We Tow With Chevy’s New Silverado HDs and Spend an Afternoon With John Deere!
Big-Boy Toys. Diggin’ With Deere.
We’ll spare you all the kid-in-a-sandbox clichés, though we can certainly think of many. When the good folks at Chevy approached us about joining them in Moline, Illinois, for a bit of fun with the Silverado HD and an afternoon with free reign of John Deere’s test facility, we nearly fainted. This is exactly the kind of thing our late-afternoon office daydreams are made of, so there was no way we could turn down the opportunity.
Hauling LoadsOur adventure started out innocently enough, behind the wheel of a pair of ’17 Silverado HDs, both equipped with the new L5P Duramax diesel engine. First up was a 2500HD, saddled with a conventional Big Tex trailer and John Deere skid steer. This combination tipped the scale at 11,485 pounds. While we’re no strangers to towing with the ’17 Silverado HD, we’ll never turn down an opportunity to log miles. Our route took us along Interstate 80, cracked pavement and all, from John Deere’s assembly plant in Davenport, Iowa, to the Iowa 80 Truck Stop (which is the largest in the world, or so they claim.) While it’s still true that Chevy’s towing and payload capacities are lower than the competition on paper, we’re reminded every time we drive one that these numbers don’t tell the whole story.
As we continue chewing through miles behind the wheel of the Silverado HD, it reminds us that it’s among the smoothest, quietest, and most refined heavy-duty pickups we’ve driven. And it doesn’t matter if it’s just hauling air or loaded down to the max. The 445hp and 915–lb-ft L5P Duramax diesel engine idles as smooth as a typical sedan and remains entirely civilized under load. Inside, the cabin is outfitted with all of the latest luxury and tech features, things you’d expect from a luxury brand. The ’17 Silverado’s smooth ride and refined interior are really appreciated on long hauls, leading to less driver fatigue and ultimately a more satisfying towing experience.
The first truck we were allowed to drive alone; however, the second was restricted to only those with a commercial license. Since we’re sans–Class A, we jumped in the passenger seat and rode along with one of GM’s HD pickup engineers as he piloted the Silverado 3500 HD dually down the highway. Why the need for a commercial license, you ask? To demonstrate the ultimate capability of the Silverado 3500HD and new Duramax engine, this truck was saddled with a Big Tex gooseneck trailer and John Deere backhoe loader, a combination weighing a combined 21,969 pounds. If the local smokies caught wind of an unqualified driver hauling this load on their highway, they would have had a field day with us, so we no issue with riding in the right seat.
Most interestingly, perhaps, was our observation that the 3500HD rode just as good on the broken pavement as the 2500HD. By using a gooseneck hitch instead of the conventional receiver, the trailer’s tongue weight is placed directly over the axle, instead of out past the bumper. While the conventional trailer acts as a lever on the pickup towing it, the gooseneck and suspension work in tandem to better control movement caused by the trailer. It’s worth noting as well that the ’17 Silverado HD comes with a gooseneck hitch built in from the factory that also has provisions for adding a fifth-wheel hitch. Gooseneck ball and safety chain adapters can be purchased as an accessory kit from GM and come in a fancy plastic carrying case for easy storage, while fifth-wheel hitches are available through the aftermarket.
Though we weren’t at the controls, the Silverado 3500HD seemed to have no issue getting the massive load up to speed, pulling grades, or passing slower vehicles. Decelerating was equally as uneventful thanks in part to the Duramax engine’s exhaust brake and the Silverado’s application of GM’s grade braking technology.
Digging HolesDon’t get us wrong, we love trucks, love driving trucks, love towing with trucks, love everything about trucks. However, the real fun came after we were done towing. John Deere maintains a proving grounds facility in eastern Iowa that it uses for new-product demos, training, and testdrives. Yes, if you’re seriously in the market for a road-grader or backhoe, you can come try before you buy. On the property, John Deere has a sampling of its entire product line, from the smallest yard tractor and Gator to the largest articulated dump trucks. After a quick safety talk, we were turned loose to dig holes, plow a field, and move as much dirt as time would allow. Needless to say, we were the last people to leave and had to be escorted off the property. We’d still be there if we could have found a better hiding spot. We’re city-dwelling desk jockeys, so the opportunity to operate heavy equipment is amazing.
We started out simple enough, behind the controls of a 310L backhoe. This machine is powered by a 99hp 4.5L PowerTech diesel engine, has a maximum digging depth of just over 14 feet, and weighs more than 16,000 pounds. A pair of joysticks controls the bucket, and there was no confusing us for anything other than beginners. After several minutes of totally mucking up the X-, Y-, and Z-axis controls, we finally started to get the hang of it and managed to dig a hole of our very own. Feeling somewhat accomplished, it was time to move on.
Since the largest excavator, the 160G, had a line that rivaled Disneyland, we headed off to operate something more our speed. The 317G Compact Track Loader is something you’d see at a smaller jobsite. Also operated by joysticks, the 317G had a much flatter learning curve than the larger equipment, and we were scooting around moving gravel in no time flat. With satellite radio, a sealed cabin, and air conditioning, operating this machine day-to-day is something we could totally get used to. While there were other variants open for us, we quickly parked the 160G to ensure we had plenty of time for the big boys.
The only green machine out on this particular day was the 9570RX behemoth. This beast is powered by a Cummins QSX15 engine and features an 18-speed automatic transmission. It weighs more than 60,000 pounds, stands 13.5 feet tall, has a top speed of 25 mph, and costs just north of $500,000. For our demonstration, it was paired with a grader attachment, but the tractor can be used in any number of agriculture or construction applications.
We saved the best for last: the 460E six-wheel-drive articulated dump truck. This truck is a beast. It’s powered by a John Deere PowerTech 6135 diesel engine that displaces 13.5 liters. Power is routed through a ZF transmission, which features eight forward gears and four reverse cogs. The truck has a net weight of 71,000 pounds and can haul an additional 92,000 pounds, giving it a total gross weight rating of more than 163,000 pounds. Steering is fully hydraulic, and due to this and its articulated nature, the helm features no return-to-center like your typical pickup. Because of this, driving it can be a chore to the uninitiated. After a mile or so behind the wheel, we got the hang of it, but could see where others hadn’t and had driven off the road. Speed is governed electronically, so full-throttle was the name of the game. The truck’s maximum speed is just 34 mph, but mind you this can be done fully loaded. Nearly everything about operating the truck can be automated, and the cab is more comfortable than most pickups. Running the 460E feels more like a video game than real life. If we listed off all of the truck’s specs, we’d be here all night. Just know this, if you’re in the market for an earthmover of this size, be prepared to shell out $600,000 just to get in the door.
When the dust finally settled and we were forced back to real life, we were left with two observations: Chevy builds one heck of a truck, and digging big holes is just as much fun in real life as we had imagined as kids. Now off to find someone to rent us a Deere for the weekend.