2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD
Power and Efficiency in a Stylish Package
Review and photos by Russell Purcell
The heavy duty pickup category is arguably the most competitive segment in the North American automotive sector, and as a result, the major players -General Motors, Ford and RAM- are locked in a perpetual war for supremacy as each company strives to deliver the most capable and durable truck they can to their hard won, and very loyal, individual base of customers.
Heavy duty pickups are unique in that in reality, these rolling behemoths could be classified as tools, rather than merely a means of transportation. Tradesmen, heavy industry, and fleet buyers make up a large portion of the consumer base in this category, but recreational buyers are also attracted by the prodigious towing and hauling power of these trucks.
For 2011 the Chevrolet Silverado heavy-duty (HD) is all new, and is available in either 3/4 or 1-tonne configuration (2500 and 3500 respectively). There are no less than ten 2500 HD models and eight single- and dual-rear-wheel 3500 HD models, and three trim levels (WT, LT and LTZ). There are three cab configurations for both 2500 and 3500 models- regular, extended and crew cab. Most units are fitted with a long box as standard equipment, but the 2500 is available in both extended and crew cab form with a standard (6 foot) box should you be concerned about space requirements. The 3500 can be fitted with a standard box when ordered in crew cab form, and also has the distinction of being available in a dual-wheel layout (regardless of cab type). As in the past, all models are available in two- or four-wheel drive.
These big rigs possess much of the styling of their half-tonne siblings, but feature all-new frames and an all new chassis (boxed from end to end with stronger cross sections and constructed from higher gauge steel than that used on the previous trucks). This redesign is said to increase torsional stiffness, and when partnered with hydraulic body mounts, provides greater vibration control.
I recently had the opportunity to drive a 2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD 2500 from Calgary to Vancouver to test its comfort and handling, and must admit that I came away impressed. My truck was a crew cab long box model fitted with the surprisingly quiet 6.6-litre Duramax turbo-diesel engine, six-speed Alison transmission, and four-wheel-drive.
The base model comes equipped with Chevrolet’s proven 6.0-litre gasoline engine, but most Heavy Duty buyers will select the Duramax diesel option ($9,670). This all-new engine offers big torque, extended range, and better fuel economy than its gasoline counterpart. The standard 6.0-litre gasoline engine is rated at 360 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque, while the 6.6-litre Duramax fitted to my test truck generated a healthy 397 hp and a whopping 765 lb-ft of torque.
The ride was refined even when travelling on irregular road surfaces at triple digit speeds without any weight in the back. A late summer rainfall made for slick roads, but the truck’s new tires and revised suspension (front and rear) helped minimize tail-wagging and axle-hop, and enhanced traction over previous models. And that isn’t all that’s bigger and stronger – suspension and brake components have been beefed up to handle the added loads.
My test vehicle was the longest pickup I had ever driven, so I was happy to see it had proximity sensors mounted in the rear bumper, as well as a rear view camera system which projected its image through a very clear screen hidden within the rear view mirror. Large, dual-pane side mirrors kept me aware of my surroundings and could be extended manually should you need to monitor a trailer. I must admit that visibility over the long hood posed a problem when parking, making me curious as to why proximity sensors aren’t also offered for the front of the vehicle. In a vehicle this big and tall, any device that can improve on visibility or help alleviate the level of stress that often comes with navigating it into tight spaces is worth the extra expense at purchase.
The truck featured leather seating surfaces, Bluetooth and OnStar capabilities, an excellent audio system and the majority of power accessories offered, making for a comfortable and almost serene driving experience.
A locomotive for the road
I arranged to shoot the truck at 3 Valley Gap, a storied mountain resort located just west of Revelstoke, B.C. The initial plan was to use the facility’s storied ghost town exhibit as a backdrop, but when the weather didn’t cooperate I had the chance to roll the Silverado into the 3 Valley Gap Roundhouse. I can safely say that I was the first person to put a 2011 Silverado HD on a turntable. Surrounded by historic train cars and a locomotive, the Silverado didn’t look out of place due to its sheer size.
Buyers looking to embrace the idea of piloting a train by pulling a trailer will appreciate that Duramax-equipped trucks now feature an easy to use exhaust brake. At the touch of a dash-mounted switch the exhaust brake is activated. It uses the turbine control of the turbocharger and the compression of the engine to generate backpressure, which in turn is able to slow the descending truck without applying the brakes. This clever system is integrated with the cruise control, and will automatically vary braking forces based on the steepness of the grade and the weight of the load.
GM’s proven StabiliTrak electronic stability control is also onboard and has been optimized for towing duty as Trailer Sway Control capabilities are now integrated within its program. Hill Start Assist, four wheel anti-lock brakes, and improved brake pedal calibration all serve to inspire confidence in the driver.
Unfortunately I was unable to hook up a trailer during my week long test period, but I did haul a load of heavy wooden furniture a distance of 400 kilometres through a mountainous region of British Columbia. The truck handled this task with ease of course, as it is designed to pull enormous amounts of weight. When you take a close look at General Motor’s stats for these trucks it’s obvious that they’ve been engineered to handle almost anything. General Motors’ press materials claim that a Duramax-equipped 3500 Series unit can tow a fifth-wheel trailer weighing up to 9,843 kg (21,700 lbs), or a conventional trailer up to an impressive 7,711 kg (17,000 lbs). Add to this a payload capacity of 3,010 kg (6,635 lbs) which is an improvement of 26% over its predecessor, and the fact that the entire truck has been engineered to accommodate these greater loads (beefier suspension, improved cooling and larger brakes) and it’s immediately evident that General Motors is looking for a bigger share of this segment.
There’s no doubt that the war will continue as each manufacturer continues to strive to build the most powerful and reliable trucks they can to satisfy the workforce, while at the same time providing improved fuel efficiency (up 11%) to reduce operating costs, and enough comfort and convenience features to make long spells behind the wheel less taxing for the operator. The Silverado HD proved an excellent road companion during my trip, and judging by the sheer volume of questions I had to answer whenever I stopped for fuel or a rest break, its new skin and Herculean capabilities are appealing to the truck buyer at large.
Base price (MSRP): 2500 Series- $35,600- $54,785
3500 Series- $37,250 – $56,520
For more information about 3 Valley Gap visit 3valley.com