What It Is
General Motors' full-size, heavy duty brutes, now more refined.
Serene, comfortable, and endless torque.
Not much to look at, bragging rights numbers down on paper.
Just because their engines are carryover doesn't mean they're at a disadvantage. Quite the opposite, in fact.
How could a $62,000 pickup truck possibly make financial sense for your average Farmer John? It's hard to figure out how a workhorse vehicle, especially a one-ton pickup, designed for farmhands and construction workers alike, could possibly be worth that much money as the behemoth is going to get the snot kicked out of it for the next 400,000 miles.
Think about it this way: A $60,000 or $70,000 truck is often considered a bargain. Yes, a bargain. When it's hooked up to a $160,000 horse trailer carrying a $20,000 horse to a show some 1,000 miles away from home, it has to be able to confidently carry its weight across great distances, providing safety and comfort for its two- and four-legged passengers. At such a point, it's a bargain. And General Motors wants us to believe that its rebodied 2015 Chevrolet Silverado Heavy Duty and 2015 GMC Sierra Heavy Duty are quite possibly the best bargains of the full-size, mega-hauling lot. We were invited to Phoenix, Arizona, to put them and their only natural rivals—the Ford F-Series Super Duty and Ram 2500—through their paces to find out.
WalkaroundThe Chevrolet and GMC full-size light-duty pickup trucks were all completely redesigned for 2014. The 2015 heavy-duty models now share much of the same skin as their brethren, sans for some key differences. First, if you're looking at a 3500HD dually pickup, the two extra tires at the back ought to give away that it's a heavy-duty truck. Secondly, heavy-duty trucks all come with eight-lug wheels. Our Silverado 2500HD tester had standard 17-inch aluminum wheels with a $575 chrome treatment; our Sierra 2500HD had $1,200 polished 20-inch wheels.
Outside of those, a slightly chunkier hood with Duramax diesel badges flanking it, a higher stance, and different grilles, you're going to be hard-pressed to find much of a difference. Look for those under the sheetmetal.
Sitting DownFrankly, if you've been in any other 2014 Chevrolet Silverado or GMC Sierra, the 2015 HD models aren't going to be anything new, sans the new diesel exhaust brake button located under the infotainment screen in models equipped with the 6.6-liter Duramax V-8. That's to say that, like the light-duty models, the interior is refined, tech-filled, quiet as all can be, and utterly conservative. Speaking that GM believes truck drivers are some of the most Red State folks out there, the HD trucks likely hit the nail on the head.
We've enjoyed long-distance commutes in the 2014 GMC Sierra 1500 SLT with its heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated leather seats, and host of smart technologies like five USB hookups and intuitive IntelliLink touchscreen infotainment system. The HD trucks are much the same, albeit with a 20,000-pound trailer hooked to the back.
DrivingParticular attention was paid to the 2015 HD trucks' driving dynamics, which is not to say that they handle like the 1500 trucks. Nope. Higher up on tall tires, the HDs are no Ferraris. They ride more stiffly; they actually ride better with 3,500 pounds in their beds than they do unladen. And with feathery light steering, they're designed to make lugging around trailers a cinch—not winning weekend autocross events.
But when driving these high-riding workhorses, it's easy to become keenly aware of how much better to drive they are than many previous HD trucks. They don't jostle you around. They're as smooth as anything one might expect of a vehicle weighing upwards of three tons, likely because of their new hydraulic body mounts. And they tow like stink.
Equipped with identical 10,000-pound trailers, our Duramax-equipped Silverado 2500HD was set against a Ram 2500 and Ford F-250 Super Duty, both equipped with their big diesel engines. Towing uphill, we were set up in completely apples-to-apples drag races, where the Silverado easily outpacing the Ram and Ford. It should be noted that the Chevy came with a standard 3.73 rear axle ratio, which might give it an acceleration edge over the Ram's 3.42 rear end and the Ford's 3.55. Ford has a 3.73 also available, which wasn't equipped on our truck.
Where there was no room for debate was GM's suite of integrated trailer braking, diesel exhaust braking, and stability control, which when coupled together going downhill with cruise control on, showed far more stability at maintaining a consistent speed than the runaway Ram and Ford, which we had to brake several times to keep them from going far beyond the 55 mph we were intending to maintain. While that sounds like quite a bit of variables GM set up specifically in an arbitrary test to prove a point, imagine if we had had to tow a horse trailer on a long trip and didn't want to fiddle around with keeping a constant speed as not to knock around our prized pony. The Ford, in particular, experienced quite a bit of trailer sway.
More than that, the GM truck was easily the quietest of the bunch. Other truck makers have said that HD customers want that diesel rumble; perhaps it adds to the machismo and bravado. But GM says that customers who spend luxury car-levels of money expect luxury car refinement. While not completely there, the Silverado and Sierra HD truck provide quite an argument. And despite being down on torque—765 pound-feet versus the Ram and Ford's 800 pound-feet—the GM trucks easily keep pace with the pack, if not lead it.
SummaryThere are reasons to be skeptical of these new trucks. First, GMC and Chevrolet do, in fact, attract different customers. GMC's are more affluent and better-educated. So if you think there's no point for the simple badge job, you're wrong. Also, there is no Silverado HD High Country yet, so if you want a real luxo HD truck from GM to cross-shop against Ford Platinum and Ram Laramie Longhorn pickups, it has to be the Sierra Denali.
Secondly, GM didn't touch its engines from last year, and its frame is the same it has been since 2011. Not like that's a bad thing, despite being down on horsepower and torque compared to their rivals, the GM twins never feel underpowered. The 6.0-liter gas engine is carryover because the iron block is better suited for heavy hauling than the newer, more powerful aluminum-block EcoTec3 6.2-liter gas-burner found in the 1500 trucks. GM says that its diesel has more usable power and torque than the Ford and Ram trucks. So far, we can't disagree.
And then there's the price, with the diesel engine being an $8,400 option with the Allison six-speed automatic transmission. If you're in for the long-haul, we can't stress how much they're worth it. Even with a 20,000-pound trailer going uphill at one point, we were seeing 10 mpg. The drivetrain is simply unstoppable.
So just because GM's trucks were conservatively restyled and very little was actually re-engineered doesn't mean they've fallen behind somehow. GM's been at this truck game a long time. It knows what it's doing. GM's new HD trucks prove that competition should be just as on its toes as it ever has been.