Tow Test: Chevy Silverado 2500 HD

Home Page Slide Show, Tow Vehicles — on January 7, 2011 at 9:34 am

Manageable Muscle: Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD Duramax

With more power than typical quarter ton trucks, the heavier-duty haulers from GM, Ford and Chrysler are popular picks for the powersports set, but they sure can look like ponderous beasts. However, when lugging a big trailer packed with toys, friends and gear, the extra power, braking and capacities of these larger trucks can provide stress-free towing. And, with next-generation diesel technology, better fuel efficiency, more towing capability and improved driver comfort, this class of trucks has never been better.

Fresh off a test of the Ram 2500 with a Cummins turbo-diesel, we were very anxious to test Chevy’s Silverado 2500 with the new-for-2011 6.6-liter Duramax turbo-diesel. GM claims its newest diesel is about 11 percent more efficient than the previous year’s unit. Motivated by a whopping 397 horsepower and 765 lb-ft of torque, the new Duramax beats the Ram’s Cummins by 47 horses and 115 foot-pounds.

Such are the burdens of consumer testing that we needed to find a destination for the big rig, and decided on the beautiful Keeweenaw Peninsula in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula just after the peak of fall color. We’ve enjoyed snowmobiling in the Keeweenaw in previous years, and figured there was likely good riding to be had aboard ATVs. Three friends piled quads in an enclosed trailer and hit the freeway headed northeast toward the U.P.

How to Spend $55K

Chevy's "work truck" interior is well built and nice enough for our tastes, without being overly fancy.

Chevy's "work truck" interior is well built and nice enough for our tastes, without being overly fancy.

Slipping into the tan leather seats of our 4WD LT Silverado Crew Cab, it seemed like a cozier, less imposing interior than the Ram that, in comparison, felt more like a semi truck from behind the wheel. Surprisingly, the two are dimensionally within a nose of each other by length, width and height. Credit a less imposing hood and better sight lines for the Silverado’s nimble, friendlier feel.

Even with a hefty $55,200 sticker, our Silverado 2500 has the less-fancy “work truck” interior that trades faux aluminum and wood trim for more classic black plastics and a push-button climate control system. It’s still a very nice setup that’s not too swanky for dirty jobs, but also offers at-a-glance functionality, tight panel gaps and solid materials that feel mostly congruent with the price of entry.

Nothing too challenging here - climate controls required minimal fiddling and the stereo sounded great.

Nothing too challenging here - climate controls required minimal fiddling and the stereo sounded great.

Aside from the big V8 diesel, other options on our tester included an Allison six-speed automatic transmission with push-button gear shifting on the column, a class-exclusive independent front suspension, Z85 off-road package, 125-amp alternator, keyless entry with remote starting, StabiliTrak stability control, 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, power-adjustable leather seats, a split-front bench seat with center console, satellite radio, dual-zone A/C, adjustable pedals, rear parking camera (integrated in rearview mirror), skid plates, head curtain air bags and the always-useful OnStar navigation and crash assistance.

It’s also worth noting that engineers paid special attention to improving brake pedal and steering feel for the 2011 Silverado HDs, as well as other changes that largely go unnoticed by the naked eye, but make the HD a more civilized cruiser.

Overall, the lower echelon interior is still a very pleasing place to spend time. The age of its design is showing in places — like the Playskool-like upper glove box, which was significantly out of alignment and the fake swaths of aluminum trim. And, without heated seats, a heated steering wheel or in-dash navigation, the features level was significantly below the similarly priced Ram. Our riding party was comfortable, but the competition is always knocking.

Ten Long Hours
With freeway expansion joints quietly slipping beneath the tires at a cool 75 mph, a few facts were readily apparent about the latest Silverado 2500: power from the Duramax is right-now dominant, yet quiet, its steering is some of the sharpest you’ll find in such a big truck, and interior noise levels are very low at all speeds. This is one serene work truck — driver and passengers were comfortable and conversations were always possible with inside voices.

Beauty shotAside from rounding a few sharp corners in town, the trailer and machines could’ve been invisible, because they never made their presence known. The fully boxed frame never rattles, shudders or feels anything short of bank-vault solid, even when taking corners faster than advised.

The new 6.6-liter Duramax is a remarkable engine, as it’s got freight train levels of torque, yet never sounds uncivilized and is especially smooth. When pulling higher engine speeds, where the power really uncorks with a surge of acceleration, one hardly gets the sense a diesel engine resides under the hood. It never smells, smokes, needs to warm up before starting or feels out of breath at higher RPMs.

Bystanders will sure know it’s a diesel, though, as GM was compelled to add fake plastic hood vents (which do no venting) on the hood with a Duramax placard on each side. Please, automakers, enough with fake vents. What’s the thrill of suggesting one’s engine is so big it could melt?

Great trails mean the Keeweenaw is also a top-level ATV and snowmobile destination, with curious trailside destinations in all directions.

Great trails mean the Keeweenaw is also a top-level ATV and snowmobile destination, with curious trailside destinations in all directions.

Nevertheless, by the time we entered the Upper Peninsula five hours later, we had covered more than 250 miles, yet everybody was still comfortable and ready for more. Good thing, because we still had two hours to go before even entering the Keeweenaw Peninsula.

Once we did, cruising up U.S. Highway 41, the big Silverado’s advantages began to shine as the road became much narrower, with constant, sharp corners. Steering is so incredibly precise that you can maintain surprisingly high speeds. While I wished for a Porsche 911 on this fantastic driver’s road, the Silverado was an acceptable compromise.

Four-wheel disc brakes deliver abundant stopping power, and are reassuring thanks to a predictable, progressive pedal. Even through mid-corner bumps, this is the heavy-duty truck a newly licensed 16-year-old could easily drive, even without first lowering your deductible.

The U.P. at its Peak
Driving past the famous Keeweenaw Snow Thermometer, which reminds travelers that 390 inches of snow is possible in a single winter, it was clear the area has a lot to offer in the snow-free months as well.

We called U.S. Highway 41 the Tunnel of Trees. Its tight curves were a great showcase of the Silverado HD's ability and nimble handling.

We called U.S. Highway 41 the Tunnel of Trees. Its tight curves were a great showcase of the Silverado HD's ability and nimble handling.

Our trio enjoyed fall ATV riding at peak color, peered out at the gargantuan Lake Superior from various trailside overlooks, dined at quintessential small-town cafes, peered in abandoned mine shafts and visited several resorts that are packed with sleds on winter weekends. What a great place!

Less than 48 hours later, before heading home, we took a drive up Brockway Mountain Drive, which offers a serious elevated climb reminiscent of Tennessee’s Lookout Mountain. The road rises, winds, doubles back on itself and eventually reaches an overlook that puts the whole area in perspective — Lake Superior on three sides, rolling hills and smaller lakes hidden among the brightly colored trees.

Aside from a fierce setting sun in our eyes, the Silverado acquitted itself well along this 10-mile stretch. Excellent, controllable engine braking, surgically-sharp steering, manageable dimensions, endless power, a nice, quiet cabin and calm demeanor confirmed this is a tightly built truck with the capabilities to satisfy flatlanders or mountaineers alike. And, you’ve just got to experience the rush of 765 foot-pounds without hauling a load. It’s something to write home about, and makes stoplight wars quite fun and a guaranteed win in most cases.

GM's latest Duramax is significantly more efficient than before, and can really throw you back into the seat.

GM's latest Duramax is significantly more efficient than before, and can really throw you back into the seat.

Mileage was also impressive, but highly varied. The Silverado averaged around 16 mpg driving around the suburbs and city sans-trailer, but with a heavy right foot. Later, we racked up 17.59 while towing (mostly with cruise control) on a single tank that took us up to Michigan in 635 miles. A bit backwards, perhaps, but the range and mileage are both impressive.

It was another 10-hour slog back to Minneapolis, but we weren’t rushed and stopped for excursions in along the Houghton-Hancock waterfront as well as a lunch break in the lake town of Ashland, Wis.

Even with a whole day in the truck, our only worry was missing a scenic stop along the way. With a truck this comfortable, and scenery bursting with color, it was the ideal trip in the perfect towing vehicle.

Story and photos by Tom Kaiser, originally published in Snow Goer

Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD

Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD

Chevrolet Silverado 2500 LT Specifications
Base Price:
$38,860
Price As Tested:
$55,200

ENGINE
Displacement/Type:
6.6-liter Duramax V8 diesel
Net Torque:
765 lb-ft
Net Power:
395 hp
Fuel Delivery System:
Sequential Fuel Injection
Fuel Capacity:
36 gal.
Fuel Requirement:
Diesel

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission:
Allison 6-speed auto
Rear Axle Gears:
3.73

BODY/CHASSIS
Body/Frame:
Fully boxed body on frame
GVWR:
9,500 pounds

SUSPENSION SYSTEM
Front:
Independent
Rear:
Multi-leaf

BRAKE SYSTEM
Front:
Disc w/ABS
Rear:
Disc w/ABS

Rear AngleDIMENSIONS
Wheelbase:
133.7 in.
Overall Length:
225 in.
Overall Width:
80 in.
Overall Height:
77.5 in.
Curb Weight:
5941 lbs.
Payload:
3,580 lbs.

TOW PACKAGE
Maximum Tow Rating:
16,000 lbs.
As Equipped:
14,400 lbs

OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY
EPA Mileage (city/highway):
NA
Non-towing:
16.1 (one tank)
Overall Towing:
17.5 (two tanks)

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    2 Comments

  • theChevyGuy says:

    The new 2011 Silverado HD is easily the new benchmark in diesel engine trucks that will be used to haul or tow something. Great comfort and really nice looking interior ( http://www.2011-Silverado-HD.com for reference) are only going to increase the overall success this truck will have in the market. Chevy is turning the corner on quality and has now caught up to ( and maybe even passed) it’s domestic and foreign competitors in quality and reliability.

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