It’s strange to jump into a heavy-duty Chevrolet Silverado after coming out of a long weekend in a Mazda Miata. Even if I hadn’t just spent the previous four nights in one of the smallest cars this side of a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe, driving a heavy-duty pickup requires a separate mindset from our day-to-day evaluations of sedans, crossovers, and SUVs. A heavy-duty truck can’t be judged on the same standards for ride quality, handling, and passing acceleration. In top-spec trim with a crew cab and a long bed, the Silverado HD measures in at 259.1 inches long–or more than 21 feet. To truly evaluate a heavy-duty truck, you need to push it towards its limits with 5906 pounds of payload or a 13,200-pound trailer. Having just one night with the Silverado HD 3500, I didn’t have a chance to load it up with anything more than a tandem bike, which was easily swallowed by the swimming-pool-sized bed.
Ford and Chevy seem to be done with their powertrain one-upping game, but both players would benefit from a battle over interior improvements. The Silverado is marked by its tired dash plastics and a seriously dated navigation system with itty bitty buttons. There’s also room for major improvement with the steering that has all of the tactile feel and feedback of video-game controller. The effort is extremely light and the effort build-up unusually slow just off-center. No one expects a heavy-duty truck to steer with the precision and delight of a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, but addressing the Silverado’s power assist would deliver a big dose of confidence in piloting this truck down the highway. When it comes to the powertrain, though, I have nothing but respect for this Silverado HD 3500. The optional 6.6-liter turbo-diesel V-8 is responsive and powerful at any speed, making light work of the truck’s 7000-plus pounds. It’s aided by a smart six-speed automatic that manages all 765 pound-feet of torque without punishing passengers.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
Chevy has one hell of a powertrain with the Duramax diesel and Allison six-speed automatic transmission. Last summer I towed some impressive loads that ranged from large campers to a piece of heavy equipment in the hills of Maryland and really appreciated the integrated exhaust brake that comes with the Duramax/Allison combination. It was incredibly cool to set cruise control to, say, 65 mph and have the truck climb and descend 5 degree grades with 10,000-12,000 pounds in tow. If you’ve ever towed a trailer down a hill and had a difficult time keeping the rig at your desired speed, you’ll realize the integrated exhaust brake is one of the best safety features to come to light duty pickups in a long time.
Despite this truck’s huge size, it’s fairly easy to drive. You need to pay extra attention when you’re in a tight spot due to the dual rear wheels, but the suspension is surprisingly comfortable for a maxed-out one-ton truck with a diesel engine and no weight in the bed or on the hitch. It’s still much more at home on empty country roads than suburban areas, but it’s amazing how far pickup truck ride quality has come while the maximum payload and towing capacities keep growing.
The Achilles’ heel of this big truck is its interior. Chevy had a choice to make during the truck’s mid-cycle refresh about where to spend the limited development dollars available. Instead of stamping new sheetmetal or revamping the interior, all of that money went into a new frame, revised diesel engine, and better suspension. It’s difficult to distinguish the current truck from the first GMT900 based on the sheetmetal and interior, but if you hook up equal trailers to both trucks and drive them the differences are immediately apparent.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
With few exceptions, people buy giant six-tired, one-ton monsters like this Silverado 3500 HD to work. And work it did during my weekend behind the wheel, although the to-do list I had in store for it certainly paled in comparison to its physical abilities. My wife and I loaded it up several times to move out of our apartment and into our new house, and between moves, were subjected to Mother Nature’s worst, including several inches of rain and a pair (yes, a pair) of funnel clouds forming alongside our route.
The ordeal was exhausting for us, but not the Silverado — considering the behemoth tips the scales at 7094 pounds, can tow 13,200 pounds, and has a payload of 5906 pounds, even our largest single load (two filled filing cabinets, a futon, a couple pieces of exercise equipment, and several boxes packed into the back of the cab) hardly taxed the truck.
At times, the truck did tax me; this is an extremely large vehicle, and it takes some getting used to the fact an eight-foot bed is constantly following you around, not to mention that the rear wheel wells stick out several inches from the body sides. Luckily, the towing-style mirrors with convex “spotting” sections, along with the rear-view camera and the sonar park detection system, aided greatly during tight maneuvers.
As Phil Floraday notes, the Silverado’s interior (as well as those found in any of GM’s full-size trucks) is starting to feel quite dated, but with heated leather-trimmed seats proved to be a comfortable retreat from the world of packing, lifting, and hauling. In fact, since our TV and DVD player were still encased in bubble wrap and packing peanuts, we picked up some take-out Chinese food, popped a DVD into the rear seat entertainment system, and transformed the rear seat into a surrogate living room. The perfect way to end a hectic three days.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 HD Crew Cab 4×4 LTZ
Base price (with destination): $45,940
Price as tested: $60,719
6.0-liter V-8 engine
6-speed HD automatic transmission
HD trailering equipment
HD locking differential
Electronic shift transfer case
Remote keyless entry
17-inch steel wheels
Front tow hooks
Remote vehicle starter
Front fog lamps
Automatic dual-zone climate control
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
Auto-dimming rearview mirror
Power and heated front bucket seats
60/40-split rear seats
AM/FM stereo with CD player
Bose premium speaker system
Steering wheel-mounted radio controls
Tilt steering wheel
Options on this vehicle:
Duramax 6.6-liter turbo-diesel V-8 engine — $7195
Navigation system — $2250
CD/DVD & XM radio
Rear seat entertainment — $1480
Allison 6-speed automatic transmission — $1200
Power sliding sunroof — $995
6-inch tubular chromed assist steps — $689
Rearview camera system — $450
Radiator cover — $55
Key options not on vehicle:
Power sliding rear window — $250
6.6L turbo-diesel V-8
Horsepower: 397 hp @ 3000 rpm
Torque: 765 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm
Curb weight: 7094 lb
Wheels/tires: 17 x 7.5-inch steel wheels
245/75R17 all-season tires