Chevrolet & GMC Heavy Duty Trucks Reviews & Test Drives

Chevrolet+%26+GMC+Heavy+Duty+Trucks+%282%29 Chevrolet & GMC Heavy Duty Trucks Reviews & Test Drives
Trucks have always been where the money is. The most profitable end of the automotive business, manufacturers have long considered them the sacred cow. But lately an especially intense war has been brewing as high fuel prices have kept casual users out of the heavy duty truck picture, allowing automakers to focus on their core audiences. General Motors invited us to check out its latest hauling weapons: The GMC Sierra HD and the Chevrolet Silverado HD.

Let’s see how they add up in this increasingly competitive field.

Ford recently debuted their new 2011 F-Series Super Duty trucks with an available in-house developed 6.7-liter diesel engine that produces 390 horsepower and 735 lb-ft. of torque, but GM followed shortly thereafter with even more twist. But are the numbers enough to lead the pack?

Biggest of the big
With the General getting out of the commercial-only TopKick and Kodiak medium to heavy-duty segment, the Sierra and Silverado HD trucks are as big as the Detroit automaker offers. Available in a variety of configurations including longbed, short bed, dually and chassis/cab, these twin sons of different mothers can be built to satisfy almost any need. Usually thought of as the most expensive tool in the toolbox, the big truck had better be reliable as well.

New on the scene for 2011 is the addition of a Sierra Denali HD for GMC fans who want a little lux in their truck. It’s available only as a Crew Cab, with all the bells and whistles a buyer could want. Options are numerous and include such items as a full leather interior with ventilated and heated seats, adjustable foot pedals, polished aluminum and wood trim throughout the cabin, a navigation system and an XM Satellite radio with USB ports. Not just a poseur, it is equipped with all the strong bits of kit that yield towing ability up to 21,700 pounds. More on that later.

And in the other corner….
The Sierra and Silverado HDs compete directly with Ford’s F-250 and F-350 Super Duty trucks. To a lesser degree, you can add the Dodge Ram Heavy Duty 2500 and 3500 models, but the Rams lack in brute underhood muscle for extreme use.

Despite their best efforts to take on Detroit’s half-ton pickups, Toyota and Nissan have stayed out of the heavy duty arena.

Upgrades
Both Chevrolet and GMC HDs are available with an optional Autonet Mobile Wi-Fi system that turns the Silverado and Sierra into mobile hot spots for up to 150 feet of secured wireless online connectivity. Usable with any laptop, it does not require the use of a wireless keyboard and in-dash monitor with the on-board system like Ford’s setup. Dodge also offers WiFi hot spot ability.

Add to this a button-activated exhaust braking system, which in addition to the braking assists that it is already known for, manages to extend the life of the brake pads in areas where a fair amount of driving up and down hills occurs. Tested extensively in the Rocky Mountains during GM’s development of its big trucks, the system was inspired by a myriad of aftermarket offerings.

Beauty is skin deep
The twins we refer to are virtually identical under the skin. The deciding factor between the two will likely boil down to who offers the best price or best dealership experience rather than brand allegiance.

Although both are brutish, and feature the power bulges on the hood for added engine clearance, we might opt for the more manly look of front and rear fascia on the GMC Sierra. Beyond that, they both share the flared out fenders (more-so when ordering the dually-equipped version) and short and long box beds, and tailgates.

Both trucks are visually very similar to their lesser Sierra and Silverado brethren, except they’ve been given the expected dose of styling steroids to complement their underhood grunt.

Several levels of trim are available on both, including everything from fabric seats all the way to wood trim and full-blown cow in the Denali. Like the non-HD Silverado and Sierra, two dashboards are offered depending on trim level. The dashboard in standard configuration features various cubbyholes and largish knobs, but order the high-zoot models (LTZ in Chevrolet-speak and SLT in GMC-speak) and you’ll get faux wood and an almost Cadillac-like design. Down on the centerstack of both is a pair of 12-volt power ports. Having two enables a cellphone charger and say, a radar detector or laptop, but we’d really like the addition of a useful 120-watt household outlet as well.

Large grab handles are nearly everywhere to assist entry and egress. The rear seating area of the Crew Cab is limo-like in size and offers the bonus of flip up rear seats for added cargo room. The rear seats do their best to keep everyone in place and managed to keep fatigue at bay, even after a two-hour drive.

Power and then some
Standard power on the HD’s is the Vortec 6.0-liter gas V8 with variable valve timing. A new, strengthened version of the Hydra-Matic 6L90 six-speed automatic transmission transfers the 360 horsepower and 380 lb-ft. of torque to the rear axle.

The V8 is fine and dandy for light purpose users (who might be better off with a regular Sierra or Silverado, anyway), but the real purpose of the HD line is to pull, push and haul things.

That’s where the 6.6-liter Duramax Turbo Diesel comes in. Beefed up for 2011, this game of one-upmanship, sees the Duramax besting Ford’s Power Stroke V8 by seven ponies to 397 horsepower, and 30 lb-ft. of torque to 765 lb-ft. of twist. Boosted by a single turbocharger, it also uses a urea additive that is commercially known as AdBlue, which sees diesel emissions reduced by the time they exit the larger than life tailpipe. GM puts a range of about 5,000 miles between refills.

The Duramax is linked to a new Allison 1000 six-speed automatic transmission. Working with tap up, tap down shifting on the stalk of the gear lever, drivers can select the gearing of their choice. At the end of the stalk is the button that activates the tow/haul system. With paddle shift levers popping up in everything from econoboxes to luxury SUVs, we look forward to the day they find their way into a heavy duty truck – aside from being a snazzy bragging point, they offer the added benefit of not having to remove your hands from the wheel to change gears in the mountains.

The Allison transmission works in concert with the HD’s new exhaust braking system, which is operated by a switch on the lower part of the centerstack. While most drivers would use it on occasion, we chose to set it and forget it. While testing on inclines and rolling highways, we observed many other drivers “riding the brakes” on their way down the road. Once the GM system senses negative pedal input (meaning you lift off the accelerator), it goes to work. The end result is extended brake pad life and better braking control. The system works as advertised, greatly reducing the drama involved in bringing a big, honkin’ pickup and its trailer to a quick stop.

Towing capabilities on the HDs range from a maximum conventional towing weight of 17,000 lbs., to a maximum fifth-wheel towing weight of 21,700 lbs. The gross combined weight rating (GCWR) comes in at 29,200 lbs., while the maximum in the bed is 6,635 lbs.

Those are best-in-class figures across the line, besting the Ford offerings by a few bags of concrete. But with figures this high, they’re best used as bragging points at the local watering hole.

My truck is bigger than your truck!

Under-armor
The HDs show off a new fully boxed frame with an independent torsion bar front axle with a gross axle weight rating of 6,000 pounds that is able to handle snowplows and similar fitments in front. The multi-leaf rear spring helps to equalize the ride height when towing or carrying cargo in the bed. Standard equipment for such towing includes StabiliTrak stability control with trailer sway control and hill-start assist.

Driving around and through rolling hills in Western Maryland found us actually enjoying the ride of a big truck. One of the more quiet big rigs, it allowed for a stress free drive that for a while made us forget we were even driving a diesel-powered truck. Not jarring like many trucks, it displayed a confident attitude that, although not BMW-like in its ability to wrap around turns, still gave a feeling of being solidly planted while underway.

Steering felt light in an unladen pickup bed; after adding some lead shot and it seems to find its own level. Add on a modest trailer and the big diesel hardly misses a beat. Simply put, it’s difficult to imagine where trucks will go from here – these GM twins offer all of the capability we want our fellow drivers experiencing.

Why you would buy it:
For now, GM holds bragging rights in the ever-important big truck segment.

Why you wouldn’t:
The last truck you messed around with was yellow and had the name “Tonka” on it.

Leftlane’s bottom line:
On an individual basis, big truck buyers are tough to sway. Most have towed with one brand for as long as they’ve been behind the wheel – and they’re just following in the footsteps of brand-loyal fathers and grandfathers.

But as the Corvette ZR-1 subliminally influences the masses into mundane Malibus, the Silverado and Sierra HD’s best-in-class numbers and ultra-torquey diesel will undoubtedly put more butts in standard Silverados and Sierras. Halo cars come in all shapes and sizes.

Filled with features that help you get through the workday, these GM trucks would definitely be on our final short list for heavy-duty trucks.
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