The voice crackles over the walkie-talkie as we clip along Highway 87 just outside of Payson, Ariz.: "Alright now, line 'em up at the mirrors … hold it … one, two, three, go!"
And with that, the pedal is put to the metal and it's an old-fashioned drag race – with a slight twist. Instead of fire-breathing street racers, what we have here are full-size four-wheel-drive heavy-duty pickup trucks, powered by massive turbo-diesel engines and pulling 4,536-kilogram (10,000-pound) trailers.
Up one of the steepest inclines in the state. There are no imports in this contest, and it's Ford against Chevy against Dodge, and to Mopar and Fomoco fans everywhere, apologies, but under these circumstances, you'll get your butts handed to you by the 2015 Chevrolet Silverado Duramax 2500. Three times in succession, from a rolling start at 70 km/h, the Silverado left both the Ram 2500 and Ford Powerstroke 2500 in its dust: Not even close.
All three vehicles were towing identical trailers, and were roughly the same in terms of specs and powertrain combinations. The Ram, with its Cummins engine, took a beating; both the Chevy and Ford were dramatically quicker, and smoother in operation.
As well as offering up massive amounts of torque and horsepower, one of the biggest factors was in the transmission shifting points; the Silverado held its power in the lower gears longer, which made all the difference. Having 765 ft-lbs of torque at your disposal doesn't hurt either, although both the Ford and Ram have more – at least on paper.
Displacing 6.6 litres, this iteration of the Duramax also puts out 397 horsepower and is mated to an Allison six-speed automatic. This is a trailer-hauling, load-carrying rig, specifically built to handle the big stuff.
"Diesels account for two-thirds of our heavy duty truck sales," says Jeff Luke, GM chief engineer, "and customers are willing to pay more for it." For non-diesel aficionados, a 6.0-litre gas V-8 is also available, and there are 150 variations of the Silverado, including compressed natural gas and flex-fuel versions.
There is also another side to this truck that gets little attention: it's quiet. At 100 km/h, the engine ticking over at a leisurely 1,300 to 1,500 rpm – barely above idling speed – and there is virtually no road or drivetrain noise in the cabin. You can carry on a conversation without raising your voice, and it'd be interesting to compare decibel levels of the Silverado turbo-diesel against some upscale models. I've driven BMWs that are louder on the highway.
Like its competitors, the 2500 Duramax also has an exhaust brake feature. In a nutshell, this alters the vane geometry of the turbocharger to provide decompression when going down a steep hill. GM introduced it in 2008, and it's been standard equipment in the big rigs – 18 wheelers – for years, albeit in a different form. If you're hauling the aforementioned 4,536-kilogram trailer downhill, you need all the braking help you can get – and for serious truckers, this feature is a godsend.
Trucks of this size tend to have choppy rides, due to their stiff suspension and heavy construction. GM has softened this up and, compared to the Ram 2500, it offers a more civilized ride, with less drivetrain noise and road racket. In this department, it's on equal footing with the Ford 2500. And for those who keep an eye on these things, average fuel economy of my test Silverado 2500 was about 10.6 L/100 km while cruising on level ground at between 100 – 120 km/h.
The 2015 Silverado also sports revised exterior cues, such as a massive new chrome grille, which provides increased air flow to the engine bay, says Luke, and "better air intake."
All of which combine to make a formidable piece of kit, with a price tag to match. Before extras and options, you can count on spending at least $55,000 for one of these babies….add a few goodies, like upgraded interior trim, trailer towing package, running boards, etc, etc, and you'll be up and over 70 large before you know what hit you.
2015 Chevrolet Silverado Duramax 2500
Base price: $47,000-$77,600
Engine: 6.6 litre turbo-diesel V-8
Horsepower/torque: 397 hp/765 ft-lb
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel drive/four-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.6 (estimated combined city/highway rating)
Alternatives: Dodge Ram 2500, Ford Powerstroke 2500
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