vehicles, but even after having plenty of experience behind the wheel of 5th- and 6th-gen Camaros we have underestimated what a brand new Z71 Silverado can provide.themule-8

The Rancho monotube shocks provide a nice ride, although sometimes jarring over the larger bumps. The handling could use some improvement, as the lack of a rear sway bar and the truck’s ride height hinders cornering prowess. Now obviously, you don’t usually buy a 4WD Silverado Z71 for its handling, but thanks to the aftermarket, there is plenty of room for improvement.

Another pickup truck shortcoming is typically the brakes. As we’ve been spoiled with large ceramic Brembo binders of C7 Z06s and 5th-gen Z/28s, we weren’t expecting much from the Silvy. That was until a deer jumped out in front of us one evening, and we almost had to fully lock them up. Going from a steady 60 mph to a complete stop took about four seconds — thankfully — and both the deer and The Mule came away unscathed.

Visibility is aplenty, thanks to the array of windows to look out of, as well as the available rear camera and large sideview mirrors. If you’re used to driving F-bodies and midsize sport sedans, it can be a different experience trying to park the full-size truck in tight parking spaces. We’d be lying if the abrupt nose and taller ride height didn’t deceive us once or twice, thinking we had less room than we did. We also noticed a tight fit in the narrower fast food drive-thru lanes in our area, which seem to be designed more around Cavaliers, and maybe not so much a double cab or crew cab full-sized Silverados. themule-9

We are impressed with our overall fuel economy. After our recent trips to the 2016 Buick GS Nationals and Holley LS Fest in Bowling Green, Kentucky (about a 7-hour road trip for us) we managed to see the advertised 23 mpg — even with hauling Project Redrum on a trailer behind us. These numbers are on point of what a 2006 CTS-V that once resided in our fleet produced.

We’ve had one or two of our friends ask us about picking up a new Silverado, based on our experience. We’d recommend it, but we also feel that if you don’t need a truck, then it’s probably not beneficial just to have one to putt around town with. Obviously, we’d recommend a Camaro or Corvette for sheer performance, or for our more pedestrian readers (if we have any), a new Malibu.

Nobody buys a Silverado for fuel economy or performance so truck posers need not apply. However, if you haul a lot of car parts, engines, transmissions, et al., and could always use a tow rig, then by all means, the investment definitely pays for itself.

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Performance 

With 355 hp on tap in a vehicle that weighs over 5,000 pounds, the performance is quite stellar for a pickup. Various road tests show that quarter-mile performance should be somewhere in the mid-15 second to low-16 second range. Not Earth-shattering, but very respectable for what it is.

A recent Car and Driver test concluded a 0-60 mph sprint in 7.2 seconds and a top speed of 99 mph (electronically limited). This test was done with a 5.3L Silverado Z71 Crew Cab. In another road test conducted by Motor Trend, they claim that a crew cab version with an 8-speed auto and 5.3L completed the quarter-mile in 15.1 at 90.7 mph.

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Again, most who pick up a Silverado aren’t doing so because they want to beat the latest Shelby Mustang, but there’s always that rare breed who want to throw caution to the wind and take on the challenge.

Obviously the aftermarket is ripe for performance upgrades; blower kits are available from Magnuson and ProCharger, cylinder head and camshaft upgrades can be found from COMP Cams, Livernois Motorsports, Redline Motorsports, Holley Performance, Edelbrock and others, and of course, CORSA and Chevrolet Performance themselves offer both cold-air intake and catback systems for these trucks. American Racing, Stainless Works and Kooks take the exhaust further, with their low-restriction header kits, too!

Install a driveshaft from DSS and a tune from HP Tuners, and away you go!

Quarter-Mile Performance: A Day at the Track

Yup, seriously. Now we know it’s not an actual performance package and frankly, with 355 hp in a 5500-lb. vehicle, we weren’t expecting ZL1-like performance. However, the devil on our left shoulder provided us with a convincing argument, otherwise, and we couldn’t help but see where the Rally Edition Silverado stood. Based on our previous internet research we were guessing somewhere in the mid-15 second bracket, or about what a ’98 Mustang GT ran back in the day.

themule-98To test our truck’s quarter-mile prowess we hit up our local dragstrip, Quaker City Raceway, for one of their weekly Wednesday “Street Nights.” Heavily-geared towards the casual, average street/strip enthusiast, we felt it was a perfect opportunity to see how well our Z71 fared against the daily-driven WRXs, EVOs, Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers and more natural competitor F150s and RAMs that we see on the streets around here on a daily basis.

Upon our arrival, we received a few odd looks and inquiries with The Mule — mostly questions about what was under the hood. We also ran into a few other truck owners, including Lightnings, SRT10 RAMs and even one man who wheeled out his 2014 Silverado Work Truck long-bed with 2WD and a 5.3L. He shared that with E85 and a K&N filter his best time was a 16.0, despite some traction issues.

Remember, with an empty bed there’s little weight over the rear wheels of a pickup, and in two-wheel drive, it could be quite the task in getting a pickup to hook without any traction aides like drag radials, adjustable shocks and the like. Given the extra weight of our Rally Z71 double cab over the comparably very basic WT Silverado we were looking at, we started to feel a little less confident in getting into the mid-15s… but we kept our hopes up.themule-99

To provide a fair test, we didn’t modify any aspect of the truck. We left the intake and exhaust systems untouched, we didn’t play with tire pressure at all, we ran the recommended 87-octane, we didn’t ice down the intake and we didn’t take any weight out of the truck. The tailgate, spare tire and backseat all remained intact. In fact, we brought along the family so there was actually a baby seat installed during all three of our runs. So if anything, let’s give it a slight weight penalty.

When our staging lane was finally called, your author skipped the water box altogether, electing instead to drive around the water and dust off the rear tires just aft of the box. On off-road street rubber, whatever heat we would have generated more than likely could have been cancelled out by the water that would have dripped onto the tires. It would have been a different story if we were running drag radials or slicks, but doing pro-mod style burnouts on street rubber in a street vehicle is just pointless.

Heeding Work Truck Man’s warning, I kept the launch idle relatively low and with a 1500-rpm launch still managed to squeal the rear tires a bit through the 60-ft mark. Not having run the quarter-mile in quite some time, your author’s reaction time was a bit slow; .6479, which ultimately lead to a 2.4265 60-ft time, a 10.37 in the 1/8-mile and a 16.09 in the quarter. The final trap speed was 85.68 mph. Clearly there was potential for a quicker time, but I would have to find my way there.

Initially deterred after realizing I had quite a hill to climb to knock a half-second off of my time, I was immediately reminded that the other Silverado owner there, who also had 3.73 gears, the same engine, a K&N filter, E85 and with much more practice than I was actually pulling the same time as me. In regard to curb weight, his truck was probably 800-lbs lighter than ours as well, so I popped the hood and let the truck cool in preparation of the next run.

Once our lane was called again and I cruised up and around the water box, I knew that there was no way that I was going to get the truck to hook with my insistence on maintaining the recommended tire pressure. So I did the next best thing; kicked it in 4-High. With the same launch rpm from the first run, there was a bit of a bog for a millisecond then it just hooked and took off with no additional drama. As it turns out, we lost a .7 mph in our trap speed but went from a 16.09 to a 15.90 — essentially eliminating two-tenths off of our previous run.

It still wasn’t quite the 15.5-15.6 we were hoping for, but we’re not quitters so we tried again. This time, your author tached up the launch RPM higher, closer to 2,000, and was rewarded with a best E.T. of the night, a 15.84 at 85.41 mph — nearly three tenths off of our first run and almost equal the trap speed, which was the highest trap speed thus far. Considering the weight of the truck, we also managed to keep the lead against a 2010 WRX for the first half of the track. It may not be a massive achievement, but for a dolled-up farm implement and part-time tow pig we’ll take it!

Unfortunately after our third run, it was getting late with the track officials steering racers towards the exit. Plus, we had to get the kid home and in bed. There’s certainly a 15.7 or even a 15.6 in the truck, but with the track now closed for the year we’ll more than likely have to wait until Spring to run again.

Conclusion:

In short, we’re impressed. After three months in the GM EFI fleet, we have yet to find any fault or have any complaints with The Mule. It’s not the most fuel efficient vehicle on the market, nor is it the most inconspicuous to drive with its Rally Edition package; we get constant waves and thumbs-up from other Rally owners, and once in a while we get the inevitable import enthusiast trying to egg us on, but overall there is little to be disappointed with.

If you’re looking for a truck to fill the need of a parts and race car hauler, and refuse to jump onto the diesel bandwagon, we suggest going with the 6.2L — ditto for performance reasons. It simply offers the most towing and power for a truck in this class. However, you can’t hate on the midrange 5.3L as it has served us very well, provides [advertised] better fuel economy over the 6.2L and immensely more towing capabilities than the 4.3L V6.

We promised ourselves that we would leave the truck completely stock, but the mod bug has already bit since we’ve initially tested our truck. Be sure to keep an eye out for a sway bar upgrade and a few other bolt-ons in the coming months, as we introduce the truck as our latest project vehicle, The Mule.

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