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Is a savings of one mile per gallon even worth thinking about?  Consumers will probably be pondering that question as they consider the XFE option when shopping for their next full-size truck.  GM was kind enough to give us a little time with their new-for-2009 Silverado XFE, so we in turn tore around town with it to see if the option had nerfed the truck, or made any difference whatsoever.

Read on past the jump for our hands-on experiences and a few photos.

Theory

With an eye on fuel economy the guys at GM decided to improve the normal Silverado (read: not the hybrid system) by maximizing what they had. They concentrated on three areas: mechanical, aerodynamics, and mass.

The first and arguably biggest change was in the mechanical section: They tweaked the rear-axle ratio in the new XFE, so it’s 3.08 instead of the tried and true 4.11 setup favored in years past. Though some may cock an eyebrow at the decision, GM feels confident the truck will speak for itself and hold up to the Silverado’s tough working pedigree. GM says the 6L80 automatic six-speed transmission in the XFE will also help fuel efficiency. It functions exactly like the standard four-gear auto tranny, but with better top-end gears to help balance the energy cost of running at highway speed.

Next, GM looked into the aerodynamics. The truth is that a full-sized truck is about as aerodynamic as a brick, and it’s never going to be a Ferrari; but that doesn’t mean it has to be a school bus either. So they lowered the suspension 17mm, slapped on a tonneau cover out back, and slightly reworked the front air dam — subtle changes to be sure, but every little bit helps.

After the mechanical and aerodynamic adjustments, the next stop is mass — make it lighter. A lighter vehicle requires less energy to move, so the XFE went on a diet. The FlexFuel 5.3L V8 received an aluminum block, and the 18” rims are aluminum, as well as the lower control arms and spare wheel, for a total slim-down of around 150 pounds.

What does all this fat-trimming and efficiency really boil down to?  GM says you can expect to see about one more mile per gallon for both city and highway — instead of 14 city and 20 highway, you’ll be getting 15 city and 21 highway.

Read on to page two for our test.

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8 Responses to Hands-On: GM’s 2009 Silverado XFE

  1. Zathrus says:

    I thought tests showed that a tonneau cover actually reduced fuel efficiency slightly… since the aerodynamics didn’t improve enough to justify the extra weight.

  2. Chuck Cage says:

    @Zathrus: That’s what the Mythbusters say. Interestingly, I overheard this come up at GM, and one of the engineers said (paraphrased), “We have wind tunnel data to back up our inclusion of the tonneau.” Which to believe: Mythbusters drove-it-around-the-track-’till-it-ran-out-of-gas data or GM’s claim of wind tunnel results? Tough call.

    I figure that if it actually hurt the truck’s mileage, GM wouldn’t have included it. They really went out of their way to find a little difference MPG-wise in the XFE, even resorting to use of aluminum in some places to save a few pounds. And in the end, the truck’s EPA-determined MPG is up a bit.

    But FWIW, I’d personally base my buying decision on the MPG — and more importantly whether I like the package or not, appearance and all. I personally dislike truck tonneaus, so it’s an easy call for me. (Though I do like the slightly lower — but not enough to cause clearance problems — stance and the extended-down nose.) Sean, on the other hand, loves tonneaus. He’d probably spring for the package just because he likes the looks.

    In short, YMM (not) V, but your tastes probably do. 🙂

  3. Barri says:

    I have just purchased a 09 truck and i tested every truck i could get my hands on. I was ready to go for the nissan titan as it was such a bargain with current sales. worked out to 45% off invoice. But i then had the luck of testing a 09 f150 and boy ohh boy the truck just made every other truck feel like a toy. The improvements they have made on the 09 are amazing and the features the truck has cant be touched by any other auto maker. The only trucks i wernt impressed by was the Chevy and Dodge. The Toyota’s wernt bad but just couldnt match the ford in anyway after i drove the 09. Also the ford has the sync system which is without doubt the best audio/nav center on the market bar none.

  4. Clark F says:

    Its cool GM is putting this amount of effort into bumping truck mpg, but I think if I were to buy a newer truck to replace my ’93 Silverado (still less then 100k, so it wont be going anywhere anytime soon), Id go with a diesel. You just cant beat the fuel efficiency and power you get with a diesel. Just look at how many manufacturers, European and American alike are moving towards diesels. Its a greater initial cost, but reliability and longevity of the engines is hard to ignore.

    Of course, all fuel mileage claims are out the door when those ATS twin turbos arrive at the door…

  5. Remarksman says:

    I spent some time researching trucks this spring because I’d like to replace my 1996 Chevy K-1500 (Silverado) with something smaller (to fit in the garage better) and more fuel efficient. Also, I have downsized from a 5000 lb trailer to a 2500 lb one. I still want to be able to carry 2 motorcycles at once AND tow the trailer.
    The offerings were pretty disappointing.
    Full-size trucks are wider than they were 12 years ago (a major fit issue is width).
    Full-size MPG is a bit better than 12 years ago. I average 14, and it looks like 2008 Silverado with the variable cylinder switching should get that up to 17.
    The biggest disappointment for me is that there are no longer any real “small” trucks, as all the manufacturers have moved to “mid-sized.” Many of them are nearly as wide as my 96 full-size truck. The towing and hauling capabilities are only somewhat less than quarter-ton trucks, but the gas mileage is hardly any better. Toyota Tacoma’s get the best mileage of the mid-sized trucks, which in the V-6 automatic model is 16 city/20 hwy. That really doesn’t seem “mid-sized” compared with the Silverado’s 15 city/20 hwy.
    The Chevy Colorado is the smallest truck available these days, but the I-5 engine appears to be a dog. I wish I could buy a new 2001 Toyota Tacoma today.

  6. Chris Byrne says:

    Actually, I’d think the extra few hundred would be worth it for the tonneau cover, the aluminum bits, and VERY important for the coming econazi revolution, the upgraded fuel system plumbing (ethanol rots out “normal” fuel systems).

    Even if you don’t WANT to use E85, there’s a very good chance the econazis will manage to force it on us in the future, and it’d be nice to have a fuel system that can handle it.

    Also, in many states, flexfuel vehicles can use HOV lanes, and get tax credits.

    The only major issue I can see, is if it messes with towing. The change to 3.08 final drive concerns me.

  7. Chuck Cage says:

    @Chris, re 3.08 final drive: I had the same feeling and asked about it as well. GM’s response is that the new 6-speed auto (6L80E) plus some creative programming make up for it. After seeing what an aftermarket transmission controller and programming changes (made by us) did to our 4L80E in Project Yukon, I could see the point. Though we didn’t tow with the XFE, we did see a number of other people give it a go with no complaints.

  8. Zathrus says:

    @Chuck — oh, I’ll believe GM, even though I really like Mythbusters. Some of their testing methods really aren’t that good, and GM could certainly tweak the aerodynamics to make it worthwhile.

    I don’t own a truck, so I don’t have a real opinion on the thing, although I suspect it boils down to what you haul regularly. If you’re using it as a glorified car or hauling stuff that fits under the cover, it probably makes sense. Otherwise it’s probably more of a PITA than anything else.

    And while the Silverado may not be the best truck right now, certainly the ideas being implemented in this model kick ass. It’s this kind of thing that we need to see more of on all kinds of cars — sure, it’s not much improvement in gas mileage, but it’s also not much $$$ and without giving up any functionality.

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