All GM models have kept the independent front suspension (where both Ford and Dodge use live front axles) but have significantly beefed up the upper and lower control arms, as well as the connecting knuckle and links. Likewise, the rear suspension is fine-tuned, making the live axle/leaf spring system asymmetrical with longer, stronger, and wider leafs and frame attachment points. Other less obvious improvements include bigger brakes, hydraulic cab mounts on extended and crew cabs, a new camshaft profile on the 6.0-liter gas V-8 engine, and a new exhaust brake feature on the upgraded 6.6-liter V-8 Duramax. In fact, this last feature is just part of a whole host of finely tuned tech upgrades for the new 6.6L V-8 Duramax. Specifically, upgrades include new Piezo injectors, stronger pistons and connecting rods, improved oil pump flow and parts cooling, as well as a smarter emissions after-treatment setup and B20 capability. To its credit, the 2011 Duramax is 63-percent cleaner, 11-percent more fuel efficient, and the most powerful turbodiesel in the class. New rating numbers for GM's monster motor are 397 horsepower at 3000 rpm and 765 lb-ft of torque at 1600 rpm. To keep pace with this output, the Allison 1000 has a stronger case, a stronger torque converter, and reduced spin losses.

GM is pricing the 2011 truck very close to 2010 prices, with an average cost per vehicle increase across the lineup of $600. Add to that the fact that GM is reporting the highest maximum and average payload and towing capacities across its eleven 2500 HD models and eight 3500 HD models and you clearly see how aggressive they're attacking the segment. Of special note, even with the improvements to both HD diesel and six-speed transmission options, their price remains the same ($7195 and $1200, respectively). Silverado HDs will continue to offer the base trim WT package, mid-level LT, and top-line LTZ models, with Sierra HDs offering WT, SLE, and SLT trim. However, GMC, as announced earlier this year, will be offering a top-of-the-line Denali model in both 2500 HD and 3500 HD configurations, which will include the maxxed-out Dually Crew Cab with just about every bell and whistle in the Denali parts bin. No word on Denali HD pricing at this time, but expect it to compete with the King Ranch F-350 and F-450 in the Ford stable. GM's HD lineup will range from just under $29,000 on up to $55,000.

So are the new frame and a significantly upgraded cast of supporting technology enough to make this pickup the new leader in the segment? Recently, GM gave us the chance to drive just about every variation they offer through the rolling (and sometimes steep) hills of eastern Maryland, parts of Pennsylvania, and the deep-wooded areas of West Virginia. For simplicity's sake, I'll focus most of my comments on the Silverado 2500 HD Extended Cab LT 4x4 (std. bed; gas V-8) I spent most of my time in. This configuration is likely to be the volume leader for GM if history is any indication, and listed for just under $38,000. From the outset of our drive, it was almost startling how smooth the front and rear suspensions drove over the hilly highways, especially since our truck was completely empty of a load. Traditionally, empty is never how you want to drive a three-quarter or one-ton pickup truck but the work done on the redesigned frontend pays huge dividends. The new front suspension (new forged upper control arms and a precision-machined cast-iron lower) offers 25-percent more load capacity, making every 4x4 model in the lineup able to be ordered with a snowplow package. The front GAWR is now 6,000 pounds across the board. But what really impressed us was how these bigger, heavier, and stronger pieces were able to more quickly and fluidly absorb sharp pothole inputs and accommodate road irregularities while cornering. This improved IFS has more control than ever before. And we were left with a similar impression on a 3500 HD dually as well. We usually don't think about refinement when driving vehicles in this segment, but GM engineers have pulled a rabbit out of their hats here.