2011 Truck Of The Year Winner: Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500HD
What Lies Beneath: Subtle Styling Changes Hide Big Improvements
In the heavy-duty truck world, capability is most important. Folks like to brag about numbers -- horsepower, torque, and payload and towing capacity -- and talk about the monstrous things they can tow. Take, for example, the Chevrolet Silverado HD's 21,700-pound towing capacity. That means it can tow three other Silverado HDs, or 10 Lotus Evoras. Payload capacities in this category mean that each truck is rated to carry a half-ton pickup in its bed, if you crushed it small enough to fit. These are the trucks that haul horse trailers, massive boats, and huge construction equipment; the ones many people pooh-pooh as being too big and too environmentally unfriendly -- until they need to use one, of course. Styling isn't nearly as important in this category, so when the Great Recession hit and GM's development budget was cut, it prioritized function over form.
The new Silverado HD received a new hood, front bumper, and grille, plus optional 20-inch wheels, but that's about it on the styling side. The engineers focused more on three key attributes: powertrain, frame, and suspension. Improving that trio would provide more power with greatly reduced emissions, increased capability, and better ride and reduced noise levels in the cabin. The stronger, cleaner, and more comfortable Silverado HD was ready to take on its new-for-2011 foes.
For Motor Trend's 2011 Truck of the Year, we evaluated two Silverado HDs, one an extended-cab gas SRW and the other a crew-cab diesel dualie. This was one of the rare TOTY events where all the competitors were from the same market category, and we missed having all the heavy-duty competitors in the same year by mere months (the Ram was new for 2010). So we had the opportunity to test out three of the four in the segment, making what isn't supposed to be a straight competition into a straight competition. The editors had the chance to drive two Silverado HDs, two Super Duties, and two Sierra HDs back to back, to compare apples-to-apples gas and diesel models. We tested all of them with and without payload, on highway straights and on twisty roads, with and without trailers.
Everyone on staff who drove the Silverado HDs immediately noticed what the engineers changed for 2011 -- as well as what they left alone. Chevrolet developed new fully boxed frames for the HDs, plus there are more crossmembers, and the front frame segments are hydroformed. As a result, bending, torsional, and beaming stiffness were dramatically increased; vibrations were reduced; and ride and handling were improved.
GM totally redesigned the independent front suspension, which also improves ride and handling and the front axle's weight rating, reduces noise, and allows for a snowplow attachment on 4WD models. With the new frames, nicely weighted steering, and new suspension tuning, the Chevrolets drive like much smaller trucks, even though they are basically the same size as Ford's Super Duty models. And they had the best ride comfort of the group, bar none.
GM also attended to the engine bay. New regulations required a reduction in diesel emissions, so GM integrated a selective catalytic reduction aftertreatment system, which squirts a urea/distilled water mix into the exhaust. The chemical reactions that occur there reduce NOx emissions by 63 percent over those of the 2010 Duramax (yes, doubters, the big, honkin' diesel is green!). GM also increased the 6.6-liter's horsepower to 397 and torque to 765, up by 32 and 105, respectively. Chevrolet essentially left its 6.0-liter Vortec V-8 alone, with its 360 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque.
However, the heavy-duty market is fiercely competitive, and even though the Silverado HD's diesel horsepower and torque numbers initially beat those of the new Ford Super Duty -- at 390 horses and 735 pound-feet -- just after GM released its power numbers, Ford responded with a software upgrade that brought its Power Stroke's output to a nice, even 400 horsepower and 800 pound-feet. And Ford now has best-in-class towing capacity. On paper, that decision made it look as if the Ford would be crowned king of the segment. We could pack up our gear and go home, right?
Wrong. Despite the horsepower and torque advantages the Power Stroke has over the Duramax, both Fords weighed significantly more than the Silverados (the diesel weighed nearly 800 pounds more). That helped put the weight-to-power ratio in the Chevys' favor in every case. It also explained why the diesel Silverado was fastest at the track to 60 mph (loaded with payload or unloaded) and had the best passing power. The gas-powered Ford was quicker to 60 mph and through the quarter mile with a 7000-pound trailer in tow, but the Chevrolets dominated otherwise. And the entire crew universally preferred the shifting smoothness of the Allison (diesel) and Hydra-Matic (gas) transmissions over the Fords' six-speeds. Also, despite the deceptively mushy feel of the brake pedal, the shortest stop from 60 mph in this test was the Silverado 3500HD.
If there is a weak aspect of the Chevrolet, it's in the cabin. Depending on the judge, the interior styling was described as bland, plain, or subtle. The center stack and gauge cluster use outdated green instrument lighting and controls that have been around for at least a decade.
This is in sharp contrast to the terrific new driver information center in the Super Duty and the high-lux, high-quality, bordering-on-gaudy interior of the King Ranch. That knock aside, the Silverados' cabins are quiet, comfortable, and attractive. The controls are easy to use and in quick reach of the driver's hands. We expect the interior to receive an update within the next couple years as the market improves.
The Silverado HD proves that numbers on paper don't always tell the whole story. The Chevrolet is highly capable, and feels better than the Fords while performing tough tasks.
It is faster than the Super Duty whether gas- or diesel-powered. It provides a nicer ride, better handling, better on-road feel, and better observed fuel economy -- all at as-tested prices that were lower than the Fords' by as much as $13,000. The trucks in this category may be expensive, but the Chevrolet heavy-duty line offers a value that's tough to ignore. No wonder it's this year's Truck of the Year.
Horse Heaven: The Duramax turbodiesel provides 32 more horsepower and 105 pound-feet more torque than in 2010, and is stronger and quieter. NOx emissions have been reduced by 63 percent.
Riding High: The suspension now offers a higher front axle height rating, plus better ride and handling.
Boxed Up: The HD line's fully boxed frames have more cross sections, more high-strength steel, and hydroformed front sections.
Up To Speed: The Vortec gas engine is backed by a Hydra-Matic 6L90, and the Duramax diesel by an Allison 1000. Both six-speeds received high praise from the staff.
Inner Space: The interior is attractive and controls are easy to use, but styling borders on bland. The center stack and gauge cluster controls have been around for at least a decade. At right, Chevrolet didn't mess with its 6.0-liter Vortec V-8 engine, with 360 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque.
|2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD Trim|
2500HD SRW LT; 3500HD DRW LT*
|Drivetrain layout||Front engine, 4WD; RWD|
|Engine type||90-deg V-8, iron block/alum heads; turbodiesel|
|Valvetrain||OHV, 2 valves/cyl; 4 valves/cyl|
|Displacement||364.0 cu in/5967 cc; 403.0 cu in/6599 cc|
|Compression Ratio||9.6:1; 16.0:1|
|Power (sae net)||360 hp @ 5400 rpm; 397 hp @ 3000 rpm|
|Torque (sae net)||380 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm; 765 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm|
|Redline||6000; 3000 rpm|
|Weight to power||18.0; 19.3 lb/hp|
|Axle/final-drive ratios||3.73:1/2.50:1; 3.73:1/2.28:1|
|Suspension, front; rear||Multilink, torsion bars; live axle, leaf springs|
|Steering ratio||16.1:1; 16.0:1|
|Brakes, f;r||14.0-in vented disc; 14.2-in vented disc, ABS; 14.0-in vented disc; 14.0-in vented disc, ABS|
|Wheels||7.5 x 17-in, cast aluminum; 6.5 x 17-in, steel|
|Tires, f;r||265/70R17 121/118Q M+S Bridgestone Duravis M700; 235/80R17 120/117R M+S Michelin LTX M/S2|
|Wheelbase||144.1; 167.7 in|
|Track, f/r||68.8/67.3; 68.8/75.0 in|
|Length x width x height||230.6 x 80.0 x 77.8; 259.0 x 95.9 x 77.8 in|
|Turning circle||47.9; 55.4 ft|
|Curb weight||6488; 7681 lb|
|Weight dist, f/r||57/43%; 56/44%|
|Headroom, f/r||41.1/39.4; 41.2/40.5 in|
|Legroom, f/r||41.3/34.3; 41.3/39.0 in|
|Shoulder room, f/r||65.2/65.3; 65.2/65.1 in|
|Pickup Box L X W X H||78.8 x 62.4 x 21.0 in; 97.7 x 62.4 x 21.0 in|
|Width Between Wheelhouses||50.6; 50.6 in|
|Actual Payload Capacity||3012; 5319 lb|
|Max Towing Capacity||14,000; 21,700 lb|
|Acceleration to mph|
|0-30||2.8; 2.3 sec|
|Passing, 45-65 mph||4.5; 3.9|
|Quarter mile||16.3 sec @ 86.2 mph; 15.4 sec @ 87.9 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||145; 137 ft|
|Lateral acceleration||0.73; 0.70 g (avg)|
|Top-gear revs @ 60 mph||1700; 1500 rpm|
|Base price||$28,960; $29,800|
|Price as tested||$39,040; $50,715|
|Stability/traction control||Yes/yes; yes/no|
|Basic warranty||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|Warranty, eng; battery||5 yrs/100,000 miles|
|Roadside assistance||5 yrs/100,000 miles|
|Fuel capacity||36.0 gal|
|EPA city/hwy econ||Not yet rated|
|MT obs fuel econ||12.1; 13.6 mpg|