Five Matches in a Pool of Gasoline
The greatest analogy I ever heard to sum up the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union was that the Americans and the Soviets were two men standing waist deep in gasoline, one holding five lit matches and the other holding six. One match would’ve easily set the fuel alight, yet both rival superpowers were constantly battling to have a numerical advantage over the other.
The heavy-duty truck war being waged among Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford, and General Motors is a lot like those two superpowers holding matches over gas. That’s not to suggest that the doomsday clock is moving ever closer to midnight thanks to a stupid amount of torque and ever-increasing capability, but at some point the added power, torque, payload capacity, and towing capability probably won’t benefit the consumer any more than it already does. That’s especially true given that heavy-duty pickups are quickly approaching the power and capability levels of actual medium-duty trucks.
But I digress—you’ve come here to read about how the new Duramax-equipped 2017 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD 4×4 LTZ Z71 drives, not a think piece on the madness that is the Detroit Three’s battle for heavy-duty dominance.
At first glance, the 2017 Silverado 2500HD is pretty much identical to the version that’s been on sale for years—that is, until you get to the massive hood scoop sitting square on its nose. That functional hood scoop is the key to what makes the new L5P Duramax 6.6-liter turbodiesel V-8 tick—it supplements the Duramax’s fender-mounted air intake by sending in extra cool, dry ambient air into the engine to allow it to make an exceedingly healthy 445 hp—the most horsepower in the segment—and a staggering 910 lb-ft of torque at 1,550 rpm. It’s nuts that I have to write this, but the new Duramax’s torque output is only the second-best in the segment; the Truck of the Year–winning Ford Super Duty bests that by 15-lb-ft.
Although the Duramax shares its cylinder configuration, its 6.6 liters of displacement, and its Allison-sourced six-speed automatic transmission with the old version, that’s about all it shares; everything from the cylinder block and heads to its solenoid fuel system is all-new and unique to the L5P engine. Chevy says when properly equipped, the Silverado 2500HD can haul up to 3,500 pounds (1,588kg) in the bed and tow up to 18,100 pounds (8,210 kg), roughly the equivalent of a fully loaded and armed-for-battle Army AH-64 Apache and crew. (I don’t know about you, but I usually use attack helicopters as a unit of measurement). As equipped, our loaded tester can haul 2,900 pounds (1,315 kg) and tow 14,800 pounds (6,713 kg), or the weight of a fully loaded Marine Corps AH-1 SuperCobra. I tried sourcing an Army Apache and Marine Corps Cobra to test the Silverado 2500HD’s towing capacity, but angry men with big guns pointed them at me and told me to go away. Rest assured, expect a comprehensive towing and payload test on the Silverado HD from us in the coming months.
With big money invested in its powertrain, the rest of the 2017 Silverado HD is pretty much left alone. Minor trim and package alterations are the only changes.
At the track, the 2017 Silverado 2500HD 4×4 is surprisingly fasts for a 7,800-pound (3,538 kg) little big rig, thanks to road test editor Chris Walton’s cheater method. The method consists of putting the four-wheel-drive system in 4HI, standing on both pedals, releasing the brake, and then at 30-ish mph (48 km/h) switching back to 2HI for the rest of the pass. The result is a 0–60-mph run in 6.5 seconds and a quarter mile time of 15.0 seconds at 91.8 mph (147.7 km/h). That’s quicker than the last diesel-equipped 2017 Ford F-250 Super Duty 4×4 we tested, which needed 6.9 seconds to crest 60 mph and 15.3 seconds to finish the quarter mile at 90.1 mph (145 km/h).
Walton says drivers launching the new Duramax-powered Silverado in 2HI can expect a 0–60-mph run that’s about a second slower than what he was able to achieve.
Our Silverado 2500HD’s braking and handling performance is a bit less impressive than its acceleration figures. The heavy Chevy needs 146 feet to come to a stop from 60 mph, or about 3 feet more than the aforementioned F-250. The figure eight takes the Silverado a respectable 29.3 seconds at 0.57 g average, which is a tick quicker than the Ford’s 29.7-second at 0.54 g performance.
Outside the test track the Silverado 2500HD is a treat to drive, chiefly thanks to the monstrous diesel V-8 under the hood. There’s a saying in the automotive world that Americans buy horsepower but drive torque, and I suspect even the most cynical Prius driver would be impressed with the Duramax’s effortless power and torque band; it’s almost electriclike in the way it delivers torque instantly on throttle. There’s simply always power available, and unlike some diesels the Silverado’s V-8 never seems out of breath. It’s unflappable. The Silverado’s transmission is good, too. It shifts quickly and smartly, and it doesn’t hesitate to change down a gear if need be.
The Silverado’s steering feel is as you’d expect on a heavy-duty pickup—really heavy, high-effort steering. Still, road feel is pretty decent. If memory serves, the Silverado’s steering is not as engaging as the new Ford Super Duty, but you aren’t left constantly see-sawing the wheel while going down the road like you would be in older GM HD trucks.
Associate online editor Jason Udy thought pretty highly of the Silverado’s handling prowess after a couple days driving it back and forth to our office on one of Los Angeles County’s best driving roads.
“It drives nicely,” he said. “The Silverado will take the curves in Angeles Crest/Angeles Forest highways nearly as quickly and confidently as our long-term Colorado Duramax Crew Cab.”
The Silverado 2500HD, like all heavy-duty trucks, will probably ride better once loaded down with a couple hundred kilos of cargo. But even though we hardly taxed its payload capacity, the truck’s ride was pretty good. Even taking the good-looking 20-inch wheels that come with the Custom Sport package into account, impacts and imperfections from the pavement are dealt with quickly and without undue punishment to occupants.
Just about the only disappoint with the Silverado’s road manners were its brakes. A vehicle that weighs almost 4.0 tons and can tow another 7.5 tons ought to deliver its full braking force almost immediately into the stroke of the brake pedal. That’s not so with the Silverado. There’s a touch of play in the Chevy’s brake pedal, and nothing really happens until you’re a good 1.5 or so inches into the pedal travel, leading to stops more abrupt than intended. Using the exhaust brake helps the predictability some, but it’s just a Band-Aid more than anything.
Although almost half of pickup buyers don’t go off-road, I thought it prudent to test out the 2017 Silverado 2500HD’s credentials, especially considering the optional Z71 package adds off-road-oriented shocks (among other things), and the Custom Sport pack adds off-road-oriented tires. So over a long weekend, I took the Chevy down some 4×4 trails at California’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Joshua Tree National Park. Now before you jump on down to comment “hurr-durr that’s not real off-roading,” know this: I don’t care. This isn’t an exercise in pushing the Chevy’s limits; rather it’s a test of how well this pickup will handle construction sites, logging roads, and farmers’ fields—the places the owners of three-quarter-ton pickups put the trucks to work.
To that end, the Silverado HD proved to be pretty competent. Despite its massive size, the plastic air dam hanging off the Chevy’s nose, and the side-steps, the truck had plenty of clearance on the pretty poorly maintained trails. The four-wheel-drive system combined with the powerful Duramax engine was enough to overcome soft sand and mud, helping to keep the tires spinning and the truck moving. Without a load in the bed while off-road, the ride gets harsh as speeds creep higher. Airing down the tires helps some, but taking it easy and going slow helps even more. Despite the handsome trim it brings to the table, I’d recommend skipping the Custom Sport package if your duty cycle consists of lots of dirt trails—the base Z71 package with its smaller wheels or the Midnight Edition package and its knobby tires would probably be more comfortable and capable long term.
The EPA still doesn’t measure fuel economy for heavy-duty pickups, but over about 1,000 miles (1,609 km) of testing in a variety of environments, our Duramax-powered tester averaged 16 mpg (14.7 L/100km) on the nose. Although Silverado 2500 prices start at $34,505 USD, our tester was quite a bit more. The Silverado LTZ trim with a crew cab, a short 6.6-foot bed, a gas V-8, and four-wheel drive goes for $52,570 USD. Tack on an additional $10,655 USD for the new Duramax Diesel, $480 USD for the Z71 package, $1,295 USD for the Custom Sport package, and $370 USD for the fifth-wheel gooseneck hitch, and, well, you get the idea. The out-the-door price for our tester was $66,280 USD.
With the updated Duramax-powered 2017 Silverado HD, Chevy shows it’s not about to let up on the heavy-duty pickup wars, no matter how futile winning might be. Although we—or I—don’t have an answer yet as to when enough is enough when it comes to payload, towing, and torque, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the 910 lb-ft of twist a throttle blip away on the 2017 Silverado 2500HD is pretty damn close.
|2017 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD 4WD Z71 (LTZ)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$66,280|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck|
|ENGINE||6.6L/445-hp/910-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT||7,800 lb|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||258.4 x 80.5 x 77.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.5 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.0 sec @ 91.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||146 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.70 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||29.3 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)|