1998 Chevrolet C/K

By November 10, 1999
1998 Chevrolet C/K

The full-size pickup market has something for everybody: The Dodge Ram has the macho, big-rig look, a monster 8.0-liter V10 and an earth-moving Cummins turbodiesel. The Ford F-Series has aerodynamic styling, modern, overhead-cam engines and a big diesel. The Chevrolet and GMC pickups offer traditional styling and traditional, powerful V8 engines. This is enough variety to bridge the gap from Montana to Hollywood.

The Chevy C/K and GMC Sierra trucks are mechanically identical. They differ only in badging, trim and minor details. Both offer every imaginable combination of cab size, bed length, powerplant or drivetrain your heart desires.

Selecting one, therefore, often requires spending some time poring over product brochures and talking to the local Chevy or GMC dealer. We drove a Chevrolet C1500 Silverado, but nearly everything here also applies to the equivalent GMC model.

With a major redesign coming next year, little is new for 1998. An anti-theft system, called PassLock, is now available. Three new colors are offered. And GM has refined the already proven mechanicals: automatic transmissions have some durability enhancements, half-shafts on 4WD models have improved serviceability, tires on the 1500 models have been selected for improved fuel economy.


Chevrolet’s C/K pickups are available in three sizes, or duty ranges: 1500, 2500 and 3500. Regular cabs and extended cabs are available in all three ranges, but the four-door crew cab is offered only in the 3500 size. Extended cab trucks can be ordered with a third door, which opens on the passenger side and allows easier access to the rear seat. There are two cargo bed lengths, 6.5 and 8.0 feet. The shorter length is available in Chevy’s stylish Sportside body with a narrower bed flanked by protruding fenders and steps.

Three trim levels are available: bare bones W/T (for Work Truck), Cheyenne and Silverado. (GMC’s are SL, SLE and SLT.) Four-wheel drive is available for all models. (C/K, by the way, stands for the drive configuration. A C1500 is 2WD, a K1500 is 4WD. Few people remember that, so the C/K designation is expected to be dropped next year.) For super heavy-duty hauling, dual rear wheels are available on the 3500 series.

Engine choices are plentiful. All the gasoline engines are called Vortec, for the technology applied to their intake, fuel injection and engine management systems. The base engine is a 4.3-liter V6 with a balance shaft for smoother running; it’s a willing runner and makes an impressive 200 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft. of torque — more than the V8s of just a few years ago. The next step up is a 5.0-liter V8, with 230 hp and 285 lb.-ft. of torque — more than enough for most light- to medium-duty work. Then comes the 5.7-liter V8, a real worker with 255 hp and 330 lb.-ft. of torque — this is probably the best all-around choice for most buyers, especially those who will be pulling medium-weight trailers. Above that is the big tuna, the 7.4-liter V8 with 290 hp and 410 lb.-ft. of torque — if this big block, as it’s known, doesn’t get the job done, you don’t have an engine problem, you have a personality disorder. There are also a couple of 6.5-liter V8 turbodiesels: The normal duty version is rated at 180 hp and 360 lb.-ft. of torque, while the heavy duty version is rated at 195 hp and a rock-hauling 430 lb.-ft. of torque.

Five-speed manual and 4-speed automatic transmissions are available. All Chevy and GMC full-size pickups are fitted with anti-lock brakes (ABS) as standard equipment. All but the heaviest trucks (more than 8600 pounds GVWR or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) have GM’s Next Generation airbags for both driver and front-seat passenger. The optional four-wheel drive is a shift-on-the-fly type that allows engagement from 2WD to 4WD while under way.

Our Chevy fell somewhere in the great middle ground: An extended cab 1500, with 2WD, 5.7-liter V8, automatic transmission and Silverado trim level. Not the biggest, not the smallest, but one of the more popular and we liked it. It offers a GVWR of 6800 pounds and a trailer towing capacity of 7000 pounds.

Most people choose the automatic transmission, which we recommend for full-size pickups. Modern automatics are smooth and reliable and eliminate the cost of replacing worn synchronizers, gears and clutches.

Interior Features

Facing the driver is an instrument panel that’s easy to use and convenient. Ventilation is handled well, instruments are easy to read, and all controls are within reach and work logically. There are plenty of places for odds and ends and the clever cupholder doesn’t get in the way of any controls.

Behind the driver is a bench seat that takes three, but they’ll be happier if the trip doesn’t cross too many state lines. The rear seat flips up, leaving a nice, flat floor for stowing an ice chest or tool box. Not all extended cab pickups offer the convenience of flat floors in the rear, and stowing a tool box in one with curvy floors is a real hassle.

The third door increases versatility and enhances access to the rear for tossing in things or giving access to passengers or pooches. It can’t be opened unless the regular door on that side is opened first, a logical safety feature. The third door is one of those features of modern life that has caught on in a big way, like the fourth door on minivans, and now we can’t imagine getting a full-size extended cab pickup without it.

Driving Impressions

You’re going to be in for a disappointment if you expect a truck to ride like a car. Then again, you’ll be in for a bigger disappointment if you try to tow a 7000-pound trailer or haul hay bales with a car. Our Chevy Silverado was no luxury sedan, but its ride quality was perfectly acceptable. We drove it around Southern California where concrete freeways with regular pavement mismatches are particularly onerous. At certain speeds the truck got out of synch with this type of pavement making it feel like we were in a jiggle machine. Slowing down or speeding up usually cured the problem. It’s a problem that all pickups have when empty. Throw some weight in back and the ride smoothes right out.

Few places are better than the front seat of a big pickup for long interstate treks. The big Chevy is roomy, comfortable and powerful, offering plenty of room to stretch out. You sit high over the traffic and watch the world go by through those big windows. It’s not a bad way to travel.

Handling is a term with different meanings for sports cars, compact sedans and trucks. Good steering feel and rock-solid directional stability are what you want in a truck, and the Chevy Silverado exhibits these in spades. Point it where you want and it stays headed there. A long wheelbase means nimbleness and maneuverability in a crowded parking lot are not strong suits for a pickup truck. But out on the highway the big Chevy rides straight and true.


What struck us most about the Chevy pickup was the always-present torque of the 5.7-liter Vortec V8; it flat gets the job done and with reasonable fuel economy. Aside from that, the Chevy and GMC pickups offer buyers a traditional styling alternative to the he-man Dodge and the artful Ford. The Chevy and GMC trucks are scheduled to be redesigned for 1999. While the traditional look of this year’s models has been around a while, it hasn’t grown old. It remains contemporary, neat and clean. From a styling standpoint, people who customize their trucks seem to prefer the tidy, unpretentious look of the Chevy and GMC models. We like it, too.

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