What's New for 2011
The 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD is nearly identical on the outside, but underneath Chevrolet has added a stronger frame and suspension components, a new diesel engine with exhaust braking, and a host of electronic driver aids.
When a task calls for more capabilities than a standard pickup truck can handle, it's time to call in the heavy-duty reinforcements. And when it comes to heavy-duty pickups, the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD is a worthy choice among a decidedly small group of competitors.
This year the Silverado line of heavy-duty trucks receives plenty of improvements to help it keep up with -- and in some instances, prevail over -- its competition. A new frame, which Chevy says is considerably more rigid than before, contributes to increased towing and hauling capacities. From here, Chevy has bolted on new suspension components for a more comfortable ride.
Under the hood there's an updated version of the optional 6.6-liter Duramax V8 turbodiesel. Output is rated at 397 horsepower and an eye-bulging 765 pound-feet of torque (a jump of 105 lb-ft over last year's turbodiesel). This increase doesn't come at the expense of the environment or your pocketbook, either. According to Chevrolet, this new turbodiesel V8 combines with a new six-speed Allison 1000 transmission to deliver 11 percent better fuel economy as well as lower tailpipe emissions than the previous turbodiesel powertrain.
On the outside of the 2011 Silverado HD, only a few changes are apparent. The cosmetics include a power-dome-style hood (with louvers!), a revised grille and a chrome front bumper with an opening for added cooling. Behind the steering wheel, you'll sense a smoother ride thanks to improved isolation from hydraulic body mounts and a revised calibration for the independent front suspension.
These changes for the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD and its GMC Sierra twin are meant to keep this GM truck in the game with the newly revised lineup of Ford Super Duty pickups. In terms of towing and hauling capabilities, the Ford F-350 is in a virtual dead heat with the Silverado (with the Chevy winning by only a few hundred pounds), with the Dodge Ram 3500 bringing up the rear. However, in our heavy-duty pickup comparison test, the Chevy's twin, the GMC Sierra 3500, boasted the best all-around performance and felt the most composed while towing a very heavy load, thanks to its more precise steering and arrow-straight tracking. To be fair, the Ford offers more in the way of work-solution options, while the Dodge earns high marks for its uncommonly upscale interior.
None of these choices really represents a winning or losing decision, as each pickup delivers plenty of power and utility. In the end, choosing the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD over the rest will come down to personal preference.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD is offered in regular cab, extended cab or crew cab body styles. Buyers can choose between the conventional single-rear-wheel (SRW) or dual-rear-wheel (DRW) configurations. The regular cab and extended cab are only available with a long bed (8 feet), while crew cabs can also be had in standard bed lengths (6.5 feet), but only with SRW trucks.
Trim levels start at the base Work Truck and climb to the LT and range-topping LTZ. The Work Truck trim level includes 18-inch steel wheels (all DRWs have 17-inch wheels), tinted rear windows, air-conditioning, a trip computer, vinyl floor coverings, a 40/20/40-split front bench with fold-down center armrest, vinyl upholstery, a tilt steering wheel and a four-speaker AM/FM stereo.
Stepping up to the LT adds 18-inch alloy wheels (SRW), heated outside mirrors, darker tinted rear windows, keyless entry, full power accessories, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, carpeted floor coverings, cloth seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, driver-side lumbar seat adjustments, cruise control, OnStar, satellite radio and a CD/MP3 player. Many of the LT features are available on the Work Truck as options.
The LTZ trim level is only offered on extended and crew cab body styles and augments the LT's features list by adding foglights, a locking rear differential, a heavy-duty trailer package (with integrated trailer brake controller), dual-zone automatic climate control, steering-wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls, remote starting, heated leather front bucket seats with power adjustments, a floor-mounted front center console, Bluetooth and an upgraded Bose stereo system with a USB port. Some of these features are available as options for the LT.
Additional options for the LT and LTZ models include an aluminum bed extender, a protective bedliner, a sliding or stationary tool box, a cargo rail, a sliding bed divider, a sunroof (LTZ only), a power-sliding rear window, power-adjustable pedals, a heated steering wheel, rear parking sensors, mobile WiFi, the EZ-lift tailgate, a navigation system, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and a rearview camera. Four-wheel-drive models can add the Z71 Off-Road package (includes skid plates and off-road suspension components) and a Snow Plow Prep package.
Powertrains and Performance
The standard power plant for the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD is a 6.0-liter gasoline V8 engine that produces 360 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic is the only available transmission. An optional 6.6-liter turbodiesel V8 is surely the engine choice for those who plan on towing or hauling on a regular basis. This new engine produces 397 hp and 765 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a heavy-duty six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control.
Emissions from the new Duramax V8 are cleaner than the previous diesel engine, thanks in part to a urea-injection system. If the diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) runs low, however, speeds will be limited to 55 mpg. If the DEF reservoir is empty, speed is lowered to 40 mph.
Rear-wheel drive is standard for all models, with four-wheel drive optional. The Work Truck 4WD receives a traditional, mechanically engaged transfer case operated by a floor-mounted shift lever, while the two other trim levels get Autotrac, an electronically operated transfer case that features an automatic setting that engages 4WD when tire slip is detected.
Properly equipped, a 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD can haul up to 6,355 pounds of payload. It can tow up to 17,000 pounds with its standard ball hitch and pull 21,700 pounds with a fifth-wheel connection. Aiding towing on downhill grades, the diesel engine also features a big-rig-inspired exhaust braking system to increase vehicle stability under deceleration and reduce brake wear.
In terms of safety, the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD features antilock disc brakes, stability control, hill-start control and trailer sway control as standard. Front side and side curtain airbags are available as options, as are power-adjustable pedals, rear parking sensors and a rearview camera.
Interior Design and Special Features
The interior of the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD is nearly identical to that of the 2010 model. The Work Truck is the most utilitarian of the trim levels, with vinyl covering and very little in the way of creature comforts. The LT offers a more inviting cabin with cloth and carpeting, although it comes standard with a standard three-person front bench just like the Work Truck. Opting for the bucket seats adds a center console with storage. The LTZ is the classiest of the bunch, with an interior that is similar to those in the Suburban and Tahoe SUVs.
The front seats are quite comfortable, though some drivers might find the driving position a bit awkward because of the tilt-only steering wheel (it's too close to the dash) and gas and brake pedals that are far apart in order to accommodate work boots. The extended cab's rear seats are acceptable in terms of comfort, and the crew cab is certainly roomier, though the crew-cab trucks from Dodge and Ford provide slightly roomier rear quarters.
With all of its chassis improvements, the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 represents a big step forward for heavy-duty trucks. The stiffer frame permits the use of a suspension that can not only handle higher loads but also smooth out rough roads more efficiently. While heavy-duty trucks like this have been thought in the past to be too rough for comfortable daily use, the Silverado 3500 proves that comfort can be compatible with toughness. Even the Silverado's brakes feel better thanks to firm, responsive pedal action.
When stacked up against the Dodge Ram 3500 and the Ford F-350, the Silverado 3500 has a few clear advantages. Superior steering precision compared to the Ford and a smaller turning circle than either rival are readily apparent and appreciated in everyday driving. And when towing a trailer, the Chevy V8 turbodiesel accelerates with more authority and climbs grades with less diesel clatter while also delivering superior fuel economy. When descending a grade, the Duramax V8's new exhaust brake works with well-timed downshifts from the transmission to lend an edge in vehicle stability over the Dodge.