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Light duty drive impressions

June 17, 2010
“We’re putting a lot of effort into our full size pickup trucks; we’re not wavering in our commitment to the full size market.” –Tony Truelove, Chevrolet Silverado marketing manager I spent a few days last week tooling around parts of western Maryland ...

We’re putting a lot of effort into our full size pickup trucks; we’re not wavering in our commitment to the full size market.” –Tony Truelove, Chevrolet Silverado marketing manager

I spent a few days last week tooling around parts of western Maryland and (albeit only briefly) Pennsylvania in some of the new 2011 Chevrolet and GMC pickup models being rolled out by General Motors.

Now, obviously, I don’t spend nearly as much time as an untold bevy of work crews and others do with trucks such as these. They’re in them at all hours of the day and night for months and years at a time, but far more strain on engines, frames, components, and interiors than I ever will in a two-day test drive period.

So when I go on these ride and drives, I’m looking for the “work truck basics” so to speak; how easy or difficult is it for someone to jump in and smoothly operate these pickups. At its most simplistic level (and feel free to correct me if you think I’m way off base) a true “work truck” takes the driving portion of a landscaper’s or contractor’s day and makes it “uneventful,” to borrow an apt description from one of GM’s engineers I talked with.

[Here’s a “walk-around” look at one of the vehicles I drove – a diesel-powered 2011 Silverado 3500 4WD crew cab, equipped with a small Knapheide dump body.]

In essence, you should just be able to get in and drive – loaded or unloaded, with highway miles or hills before you – and get to the job site or home base without any fuss or muss. You’re not struggling with sluggish engine acceleration, or compensating for poor maneuverability. You’re not stopping on the side of the road to figure out how to turn the A/C on or fumbling around to activate tow-control features. You just get in, go, get out, and get to work.

In this context, the trucks I spent the most time with proved exceptional. I took a plain vanilla 2011 Chevy Silverado 2500 4WD regular cab on a nearly two-hour jaunt from a hotel outside Baltimore-Washington International Airport up I-70 and into the Alleghany mountains, at highway speeds, local road speeds, on flat stretches and hilly grades.

End result: an uneventful ride. I could safely control the vehicle with one hand on the wheel while nipping from my coffee mug. The 6-liter Vortec V-8 gasoline engine purred along, jumping easily to my requests for acceleration, yet never bellowing once – I talked to my GM passenger at a normal volume, with no need to bark over the roar of an engine.

I spent a nice slice of the following afternoon navigating a lot of local roads at the helm of a 2011 Silverado 3500 4WD crew cab, equipped with a small Knapheide dump body. I deliberately wanted the dump body to be empty, because when “empty,” ride quality usually suffers.

Not so in this case; there wasn’t any hitch or jump in the suspension as I tacked back and forth over some mountain grades, nor on the flat stretches.

A 6.6-liter Duramax diesel powered this model, hooked up to an Allison 1000 six-speed transmission and it hummed along quietly, regardless of acceleration demands. The traditional “bark” of the diesel is now significantly muffled due to all the emission controls now in place – and those emission systems didn’t interfere one iota with my operation of the vehicle.

Again, to put it simply, piloting this crew cab proved “uneventful” to this driver – it did everything I asked of it, I didn’t have to struggle with its operation, and so I could relax and attempt to think of clever headlines for the stories I’d write about the experience. (Predictably, none emerged – but I DID get to listen to some awesome country music!)

The most interesting feature on GM’s 2011 diesel-powered heavy-duty pickups is the new “smart” exhaust brake feature that enables controlled vehicle slowdown on downhill grades without applying the brakes. I rode shotgun in 2011 Silverado 3500 4WD crew cab towing a 9,000-pound trailer and watched it work smoothly first had.

Both the driver and myself had some sweaty moments – it is HARD to let a machine totally control your fate like this – but it worked and worked well. Best thing is, if a problem did develop, the truck’s brakes would be fresh and ready for action; not hot and already overworked after descending a steep grade.

Of course, you can’t pass up an opportunity to live it up a little, and that opportunity showed up in the form of a 2011 GMC Sierra Denali 2500 4WD crew cab. Powered by a 6-liter Vortec V-8 gasoline engine married to a 6-speed HydraMatic automatic transmission, this truck came with all the trimmings: leather seats, onboard navigation system, remote start, tire pressure monitoring system, you name it.

Oh my, was THIS a nice ride! Tooling around in the Denali was indeed quite a treat. Yet the $51,855 price tag made it an outright no-no for THIS reporter’s family budget!

From a work truck perspective, GM did its homework on these new 2011 model pickups. You couldn’t ask for better packaging of power, performance, ride, handling, and comfort, all tied together with simplicity of operation. The key, of course, will be how durable and reliable these trucks are over years of hard-knock operation. That, my friends, is where you take over.

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