2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD 4x4
Chevrolet beefs up its Silverado 2500 HD to go helmet to helmet with competitors’ newer models.
Winning a truck-of-the-year award from, say, Motor Trend magazine often looks a bit like a football game between equally matched opponents. In a football game, it’s usually the team that has the last possession that wins. In trucks, the last manufacturer to introduce a new model wins truck of the year. But hold on a moment. Chevrolet’s 2011 Silverado HD puts a damper on that theory.
Of all the “new” truck models on the market, the Silverado is the oldest of the bunch, having debuted in this body style in 2007, when it also won Truck of the Year. The Ford Super Duty is all new for 2011 and the new Dodge Heavy Duty came out in 2010. So, for the Silverado to come out on top is a big deal.
That is not to say the 2011 Silverado HD remains unchanged since its debut four years ago. It only looks unchanged. Underneath, it has been improved in a number of ways, specifically, for the needs of buyers who do some serious towing.
For example, the new HDs feature all-new frames with enhanced cross sections, hydroformed front sections, more high-strength steel for greater durability and increased towing capacities throughout the HD model line. What’s more, the fully boxed sections increase torsional stiffness by a factor of five. The trucks also feature larger engine and transmission mounts for greater vibration control, and hydraulic body mounts under the cab for better isolation.
At the rear, GM engineers took into account typical customer and aftermarket uses, and included such things as access holes to aft frame section to allow easier installation of fifth-wheel and gooseneck hitches. Also, the frame-mounted hitch for conventional trailers is a stronger, box-tube design with a 2.5-inch receiver that can tow up to 17,000 pounds without the need for a weight-distributing hitch. The rear axle also uses an asymmetrical leaf-spring design, which has unequal front and rear spring half lengths to minimize axle hop and maximize control. The leafs also are wider than those on the previous model.
Up front, the new HD frame benefits from forged-steel upper control arms, which are stronger and lighter than their predecessors. Chevrolet retained the torsion bar suspension, but now offers five different spring rates depending on the application and options.
All told, the improvements take a truck that was already quite good and made it excellent. They to exact a toll on the scales, though. Our test vehicle, a four-wheel-drive 2500 HD with single rear wheels, weighed in at 7,208 pounds. At its heaviest, a 3500HD weighs in at nearly 7,900 pounds. Of course, the Duramax diesel and Allison 1000 six-speed transmission underwent significant improvements that make the added weight difficult to detect from behind the wheel, and it’s enough to make you think twice about ordering it with the gasoline engine.
Towing With It
The 38 Cigarette we were going to use to test the Silverado HD was sold and delivered to its new owner out of state before the truck arrived, so all we had at our disposal was a U-Haul car trailer loaded with a 1995 Mazda Miata. The trailer weighed in 4,200 pounds, and we loaded the truck with another 400 pounds of gear. Still, we realize it wasn’t much of a load for this truck.
So, to test the truck with that load, we filled the tank and drove it over California’s Grapevine pass on Interstate 5. Were it not for a truck that pulled into our lane and made us slow down, the Silverado HD very well could have pulled it to the top of the 4,400-foot pass in six gear. At 60 mph, the tach registered 1,600 rpm in sixth, right where the engine makes its peak torque of 765 pound feet.
We always try to test highway towing with the cruise control engaged for best mileage, and a few things came to our attention while towing on the highway. One, GM’s new wheel-mounted cruise control switches are far superior to the old turn-signal-stalk-mounted controls. They’re intuitive, and simple to use even if we did find ourselves reaching for the stalk out of habit. Two, the truck netted right at 17.5 mpg while towing, according to the truck’s data display. That’s respectable economy, and that figure should improve as the engine accumulates more mileage and loosens up.
On its north slope, the Grapevine descends quickly, which means it’s steep. Really steep. This is the side that has two runaway truck ramps, so we were eager to learn how the new exhaust brake system worked. According to GM literature, the system, “uses the turbine control of the variable geometry turbocharger and the compression of the engine to generate backpressure, slowing the vehicle without applying the brakes.” The system is tied in with the cruise control, which automatically varies the backpressure generated based on gradient and load.
And it’s awesome. During our descent, the system slowed the truck and trailer smoothly and quietly. You can hear the system from the driver seat, but it’s not the least bit intrusive or bothersome. When the exhaust brake didn’t slow the truck enough, the cruise selected the next lower gear to help the truck maintain 60 mph. It worked so well, in fact, we never touched the brakes. Obviously, larger trailers will require braking, but not having to brake at all down the north slope of the Grapevine was indicative about how effective the exhaust brake is—and if you’ve ever gone down that hill, you understand.
The new HDs also are available with an integrated trailer brake controller. The optional package ($780), which includes a locking rear differential, displays gain settings on the in-dash display. The HDs come standard with Stabilitrak, which includes trailer sway control and hill-start assist. The optional rearview camera system ($450) displays the camera feed on the inside rearview mirror. If the truck is equipped with the navigation system, it appears on the in-dash display.
On the highway, at steady state throttle, there is no diesel noise inside the cabin. The Duramax was already the quietest of the diesel engines offered by the Big Three, and for 2011 it is even quieter, yet it makes 32 more horsepower and a whopping 105 more pound feet of torque than last year’s model. NOx emissions have been reduced by 63 percent and it is now capable of burning B20 biodiesel fuels. Like the Ford, the new Duramax requires the use of diesel exhaust fluid (urea), which needs refilling every 5,000 miles. The fluid retails for $28.53 for 2.5 gallons, and the tank holds roughly 5 gallons.
Living With It
For our preferences, this is about as large a truck as we could live with every day. Add a long bed or dual rear wheels—or both—and it would have us looking for a small sedan to use as a daily driver. It’s no wider, but 10 inches longer in wheel base than the half-ton model, and it can make parking a challenge.
Our test vehicle came fitted with the optional camper style mirrors, which protrude far out from the sides and they are bit of a nuisance in narrow places. They’re only a $240 option, and if you’re pulling a boat, as opposed to a big boxy camper or car hauler, you might not need them.
Inside, the 2500HD came fitted a light cashmere leather seating and ebony carpeting and accents. Material choices straddled the line between durability, which you need in a pickup, and luxury, which is something you expect from a truck that costs $55,000-plus dollars. The interior of this truck is far superior to those of the previous generation.
Other notable features include the turn signals, which flash three times automatically all the time, and five times when a trailer is hooked up. The tailgate also is improved with a new easy-lift system. We enjoyed the electrically adjustable pedals, which make getting just the right position that much easier, though we’d like to see the truck get a telescoping steering column.
It’s easy to see Chevrolet is serious about the heavy-duty truck market and that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the automotive press. Properly equipped, the new HD Silverado pulls up to 21,700 pounds of gooseneck or fifth-wheel trailer, and up to 17,000 pounds without a weight-distributing hitch. It’s quiet, powerful and capable. It’s difficult to imagine the need for a more brawny pickup, and unless they start making bigger trailers, the Silverado HD is all the truck you’d ever need.
- 17.5 mpg while towing
- Factory brake controller
- $60 to refill diesel exhaust fluid every 5,000 miles
This truck was made for towing. The rear hitch frame is a stronger, box-tube design with a 2.5-inch receiver, which was good for 13,000 pounds without a weight-distributing hitch. Inside, the factory brake controller displays gain settings on the dash.
The rear bench seat is split 60/40 for convenience, and each side lifts with one hand to the full upright position. Standard mirrors would suffice for towing boats, but the towing mirrors would be best for pulling boxy campers and enclosed car trailers.
Front and rear suspensions have been redesigned for 2011. For example, the front end has five different torsion bar spring rates depending on the application. The rear uses wider, asymmetrical leaf springs to minimize axle hop and maximize control.
Diesel exhaust fluid, which must be replenished every 5,000 miles retails for around $28 for 2.5 gallons. The system holds five gallons. The rearview camera system displays the camera feed on the inside rearview mirror. It's a great setup.
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