2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS
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Story and photos by Russell Purcell


Is it worthy?

A quick glance around the parking lot at your local car dealership will reveal that the Canadian consumer has a thing for trucks. In fact, this love affair is so widespread that if you plan to make any money selling vehicles in North America, you better offer a significant number of light truck models. Whether disguised as SUVs or even vans, the truck market is the one segment that continues to hold its place at the top of both the production and sales charts.

Truck buyers are a faithful lot, often remaining loyal to a brand or individual nameplate for decades, and no one is more aware of this than the executives at GM, Ford and Dodge, the three giants of light-truck production. The key it seems is to offer your customers enough options that they can order a rig seemingly custom-built for their individual needs. Well for 2003, GM’s Chevrolet division rolled-out a very special model of its venerable Silverado known as the SS, or Super-Sport, a designation from Chevy’s past that graced the flanks of only the most potent muscle cars of the past – and this truck is worthy.


Performance


2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS
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The SS is based on a Silverado 1500 Extended Cab short-bed and comes equipped with a Vortec H.O. 6.0-litre V8 that produces 345 horsepower and a very healthy 380 lb.-ft of torque. While those numbers are respectable, they do fall short of rival Ford’s enthusiast-favourite Lightning, which generates 380 horsepower and 450 lb.-ft of torque, and the 340-hp and 425 lb.-ft of torque offered up by the similarly equipped F-150 Super Crew Harley Davidson – albeit both aided by the addition of superchargers. Mind you, I wouldn’t be surprised to find a number of people throwing a blower on the SS once they get them out the door, but my week behind the wheel of this truck had me more than impressed with the SS’s current capabilities.

2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS
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The Silverado SS is the most potent Chevrolet pickup ever produced, eclipsing the previous benchmark, the 454 SS (1990-1993), in both handling and performance. True, the 454 was a more basic platform, as it was a standard cab, short box unit with its sights set on the younger buyer, and was only available in two-wheel drive form, but it did offer pretty big numbers for its time – 230 horsepower and 385-lb.ft of torque.

While most buyers will be attracted to the Silverado SS by its good looks and muscle-car performance, it is important to point out that this truck can still handle most utilitarian duties as well. With a 3,405 kg. (7,500 lbs) tow-rating and a 6-1/2-foot bed it can handle 676 kg (1,490 lbs) of cargo. With those numbers it is evident that the SS is two trucks in one.


Driving impressions


2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS
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The SS responds instantly to throttle input, and as all 345 ponies come into play the truck hunkers down and heads where you point it. The truck gets up to speed very quickly and will reach 100 km/h in less than 7 seconds. This should be enough to blow most trucks and SUVs into the weeds, as well as embarrass many cars. The best part is that power delivery from the 6.0-litre Vortec V8 and the Hydra-Matic 4L85-E four-speed automatic overdrive transmission that it is mated to comes on smooth and strong even in the mid-rpm range, where many combinations struggle. Passing became a breeze, even on steep inclines and at freeway speeds. The full-time all-wheel-drive system operates seamlessly in the background ensuring that the SS can tackle any road or weather conditions, be it wet or dry. The high-performance two-into-one exhaust system produces a throaty rumble that was music to my ears, and has been tweaked to give the engine a little more power when compared to the same unit used in other GM products like the Escalade and Hummer H2.

2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS
Handling, as you might expect, is superior to anything in the Silverado line, and to be honest, this truck sticks so well that I found myself taking the long way to work each morning. Through low and mid-speed corners, this truck corners almost flat, with just a hint of body roll. Amazingly Chevy engineers seem to have wiped away the tendency most pickup trucks have to lose rear grip and swing the back end around when they are unladed. Chalk this up to the Z60 high-performance suspension package that makes this truck feel more like a Corvette than a pickup. However, higher speed or long radius turns revealed a hint of push, but not enough to make the ride feel unsettling, and you would have to be driving way-over-your head for this to come into play and cause any problems.


Look at those wheels!


2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS
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The Silverado SS rides on enormous five-spoke 20-inch wheels fitted with sticky Goodyear Eagle LS 275/55R-20 inch Z-rated directional tires, which do a great job of keeping this beast planted in corners and tracking straight. My test vehicle had the brushed alloy wheel, but a polished chrome unit can also be had. While a simple design, Chevrolet should be commended for offering a 20-inch wheel, as entry into the 20-inch-plus category can be pricey in the aftermarket. Mind you fitting aftermarket wheels to a car has to rank high on the list of consumer modifications, so the option of buying a vehicle like the SS with a smaller, more basic wheel may be something for Chevrolet to consider.

Chevrolet designers have done an excellent job with this truck’s styling as the lowered stance (about 50 mm as well as 18 mm more track width) and slick bodywork combine to fill the wheel-wells, giving the SS a more menacing look. One gripe I do have though is with regards to the brakes. While they performed flawlessly and kept me and the truck in check without drama throughout my test, they do look a bit under-sized when you glimpse them against the big wheels. As the SS can be equipped for towing, I imagine the brakes are more than up to the task, but I did have more than one passerby comment on the fact that it looked like the brakes were a little small.


Exterior


2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS
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I love the look of this truck, and it appears to have a lot of curb appeal as it attracted a lot of attention. I did have one individual comment that on first glance he thought I had added an aftermarket body-kit to the truck as he felt the cladding around the bed didn’t have the polished look it should have for the price, whereas the bodywork on the front half of the truck looked top-notch. Upon closer inspection we noticed that under certain lighting conditions, the beautiful Arrival Blue paint on my test vehicle appeared to be painted two different tones of blue, as light played with the top edge of the bed’s skirting. Under flat light such as an overcast day this problem disappeared, but when the sunshine cast shadows and passed overhead the effect was immediately noticeable. At present, the Silverado SS is offered in Black, the aforementioned Arrival Blue Metallic or Victory Red.

2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS
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The SS is one of the first models to benefit from the new headlight treatment, largely an evolution of the Avalanche design, which gives a slanted, almost evil look to the headlights. From the passenger compartment the hood has a very unique look to it, as the hood itself peaks at the two edges to compliment the headlights

A unique grill treatment features an egg-crate look fitted with an enormous Chevy bowtie. The front bumper valance features another strip of this grill material, as well as two trumpet-sized air intakes to route air to the mechanicals. These air intakes definitely add to the performance look of the truck, but I think a pair of Ram-Air hood nostrils like used on the final SS variants of the legendary Camaro would have given the truck an even sportier look as well as a offered Chevrolet a revenue generator, as the OEM hood would no doubt become a popular add-on with many buyers of lesser Silverado models.

The two bumpers are concealed behind body-coloured shrouds which helps to maintain the monochromatic effect as even the door pulls and window trim are colour-matched. A subtle cap of durable black ABS plastic protects the rear bumper from dings and scratches but doesn’t detract from the overall look. A small tailgate spoiler and an enormous tail pipe will reveal to your pursuers that this is no garden-variety truck. Exterior SS badges found on the two side doors, as well as on the tailgate, will emphasize that point.


Interior

Chevrolet has gone a long way towards improving the design and ergonomics of the interiors of its truck line, as this was often touted as a weak point. The interior of the Silverado SS features wide back leather-clad buckets up front with a multitude of adjustments including power lumbar support.

2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS
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The driver’s unit has a two-person memory, which makes sharing this vehicle with the significant other a little less frustrating. Heating elements can be found in all seating positions, which will be a blessing on those early-morning journeys to the ski hill. Subtle SS badges are embroidered into the front headrests to remind occupants that this truck is a little special, as does an unobtrusive logo affixed to the dash.

All switches and controls are easy to reach and feel top-notch, even those used to control the stupendous stereo system with an in-dash 6-disc CD-changer and Bose speakers sprinkled throughout the passenger compartment. White faced gauges add that sporty look favoured by the sport-truck crowd. A multi-function steering wheel with controls for the stereo, OnStar and the driver information centre make life for the driver a little easier and using them quickly became intuitive.

2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS
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Outward visibility is no better or worse than any other full-size truck, but at least the new hood shape allows for a better idea as to where the perimeter of the truck is. Large side mirrors proved exceptional for navigating through traffic and have integrated LED turn signals. This has long been a popular item in the aftermarket, but GM has chosen to offer these on its higher-end trucks and SUVs as of late, which is an added safety bonus.

A roof-mounted storage cubby big enough for cell-phones, glasses and remotes is surrounded by aircraft style reading lamps. A cup-holder tray, cubbies for small items and a pop-out ashtray are found on the centre console, which also features a large bin underneath the armrest and an extra power port.

The SS offered lots of headroom as I stand 6′-2″, and I still had a generous 4-5 inches of available headroom. As a sunroof is not offered on this vehicle, likely due to the structural dynamics of the pillar-less extended-cab design, you would have to be a true giant or have a penchant for top-hats to have issues in this department

2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS
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The rear passenger compartment is sufficient for two larger adults or three regular sized individuals. Even with the front seats all the way back I still had enough legroom when I retired to the back compartment, at least for shorter trips. Grab handles are plentiful, so accessing any of the seating positions is a breeze, especially when all four doors are open. The extended-cab design features handles for the two rear clam-shell doors that are integrated into the door frame which hides them, makes them less vulnerable and preserves the custom look of the vehicle.

The rear windows fold out in a flip design similar to that used in smaller pickups, but it would be nice in a truck of this stature if these units were actual retracting windows, or at least offered power operation of the flip function for the driver, as GM already offers this on some of its SUVs, and it would help with cab ventilation as the rear window does not offer a slider.


What about the competition?


Both Dodge and Ford offer performance models in their full-size pick-up lineups, but these are very different animals and as such, will attract a different buyer than the Silverado SS.

Dodge recently brought the ‘Hemi’ badge back from the archives to dress up the Ram and salute the company’s muscular past, but the company’s light trucks are designed more as workhorses than pretty show-stoppers like the SS and Ford’s answer, the F150 Lightning. This torque-monster of an engine was originally only available in the 1/2-ton Ram Heavy-Duty, but is now available in 3/4 and 1-ton models as well.

The Ford Lightning has been around for a number of years, and is one impressive truck when it comes to pushing the performance envelope. However, the Lightning is truly aimed at the stoplight racer, as it is only
available in a regular cab, short box version and does not offer all-wheel drive. However, the supercharged heart of the Lightning has now found its way into the Harley Davidson Edition for 2003, which comes a lot closer to the SS in both style and equipment, but is not available with all-wheel-drive.

The SS is a fully-dressed, luxury ship with the surefootedness of all-wheel-drive and enough grunt to keep occupants entertained. It stands as a more refined package with an attention to detail largely missed by both
the mighty Hemi and the visceral Lightning, and minus the outlaw-biker image conveyed to many once Harley-Davidson badges make an appearance.


Conclusions

2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS
The Silverado SS is a limited production model created to offer truck buyers the aggressive looks, improved handling and high-performance usual reserved for those individuals that spend thousands of dollars on aftermarket upgrades to give their truck a show-quality, custom look. It represents the first of a line of SS models set to appear in the next few months, including 2004 models of the Impala and Monte Carlo (the latter equipped with a supercharger). This trend towards factory specials is spreading throughout the automotive industry, offering buyers no-fuss styling and performance modifications that set the vehicle apart, while still offering full warranty protection. Anything designed to be both improved and hassle-free sounds good to me, and I bet that a lot of other consumers will embrace the idea, which should go a long way towards helping spike a rather flat automotive sales curve.


Technical Data: 2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS

Base price $53,100
Price as tested $54,485
Type 4-door, 5-passenger, 1/2-ton, extended cab, short box (AWD) pickup
Layout longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 6.0-litre OHV H.O. V8
Horsepower 345 @ 5200 rpm
Torque 380 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission Hydra-Matic 4L85-E 4spd automatic
Curb weight 1290 kg (2843 lb.)
Tow rating 3,405 kg (7,500 lbs)
Payload 676 kg (1,490 lbs)
Wheelbase 3645 mm (143.5 in.)
Length 5784 mm (227.7 in.)
Width 2363 mm (93.1 in.)
Height 1834 mm (72.2 in.)
Cargo box length 1998 mm (78.7″)
Cargo box width 1529 mm (64.8″)
Traction control all-wheel-drive (viscous coupled) all-speed
Brakes power, 4-wheel disc with anti-lock braking system (ABS)
Fuel consumption City: 17.8 l/100 km (16 mpg)
  Hwy: 13.1 l/100 km (22 mpg)
Fuel Premium unleaded
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km

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