Media Day at the auto show was in high gear, the tangled knot of press corps and public relations flacks pinballing from presentation to presentation.
Every once in a while you need to veer out of that orbit to patrol the outer reaches of the show, away from the circus, away from the flashing cameras, the microphones and the carefully choreographed speeches.
Out there, on the periphery, you can look at leisure, stroll and read the display boards, run your fingers along the body panel gaps, poke and prod the upholstery, or maybe just sit and absorb the intangibles of a car’s interior ambience.
Or you could find yourself stopped short in front of something like the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado Heavy-Duty pickup truck. I’d probably been drawn to it because I’d just driven it, and it was sort of a last chance to check off some of my mental boxes of opinions and impressions.
The big pickup stood there on the outer edge of the show, awkward as a wallflower at the dance, a behemoth dwarfing lesser vehicles, somehow physically and philosophically removed from the newsy hullabaloo over hybrids, electric cars and future fantasy concepts.
Yet the Silverado HD is a story on its own, a bigger, better truck for 2011 with significant changes, new technologies and with upgrades built in from the ground up.
This is the workhorse niche, a niche where need supplants desire, where substance tends to outweigh style and where men in workboots and denim would gather, far away from the media buzz, to pose questions coded in the terminology of towing. Asking about things like gross vehicle weight ratings, tow/haul modes, exhaust braking, tow ratings, fifth-wheel availability and payload capacities. It may seem a narrow niche at first but it offers a myriad of model choices from 2500 to 3500 weight classes, with Regular Cab, Extended Cab or Crew Cab configurations, 2WD or 4X4 drive options, 6’6” or 8’ pickup boxes, diesel- or gasoline-powered engines and three trim levels expanded by option packages. Yeah, lots of choices.
I stepped over the frame rail of an open chassis display, stood there in the skeletal centre of the truck’s steel grid platform and marvelled again at just how damned big the thing was, with a body length that would stretch to 6581mm at its longest, or about 21.5 feet.
That chassis, the start of all good things, now features a more rigid, fully-boxed frame, pre-drilled for fifth-wheel application with a reinforced rear suspension, stronger front independent suspension, bigger ABS disk brakes, and mounting a slew of dynamic technologies that include Hill Start Assist, Stabilitrak with trailer sway control, auto grade braking and integrated trailer brake control.
Up front, it offers a choice of two very different V8 engines. The standard and venerable Vortec 6.0-litre gasoline-powered V-8 makes 360 hp at 5400 rpm and 380 lb/ft of torque at 4200 rpm and is hooked up to a strengthened Hydra-Matic 6L90 six-speed automatic transmission.
My 2500HD tester harnessed the optional new Duramax 6.6-litre turbo diesel-powered V8 ($9,670) rated at 397 hp at 3000 rpm with an astonishing 765 lb/ft of torque available at a low 1600 rpm. The six-speed Allison automatic transmission is not far removed from medium-duty commercial truck applications and features a tow/haul mode and exhaust braking shift pattern.
The combination of sheer power and strengthened poise unites to make an impressive list of performance improvements. Compared to last year’s 2010 Silverado HD, they include:
• 500 per cent increase in frame torsional rigidity
• 125 per cent increase in front frame stiffness
• 23 per cent higher ball-hitch trailer weight capacity
• 21 per cent higher fifth-wheel trailer weight capacity
• 21 per cent higher payload
• 12 per cent more power
• 16 per cent more torque.
My tester was a good case in point, being specifically, a CK20743 2500HD 4WD Crew Cab model with a 153.7” wheelbase and 6’6” box in top-of-the-line LTZ trim. With the 6.6-litre diesel, it offers a 4536 kg (10,000 lb) GVWR, and a maximum payload rating of 1266 kg (2792 lb). Hauling grunt is translated via a 3.73 axle ratio that will tow up to 5897 kg (13,000 lb) with a ball-hitch or 7893 kg (17,400 lb) with the fifth-wheel system.
The diesel engine is pretty impressive. Glow plug ignition is rated to be ready within three seconds at -30 degrees C and, although my February conditions were nowhere near some of my northern Canada experiences, the 6.6-litre started handily, coming standard with a block heater, an idle-fast cab heat-up feature and a winter cover for the grille and bumper openings. That cover, by the way, gives the truck an unintentionally cool custom flavour, covering the Chevy bow tie and leading to questions of “What the heck is that thing?”
Heavy-duty trucks don’t normally come with fuel economy ratings. Most of the emphasis is on hauling power and towing abilities. But I expect truck drivers feel the fuel pump pinch as much as the rest of us, especially at a nickel to a dime more per litre for diesel, so I came up with my own set of numbers.
Chevy engineers boast an 11 per cent fuel efficiency improvement and estimate a range of up to 1090 km per 136-litre tank, which means their best-case scenario is an optimistic 12.5L/100km.
On my first test, driving a reserved 50/50 city/hwy split, I averaged 15.5L/100km. Then I refilled and put some hard city miles on the truck, driving it like I’d stolen it, which left a lot of sports car owners stunned at the stoplight line, courtesy of the diesel’s massive 765 lb/ft of torque. I got about 20L/100km playing the bad boy, not bad enough compared to pickups of the past.
Finally, my wife and I topped up with takeout coffee and diesel fuel and took to the highway. Keeping in mind that the only thing we were hauling was us, the engine spun at a sedate 1500 rpm at 100 kph, and we used 39 litres over 330 km for a very user-friendly 11.8L/100km, better than GM’s prediction.
Although most of the modifications for 2011 are under the skin, the Silverado HD has made a few cosmetic changes with a redesigned front grille and bumper, a new power dome hood with badged louvres and bigger available wheels. The interior is mostly carried over and remains surprisingly subdued, sleekly buttoned and demure, without the Ford flair or the macho swagger and posing of the Ram HD.
But trimmed in top-of-the-line leather and luxuries, the Silverado HD LTZ was loaded with enough options to boost the price into the $70K range and bump this vehicle into the boss’s truck category. Expect further interior and exterior styling changes in a few years.
So how do we sum up this truck?
GM Canada refers to it simply as “the even heavier-duty 2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD”. It’s still more about function than form in this category. And with a long list of technological and performance improvements, with strengths and capabilities that rival, and in most cases, beat the competition, the Silverado HD stands apart on its own merit and may well be the new benchmark in the heavy-duty pickup class.
Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD Crew Cab LTZ 2011
Body Style: Heavy-duty pickup
Drive Method: front-engine, four-wheel-drive.
Engine: 6.6-litre turbo-diesel V8 (397 hp, 765 lb/ft)
Fuel Economy: Not listed; as tested 20/11.8/15.5L/100km (city/hwy/comb)
Tow Rating: As tested 5897 kg (13,000 lb) (ball-hitch); 7893 kg (17,400 lb) (fifth wheel)
2500 HD Price Samples: Regular Cab WT 2WD 8’box $35,735; Extended Cab LT 4WD 6’6”box $45,675; Crew Cab LTZ 4WD 6’6”box $55,005; as tested $70,080 ($15,075 options, incl. 6.6-litre diesel $9,670, sunroof $1,325, Allison six-speed $1,445, Rearview camera $565, etc.)