Heavy-duty pickups will always be inherently compromised by their ability to move small mountains. But this is 2017 and, like their light-duty brethren, these mega work trucks have evolved from covered-wagon roots to embody impressive refinement—and surprising straight-line acceleration when not weighed down by a load. Our first road test of Chevrolet’s updated 2017 Silverado 2500HD reveals that General Motors was ready with a counter punch to the huge blow Ford landed last year with an all-new, aluminum-bodied F-series Super Duty.
A Big Boy with Moves
We’ve already sampled the mechanically identical 2017 GMC Sierra HD. And after having experienced how confidently GM’s new HD trucks can tow 10,000 pounds up a mountain in Colorado, as well as how the greater engine braking from their diesel mill’s integrated exhaust brake can effectively manage that load coming back down a grade, we spent much of this test with the big Silverado unloaded. In four-wheel-drive, double-cab form—the smaller of the two available four-door configurations—our Siren Red Tintcoat Silverado 2500HD test truck carried an as-tested sticker of $64,473 and burdened our scales with 7780 pounds, or about 200 less than a similar crew-cab model.
Responsible for moving all that weight—along with the 3093 pounds the truck is rated to haul in its 6.5-foot cargo bed or the 14,400 it can tow—was GM’s new optional L5P Duramax 6.6-liter diesel engine (a 360-hp gas 6.0-liter V-8 remains standard). Its cast-iron V-8 block and its valvetrain layout carry over from the previous LML Duramax, but the aluminum cylinder heads, the variable-geometry BorgWarner turbocharger, and pretty much everything else is all new. The diesel comes only with an updated Allison six-speed automatic transmission, with the pair commanding a $9340 upcharge on our test truck. The new Duramax’s immense torque rating of 910 lb-ft comes up just shy of the Ford Power Stroke’s 925, yet it tops the Super Duty by five ponies for a class-leading total of 445 horsepower. What’s more, our not-quite-as-massive Chevy weighed 520 pounds less than the last crew-cab 2017 F-250 diesel 4x4 we tested, despite the Silverado’s steel bodywork.
Unlike the Ford Super Duty, which can tug up to an incredible 16 tons in its current form, GM took a more calculated approach, improving the refinement of its new HD rigs when empty and under the moderate use that most owners end up saddling them with (towing between 10,000 and 20,000 pounds, for example). To that end, the Chevy pinged our sound meter with a modest 45 decibels at idle and just 67 decibels at a 70-mph cruise, making it as hushed on the highway as a 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 4MATIC. A 6.2-second dash to 60 mph and a quarter-mile pass of 14.8 at 93 mph is tame stuff in the greater automotive universe, but those numbers are downright remarkable for a truck weighing nearly four tons. And that performance makes our test truck by far the quickest such rig we’ve ever had on the track, besting the 2016 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD 4x4 diesel crew cab—which produced 397 horses and 765 lb-ft—by 1.2 seconds to 60 mph and by 1.0 second and 7 mph in the quarter-mile.
This one was also 0.7 and 0.5 second quicker than the new crew-cab F-250 with the Power Stroke—not to mention speedier than the aforementioned Mercedes luxury sedan. (Our Silverado HD’s 3.73:1 axle ratio may have assisted the acceleration a bit.) While heavy-duty pickups remain exempt from EPA fuel-economy ratings, the bigger 2017 Ford Super Duty eked out 1 mpg more than the Silverado HD did in our hands (15 mpg versus 14) yet managed only 17 mpg on our 75-mph highway test to this Chevy’s 19 mpg.
The mighty Silverado’s largely carryover chassis is surprisingly wieldy and accommodating as a daily commuter. For starters, it’s considerably easier to climb aboard than the Ford, with our Chevy’s seating height of 38.4 inches being about four inches closer to the ground than a comparable F-250’s. And GM’s independent front suspension—still unique among four-wheel-drive heavy-duty trucks—brings not only pleasantly tactile and precise steering for a truck, if a bit on the hefty side, but also contributes to a composed ride that is nearly as sorted as the 1500-series Silverado’s. Compared with the latest Ford F-250, the Silverado HD almost feels plush, exhibiting little of the harsh bucking and bouncing we associate with extra-strength pickups, especially when unladen.
The six-speed Allison transmission is another boon to the Silverado HD’s drivability, offering quick, firm shifts and rarely stumbling in its search for the optimal ratio. Combined with the meaty torque of the Duramax, which serves up its full complement at just 1600 rpm, the setup produces a relentless shove to the backside and can click off 50-to-70-mph passing maneuvers 1.3 seconds quicker than before. Although our test truck was about as responsive as we could expect of something this big and heavy, this much mass is difficult to stop: Our example needed 208 feet to reach a standstill from 70 mph—and with awkwardly long brake-pedal travel.
Our truck also sported GM’s new range of dealer-installed cameras that can be added to all of its new mid- and full-size pickups. The primary system ($999) includes a pair of rear-facing units under each exterior mirror and a remote camera that can be fitted to the back of a trailer ($999). Also included was a high-mounted unit by the center brake light that looks down into the bed ($499), which would make hooking up a trailer to our truck’s optional gooseneck receiver ($370) a snap. Similar to Honda’s LaneWatch system, the view from the side-mounted cameras automatically displays on the Silverado’s 8.0-inch central touchscreen when the turn signals are activated. Holding down the Back button for the infotainment system brings up a rudimentary menu that allows the driver to switch among the various viewpoints for maximum visibility when reversing, although we did notice some lag in its response to inputs.
A Lot of Truck
Little changes inside the Silverado HD for 2017. Our test truck’s double-cab arrangement provides 123 cubic feet of interior space versus the larger crew cab’s 135, with the 9.5-inch difference in overall length largely going to a more capacious back seat (stepping up to the crew would add about $1400 to our truck’s base price of $54,530 with the diesel). Whereas even six-footers can stretch out in the big four-door, the double cab is rather tight for any adult of stature, and the seatback feels too upright. We also weren’t fans of the chrome overload on the Chevy’s nose and on the functional hood scoop for the new Duramax, which looks more cohesive with the upscale vibe of its GMC cousin.
Both models, however, share the unsightly black-plastic tank for the diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), which is strapped to the outside of the trucks’ frame rail beneath the front-passenger door. GM stresses that its location is secure and out of harm’s way and that the capacity of this emissions-control component has grown by roughly two gallons, to 7.0, for 2017. But it’s an annoying design misstep and necessitates opening the hood to fill up, whereas other pickups, such as the Super Duty and our long-term 2016 Nissan Titan XD, mount their DEF tanks out of sight and hide the fillers behind their fuel doors.
The heavy-duty trucks that grace our garage typically are fairly hedonistic, with many topping $70,000 and being as big and heavily optioned as possible, and our Silverado HD was still fairly pricey at close to $65K. Along with the Duramax/Allison combo, the gooseneck hitch, the trailer cameras, and the $495 paint job, our mid-level LT truck also featured the $1425 LT Convenience package (dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start, a tilt and telescoping steering column, and more). Various other extras padded our example’s bottom line, highlighted by $1295 for chrome 18-inch aluminum wheels, $980 for powered and heated front cloth bucket seats, the $815 LT Plus package (rear park assist and power-operated sliding rear window and pedal adjustment), $750 for chrome side steps, the $575 towing package, and $495 for Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system with navigation.
As equipped, this is exactly the truck we’d expect a job-site foreman to use for everyday chores and the occasional vacation with a load of toys in tow. These diesel trucks are expensive but essential tools for some customers. And while GM’s focus on performance and refinement means its new HD rigs give up some maximum capability to its fiercest competitor, it also makes the Silverado 2500HD (and its GMC sibling) the most satisfying to operate in the 2017 heavy-duty class. And definitely the quickest.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-/4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door pickup
PRICE AS TESTED: $64,473 (base price: $54,530)
ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled pushrod 32-valve diesel V-8, iron block and aluminum heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 403 cu in, 6599 cc
Power: 445 hp @ 2800 rpm
Torque: 910 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 144.2 in
Length: 230.0 in
Width: 80.5 in Height: 78.0 in
Passenger volume: 123 cu ft
Curb weight: 7780 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 6.2 sec
Zero to 90 mph: 13.9 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 7.1 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.6 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 4.7 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.8 sec @ 93 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 98 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 208 ft
C/D observed: 14 mpg
C/D observed 75-mph highway driving: 19 mpg
C/D observed highway range: 680 mi