There's something gratifying about pulling up next to a Hummer in a factory 4x4 pickup and knowing the H2 driver has to look up to see you. That same feeling of utter superiority also shines bright when you cruise by someone in a big 4x4 dualie--and you're the one towing a 30-foot trailer.

Such are the joys driving one of the biggest, sickest four-wheel-drive pickups on the market--the GMC TopKick or its brand twin, the Chevrolet Kodiak.

The Kodiak/TopKick, built in Flint, Michigan, is the newest medium-duty truck to roll out of the GM Fleet and Commercial stable of trucks and big passenger vans. The truck raised a lot of eyebrows and gained high praise when it made its debut in 2003. It'll get even more looks in 2005, now that four-wheel drive is a factory offering, which greatly increases its off-road abilities.

"The GM-installed four-wheel-drive option is something commercial customers and dealers have been asking for," says Elliott Benson, product manager for the Kodiak C4500 and C5500 models.

"Now that we're offering factory four-wheel drive, this truck should exceed customer expectations across a wide range of industries, including forestry, snowplowing, landscaping, agriculture, tree trimming, utility work, and more. These new models will also meet the needs of consumers who demand four-wheel drive."

As Benson explained during our recent ride in the Michigan countryside, many of GM's commercial users operate their vehicles off-road, where traction is critical. Being stuck at a work site--or being unable to get there at all--can carry tremendous costs for the vehicle owners and the companies they work for.

"Not only are the Kodiak/TopKick 4x4s able to get to the job, they bring with them enhanced agility. These trucks can make surprisingly tight turns in confined areas, providing a tremendous advantage whether you're plowing a parking lot or maneuvering in a tight construction site," Benson explains.

Our short time driving around the GM Proving Grounds off-road course and on the open highways and backroads showed the new 4x4--available in regular and crew-cab configurations--is highly versatile and as easy to drive as any GM full-size pickup or van.

In fact, from the firewall to the back of the cab is GM 3500 Series van, including the dash, steering wheel, and doors. So slipping behind the wheel has the comfortable familiarity of being behind the wheel of any Silverado or Sierra.

Engine power and on- and off-road performance also are familiar; these rigs are motivated by either the standard 325-horsepower Vortec 8.1-liter V-8 gasoline engine or the 300-horsepower Duramax 6.6-liter V-8 turbodiesel. Both engines are backed by the Allison 1000 Series five-speed automatic transmission, which also is brought up from the heavy-duty pickups, along with electronic throttle control for smoother off-road driving.

The big 4x4s utilize an electronically controlled New Venture Gear NV273 two-speed transfer case with an instrument-panel-mounted rotary selector switch for 4Lo, 4Hi, and 2Hi drive settings.

Four-wheel-drive Kodiaks also feature manually activated front locking hubs for additional traction capability and a heavy-duty off-road skidplate to protect the transfer case.

The most amazing aspects of driving the Kodiak pickup are the remarkable driver's view and how sharply the truck turns. The 4x4's wider front track permits a 53-degree wheel cut, resulting in a turning diameter as tight as 47 feet.

In addition, Kodiak's sloped-hood design and a windshield that's some 40 percent larger lets you see the ground a mere 13.8 feet in front of the truck (as measured from the front bumper), which is even better than the forward visibility measurements of many compact pickup trucks.

Braking also is excellent. Stopping in short order happens without any tendency for harshness. The trucks feature a new HydroMax hydraulic four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system with standard four-channel ABS and electronic brake distribution, with traction control as an option.

The eight-foot steel bed, which gives the pickup version of the Kodiak a level of coolness unequaled by any other truck on the road, is the only item not built in the Flint plant. It's manufactured and installed at nearby Monroe Truck Equipment.

"Monroe has engineered this aftermarket upfit using the GM dualie pickup box, taillights, tailgate, and bumper," explains Benson. "The composite side panels are manufactured by Monroe and are unique in that they're four inches longer than the GM production side panels found on the Silverado."

Monroe designed the bed panels so the lines match the contours of the Kodiak/TopKick body, and it designed a unique subframe for mounting the pickup box to the Kodiak frame.

After the final assembly of the bed on the frame, Monroe paints the pickup box to match the chassis cab.

"This is a totally aftermarket, dual-invoice conversion. Monroe builds these vehicles based on customer or dealer orders just like any other aftermarket upfit such as dump bodies, roll-backs, and van bodies," Benson says. "This enables GM dealers to order trucks that can be shipped to Monroe for upfitting and can be placed back in the GM transportation system for delivery to the dealer. The finished truck comes with a full warranty from both GM and Monroe."

What does it cost to make Hummer owners feel intimidated as you gaze down upon them in a Kodiak 4x4 pickup? The base MSRP of the C5500 Crew Cab 4x4 Chassis Cab, with the Duramax diesel and Allison transmission, is $58,660. The Monroe pickup bed upfit adds another $9000.

The softer-sprung C4500 model is even less expensive. For example, a C4500 Crew Cab 4x2 Chassis Cab with the Duramax diesel/Allison combo has an MSRP of just $46,208--plus the pickup-bed upfit charge.

GM says the C4500 Kodiak 4x4 and 4x2 pickups are now available through all GMC/Chevy dealers, while the C5500 Chevy Kodiak and C5500 GMC TopKick are available only through GM Medium Duty dealers.

Chevrolet Kodiak C4500/C5500
General
Location of final assembly Flint, Michigan
Body style 4-door pickup
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
Airbags None
Powertrain
Base engine Vortec 8100 V-8, iron block and heads
Bore x stroke, in 4.25 x 4.37
Displacement, ci/L 496/8.1
Compression ratio9.1:1
Valve gear OHV, 2 valves/cyl
Fuel induction SFI
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 325 @ 4000
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 450 @ 2800
Recommended fuel Unleaded 87 (min)
Opt engine Duramax 6600 V-8 intercooledturbodiesel, iron block, alum heads
Bore x stroke, in 4.06 x 3.90
Displacement, ci/L 403/6.6
Compression ratio 17.5:1
Valve gear OHV, 4 valves/cyl
Fuel induction Common rail, direct injection
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 300 @ 3000
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 520 @ 1600
Recommended fuel No. 2 diesel
Transmission type ZF S6-650 manual (w/8100)
1st 5.79:1
2nd 3.31:1
3rd 2.10:1
4th 1.31:1
5th 1.00:1
6th 0.76:1
Reverse 5.23:1
PTO NA
Transmission type Allison 1000 auto (w/6600)
1st 3.10:1
2nd 1.81:1
3rd 1.41:1
4th 1.00:1
5th 0.71:1
Reverse 4.49:1
PTO 6-bolt SAE
Axle ratios 4.88:1 or 5.13:1
Transfer-case model NV273
Low-range ratiov 2.72:1
Crawl ratio (1st x axle x low range) 80.8:1 or 43.3:1
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 194
Length, in 267
Width, in 96 (115 w/mirrors)
Height, in 95
Track, f/r, in 79.6/73.1
Legroom, f/r, in 40/39
Shoulder room, f/r, in 69/67
Ground clearance, in 9.5
Approach/departure angle, deg 35.5/19.0
Bed size LxWxD, in 87x58x20
Base curb weight, lb 10,160
Payload capacity, lb 9000
GVWR, lb 19,500
GCWR, lb 25,999
Tow capacity, lb 12,000 (rec), 15,000 (fifth/g'neck)
Fuel capacity, gal 32, 40, 60
Chassis
Suspension, f/r Live axle, single-stage leaf springs/live axle, multileaf springs
Steering type ZF recirculating ball
Ratio Variable 16.1:1/19.6:1
Turning circle, ft 59.5
Brakes, f/r Hydraulic 15-in disc/15-in disc, 4WABS
Price
Base price $48,208
Price as tested $80,660 (C5500 4x4)
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