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GM's Tandem Chevy/GMC Salvo

2010 GMC Sierra HD and Silverado HD

GM's Tandem Chevy/GMC Salvo
Posted June 13 2010 09:30 PM by Brandan 
Filed under: Editorials, Truck News , Chevy

GMC Denali HD 2011

We finally had the opportunity to drive GM's latest HD trucks on a two-day media event that took us from Maryland into West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. We drove 2WD, 4WD, regular cabs, crew cabs, and got a peek at the all-new Denali HD. How did they do? Here's a quick first look for you.

Camp trailer 2011 Silverado HD towing

Before we can tell you how the trucks stack up against their competition, we need to explain exactly what the freshened-up bodywork is hiding, or "keeping dry" as the chassis and powertrain engineers like to say.

2011 Silverado HD


GM has 45% of the 3/4-ton market but only 28% of the 1-ton market. They knew that the payload and towing capability of their 3500s was trailing Ford and Dodge, so they beefed up their chassis and powertrains to offer class-leading payload and towing in several cab configurations.  To begin with, the HD chassis is 99.9% new. A fully-boxed frame that has five times the torsional rigidity of the old HD frame made it easier to tune the suspension, and chassis engineers did just that, with five unique torsion bars depending on cab configuration. Yes, the HDs retained independent front suspension (IFS) in their 4WD models, unlike the Ram HD and Ford Super Duty. GM believes that IFS gives them the edge in ride and handling. It does. By the way, the 0.1% that remains, which is my math, not theirs, are the two sway bar end links in the front suspension.

Our first drive in the HDs was pulling a 9,500-lb camp trailer up and down the steep and winding grades of western Maryland. We were actually warned that this part of the drive should be reserved for those of us with trailering experience, but we've hauled vehicles on trailers, so we figured it would be a cinch. It turns out that the roads were narrow and we were on our toes with oncoming lumber trucks taking more than their share of the road. The engine braking of the Duramax's variable-geometry turbo dramatically reduced the amount of downshifting necessary, but when we did need more braking, a tap on the pedal would let the Allison transmission know what we wanted. If more braking was needed, another tap got us another downshift. The steering response, engine power, and improved brakes all translated to driver immediate confidence. The truck never got out of balance or felt like it had a mind of its own. In fact, we set the cruise control and let the truck handle the speed going up as well as going down the 8% grades, making for a relaxing drive even though we had over 35 feet of trailer hanging off us.

After a suggestion from a colleague, I drove identical loops back-to-back, first with 2,000lbs in the bed of a single rear wheel Chevrolet 3500 4x4 with the brand-new Duramax and then again with 2,000lbs in the bed of a single rear wheel Ford F-350 4x4 with Ford's brand-new Power Stroke. Both trucks are remarkable powerful. Chevrolet and GMC have the bragging rights for now with a 7-hp and 30-lb-ft advantage over Ford, with 397-hp and 765-bl-ft of torque, so both have enough power to haul just about any tool or toy you'd care to load on a trailer, and it's practically too close to call from the seat of the pants feel. What's easier to perceive is engine noise and ride quality. Cruising on an even stretch of highway with the engine at around 1,700rpms you'll struggle to hear the Duramax, while the Power Stroke has a noticeable rumble, as the RPMs go up the discrepancy grows. We didn't really mind the engine noise from the Ford on our short time behind the wheel, but it's one of the factors that GM engineers addressed in their HDs to reduce driver fatigue. As for ride and handling, the IFS certainly has its advantages compared to a solid axle.  IFS allows for a better contact patch for steering and braking, and obviously each side can react to bumps on its own. On the relativley new asphalt highways we were on the difference was subtle, but noticeable.

One very interesting tidbit that we were able to confirm was that the Duramax is available in every cab configuration, including regular cab with the 6-foot 6-inch bed, in both 2wd and 4WD.

No doubt Chevy and GMC faithful will fall in love with the newest iteration of their HDs, it improved on everything that they already had done quite well, but will this new HD pry owners out of their Ram or Super Duty? Even GM's engineers and marketing admit that Ford and Ram offer competitive products, in fact they enjoy the rivalry because competition drives them all to produce the best product they possibly can. What GM focused on was trying to capture the segment of the market that they call "free agents", those buyers who aren't fiercely brand loyal. Never has their decision been more difficult, but if ride quality, steering feel, and driving confidence are high priorities, they'll probably end up in one of the General's HDs .

We'll have more in an upcoming issue of Truckin'


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