Truck of the Year Winner: 2001 Chevrolet Silverado Heavy Duty
Toughness upon power upon strength
It used to be that 3/4- and one-ton trucks were tools. Long on anvil-like, workaday toughness. Short on creature comforts. Thirty years ago, you'd have been lucky to get sunvisors and an AM radio on a one-ton dualie-and those were options. Drive one every day? Not unless you're a tow-truck driver. Take one on vacation with your family or out to dinner with friends? Fughetaboudit! Leather seats and a six-CD changer? Stop it, already!
Today, things are different. Times have changed. Trucks have changed.
Although this year's field of candidates was widely varied in its makeup, the Chevrolet Silverado HD won us over with its do-it-all portfolio of power, passenger room, cargo capacity, feature levels, and towing prowess. Yet this bruiser drives beautifully, can be trimmed out as nicely as many luxury cars, and functions amazingly well as everyday personal (and family) transportation.
The Heavy Duty is the second stage in Chevy's Silverado model rollout that began with new light-duty 1500 and 2500 series trucks in '99-which themselves won MT's coveted Truck of the Year award. The HD platform means even stronger 3/4-ton (2500) models, plus the long-awaited one-ton (3500) trucks. Both are available in a dizzying array of body configurations: standard cab, four-door extended cab, or full four-door crew cab; long bed, short bed, or no bed in the form of cab-and-chassis models; single or dual rear wheels, the latter finally being officially named what everyone's been calling them for years-Big Dooley. Chevy counts 32 different cab/box/wheelbase variations, and we haven't even begun talking about different powertrains, the notion of 2WD/4WD, or trim levels.
Any great building must be constructed on a solid foundation, and the HD certainly is true to this principle. Its front frame rails are crafted using a high-tech hydroforming process. This fabrication method allows the metal to be bent in such a way as to preserve its grain structure; this as opposed to cutting and welding individual pieces, which doesn't achieve the same strength. The current (C5) Corvette chassis employs this same technology to great effect. Center- and rear-section rails are roll formed and drawn bent, employing high-strength, low-alloy steel to create their strong and structurally stiff C-shaped cross sections.
All Silverado HDs-even one-tons-are equipped with a heavy-duty short/long-arm independent front suspension system (no more rough-riding solid axles) to ensure better handling and a smoother ride than is often associated with trucks having this much capacity. Out back is a two- or three-stage leaf-spring system, depending upon weight-rating of the model. Extra engineering effort was spent in the braking department, as all Heavy Dutys offer beefy four-wheel disc brakes and four-wheel ABS as standard equipment.
Cab designs are essentially shared with the standard Silverado models, though the front-end styling is more aggressive to further complement the Heavy Duty's brawny nature. The hoodline is elevated, and the front bumper pads are thicker to accommodate the HD's higher body height.
To paraphrase Robert DeNiro's character in the movie "Taxi Driver": "You wanna talk power? Are you talking power ta me?" One of the Silverado HD's most impressive hallmarks is tons of trailer-towing, hill-climbing, load-hauling power. It comes in three forms, two of which are all new-and all of which are class leaders in terms of horsepower and torque output. Chevrolet's now-familiar 6.0L OHV Vortec 6000 V-8 serves well as the Heavy Duty's base engine. This powerplant also stems from the Corvette, and its 300-hp peak comes at 4400 rpm, while delivering 360 lb-ft of torque at 4000. Choose between a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. But that's just the start.
Big-inch gasoline-engine fans and hardcore-diesel fanatics have new engines to fawn over. Though the new Vortec 8100 V-8 is based on the architecture of the previous 7.4L (454-cu-in.) big block, nearly 80 percent of its parts are new or redesigned. It barely outsizes Dodge's impressive 8.0L V-10, yet handily outpowers it (see engine comparison chart): 340 hard-working horses show up at 4200 rpm, and there's 455 lb-ft of torque available at a user-friendly 3200 rpm. And talk about a flat torque curve: Fully 90 percent of its max torque output is available from 1700 rpm to 4300 revs-that's power and flexibility worth bragging about. The 8100 requires only oil and filter changes for the first 100,000 miles, and the Power Control Module even monitors oil condition and signals the owner when a change is required. Furthermore, the heads, valves, valve seats, and rings in Chevy's newest big block are engineered to run on propane or natural gas with no internal modifications required.
You say you pull a giant trailer and want even more torque? The answer is called Duramax. GM will be the first to admit it was essentially out-gunned in the light-duty diesel market with its previous underpowered and outdated 6.5L oil burner. But the new Duramax 6600 turbodiesel puts Chevy not only back in the hunt, but right at the front of the pack. Developed in concert with medium-duty truck expert Isuzu, this new 6.6L V-8 employs an unusual-for-an-OHV-design four-valves-per-cylinder engine. The turbo is mounted just above the engine valley for a shorter intake tract and reduced turbo lag. An intercooler helps the Duramax make the most of its 8 lb of turbo boost. We haven't enough space to spell out every aspect of the Duramax's impressive design and technology, but remember that it's an all-new design, built from the ground up as a diesel; and the Isuzu midsize rigs it's also used in are much larger and heavier than the Silverado HD.
Back to power, as the numbers speak for themselves: 300 hp at 3100 rpm, and no less than 520 lb-ft of torque, which ripples out at just 1800 rpm. What numbers can't tell you is how refined this powerplant is. First of all, it's amazingly quiet for a diesel. And what mechanical noise exists is refined in a pleasantly undiesel-like fashion. It's smooth, too, with no tailpipe smoke or noticeable fumes to speak of. The Duramax 6600 is clearly a substantial step forward in diesel engine design and execution.
The transmission offerings are as new, and as good, as the heavy Chevy's optional powerplants. Standard with either the Vortec 8100 or the Duramax 6600 is a ZF six-speed manual transmission. First gear is, of course, a super low ratio, with normal street ratios from gears 2 to 6. But the real tranny news is an all-new close-ratio five-speed automatic provided by GM's Allison Division. Allison is one of the world's leading suppliers of automatic transmissions for heavy-duty commercial applications, and the use of this hardware further underscore's the Silverado HD's purpose as a hard-working piece.
Spreading the transmission's job out over five forward gears means a 30-percent increase in ratio coverage-in other words, a gear for every occasion, load, and rpm band. This trans also retains the Silverado's innovative Tow/Haul mode: Actuate a button on the end of the trans shifter lever, and the transmission will stay in lower gears longer for dealing with heavy loads. Furthermore, actuating Tow/Haul invokes the transmission programming into Engine Grade Braking mode, which automatically downshifts when the vehicle heads downhill to provide an extra measure of compression braking.
You say you want to tow or haul something? Check out a few of these numbers: Up to a 12,000-lb gross vehicle weight rating. Up to 6089 lb of payload capacity. Most HDs will tow a trailer weighing up to 12,000 lb with a conventional hitch, and make that 15,000 lb with a fifth wheel or gooseneck hitch. Naturally, these ratings vary depending upon model, powertrain, gear ratios, and wheelbase. But suffice it to say these rigs are ready to work.
All the HD's job-rated hardware might have you thinking it's just too much truck for everyday and recreational needs. Absolutely not.
You can spec out your Silverado Heavy Duty just about any way you wish, from the vinyl-bench-seat-equipped, rubber floor matted model, ideal for the toughest construction-site duty, to nearly full luxo-car standard. The extended cab remains the industry's best in interior volume and comfort. The upper cushion of its foldable rear seat offers some much-appreciated rake, instead of the bolt-upright position in many other trucks' rear cab areas. Dual rear-hinged doors make for easy access, and most models give rear passengers their own HVAC vents and cupholders. Have a bigger crew? You need Chevy's Crew Cab, with plenty of room-and seatbelts-for six.
Even if your truck is used for serious duty, you'll probably want it trimmed-out with a bit of luxury, as well, of course. Your perspective of what "luxury" means in a truck may have to be raised a few levels when you learn what these big rigs deliver. The mid-level 2500 SLE model, for example, includes the following standard equipment: air conditioning; AM/FM/CD stereo; power steering/windows/mirrors/locks; full instrumentation (including an engine-hour meter); dual airbags with passenger-side-off switch; intermittent wipers; cruise control; leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel; and GM's PassLock II anti-theft system with remote keyless entry. Options include a considerable number of seating choices, and we especially like the nicely leather-upholstered captain's chair buckets up front, which feature integrated seatbelts, armrests, heaters, and memory function. You can also choose from several additional sound systems, GM's OnStar GPS/cellular communications package, and all manner of trim variations inside and out.
Again, we must emphasize that, for all their impressive power and weight ratings, these trucks are amazingly well mannered in everyday use. One popular combo among our staff was a 2WD extended-cab HD2500 SLT model packing the Vortec 8100/Allison automatic. We expected it to accelerate well, which it does, but what really impressed us was the polish this truck exhibits on the road. It's car-quiet. The sound system is outstanding. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and there's plenty of storage inside. The independent front suspension offers far better than expected ride and handling, plus reasonable road feel and minimal bump steer through the steering wheel. The brakes are powerful, highly fade resistant, and easy to modulate, and we were confident that the four-wheel disc/four-wheel ABS combo has stopping power to spare.
Both powerplants impress, too. The Vortec 8100 (nearly 496 cubic inches!) is musclecar strong and luxury-car smooth. It launches hard, pulls cleanly to nearly redline, and its power characteristics are perfectly balanced to the ratios and shiftpoints of the Allison autobox. Since the ratios are closer to each other than they'd be in a more conventional four-speed automatic, the engine loses less rpm on each shift and just keeps on pulling. We've already extolled many of the (402 cu-in.) Duramax 6600's virtues, but it will make believers out of many diesel naysayers. Its 0-60-mph time of 8.4 sec (in 4x4 trim) is only one-tenth slower that the (4x2) 8100 V-8, while delivering about twice the real-world mpg. In our overall testing, it returned about 18 mpg versus the 8100's 9-10 mpg. That's impressive!
Also impressive is the specification flexibility and value that can only be offered by a full-size domestic truck. We've already discussed the many cab styles, bed sizes, payload ratings, powertrain choices, and trim levels that allow you to make a Chevy HD be just about anything you want it to. Yet the most expensive model (3500 Crew Cab 4x4) bases at $36,904-about what you pay for a well-equipped V-6-powered "near luxury" sedan these days. Yes, you can push these trucks well into the mid-$40s, but also consider this: a 2500 HD Regular Cab 2WD with an 8-ft bed-including the Vortec 6000 V-8 and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS-starts at just $21,469. Pound for pound, inch for inch, just plain stuff for money, is there a better truck value available?
Class-leading power. Technological innovation. High levels of refinement. Do-it-all capability. Substantial cargo and towing capacity. Everyday comfort. Recreational flexibility. High quality and good value. They all come together with style in the new Chevrolet Silverado Heavy Duty: Motor Trend's 2001 Truck of the Year.