GM updated its heavy-duty pickup truck line in 2011 with a host of mechanical upgrades, but now the interior and exterior styling has been thoroughly upgraded.
|1. Engine: 6.6-liter Diesel with 765 lb-ft of torque and 397 hp.
2. Transmission: Allision 1000 Six-Speed Auto.
3. Max tow ratings: 23,200 lbs. fifth-wheel tow, 7,374 lbs. payload, 19,600 lbs. rear hitch.
4. Price: Starts at $32,405. Tested at $66,160.
A new look wraps the Silverado and Sierra HDs, but like all Chevy pickups, it relies on evolutionary styling and remains rather conservative. Most of the truck's looks come straight from the half-tons, just like the innards, but there are a few key differences.
The first, and most obvious, are the two thick chrome bars that now adorn the grille of the Chevrolet HD. Although the front end appears to have more flat metal pushing through the air, this truck is actually more aerodynamic than the previous generation.
As for the GMC, the truck looks like a larger half-ton, that is to say, they look almost identical except for size.
And one last nice touch, the Duramax badges fitted to the hood have been redesigned and now rise off the hood a good quarter-inch, giving the diesel-powered trucks a chiselled badge.
Engine and transmission choices carry over from the old trucks, which isn’t a bad thing. Chevrolet arranged a head-to-head comparison in the hills of Arizona against both a Cummins-powered Ram heavy duty and a Ford Super Duty with the 6.7-liter Power Stroke and GM's HD ran away from the other two while climbing up a six-percent grade.
The 6.6-liter Duramax diesel still makes 765 lb-ft of torque and 397 hp and is mated exclusively to an Allison 1000 six-speed transmission. The base engine, which tends to be less popular, is a 6.0-liter gasoline V8 that puts out 360 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque. Chevy says that it mostly sells those trucks to fleet buyers interested in base trim trucks, as anyone interested in doing any especially heavy towing simply must bump up to the diesel.
Brake pedal feel has been improved and offers confidence-inspiring stopping power. The top of the pedal travel feels light, with the meat of the pedal being found halfway down with progressively increasing resistance. Heavy-duty trucks tend to have touchy brakes and Chevrolet did a splendid job of avoiding that without giving up the feeling of serious stopping power.
Chevy also upgraded its auto-grade braking system to better control weight on the hills. It works by through the Allison transmission and the diesel exhaust brake to hold the truck at a constant speed while traveling downhill. During testing, the grade braking proved to be well set up and always capable of holding the truck at the desired speed, even with a 13,000-lb trailer hooked up to the back.
The updated exhaust brake, which is actually a variable vane turbocharger that acts as an exhaust brake, is among the quietest in any HD. It is also manually controllable, with a toggle switch on the center stack to activate it.
Uphill slogs are helped by the addition of hill-hold assist, which keeps the truck from rolling backwards when starting on an incline and is calibrated – like everything else on this truck – to hold back tons of weight… Literally. While I didn’t have the chance to tow with the truck at its maximum capacity, it felt strong enough with the trailer I did have to expect it would be totally capable of its rating.
The last update that actually changes the operation of the truck is a revised steering feel, which like the brake pedal is quite progressive. At the center, there is a large dead zone, which is actually too large for my taste, but as you turn into it provides more feedback, and mid-turn it feels solid.
Now, as mentioned, the interior of the HDs comes straight out of the new half-ton pickups and just like in those trucks, it makes these heavy duties very hospitable places to spend long trips. Chevy's MyLink infotainment works well and is paired to a responsive eight-inch touchscreen, while connectivity is plentiful with five USB ports, three 12-volt charge ports and one 120-volt three-prong outlet.
The steering wheel-mounted controls have a tactile feeling thanks to the rubber that coats them and the 4.2-inch color info display between the gauges is simple to leaf through and understand. Another thoughtful addition comes to the info screen this year, a diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) fluid meter. It is calculated in percentage, and the truck will begin warning you about low DEF 1,000 miles before it is time to fill up. It’s also worth noting that the tank is designed to be re-filled in conjunction with regular oil changes. The filler cap is underneath the hood, and isn’t particularly hard to get to, but it would be nice for it to be beside the fuel tank like in the competition.
Interior changes aren't just cosmetic, as the rear seat has been made bigger, and the cab configurations have changed slightly this year. GM is replacing the old extended cab model with what it calls the new double cab, eliminating the suicide doors in favor of new front-hinged doors. The crew cab is the other model that grows, gaining two-inches of legroom, which provides a huge backseat.
Two new bed configurations, a 6.5- and eight-foot version are now available, and they are fitted with the latest in bed tech from the general, including bumper integrated steps, LED lights in the bed, and a spray-on bed liner available right from the factory.
Thanks to aerodynamic improvements, new inlaid doors and added sound deadening, this is the quietest GM HD yet, and it is also the quietest compared to the competition. It does get rid of some of the classic diesel rumble that many of us so enjoy, but you can't complain about the quiet ride.
Hundreds of miles melt away behind the wheel of this truck, even with 13,000 lbs hitched up to the fifth wheel. That is about half of the truck's 23,200 pound fifth-wheel tow rating, and it feels light on the back. Pushing that weight to the limit likely wouldn't elicit any worry either, or that is at least how confident this pickup felt while towing.
As for payload, the GM HDs can handle 7,374 pounds, while the trucks are rated to pull 19,600 on the rear hitch. Nothing we threw at the truck seemed to upset its powertrain or handling.
Base pricing stays almost stagnant for the trucks, starting at $32,405, a nice touch considering the new content. Some packages in the higher trim levels have jumped up by a larger margin, again because these trucks are packed with more technology than ever before.
For example, the four-wheel drive Silverado 3500 LTZ used to tow the trailer mentioned above costs $66,160 as tested, including delivery.
The combination of a great interior along with a quiet and comfortable ride brings the Silverado's already stellar powertrain into the modern era. Rather than catching up to the pack, it leap frogs the fray to become the segment’s best.