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The Chevy Silverado Trail Boss Feels Half-Hearted

Road & Track logo Road & Track 4/13/2021 Mack Hogan
a car parked in front of a truck: The Trail Boss is supposed to be the cool, off-road version of the Silverado. But its awkward design and high price dull any appeal. © Mack Hogan The Trail Boss is supposed to be the cool, off-road version of the Silverado. But its awkward design and high price dull any appeal.

The latest generation of GM's pickup launched under full-on assault. All combined, the GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado still comfortably outpace the Ram pickup in sales. But Chevy's decades-long stranglehold on the second-plate sales slot is loosening. Ram claimed a few quarters over the last couple years, upsetting the hierarchy in a famously brand-loyal segment. The core competencies of the Ram speak for themselves. But more than that, GM's attempts to rebut FCA's full-court press seem quite half-hearted.

Because, despite their brand's most important product coming under direct fire from a key rival, the newest generation of Silverado doesn't come off as a truck built with a fire under its a**. There's no big trump card in its deck, no undeniable advantage in towing, refinement, or usability. It offers impressive trailering stats with a lot of technology and cameras to make towing easier, but it still can't best the F-150's maximum trailer weight or top Ford’s simple Pro Trailer Backup Assist. It's softer and quieter than the previous-generation model, but not nearly as refined as the coil-sprung Ram 1500.

So the more time I spend time in segment-defining, groundbreaking GM products like the C8 Corvette and 2021 Escalade, the more the Silverado confounds me. It's not just the lack of exciting innovation or world-beating stats. It's that the Silverado is neither exciting nor pragmatically familiar. It's not cheapest, the most capable, or the thinking man's option. Nor is it the headline-grabber. And while Raptor jumps and TRX drag races flood YouTube feeds, the coolest Silverado that Chevy offers is this, the Trail Boss.

If you're in the off-road truck game purely for curb appeal, you're best served elsewhere. The cartoonish oversized grille is far more aggressive than the rest of the slab-sided design. Worse, the two-inch lift makes the wheels look diminutive in the body’s giant lifted wells. Forget trying to upstage your buddy's Raptor or TRX; the Trail Boss looks wimpy next to even its most direct competitor, the Ram Rebel.

a car parked on the side of a road: 2021 chevy silverado trail boss © Mack Hogan 2021 chevy silverado trail boss

In this case, the cheapest Trail Boss 4x4 undercuts the cheapest Rebel 4x4, but when these trucks are similarly equipped you're looking at extremely similar pricing. And then you notice the Ram has a nicer interior, better technology, better on-road performance, chunkier tires, and better styling. It's got clever cubbies, the Ram Box in-bed storage system, and a bunch of hidden touches to let you know that the people who built it really sweat the small stuff. That dedication to exceptionalism is exactly what's missing in these GM trucks.

Get past the cheap interior and Ram comparisons, and you can see that the Silverado has some great things working for it. Some of GM's truck success must be attributed to the company's long history of building great V-8s. The 6.2-liter in my Custom Trail Boss tester is no exception. Paired with the 10-speed automatic, it's a $1250 upcharge over the 5.3-liter and its six-speed companion. It’s worth the upgrade here, if only to put some brawn behind the Silverado's sinister mug. Plus, with 420 hp, you can channel some of the unstoppable energy that makes the Raptor so intoxicating.

a close up of a car: 2021 chevy silverado trail boss © Mack Hogan 2021 chevy silverado trail boss

You'll have to make do without the macho Ford's general unflappability. Even the cushiest versions of Chevy’s and GMC's current pickup suffer from a lot of body flex and rear-end jitters that unsettle the ride. Here, the soft off-road suspension setup and Rancho monotube shocks do well quelling large bumps but struggle with sharper impacts. The suspension also feels incapable of reigning in minor wheel motions, making the Silverado feel shaky even on seemingly flat pavement.

Departing the pavement, you should benefit from the aforementioned two-inch lift, a locking differential, skid plates, and Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac off-road tires. I wasn't able to take it anywhere beyond a grassy field, but note that the giant dimensions of a full-size truck limit both the Chevy and Ram trail-focused off-roaders. Long wheelbases, wide frames, and cruise ship curb weights are all backcountry banes. Serious trail work is best left to Wranglers and 4Runners. If you need a bed, get a Gladiator. After all, there's a reason that the off-road flagships from Ram and Ford both play toward visions of dune jumping. Trail life just isn't a good fit.

a truck driving down a dirt road: 2021 chevy silverado trail boss © Mack Hogan 2021 chevy silverado trail boss

Of course there's nothing wrong with wanting a cool-looking, capable truck for occasional saunters through mud and ruts. No rule says that you must eviscerate its paint job on a narrow path in order to prove you’re worthy of the Trail Boss moniker. Chevy truck people who just want something simple, reliable, and brawnier than their last truck will surely be satisfied.

It's Chevy that has the problem. Because if the company wants to fend off Ram, it'll have to match or beat that lineup's incredible list of accomplishments. If it wants to catch up with the far-ahead Ford figures, Chevy's gotta do a lot more than that.

a car parked on pavement near a forest: 2021 chevy silverado trail boss © Mack Hogan 2021 chevy silverado trail boss
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