Miles Cook, Contributor
Since full-size GM and Ford pickups are far and away the best-selling vehicles in this country, it stands to reason that we stay up to date on this market segment. If you, like us, follow happenings in the full-size pickup market with a sharp eye, then you've probably heard about the Lincoln Blackwood that the Lincoln Mercury Division plans to market sometime in the near future.
We've been hearing about the Blackwood since the 1999 Detroit Auto Show, and we've got some bad news for ya, Lincoln. The GMC Truck Division just trumped you big-time with the all-wheel-drive Sierra C3 and we've already driven it, too. The funny thing is that Lincoln has been teasing us with the Blackwood for more than a year, and we like that we've already been pleased with the C3 -- a luxurious half-ton pickup that becomes the first vehicle of its type in this fresh market niche.
At first you might dismiss the C3 as just another gussied-up Sierra with a few doodads and some fancy leather seats. Not so. The C3 is a unique truck with several exclusive features not available on any other full-size half-ton Chevy or GMC pickup.
To some extent it could be compared to Ford SVT's F-150 Lightning in that it has a top-tier engine that can't be found in any other truck. From there, it's packed with luxury features that make it very comparable content-wise to GMC's new Yukon Denali and XL Denali SUVs.
In fact, the Vortec 6000 V8 that packs a full 6.0 liters of displacement is the same engine found in the Denali SUVs and as such carries the same LQ4 option code as those in the Denalis. The only difference is that the 6.0-liter in the C3 gets 5 extra horsepower and 5 foot-pounds of torque, likely due to different exhaust system configurations between the Denalis and the C3. Impressive in any light, the C3's engine makes 325 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and a stout 370 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm.
You might think that sharing powertrains with the Denali SUVs makes the C3 less distinctive. But the C3 is truly the most unique pickup in the half-ton segment because GMC offers it with the big 6.0-liter engine. All other half-ton Sierras are available only with a 5.3-liter V8. To get a 6.0-liter in a Sierra (and it's only a 300-horsepower version at that) you have to go to a three-quarter- or 1-ton configuration. If Ford or Dodge were to do the equivalent with their half-ton trucks, they'd have to offer their V10s, which we'd wager they'd probably never do.
Besides its class-leading engine in the half-ton market, the C3 is packed with other bits, much of it the same as found on the new Denali SUVs.
While the GMC marketing types call the C3 drivetrain a "Performance Biased Driveline," it's the same as the Denalis, including the 4L60-E HD transmission and standard 3.73 axle ratio.
The C3 shares numerous other systems with the Denali SUVs, but there are a few minor variances like the pickup's Dynamic Rear Proportioning brake system, which continuously monitors vehicle wheel speed during braking and balances front-to-rear brake pressure to ensure effective and predictable brake response, regardless of the load in the bed.
The main mechanical distinction between the C3 and the Denalis is the suspension, as the C3 doesn't have a computer-controlled damping system. Instead, the C3 uses slightly more traditional means for getting to its end. That's not to say the C3's isn't a comprehensive arrangement.
The basics of the C3-specific increased capacity/firm ride suspension setup (no other Chevy or GMC truck has the C3's tuning) are torsion bars up front, two-stage leaf springs in back and extra roll damping to maintain an even ride height during trailer towing and heavy-load hauling. In regular driving, the C3's suspension provides a comfortable ride with no trace of float or wallow. Get more spirited and the suspension doesn't roll over and play dead. Instead you'll find a surprising amount grip and poise for a big truck.
Upgraded from standard Sierra (and Chevy Silverado) pickups, the C3's four-wheel disc brakes use larger 45mm twin-piston rear calipers borrowed from the heavier 2500-Series truck parts bin to bring the C3's braking capability up to snuff with its acceleration and cornering abilities.
Speaking of acceleration, the C3 moves out well for a 5013-pound truck. GMC's numbers show it getting to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds and covering the quarter-mile in 16.4 seconds at 86 mph. It's one of the quicker full-size trucks you can get despite its heft and you'd probably rule the roost until a Lightning squares up next to you at your neighborhood traffic light. One thing's for sure, you have that Lightning well covered in the towing department -- the C3 can handle 8,700 pounds, while the Ford SVT entry can tow only 5,000.
The C3 also comes standard with OnStar as well as leather seats, a six-disc CD changer with six speakers and rear seat controls, a trailer towing package, a soft body-color tonneau cover, remote keyless entry, 17-inch wheels, and fog lights integrated into the front fascia.
Out on the road, the C3 drives much like other full-size Chevy/GMC pickups. Not to say anything disparaging about the C3, but our long-term '99 Sierra compares well to the C3 and whatever praise or criticism we bestow on our long-termer can also be applied to the C3.
We also look at it as a tribute to how good the overall platform is in the first place. The "Performance Biased Driveline" is more marketing hype than anything else, because although the term isn't used for the Denali SUVs, it's the same all-wheel-drive setup right down to the rear axle ratio.
That said, we still think the C3 is one cool truck. This thing is no gimmick because it essentially equips a half-ton truck with a three-quarter-ton engine. And the driving experience is certainly a pleasant one as the C3 travels quietly but with a nicely firm ride to keep you on the road. It also brakes confidently, grips the pavement with more aplomb that you would expect from a 5,000-pound truck, and has enough squirt to make you realize that this is not your average V8 underhood.
Pricing for the C3 will start (and end) at $38,995, as the only options on this fully decked-out machine are molded, color-keyed running boards with spats for $490 and an engine-block heater for 35 bucks. Yeah, 40 grand is a lot of money for a pickup truck and you can get a Lightning for less than 35 bills, albeit with a notable loss in utility since it's not available in an extended-cab configuration. But with the luxury of a Denali (or even an Escalade) mixed in with the big motor, the all-wheel drive, and the endless array of other features, the C3 will stand as the only super-luxo half-ton pickup truck you can get at any cost until the Lincoln Blackwood arrives. Do we hear comparison test, anyone?
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