First Drive Review: 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD, Part 3


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2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 HD LT Crew Cab DRW With 6.6-Liter Duramax Diesel V-8 ($50,715) towing about 10,000 pounds plus a 2,000-pound payload

The next morning, we set off in a Silverado 3500 dually again, this time towing a Case Skid Steer Loader hooked to the truck with a pintle hitch plus 2,000 pounds of steel ballast in the cargo box.

Without the large frontal area of a camper aerodynamically dragging the truck, we got a better feel for the power of the Duramax. The truck seemed much more responsive, even lugging an extra 3,000 pounds or so of weight. Having all of that weight in the bed also improved the ride quality by compressing the tall spring packs over the rear wheels but didn’t sag.

Most of our driving was on backcountry two-lane roads and through small towns, so maneuverability was the priority over brute strength.

We exercised the steering much more than we had on the highway and again found it to be very consistent throughout full turns, especially going around tight bends and hairpin curves. The truck always tracked where we expected it to go without requiring any corrective efforts. And the more we steered the Silverado, the more we appreciated its lower steering ratio compared with last year’s truck, and it helped reduce fatigue when the roads became really twisty and tight on the last several miles of the driving leg.

Pintle hitches allow extra play between a truck and trailer, so it’s easier to maneuver a heavy item like the Case loader around turns and over unpaved surfaces. But that extra play can bite you during a sudden stop because momentum can cause the load to ride up the lower part of the Pintle clamp as the truck stops. Trailer brake integration between the truck and trailer helped, but there were a few times when the trailer still tried to push the truck forward as it came to a rest. The truck shrugged off these pushes like they were a wave traveling from tail to nose as the Silverado's big brakes held firm.

We kept the truck in tow/haul mode. The Allison gearbox never struggled to find or hold the optimal gear. Extra power was on tap whenever we needed it.

In the pre-2011 Silverado and Sierra, when the Duramax was worked hard, a thermostat-controlled mechanical fan would kick in with a roar at one speed. New for 2011 is an electrically controlled fan that can vary airflow depending on how much cooling is needed. It runs at the equivalent of up to 25 hp, but it ran at its highest speed only once during some particularly demanding turns heading uphill, where we were constantly on and off the accelerator. Other times we could hear it, but the noise was much less intrusive or distracting.

Photo by Jim Fets, courtesy of GeneralMotors

Instead of the luxurious interior of the LTZ, our LT had the “pure pickup” insides. There were fit and finish issues with the stereo head unit and glove box that shouldn’t exist in a $50,000 pickup truck. The cloth seats should be improved to provide better lower back and hind support.

2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 HD LT Crew Cab SRW With 6.6-Liter Duramax Diesel V-8 (price not available) hauling a 3,000-pound payload

After spending hours towing trailers, we jumped into a Silverado 3500 crew cab with 3,000 pounds of dead weight in its cargo box. This was a special kind of 1-ton.The sweet spot of the HD segment is three-quarter-ton single-rear-wheel crew-cab diesels. They perform like half-ton pickups on steroids. But when more capability is required, many have moved up to 1-ton duallys, skipping 1-ton SRW trucks and leaving them like the black sheep of HD pickups, and it’s easy to see why. The biggest difference between a 2500 and 3500 SRW GM HD pickup is the addition of an extra rear leaf spring.

But we think in more situations the 2011 Silverado could change this preference for duallys for several reasons.

In the past decade, major improvements have been made in tire construction to support heavy loads. Extra-large towing and hauling demands that used to require a dual-rear-wheel configuration to manage can now be managed with single rear wheels, like how our truck was configured. And, as we’ve already mentioned, the 2011 Silverado also has a stronger fully boxed frame and suspension.

When you compare a 2009 Silverado 3500 crew-cab SRW with the 2011 truck, we see a huge increase in capability. The 2009 3500 SRW could haul only 2,906 pounds and tow 13,000 pounds (same as the dually), while the 2009 3500 DRW could haul 4,042 pounds (about 40 percent more). Now, the 2011 3500 SRW can haul 4,165 pounds – more than 100 pounds more than the old DRW could handle. Yowza! It can also tow up to 17,000 pounds.

See our point? You get dually-like performance now, plus, with only single rear wheels, the ride is more comfortable than the dually, the truck is easier to maneuver, and with less rubber hitting the road, there’s likely to be a small fuel economy benefit as well.GM has also seen to it that all crew-cab models, including the heavier four-wheel-drive trucks like this model, have 6,000-pound front gross axle weight ratings, so they can use a snow plow.

As we drove through more rolling hill country, it was tough to tell we had 1.5 tons in the bed. The truck rode extremely well. At one point, we went wide-open throttle from a full stop up about a 4 percent grade, and the Silverado quickly passed slower traffic and changed lanes without complaint.

Like it had been a setup, an old GMT 800 (1999-2006) GMC Sierra 2500 – with a cargo box full of construction material and what looked to be aluminum siding on a trailer – drove in front of us. The loads we were carrying were probably within plus or minus 1,000 pounds of each other, even though our load was contained entirely in our truck. We couldn’t tell if it was in tow/haul mode, like our truck was, but we did watch the brake lights flash every few seconds as the Sierra rode them down a steep grade. We barely used our foot, using the exhaust brake and automatic downshifts to slow the Silverado down. It was another awesome demonstration of the way the 2011 Silverado worked to support the driver and not the other way around.

We also liked the newly available 18-inch forged polished aluminum wheels and LT265/70R18E all-terrain tires that gave the Silverado some street cred over the standard 17-inch steelies with LT235/80R17 tires.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for an all-season 1-ton pickup that will work hard on the ranch or road and not look like a contractor’s rig, you seriously need to consider the SRW Silverado or Sierra 3500 HD pickup.

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