Silverado, Sierra HD: Big gamers

Staff reports
Farm Forum

It’s “game on” at Chevrolet. Not contented with the coronation of its 2014 Silverado 1500 pickup as Truck of the Year by an independent panel of automotive journalists, Chevy has rolled out its 2015 heavy duty models.

Full-size pickup trucks are the most profitable and competitive in the motoring world. About one-fourth of them are heavy-duty versions, all from U.S. brands, which have fiercely loyal customers. The Tundra and Titan, from Japanese companies, are distant also-rans.

From an outside perspective, differences among the heavy-duty Ford F-Series, Silverado, GMC Sierra, and Ram are marginal. All four perform well at hauling up to a ton of cargo and towing loads that weigh 10 tons or more.

So it’s a matter of chipping away at the margins to determine which truck is better for you. That’s what Chevrolet and GMC did at the introduction of the 2015 heavy-duty diesel and gasoline models.

There were two comparisons: a downhill run to demonstrate steady-speed towing with the cruise control engaged, and an uphill race to demonstrate the power of the trucks’ diesel engines.

With each towing 10,000 pounds, the Silverado beat the Ford and Ram slightly uphill. However, the results were not conclusive because the three vehicles were equipped with different final-drive axle ratios.

On downhill runs, the Silverado did the best job of holding the set speed while the Ford and Ram ran away. The idea was to show that the Silverado would be the least harrowing on a long trip. Experiencing how the cruise control integrated with exhaust braking keep speed under control was impressive. Buy the Chevy or GMC if you do lots of long-distance towing.

Diesel engines are the Incredible Hulks of power plants, delivering not only horsepower but also stupefying torque, or twisting muscle. For example, General Motors’ 6.6-liter V-8 Duramax diesel delivers 397 horsepower and also 765 lb.-ft. of torque, enough to tow a trailer that weighs up to 11 tons, depending on the setup.

Also, diesels deliver superior fuel economy, though not like a hybrid or diesel automobile. The U.S. government does not require fuel economy ratings for heavy-duty trucks, so customers must rely on manufacturers’ numbers.

Estimates for the Silverado 2500 three-quarter ton pickup tested here run from the low teens around town to a bit more than 20 mpg on the highway, with a 17 mpg rating for combined city/highway driving. Of course, mileage depends on the load and speed.

The new 2015 Silverado and GMC HD pickups also are state-of-the-art in the modern pickup idiom: luxury and comfort. You can buy base work models, but even contractors, ranchers, and tradesmen often opt for the premium versions.

The tested 2015 Silverado 2500 LTZ with all-wheel drive was such a comfortable model, with a base price of $49,325 and, with all the goodies, a sticker of $61,695. (Base price for Silverado HD starts at $31,310).

Even more plush was the diesel GMC Sierra Denali 3500 crew cab model with four-wheel drive and dual rear wheels — about as macho a pickup truck as anyone might imagine. With a $67,505 price, it was equipped as well as any luxury car, with a rear-seat entertainment system, leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, remote starting, navigation, motorized sunroof, and a host of other performance and comfort features. (Sierra HD base pricing is $32,420).

On the road, the “dually” drove small, felt composed, was almost eerily silent, and featured a comfortable ride that belied its load-carrying rear leaf springs and four rear tires. In a straight line on a trip, it’s hard to beat. On the other hand, drivers must be careful negotiating curves, corners, and parking lots lest they annihilate some lesser vehicle.

Modern pickup trucks are night and day different from their predecessors of only a decade ago. They are gigantic, comfortable as a hotel’s presidential suite, and offer power and fuel economy, especially with diesels, that could only be imagined before.