Miles Cook, Contributor
Full-size General Motors and Ford pickups dominate auto-industry sales lists. For the past two decades, the Ford F-Series and Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra have combined to sell well over a million trucks each year. In fact, if you were to do the math, Ford's 800,000-plus yearly F-Series sales come to more than 60,000 units per month.
So, it's a no-brainer that this segment is a competitive one, and the full-size truck makers know this quite well. Furthermore, the heavy-duty three-quarter- and one-ton trucks make up a sizable portion of the sales pie. Ford's Super Duty F-series trucks were new in 1999 and Dodge's new Ram will be out soon. The GM heavy-duties we're examining here in the form of a Chevy Silverado LS 2500 HD crew cab are the other major players in this group.
As is always the case with Chevy and GMC trucks and SUVs, everything we say here applies to either make of truck, the Chevy Silverado or the GMC Sierra. With that little bit of housekeeping out of the way, let's take a thorough look at this freshly redesigned truck.
Looking to overtake Ford in the heavy-duty pickup segment, GM's new trucks are offered in Regular Cab, four-door Extended Cab, a four-door Crew Cab (like our test truck) and Chassis Cab configurations. The Crew Cabs offer more head-, shoulder- and hip-room than the previous generation, and all models also have longer, wider and deeper cargo boxes.
The all-new chassis is designed to meet higher strength and durability limits, and the Silverado has a multi-section modular frame, with a rigid "hydro-formed" front section to improve front-end alignment and body fitment.
A revamped torsion-bar front suspension is used on both two- and four-wheel-drive models, which Chevrolet says gives added durability to the two-wheel-drive trucks. The front lower control arms are made of forged steel, while the uppers are stamped-and-welded, box-section pieces. In the rear are semi-elliptical multi-leaf springs and gas shocks.
For the first time, four-wheel discs are employed on all heavy-duty Chevy and GMC pickups and ABS is also standard on all models. GM's Hydra-Boost system sends stopping force through twin-piston calipers, and now features dynamic rear proportioning, which helps to maximize the rear brakes' effectiveness. The combination of larger front rotors and larger brake pads (a 36 percent increase in pad surface) means a substantial increase in normal brake life. At the test track, the truck stopped from 60 mph in 142 feet.
The Silverado 2500 HD is available with any one of three engines, a 6.6-liter Duramax diesel, an 8.1-liter gas-powered Vortec V8 and a 6.0-liter Vortec base-level V8. There are also four transmission offerings, depending on engine choice and model: an Allison five-speed automatic, a ZF six-speed manual, a GM Hydra-Matic 4L80-E four-speed automatic and a New Venture Gear five-speed manual.
Our truck was equipped with the gasoline Vortec 8100 V8 and the Allison five-speed automatic. Replacing the 7.4-liter V8, the 8.1 makes 340 horsepower at 4,200 rpm and 455 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200 rpm. The output of this new engine exceeds that of either V10 offered by Ford and Dodge. Both the Dodge 8.0-liter pushrod V10 and Ford 6.8-liter overhead cam V10 make 310 horsepower, with the Dodge churning out 450 foot-pounds of torque and the Ford making 425.
The heritage of the new 8.1 dates back to the '65 396 cubic-inch big-block. But that's where the similarity ends. This completely updated version of the big-block Chevy features coil-near-plug ignition for each cylinder, an engine-oil-life monitor, a coolant loss-protection system, and a dual-belt accessory drive for reliability.
Inside, there are further updates like new cylinder heads that have carefully replicated intake ports, meaning each port is precisely equal in diameter and length. This improves air/fuel distribution and reduces cylinder-to-cylinder variations in torque output. Operating smoothness and efficiency are also improved. External engine items like stainless-steel exhaust manifolds help the Vortec 8100 attain a 200,000-mile operating life durability rating.
Also new and worth noting on these big engines is a fly-by-wire electronic throttle control that meters intake air more precisely. It enhances reliability and durability by replacing the previous 7.4-liter (the classic 454) engine's mechanical hardware with electronic sensors, wires and actuators and integrating functions such as cruise control, brake torque management and traction control into a single controller.
Behind this engine in our truck was the Allison 1000 five-speed automatic transmission the first five-speed automatic in a full-size heavy-duty pickup. GM's Allison division is a major supplier of automatic transmissions for large-application commercial truck and bus markets worldwide. The 1000's five forward speeds provide a 30-percent increase in ratio coverage for better launch, grade-climbing and towing ability than a comparable four-speed automatic. The smaller gear splits also minimize changes in engine speed and torque for smoother operation.
This transmission has full electronic control of shift timing. Its transmission control module (TCM) automatically selects a gear for each drive range and engages the torque converter lockup. In the normal mode, the converter's clutch locks up in fourth and fifth gear. In the tow-haul mode, the torque converter remains locked in second, third, fourth and fifth gears to avoid heat build-up.
Programmed into the transmission's processor is a new Engine Grade Braking feature. If the driver is descending a hill, the TCM senses the weight of the load, the truck's speed and the deceleration rate. Based on these calculations, the transmission will downshift to a lower gear to facilitate slowing the truck. This prevents overheating the brakes and extends brake life. In its normal mode, it will downshift from fifth to fourth gear when required. In the tow-haul mode, it will do multiple downshifts, from fifth to fourth, then from fourth to third to help slow the truck on steep declines.
GM's tow-haul mode provides shift stabilization, reducing shift "busyness" during hill-climbing or heavy towing by selecting and holding the right gear, based on throttle position, engine speed and other factors. The Allison trans is available in the new trucks, because even the relatively bulletproof 4L80-E automatic isn't rated to handle the 455 foot-pounds or 520 foot-pounds of torque generated by the Vortec 8100 and Duramax diesel V8s, respectively.
Besides its evenly spaced gear ratios and engine grade braking, the Allison trans also offers a bolt-on power take-off feature that allows owners to run PTO-driven equipment such as a hydraulic pump on-site via instrument panel-mounted PTO controls. A power take-off is a device mounted on the side of a transmission or transfer case used to transmit engine power to ancillary components such as the aformentioned hydrualic pump or other equipment used on construction sites.
Of course, the main point of all this heavy-duty hardware is to facilitate towing. And best-in-class trailer-tow ratings were the goal for GM engineers. They accomplished that goal as, depending on configuration, the Silverado equipped with the base 6.0-liter engine will tow from 9,200 up to 10,500 pounds with its standard 4.10 rearend gear ratio.
Stepping up to the Vortec 8100 motor with either 3.73 or 4.10 gears (our tester had 4.10s) nets an impressive 12,000-pound towing capacity for all configurations, regardless of cab style or bed length. The diesel is rated to tow the same amount in all configurations with its standard 3.73 rear axle ratio.
With a Fifth Wheel trailer, the numbers go even higher; our truck would be able to tow a 15,500-pound trailer of this type. That rating goes down 2,000 pounds with the taller 3.73 ratio. The truck with the highest Fifth-Wheel towing-capacity honors goes to a regular-cab long-bed Silverado 2500 HD with the Vortec 8100 engine and 4.10 gears. It'll tow a whopping 15,900 pounds more than any of the one-ton trucks or even any of the diesels.
We drove the Silverado two ways: unloaded on streets and highways, as well as towing a boat and trailer. With an empty bed and no trailer to tow, there were no huge revelations in the overall driving experience. Even after driving several much smaller cars, it still doesn't take very long to get used to the Silverado's considerable Crew Cab size. What does take some getting accustomed to is the rather unpleasant ride on certain stretches of highway. Like our long-term GMC Sierra, this Silverado would bounce on freeway undulations to the point of making the ride downright uncomfortable. And it's likely that because our Sierra was a four-wheel-drive truck, it magnified the issue. But the bouncing up and down in this two-wheel-drive test truck was worse than what we experienced in our long-termer. Admittedly, this issue is something we've experienced to some extent in most of the full-size pickups we've driven recently, including the last two Ford F-150s that we have tested. But those two trucks one of them a two-wheel-drive extended cab and the other a four-wheel-drive Super Crew did a better job at quelling the bumpy ride than the two GM trucks.
Otherwise, the driving experience in the new Silverado is quite manageable. The steering provides adequate feedback for a full-size truck, the burly 8.1-liter motor gets you up to speed quick enough (our tester accelerated to 60 mph in 9.2 seconds) and all the truck's features combine to deliver a truly state-of-the-art heavy-duty pickup package.
We became a great deal more impressed with the Silverado once it was hooked up to a trailer. The weight of the load seemed to calm down the ride quite a bit, and the engine pulled the load like it was barely there. Sure, our wooden speedboat and trailer barely taxed the truck with their approximate 3500-pound weight, a fraction of the Silverado's 12,000-pound towing capacity. It was an interesting experience, though, to look back at the boat and realize that this truck could tow three of them and not even break a sweat. Powering up hills at 65 to 70 mph was an exercise in effortlessness. The only downside of the experience was our 10-mpg fuel consumption. The available Duramax diesel will definitely produce better fuel-mileage numbers in all situations.
Clearly GM's line of heavy-duty pickups has the most powerful engine offerings gas or diesel. And GM has put together a top-notch package that, at a minimum, matches or surpasses Ford's F-Series Super Duty trucks in every category. Clearly, General Motors has a chance to overtake Ford in the full-size pickup sales race now that its entire line of Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups are all new and considerably improved. Whether that actually happens remains to be seen.
Executive Editor Karl Brauer says: The first impression I got from the Silverado was that it could likely tow a house, assuming you could find a house that needed towing. The Chevy noticeably delayed its upshifts and repeatedly downshifted when slowing, especially when descending a hill. Torque is abundant, and braking, though tricky to modulate, seemed up to industrial tasks, as well. What troubled me, however, was the fact that the "Tow/Haul" switch was flipped off, meaning it was supposed to drive as if nothing heavy was attached to it (or residing in its bed). When I finally did hit the "Tow/Haul" switch, the above characteristics increased three-fold, meaning it almost refused to upshift at all, holding gears even on flat surfaces long after my speed had stabilized. It also downshifted at the slightest hint of a slope. Once again, excellent attributes when towing a heavy load. But if I'm not towing a heavy load, and I specifically defeat the "Tow/Haul" mode, why does the truck continue to upshift so late and downshift to create engine braking when descending a hill? Seems to defeat the entire purpose of having a switch that tells the truck when the operator needs maximum torque versus wanting a relaxed ride and maximum gas mileage.
Aside from the truck-ish nature of the transmission (and the jarring ride over harsh bumps), the Silverado 2500 has a rather luxurious nature. Wind and road noise are effectively isolated at 60 mph, the seats are large and comfy and covered in a plush velour material, and the sound system is as good as or better than any I've heard in a truck of this nature. Steering feels a bit sloppy on-center, but is accurate when navigating turns (though don't expect any road feel whatsoever). Finally, the rear seat is huge, offering plenty of room and easy entry/egress for passengers.
Unfortunately, after thinking, nay, hoping I might not find anything related to build-quality to scream about, I went to shut the rear door on the driver side and could hear, and feel, something scraping. Turns out, part of the hinge was rubbing so hard on the door that it had gouged the paint off the edge of the hinge. I tried the other three doors and found similar gouging on every hinge (though not as extreme as on the hinge I first noticed). Part of me wanted to think that the hinges were supposed to be all scraped up because every door showed the same signs of contact. But that doesn't change the fact that the system was chewing paint off metal, and on the one door, it was causing noticeable (and audible) resistance when opening and closing it.
(Sigh) Oh, GM, what is to become of you?
Contributing Editor Erin Riches says: When they're brand-new, GM's 2500 CrewCabs seem to be excellent pickup trucks: They're powered by burly V8s, they handle well, and they have spacious, comfortable cabins with usable backseats. Unfortunately, in our experience, after a brief if glorious courtship, these trucks begin to disintegrate. Cheap materials and lousy assembly don't yield a trouble-free ownership experience. Our tester was youthful and fit, but running our fingers over the interior components suggested that it wouldn't be so for long. Which is disappointing, because the Silverado drove quite well.
Like its 1500 Silverado/Sierra brethren, the 2500 CrewCab had an excellent powertrain it was so vigorous that I rather enjoyed driving this truck. The best part of it is the available passing power at highway speeds. Whether on Pacific Coast Highway or the Highway 101, this Silverado just poured out power it was so easy to get around slower moving vehicles. Of course, one of the trade-offs of the bigger V8 is a lot more noise. It's not really excessive, though not when you've driven an Excursion with Ford's diesel powerplant.
Handling was far better than I expected. The 2500's demeanor was actually much like our long-term Sierra's. The suspension really delivers a smooth, controlled ride, although expansion joints occasionally upset it. I took the truck up a moderately curvy two-lane road, and the suspension seemed to hold on rather well. Body roll wasn't excessive at all, given the type of vehicle. Steering was acceptable, too. There wasn't a lot of extra slop, so the truck behaved quite well when traveling at 75 mph in the narrow lanes on the 101 I might as well have been driving a half-ton pickup rather than a three-quarter-ton version. Steering response was quick enough to enable the Silverado to thread two-lane roads with relative ease. The brake pedal felt mushy, but the four-wheel discs performed capably.
As with our long-term Sierra, poor build quality is this vehicle's greatest shortcoming. GM might realize greater success in this segment if more money was allotted for the materials and assembly budgets. The obvious cheapness of the interior must be a turn-off to some buyers, who will then proceed to the Ford dealership and buy a less powerful but better constructed F-250 Super Duty.
Consumer Commentary from Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra 2500HD extended and crew cab owners:
"Just got this truck last week. It has the Vortec 8100 V8, Allison automatic transmission, 3.73 rear axle ratio, locking differential, stock tires [and] the trailer package (gives 1000 lbs. tongue weight without weight distributing hitch). After 500 miles of breaking it in, I just towed a 1000-pound boat trailer for 750 miles at 55-70 mph. Got 11.9 mpg. Then towed 750 miles back home with a new boat, 6300 lbs total, at 55-70 mph and got 7.9 mpg. This truck is awesome!!! IMHO, there is no need for the 4.10. My truck hardly ever kicked down from fifth gear, and never went below fourth even on Monteagle (a long steep hill on Interstate 24 in Tennessee). I seldom used the tow/haul mode, because the truck just didn't need it. (Downhill on Monteagle, tow/haul held the truck in fourth, and I never touched the brakes the whole way down.) I have to admit at one point on the way back I got up to 80 mph on a flat section, and the rig drove as smooth as most cars. My only complaint is that this truck needs a larger gas tank. 26 gallons at 8 mpg means a lot of stops along the way ." tmarchbanks, "Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra's w 8100/Allison," #58 of 340, Jan. 29, 2001
"After five months and 21 days, I accepted delivery of my new 2001 HD Crew Cab, short box, 8.1-liter V8 with Allison automatic transmission, 3.73 rear axle ratio, SLE trim, bucket seats, white/charcoal. Fit and finish appear excellent. Truck is noticeably quieter and smoother riding than my '97 SLE XC, 3.73, Z71. Tow rating in the owner's manual says 15,200 for the 4.10 and 13,200 for 3.73 for fifth wheelers and 12,000 for standard hitches for both axles. Power appears more than adequate, but gearing does seem a little tall. The Allison is a little whiny, but so am I after the six-month wait. For anyone wondering, the flares are textured black. Rear window has the defogger and was only lightly tinted. I'll give you an update on gas mileage over the next few weeks." loyalgmcguy, "Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra's w 8100/Allison," #75 of 340, Jan. 31, 2001
" The pickup is beautiful, and I know a few of you out there will be pleased to know that it won't see the cow poo for a while. I have decided to keep my 1988 Ford F-250 for the cow poo. An interesting comparison The Ford is about two inches higher than the 2500HD to the bottom of the door sills. The same is true to the bottom of the seats. And the 2500HD will fit in my garage whereas the Ford would not - about an inch too high. So my Corvette came out of the garage and the 2500HD went in . Also I might add that the Ford has considerably more clearance than the 2500HD. I took a creeper and had to be a little careful rolling under the 2500HD if I didn't want to come out bloody; however, I roll all around under the Ford without a problem except under the differentials. The Ford is so high that I took the transmission out without even jacking it up. I am not complaining about the lower clearance as I suspect that I will never get it into anything that deep anyway. The Allison shifts really smooth, except when you are slowing down in Tow Mode - then it is pretty aggressive, which is fine with me. The pickup is very quiet with a nice solid ride, but not as rough as the Ford or the Corvette. The oil pressure surprises me a little in that when idling it runs about 50 psi, and at 1,500 runs about 75 psi. I only have 112 miles on it and 5.3 hours on the engine. I spent the whole weekend studying the manual didn't get any work done at all except feeding the animals. I haven't gotten around to the OnStar yet." cowboyjohn1, "Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra's w 8100/Allison," #87 of 340, Feb. 5, 2001
" I bought a 2500HD simply because it was the only full size Chevy that offered a Crew Cab at the time. Is it more truck than I need? Seeing as how I don't even own a trailer, I'd say 'absolutely.' But I will also say that of the five Chevy full size trucks I have owned, this is by far the nicest. Even though I didn't go completely overboard and stuck with the 'little' 6.0-liter, this thing will go when I want it to go and stop when I want it to stop. It handles tight and has a firm ride." sf0383, "I really don't know which way to go here. I want to buy either a Silverado 2500 HD or a Tundra v8. I really like the HD. The dealer said I could purchase the 2500HD LS trim, 2 wheel drive, 5 speed for 25, 000. Is this a good buy?," #15 of 55, March 12, 2001
"I have a 2001 Chevy 2500HD four-wheel-drive crew cab with 2,800 miles. From 1,600 to 2,000 rpm, the vehicle vibrates, kind of feels like you're driving down a bumpy dirt road. The vibration goes away and then comes back at 2,600 rpm. The dealer replaced the driveshaft, saying that there was a silent recall on this item. The new driveshaft did not correct the problem. The dealer and GM customer assistance have said the vehicle is working as designed. My feelings are that if the vehicle is working as designed, then why did they replace the driveshaft? Has anyone else experienced a problem like this with the 'New Like A Rock' 2500HD 4x4 crew cabs? If so, how was it corrected? I have the 6.0-liter V8 with an automatic transmission." sonafelt, "Chevy HD2500 Problems," #1 of 3, April 16, 2001
Edited by Erin Riches
System Score: 5.75
Components. This Delco system includes a standard-issue GM head unit with a rounded topography and very effective ergonomic feel. The radio's control layout is probably the best thing about this system. The buttons offer a logical way to navigate around the faceplate, and all the controls are close at hand. The head unit doesn't have a cassette player, but it does boast a single-disc CD player, as well as pop-out controls for bass/treble and balance/fade, 12 FM/six AM presets, an easy-to-use circular volume knob and a large LED display.
Speakerwise, the system includes a pair of 6.5-inch full-range drivers in the rear doors of the extended cab, plus a second pair in the front doors. The front doors also contain a pair of 1-inch dome tweeters in the same housing that holds the full-range speakers. This housing is located in the lower-front portions of the door, meaning the tweeters line up with your kneecaps. We wish GM had figured out a way to elevate these tweeters, since high frequencies are very directional, and the last time we looked, our eardrums weren't located in our knees.
Performance. As with most GM truck and SUV systems, this one is punchy and a little sloppy. As our notes say, "A great system for partying or just bumping down the road." Because of this, it lacks a certain refinement. But heck, all that Grey Poupon would just muck up the gun rack, anyway.
One thing about this system it plays plenty loud. It has a great kicking mid-bass sound, although this would've been helped in the lower bass region by the addition of a subwoofer similar to the one we heard in a 2001 Yukon XL we listened to recently. But since pickup trucks don't have the kind of interior space a Yukon offers, this would probably entail shortening the truck bed, not something a buyer of this kind of truck would want. In the final analysis, it's a loud system that's a little short on class and long on volume, but then, this isn't a Cadillac
Best Feature: Well, it's loud.
Worst Feature: Power amp distorts above half volume.
Conclusion. Great for AC/DC or Metallica, not so good for Beethoven's Fifth.
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