What's New for 2012
For 2012 the Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD receives only a few minor changes following a major redesign last year. Among them are a hard-drive-based navigation system and heated/ventilated front seats. There's also a new Z71 Off-Road appearance package for the Z71 suspension option.
When folks have some very serious hauling and towing needs, they call on the big boys -- heavy-duty pickups such as the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD. Within this niche segment of vehicular strong men, the Chevy stands as a solid choice among a decidedly small group of competitors.
Putting the Silverado in such good standing are its strong turbodiesel engine, a fully boxed frame for increased rigidity, big brakes and a beefy suspension that not only can handle more than 6,355 pounds of payload but also deliver a fairly smooth and quiet ride. That turbocharged 6.6-liter diesel V8 is a powerhouse, with output rated at 397 horsepower and 765 pound-feet of torque. And it comes matched to a cooperative six-speed Allison transmission. Handsome styling and (in the upper trims) a stylish and finely finished cabin also add to this big brute's allure.
All these strong traits keep the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD (and its GMC Sierra twin) in the thick of the competition. Put wheel-to-wheel against its rivals, the Silverado 3500 can't quite match the Ford F-350 Super Duty in terms of all-out work capacities, nor, in the lower trims, can it match the Ram 3500 in terms of upscale cabin ambience. But the Chevy boasts the best all-around performance and feels the most composed while towing a very heavy load, thanks to its more precise steering and arrow-straight tracking.
None of these heavy-duty pickups represents a clear winner or loser. It's like trying to pick among Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Willie Mays. In the end, choosing the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD over the rest could come down to something as small as styling preference or brand allegiance.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 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 includes 18-inch steel wheels (all DRWs have 17-inch wheels), tinted rear windows, air-conditioning, cruise control, 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, 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 sound system with a USB port/iPod interface. Some of these features are available as options for the LT.
Options (depending on trim level) include a protective bedliner, a sliding or stationary tool box, a cargo rail, a sliding bed divider, a sunroof, a power-sliding rear window, power-adjustable pedals, a heated steering wheel, cooled front seats, rear parking sensors, mobile WiFi, the EZ-lift tailgate, a hard-drive-based 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 Z71 Appearance package as well as a Snow Plow Prep package.
Powertrains and Performance
The standard power plant for the 2012 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.
The optional 6.6-liter V8 turbodiesel is surely the engine choice for those who plan on towing or hauling on a regular basis. It cranks out 397 hp and 765 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a heavy-duty six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control. In Edmunds performance testing of the mechanically identical GMC Sierra, a 3500 with this engine and the standard rear axle went from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, about a second quicker than Ford's diesel-powered F-350.
Rear-wheel drive is standard for all models, and four-wheel drive is 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 2012 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.
The 2012 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.
In Edmunds brake testing, a mechanically identical GMC Sierra 3500 with the single rear axle came to a stop from 60 mph in 147 feet, a short distance for a heavy-duty truck.
Interior Design and Special Features
As expected, the Work Truck has the most utilitarian cabin of the lot, with vinyl upholstery, rubber floor covering and very little in the way of creature comforts. The LT offers a more inviting cabin with cloth seating and carpeting on the floor, although it comes standard with a three-person front bench just like the Work Truck, which means it shares the same rather bland dashboard. Opting for the bucket seats adds a center console with storage. The LTZ is the classiest of the bunch, with an interior featuring a unique dash as well as metallic and wood-tone accents.
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. We're also not particularly fond of the small and fiddly buttons on the higher trim's center stack.
The extended cab's rear fold-up seats are acceptable in terms of comfort but more suited for children. On the plus side, the extended cab's rear doors swing out 170 degrees to aid with loading the backseat area in tight spaces. The crew cab also features a fold-up rear seat and is much roomier, but falls short on most dimensions when compared with the competition.
The Silverado's stiff 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 traditionally been rather rough-riding for comfortable daily use, the 2012 Silverado 3500 proves that comfort can be compatible with toughness. Even the Silverado's brakes feel refined thanks to firm, responsive pedal action.
When stacked up against the Ford F-350 and the Ram 3500, the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD 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 V8's exhaust brake works with well-timed downshifts from the transmission to lend an edge in vehicle stability over the Dodge.