2012 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD
2012 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
All-new, completely re-engineered.
The 2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD is a substantially revised pickup truck that resets the bar in cargo ratings. You may recognize much of the interior and some of the body work but for pickups the latter is only important for keeping mud off your trailer. In the realm of HD pickups what matters is underneath and everything there has been gone through with a big torque wrench.
The standard gas engine and transmission have been mildly revised while the diesel gets a serious upgrade to 397 hp and more than twice the torque of the 6-liter gas V8, giving GM the strongest diesel and the least-powerful gasoline engines in the segment. Apart from two very small front suspension pieces everything in the suspension, steering, brakes, frame and ancillary systems have been redone. As a result, anyone with $40,000 and a driver's license can buy a pickup capable of towing a 10-ton trailer.
Silverado HD can also be configured to carry more than 6,500 pounds in dual-rear wheel configuration or 4,600 pounds in single-rear, so if you don't spend the winter plowing, routinely pull a heavy trailer or only need that load capacity once or twice a year a Silverado 1500 and occasional utility trailer rental make a lot more sense.
Although it's a work truck, the Silverado HD offers many conveniences some require as part of work, including Bluetooth, USB inputs, rear cameras with or without navigation, and navigation through a built-in system or OnStar's turn-by-turn directions; one requires a subscription, the other may require annual updates.
A choice of interiors is available, with different dashboards rather than merely varied finishes. You can have it sweep-out simple, or served up with heated leather, navigation, and an expensive-looking opaque shade for the moonroof. Regular cabs are roomy enough for three, extended cabs are ideal for younger families, while the crew cab is suitable for work gangs or full-grown families.
A well trimmed Silverado HD is the most car-like of big pickups, whether referring to interior appearance or driving feel. Yet it carries and tows as well or better than other heavy-duty pickups. With plenty of cab/box/trim/drive choices and option sheets to fill many pages, there should be an example to fit your honest needs and preferences. Alternatives are limited to the mechanically identical GMC Sierra HD, Ford Super Duty, and Ram Heavy-Duty pickups.
The 2011 Silverado HD offers five wheelbases in 2500 (3/4-ton) trim. It comes as a Regular Cab long bed (8 feet), an Extended Cab with standard bed (6-foot, 7-inch) or long bed, or Crew Cab with standard bed or long bed. The 3500-series (1-ton) is all long-bed except for a Crew Cab standard bed without dual-rear wheels. Some models are available with a pickup box delete for mounting your own or aftermarket body on. Fuel capacities range from 26 to 63.5 gallons with 36 gallons standard.
Standard Silverado HD power is a 6-liter gasoline V8 rated 360 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque in 2500 pickups and 322 hp, 380 lb-ft in all 3500 and box-delete 2500. It comes solely with a six-speed automatic transmission and 3.73:1 or 4.10:1 ($100) axle ratio. A 6.6-liter diesel (LML) is optional ($8395) for all but regular cab 3500 2WD and rated at 397 hp and 765 lb-ft of torque, with a required Allison six-speed automatic transmission and 3.73:1 axles only. A 6.6-liter (LGH) is rated at 335 hp and 685 lb-ft and offered only on box-delete trucks. Both diesels are B20-biodiesel approved.
There are three trim levels of WT, LT and LTZ, but some configurations and trims can't be combined; LTZ is limited to Extended and Crew Cab models. Expect to add $2,000-$3,000 to move from regular cab to Extended or Extended to Crew Cab, about $200 from standard bed to long bed, and about $3,000 for 4WD.
Silverado HD WT models ($27,965-$36,920) are work and fleet trucks. They come with gray vinyl upholstery, rubberized floor covering, black door handles and mirrors, steel wheels and floor-shift for 4WD. They also include air conditioning, AM/FM stereo, driver info center (trip computer, etc.), 40/20/40 manual-recline front seats, rear bench seat (60/40-split Crew Cab), tilt wheel, chrome grille and bumpers, tow hooks, intermittent wipers, and dual dash power outlets. Options on WT include cruise control ($250), radio upgrade, OnStar 9.0 ($295), 18-inch wheels, camper mirrors, locking differential ($325), trailering equipment ($455-$780), power windows, power mirrors, power locks, integrated trailer brake controller ($200), deep-tint glass.
Silverado HD LT versions ($31,160-41,490) improve on WT with cloth upholstery, carpeting (the WT floor is available), 40/20/40 front seat with locking console storage, split-fold rear seat, AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 RDS stereo, OnStar with six months' service, cruise control, aluminum wheels, power heated mirrors, power windows, power door locks, visor vanity mirror/lights, side moldings and electric-shift for 4WD. LT options include everything available on the WT not already standard, plus a convenience package ($545) with adjustable pedals, rear park assist, universal remote, remote start, electric rear window defrost), bucket seats and console; an interior plus package with 6-way power driver seat, USB input, steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth, locking EZ-lift tailgate, fog lamps, dual-zone climate control, backup camera in mirror ($450), navigation/backup camera ($2,250-$2,850), power passenger seat (3500 Crew), steering wheel controls, power sliding rear window ($250), power heated camper mirrors ($243), 20-inch wheels and tires, locking differential, Z71 off-road package ($180-$275) with special shocks, bump stops, 36-mm front antiroll bar, and skid plates.
Silverado HD LTZ ($38,190-$44,950) upgrades to leather upholstery, 10-way power heated front seats and two-person driver memory, dual-zone climate control, Bose DVD audio system, Bluetooth, console, auto-dimming mirrors, steering wheel controls, fog lamps, paint-matched trim, power folding mirrors w/signals, 18-inch polished forged aluminum wheels, locking differential, trailer equipment and integrated trailer brake controller. LTZ options include a universal garage door opener, locking EZ-Lift tailgate, adjustable pedals, rear park assist, rear wheelhouse liners, navigation/camera, rear-seat entertainment system ($1,480), moonroof ($995), power sliding rear window, power heated camper mirrors and 20-inch wheels on 2500.
Optional on all trim levels are roof marker lamps ($55), skid plates ($150), snow-plow prep for 4WD, fast-idle switch ($200), camper/fifth-wheel wiring ($35). Dual 125-amp alternators ($270) and radiator covers ($55) for cold states are optional on diesel models.
Safety equipment includes frontal airbags, front seat belt pretensioners, and StabiliTrak on single-rear wheel models. Optional equipment includes front-side airbags and front side-curtain airbags (2500), OnStar, backup cameras and integrated trailer brake controller.
There will be no mistaking the Silverado HD for anything other than Chevrolet's largest pickup truck. Up to 6.5 feet high, eight feet wide and more than 21.5 feet long, the 2011 Silverado HD does not have an all-new wrapper.
From the windshield back the body panels haven't changed; only different wheels and some minor differences to the rear styling show. But the front is substantially larger with a bigger grille and added cooling duct in the bumper to cool the more powerful diesel. The hood is taller and has domes on the outer sides, along with faux louvers to carry the Vortec (gasoline) or Druamax engine badges.
Dual-rear-wheel pickups use a sheetmetal pickup box with integrated fenders for the double rear wheels, resulting in a smoother look and finish but potentially higher repair bills if you ding one. Where not standard as they are on duallies, the roof marker lamps, one each side and three-in-a-pod center, are optional.
With the big chrome crossbar and bow-tie logo the Silverado HD heavy-duty pickup is immediately recognized as a Chevrolet and maintains visual relationships to the Silverado 1500 light-duty pickup. Ram and Chevy owners may argue whose bodywork is the sleeker; the Ford Super Duty is the squarest without argument.
Useful features include an optional tailgate lock and lift assist (EZ-Lift) that helps make the heavy tailgate feel like it weighs a lot less (don't accidentally take it off yourself), dual-element towing mirrors that can be folded in at the touch of a button, various cargo management systems, fifth-wheel prep, and a 2.5-inch receiver hitch (with insert for smaller two-inch setups).
The Silverado HD matches up against other heavy-duty pickups in most dimensions as they all carry the proverbial 4x8 sheet of plywood flat in long-box models. However, the Silverado tends to have a slightly lower roofline and higher load deck, especially on 4WD models, worth noting if you visit commercial garages.
The Silverado HD cabin offers two distinct styles. One, like that found in the WT, is what you historically expect in a work truck, with a rubberized floor covering, urethane steering wheel, lever-shifted four-wheel drive, simple gauge graphics and a dash laid out for work with dual gloveboxes. At the other extreme, an LTZ cabin has a dash similar to the Tahoe and Suburban with a single glovebox, configurable center console and woodgrain trim.
We found no obvious difference in build quality between the cabin designs, and the apparent level of luxury imparted in LTZ models varies by interior color. Materials are mission-appropriate, and on the WT version that implies easy-to-clean plastic. Interestingly, the only finish item we noted not up to par was on the molding flash at the seam on the center console in high-line models.
Seats are supportive and are easily adjusted. A tilt wheel is standard, closer to the seat centerline than previous-generation models, and adjustable pedals are available. If you plan on accessorizing or adding switchgear for auxiliary lights, remote winch control, a CB radio or similar, the lower-level cabin makes a better blank; the LTZ looks like one of those cabins you just don't want to mess up.
The Extended Cab back seat is suited for small adults and kids. For good access the side doors swing 170 degrees for easier loading in tight parking spaces. And the windows in those small doors roll down (completely) for more comfort and venting options. Models with the moonroof option have a solid shade rather than partially opaque so a broiling mid-day sun does not seep through.
Crew Cab rear seat accommodations are better, able to handle most adults. There is no center headrest and the outer ones rise only a few inches, so taller riders have nothing between their head and the glass. While the Silverado HD Crew Cab is big, the Ford Super Duty Crew Cab and Ram's MegaCab both have more room.
All controls are plainly laid out, the only nitpick being the number of similarly shaped and sized black buttons on loaded models, some of which large-fingered individuals might find hard to push without hitting the adjacent one by mistake. Instrumentation is complete, responsive, and easy to see at a glance. Upper models have a driver information center for trip computer data, warning messages and the like; since it's smart enough to know a trailer is connected we think it should also automatically switch off the rear parking assist.
Dual-temperature climate control supporting a side-to-side delta of 30 degrees (Fahrenheit) is offered on many models (diesels get a fast warm-up function). Heated seats and rear-seat entertainment are among popular options.
The navigation system is offered on a wider array of models, and you can get a rearview camera without navigation. Turn-by-turn navigation instruction is included with the standard OnStar, but once past the introductory time frame OnStar has a monthly service charge. Turning on the navigation system automatically switches on the audio system as with a Mercedes, but you can mute or turn the volume all the way down.
Outward visibility is good because you're nearly six feet off the ground and the low-profile dash gives a good view over it. The new hood lines make defining the front corners for close-quarter maneuvering or tight trails a bit more difficult. The available camera and telescoping mirrors make up for anything you can't see out the back window.
It's hard to add a few hundred pounds to the chassis and rotating mass (wheels, tires, brakes) of a pickup truck without adversely affecting ride, but the 2011 Silverado HD rides as well as its predecessor while capable of towing and carrying more. Some of the credit goes to the standard 17-inch wheels and larger tires needed to clear the bigger brakes and carry the extra weight.
The 6.0-liter V8 gasoline engine delivers 360 horsepower in 2500-series pickups and 322 hp in most other applications, all on Regular-grade gas. Torque is rated at 380 lb-ft for all applications and it peaks at 4200 rpm, so it must downshifting a gear or two for grades, and if you plan on towing anything spend the $100 on the 4.10:1 axle ratio; you'll get better performance, perhaps a higher tow limit, and any impact on your fuel economy will be negligible. If you're on a strict budget, don't tow anything more than a job-box trailer or weekend boat, or don't do a lot of miles, this is the more practical engine choice.
Silervado's six-speed automatic transmission has a Tow/Haul mode, best employed when your truck and trailer combo weigh 75 percent or more of the maximum combined load (GCWR). It also has a thumb-switch with which you can shift up/down manually after moving the selector to M, and a selector position for 1; Ford uses a similar approach while the Ram has only the thumb-switch that does require moving the selector level first.
With at least 380 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, both 2011 Super Duty and 2010 Ram HD standard gas engines out-power the GM 6.0-liter, yet performance is similar; it's not a huge power gap, however: The Ram has only a five-speed automatic and the Ford is often heavier. All three trucks pair the gas engine only with an automatic.
The Duramax diesel is a 6.6-liter V8 with 397 hp and 765 lb-ft of torque coupled to an Allison six-speed automatic transmission. This is the highest-rated diesel at this time, a bit quieter than its predecessor and a whole lot more potent even given the truck's added mass. To get more than double the torque of the gas engine, and the Allison upgrade, will cost about $8400, the payoff being superior towing ability, better at-altitude performance and better fuel economy: We managed 10 mpg in a dually crew cab pulling an 8000-pound trailer through the interstates of Appalachia. Over the same stretch, a single-rear-wheel Crew Cab, gas engine, no trailer averaged 12.2 mpg with the same personnel count on board. Note the 2011 diesel does use a DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) additive that must be replenished (usually at service intervals, and available at many service stations and most truck stops); Ford's Power Stroke uses a similar system while the Ram Cummins does not. The Duramax is B20-biodiesel approved.
An HD Silverado drives heavy, as in a solid feel and deliberate control inputs. It is confident empty or with a maximum load on board, the added frame stiffness making suspension tuning easier for GM engineers. We drove a Regular Cab empty over some marginal roads and the ride wasn't punishing at all. On longer cabs a special body mount is used at the back for even better ride quality, but as is always the case the wrong wheelbase on the wrong set of expansion joints can still result in some bobbing; this situation is not unique to GM pickups.
The Silverado HD is not a play truck for cowboy posers, it's designed to work. Everything underneath has been changed for 2011 with a focus on doing more work. If you want light controls, quiet, and a smoother ride get a Cadillac Escalade EXT pickup. Standard tires on Silverado dually are 17-inch Michelins, but 2500-series trucks offer a choice of 18-inch Bridgestone/Firestone or 20-inch Goodyears; our choice for ride, quiet, work, and replacement cost are the 17 or 18-inch setups.
As the only heavy-duty pickup with independent front suspension on 4WD models, the 4WD Silverado HD and Sierra HD steer with a bit more precision and absorb front-end road impacts better. GM has an adjustable trim height for the torsion bars to adjust ride height for added weight such as a snow plow, but most torsion bar vehicles are adjustable. Any Silverado HD may be equipped with a snow-plow package but we'd check with your dealer about front-end alignment if adding a camper or plow for many miles.
Brakes are all new with bigger vented discs and better pedal feel and reaction than prior years. If you tend to drive quickly note that empty HD pickups don't generally stop any better than those carrying some load on the rear wheels.
Single-rear-wheel models have StabiliTrak (GM's name for electronic stability control) which incorporates hill-start assist. This means the truck won't roll backwards on an incline if you take your foot off the brake to put it on the gas, but to generations who left-foot brake it won't make any difference.
An integrated trailer brake controller is available to slow your trailer much more comfortably and more controlled than an aftermarket controller can. The diesel has a built-in exhaust brake function (matching Ford and Ram now) and the transmission has grade control logic that will, with cruise control or a tap of the brake pedal, work automatically to maintain or slow your speed. If you push the right buttons the truck will more or less take care of everything else.
A 2.5-inch receiver hitch allows conventional trailer ratings to 17,000 pounds, eclipsing any competitive pickups at post time; the maximum for fifth-wheel trailers on properly equipped Silverado HD models is now 21,700 pounds, up by 5000 pounds. The strongest Silverado HD will haul more than 29,000 pounds of truck, cargo, and trailer. As with virtually all full-size pickup ratings, the HD with the highest payload may not pull the heaviest trailer.
The Chevrolet Silverado HD wins bragging rights in diesel pickup power and load/towing capacities. It can be mop-out simple or heated leather deluxe, tow across the country or just cart hay across the farm, and run on gasoline, diesel or B20 biodiesel. If you do not plan on working it, it is overkill. If you do, it's the right tool for the job.
G.R. Whale filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Flintstone, Maryland.
Chevrolet Silverado HD Regular Cab 2500 2WD WT ($27,965), Extended Cab 2500 4WD long bed LT ($36,800), Crew Cab 2500 4WD standard bed LTZ ($44,060), Regular Cab 3500 4WD WT ($32,215), Extended Cab 3500 2WD LT ($32,030), Crew Cab 3500 4WD LTZ ($44,950).
Ft. Wayne, Indiana; Flint, Michigan.
Options As Tested
Duramax diesel engine ($7,195); Allison automatic ($1,200); navigation ($2,250); moonroof ($995); rear camera ($450); rear park assist ($250); EZ-Lift locking tailgate ($95); high-idle switch ($200); skid plates ($150); adjustable pedals ($120); radiator cover ($55).
Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD Crew Cab LTZ 4WD long bed dually ($34,175).
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