2015 Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD first drive
Refreshed GM trucks are ready for Heavy Duty work
Photo: Mark Atkinson
Calgary, Alta. – Canadians love trucks. It’s true. No matter how much we focus on small cars or compact SUVs, the sales figures speak for themselves. Just as many pickups are put in driveways as compacts, despite there only being a handful of manufacturers producing the former compared with the latter.
And out of all 10 provinces, there’s only one that immediately comes to mind when talking pickups: Alberta. Blame the resources or the wide-open plains where the weather changes every 15 minutes, but Albertans are the serious connoisseurs of pickups. So there’s no better place to pick when talking about a new pickup, or in this case, a pair of them. General Motors is following up on its successful re-do of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra with the burlier, work-focused Heavy Duty versions.
The two-day drive took us from Calgary almost directly south to Waterton Lakes National Park, which sits in the very southwest corner of the province, sharing a border with Glacier National Park in Montana. It sits right at the base of the Rockies, and several hours’ worth of empty open roads to get there. Along the way, stops at places like Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and the Bar U Ranch – one of the first ranches established in Canada – proved just how emotional people get over pickups. You get the feeling there’s been more than one beer-or-whiskey-fueled brawl between the Ford and Chevy guys.
Why change what isn’t broken?
Photo: Mark Atkinson
Like GMs light-duty pickups, the new 2015 HD models aren’t completely ground-up replacements. Pretty much everything under the skin has been carried over, including the fully-boxed hydroformed frame and the bulk of the suspension pieces. They remain the only HD trucks with a fully-independent front suspension – with slightly revised geometry for 2015. Adjusting the front-end’s height to compensate for, say, a weighty snow plow or aesthetics is easily done thanks to accessible adjustable torsion bars. The rear still uses asymmetrical leaf springs with a beefy solid rear axle.
The powertrain remains largely the same, meaning a standard 6.0-litre V8 with 360 horsepower and 380 lb.-ft. of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. In 3500 guise, the power is only rated at 322 horses, but it can be ordered in bi-fuel-friendly spec, meaning able to run on both gasoline and CNG.
But the real star in any HD pickup remains the turbodiesel option, which in the General Motors twins, means a 6.6-litre Duramax V8 co-developed with Isuzu many moons ago. Its relative age is meaningless, though, as it still produces 397 horsepower and 765 lb.-ft. of torque. The sole transmission choice for the Duramax remains the insane Allison six-speed automatic, something for which the company is extremely proud. The combination – you can’t buy one without the other – boosts the price dramatically: $9,670 for the turbodiesel engine, and $1,650 for the transmission. But that’s about average in the class.
Despite the near-identical power figures, efforts made to improve cooling and thermal efficiency mean ratings for payload and towing are higher than before. Max payload is up 233 kg to 3,508 kg, which GM claims is best in class. Conventional towing is up by 726 kg to 8,890 kg, while fifth-wheel towing is up to 10,523 kg, an increase of 318 kg.
Big changes above the frame
Photo: Mark Atkinson
What is new? Pretty much everything else. The heavy-duty models have their own larger bumpers, grilles, hoods, fenders and front fascias, designed to improve aerodynamics and reduce fuel consumption, are even more enormous than the light-duty versions. As ever, the Silverado has a more traditional look, using a gigantic chrome strip between the two square headlights, with a dinner-plate-sized bowtie right in the middle. The Sierra looks a little wilder, with more modern projector headlight units with sharp LED accents. Both trucks also use different patterns in the grille to distinguish between trim levels, usually gaining more ‘bling’ and bolder accents.
Everything rear of the A-pillar is shared with the regular 1500 models, which depending on your taste could be either good or bad. The HD models do get unique wheels, ranging from 17- to 20 inches in several styles. Things like the built-in corner bed step are pretty smart solutions given the trucks’ height, while a newly-available spray-in bed liner and pages of other accessories make personalization easier.
Since the cabs are shared, so are the interiors, with easy-to-use controls on the dash and console. Most of the trucks on hand to test were in upscale LTZ or Denali trim, which use improved materials all around. The MyLink screens are easy to see, and there’s a second one buried in the instrument panel that’s customizable. The sole six-seat LT seemed much plainer – obviously – by comparison, although it should hold up to scuffs and abuse just fine.
The seats – 12-way power operated in the Denali – were very supportive, which helped immensely during the two days and hundreds of kilometres worth of driving around the Southwest corner of Alberta. Also noted was the supremely quiet cabin, regardless of trim. Wind and engine noise are mostly muted – only under serious acceleration did the diesel clatter intrude.
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