Review and photos by
Jil McIntosh, Autos.ca
If there’s anything General Motors has learned from the tough times it faced in the past, it’s that you need to spend the money where it counts. So while the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD (heavy-duty) is a new model, you’ll probably say it doesn’t look much different from the 2010 version, apart from a new domed hood and chrome bumpers. That’s because the cash was channelled into the stuff that really matters on a heavy-duty: beefier frame, stronger suspension and more diesel power. It worked: the new model was named Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year for 2011.
The 6.0-litre gasoline V8 carries over, making 360 horsepower and 380 lb.-ft. of torque, but my tester was powered by the big news, a new 6.6-litre Duramax turbodiesel producing 397 horsepower and 765 lb.-ft. of torque. The block is the same as last year’s oil-burner, a 6.6-litre making 365 horsepower and 660 lb.-ft. of twist, but the guts are new, providing more power, quieter operation, and what GM says is improved fuel economy. We’ll have to take the company’s word on it, since the 2500 HD is large enough that published fuel figures aren’t available, but I noticed a considerable difference between this truck and one I’d driven in the past.
When Chevrolet first announced that new 765-torque benchmark – and the Detroit Three keep that magic number quiet to the absolute last second – the company leapfrogged over Dodge, which had revealed 650 lb.-ft. for its Ram Heavy-Duty, and Ford, which had subsequently grabbed bragging rights with the Super Duty’s 735 lb.-ft. It turned goofy after that as the Torque Wars started, with Ford retrofitting an upgrade to 800 lb.-ft. Ram countered, also going to 800 lb.-ft. and announcing a 10,296-kg (22,700-pound) towing capacity with its “High-Output Cummins.” (Heavy-duty trucks are strictly domestic; none of the Japanese automakers offer anything larger than a half-ton.)
Suffice to say that once it gets up into that territory, it’s about measurement all right, but the tape measure is assessing something other than the truck. The diesel Silverado 2500 and single-rear-wheel 3500 will tow a maximum of 5,897 kg (13,000 lbs), while the dual-wheel 3500 will go as high as 7,711 kg (17,000 lbs) on a ball hitch. For a fifth-wheel, you’re looking at a maximum of 8,074 kg (17,800) with single wheels and 9,843 kg (21,700 lbs) with the 3500 dually. Of course, it isn’t so much the pulling power, since a truck can haul just about anything. At a Ford demonstration event I pulled almost 36,000 kg of construction equipment; the problem was that I couldn’t have stopped it. Towing and payload are really all about braking and handling, and if you’re genuinely moving the highest possible numbers around on a regular basis, it’s probably time to start prowling the lots for used versions of the now-defunct Chevrolet Kodiak and GMC Topkick.
The 2500 HD is configured in regular, extended and crew cab, in two- or four-wheel drive, and in WT (work truck), LT and LTZ trim, with the lowest tag starting at $35,735. My crew cab 4×4, in top-line LTZ trim, started at $55,005 and soared to $70,080, which included $9,670 for the diesel engine and $1,445 for the corresponding Allison six-speed automatic transmission (Ram remains the only heavy-duty to offer a manual transmission with a diesel engine). Should you be able to find the fuel, the engine can run on B20 biodiesel.
Along with the new engine, the Silverado also receives a new fully-boxed frame with higher payload capacity and pre-drilling for a fifth-wheel hitch, larger rear suspension with wider leaf springs, bigger brakes, and a stronger front independent suspension that now accommodates an available snow plough prep package on all models. The ride height can also be adjusted when the plough is removed or attached. A new exhaust brake system works really well and helps extend the life of the brake pads; hill start assist is also added for 2011.
I’ve driven all of the heavy-duty offerings, both empty and working, and overall, I think GM’s Duramax-Allison is the best engine-transmission combination of the three. If it’s been a while since you’ve driven a diesel, things have certainly changed. There still is a glow-plug light on the dash, but unless you’re really way up in the permafrost regions, you’ll probably never need to see it. Southern Ontario was experiencing a cold snap the week I had the truck, but it started like a gasoline engine – in fact, a remote starter is optional on the LT and standard on LTZ trim. The engine is a stump-puller, doing its job efficiently and with a meaty growl that isn’t excessively loud as was the case with diesels in the past. The six-speed is the ideal mate, shifting smoothly in automatic mode, and toggling between gears via a switch on the column-mounted lever when in manual mode. In a week of driving the truck unloaded, I averaged 16.5 L/100 km (17 mpg Imp).
To meet emissions standards, the Silverado uses diesel emissions fluid, a urea additive. The tank is sized to average about 8,000 kilometres between fill-ups, which means that for most owners, it will be done by the shop during oil changes. Should it be necessary to fill it yourself, it’s a simple operation. Ford also uses a urea additive, while Ram forgoes the liquid and employs a special filter and EGR system. The Silverado gives you ample warning, but should you continue to run without refilling the system, the truck will limit its top speed, first to 89 km/h when it’s very low and then to a mere 7 km/h when it’s empty.
I drove the Silverado HD back in 2006, and at the time noted a choppy ride when the truck was empty. The new suspension makes all the difference: this time out, even with nothing more than a single passenger to weigh it down, the ride was smooth and compliant. It certainly doesn’t feel like a heavy-duty truck.
The base WT trim line is really a work truck, with steel wheels, wind-up windows, manual mirrors and vinyl flooring, although it does come with standard air conditioning, electronic stability control, chrome bumpers and variable intermittent wipers, and its seats can be ordered in vinyl or cloth. The LT, undoubtedly the volume seller, adds several convenience features, while the LTZ ramps it up: weight-distributing trailer hitch platform with dash-mounted controller, fog lights, power-folding mirrors, polished aluminum wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming mirrors and heated leather seats. The chairs are very comfortable and on the crew cab, the rear seat cushions fold up for extra inside cargo space.
The Silverado’s interior was a show-stopper when it was first introduced, since it provided a substantial upgrade over the cheap cabin upon which the automaker had coasted for so long. It now looks dull and dated when put up against its Ford and Ram rivals, but I’m willing to forgive it. There was only so much money to redo this truck, and as I mentioned before, it was spent in the right places.
About the only thing I won’t overlook is the set of climate controls, which uses tiny buttons to set the mode, and slightly larger buttons that must be tapped to increase or decrease the temperature. These mini-controls not only take too much time away from the road when you’re trying to find them, but they’re almost impossible to operate when you’re wearing work gloves. Everything else on the truck is big and imposing, and the knobs for the heater should be as well.
Getting into the consumer’s mind to rate a pickup truck is a tough call, for two reasons. First, there is such a wide range of intentions for the truck, from hauling full loads to work every day, to using it simply as a big car. Secondly, only the Camaro-Mustang-Challenger crowd comes close to the intense brand loyalty shown by those who will only consider a GM, Ford or Ram truck. All three are extremely worthy trucks, and in the last little while, very little has separated them. This time around, I’m going to give it to the Silverado by a nose, for its extremely well-done diesel engine and transmission, which are exceptional whether you’re towing a trailer or just scooting to the store. It may not have had a ton of money to throw around, but GM certainly spent it in the right place.
Pricing: 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD Crew Cab 4×4 LTZ
Base price: $55,005
Options: $14,975 (6.6-litre Duramax diesel engine, $9,670; six-speed Allison automatic transmission, $1,445; power sunroof, $1,325; deluxe wide-load exterior mirrors, $75; LTZ Convenience Package of garage door opener, power-adjustable pedals and rear parking assist, $730; tailgate package, $125; 18-inch all-terrain tires, $295; high idle switch, $250; rearview camera system, $565; trailer wiring provisions, $55; off-road chassis equipment, $440)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $71,530
Crash test results