Big trucks rock - they're menacing, powerful, and tough as nails.
Granted, I'm not your typical buyer, but I have a sweet spot for trucks thanks to my dad. He always drove them - on the construction site for work, on the farm during harvest season, on hunting excursions with the guys, and on moving expeditions to take his four kids to university and grad school. Trucks serve a purpose - some are extreme workhorses like the all-new 2011 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra Heavy Duty Duramax diesel pickup trucks.
These trucks are built for hauling
Calgary is the heart of Canada's truck country; in Alberta, one in three vehicles is a pickup. Chevy, GMC, Ford F-Series and Rams rule the road. They're a common sight, but I'm not - I'm the only female at this event. I'm not driving dad's truck filled to the brim with a ton of freshly picked fruit. This time, I'm hauling a 680-kilogram bale of hay in the bed of a 2011 Chevy Silverado LT 2500 crew cab 4x4, a heavy-duty, three-quarter ton truck, on my way from the Calgary airport to Kananaskis, Alta.
The Silverado HD has an all-new chassis and new Duramax diesel engine with more power and improved towing and hauling capabilities. The Duramax diesel engine mated to a six-speed automatic Allison transmission delivers a mind-blowing 765 lb-ft of torque and 397 horsepower.
Start the engine and the first thing you'll notice is how quiet it is. Diesels have come a long way since the loud, clanky, high-polluting engines of old. The Duramax meets new tough diesel emission standards. Its cleaner, more fuel efficient, yet as powerful as ever.
Off the line, there's no hesitation - it accelerates quickly and confidently. You'd never know you were hauling anything in the bed. The ride is smooth and pleasant, but the steering feels a little loose. The Silverado 2500 regular cab 2WD starts at $35,600. The Duramax diesel, which can now take B20 biodiesel, adds $9,670 to the price tag.
According to dad, the true test of a truck is how it handles is when the bed is empty. I take a Silverado HD LTZ 2500 crew cab 4x4 with no load for a spin. Surprisingly, it's still a pleasant ride - there are few vibrations or shakes over bumps and other degradations in the road. Fuel economy isn't over the top, either. On our 60-km trek, it's 13.8 litres/100 km. But one thing that does leave a lot to be desired is the price of my test vehicle. Add a few options such as a $5,255 DVD-based navigation radio with rear DVD entertainment system, 20-inch polished aluminum wheels at $1,015, a $565 rear-view camera and a $350 power sliding rear window and the price jumps to $77,855.
Now it's time for a towing test. These HDs can tow up to 9,863 kg and have a payload of up to 3,015 kg. For trailer towing with a conventional trailer, the rating is 7,711 kg; with a fifth-wheel, its 9,843 kg.
I'm driving a 2011 GMC Sierra HD SLT 3500 crew cab hooked up to a gigantic 35-foot long, 5,897-kg horse trailer. At first sight, it's overwhelmingly intimidating. Knowing a journalist drove the trailer into a ditch the day before makes matters worse.
But it only takes a few minutes behind the wheel to feel comfortable manoeuvring this giant beast on the road. Although I'm doing 100 km/h on the highway up and down inclines, the engine never feels strained.
There's no white knuckling it either thanks to an assortment of features designed to keep you safe and secure on the road. A new trailer-sway control function keeps the truck and trailer on the intended path by using the truck brakes, integrated trailer brakes and powertrain to stop sway. A smart exhaust brake function makes downhill towing safer by slowing down the truck without touching the brake. It offers better resistance based on the load and grade while prolonging brake life. Hill start assist prevents the truck from rolling back on an incline.
At corners and bends, I take it wide and slow. But I miss my last right-hand turn; the chase truck moves ahead of me and guides me back onto the intended route. He makes a U-turn on a four-lane highway, expecting me to follow. I cringe, but do it carefully without any problems. I arrive unscathed.
During our 90-km trek, the Sierra HD returns 21.5 litres/100 km - not too outrageous considering we're towing a horse trailer. The starting price of the Sierra HD 2500 regular cab 2WD model is also $35,600. The Duramax diesel powertrain costs another $9,670. For the first time, there's also a Sierra Denali HD, which costs $59,210.
The final test is a head-to-head towing demonstration against two Silverado/Sierra competitors - a Ford F250 Super Duty XLT with a 6.7-litre power stroke V-8 B20 and a Ram 2500 heavy-duty Cummins turbo diesel SLT 4x4.
I take the wheel of a Chevy Silverado HD LT 2500 towing a 4,460-kg tractor; my driving partner takes the Ford F250 Super duty towing another tractor. We face off at the drag strip. On cue, I hit the throttle hard. The Ford edges ahead ever so slightly; then the Chevy gains steam. We're neck and neck. But at the finish line, I nudge ahead - only a few inches in front of the Ford.
My partner makes excuses for the loss. But it really doesn't matter - no truck driver in his right mind would ever drag race an HD. Still, there's no denying the Chevy is a capable powerhouse.
My only beef - the design changes or lack of design changes, I should say. Only a trained eye would spot the power dome-style hood with a new, louvered design, new grille and full-width chrome steel front bumper on the Chevy. Even GM officials agree.
"Truthfully, I would have liked to see more changes, but ultimately if we have X amount of resources to invest - both money and time - we put it all where we think it counts - underneath the body, the frame, and the powertrain," says Santo Giardina, truck marketing manager for Canada.
Those changes count. Hopefully it's enough to steer buyers to the GMC and Sierra HDs, which are already on sale at dealerships across Canada.
These trucks are built for hauling
2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD/2011 GMC Sierra HD Crew Cab 4x4
Type: Four-door, heavy-duty crew cab 4x4
Base Price: $35,600; with diesel engine, $45,270
Engine: 6.6-litre turbocharged diesel V-8
Horsepower/torque: 397 hp/765 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/ 100 km): N/A; diesel or B20 fuel
Alternatives: Ford F250 diesel, Ram 2500 HD diesel