First Drive Review: 2011 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra Heavy Duty, Part 1

First Drive Review: 2011 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra Heavy Duty
Photo by Jim Fets, courtesy of General Motors

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Over the past century, they’ve built planes, trains and automobiles, but the people at General Motors always save their best for their full-size trucks. While the emphasis lately has been on small cars and advanced alternative propulsion technologies, GM’s 2011 heavy-duty pickups seem to prove this rule true once again.

At first glance, it’s difficult to tell that much has changed from last year. The 2011 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 and 3500 pickups look almost identical to the 2010 trucks, although sharp-eyed GM truck spotters will be alerted by the larger air intake in the front bumper, new hoods and grilles and larger optional wheels. Underneath, however, these rigs are virtually all-new, with fully boxed frames, re-engineered suspensions and the most powerful clean-diesel engine available in the segment.

But it’s when you get behind the wheel and work the trucks that it quickly becomes apparent that GM’s engineers and product planners have delivered the goods, as we found out last week driving the trucks in the hill country of Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Photo by Jim Fets, courtesy of General Motors

2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 HD LTZ Crew Cab DRW With 6.6-Liter Duramax Diesel V-8 ($58,900) towing a 9,000-pound camper

Waiting for us at Baltimore/Washington International Airport was a Chevy Silverado 3500 crew cab with a 9,000-pound, 35-foot camper that was conventionally hitched for a 135-mile road trip to the hotel where we’d stay for the rest of GM’s HD ride and drive program.

The strongest HD pickups are 3500-class trucks. These 1-ton trucks add extra leaf springs compared with lighter trucks and often come configured with dual rear wheels to handle the heaviest trailers and payloads with maximum stability. In the Silverado’s case, it’s rated to tow up to 21,700 pounds and haul up to 6,635 pounds.

Only the 1.5-ton Ford F-450 pickup can out-tow the Silverado 3500, pulling trailers up to 24,400 pounds, but its maximum payload is only 4,920 pounds. The Silverado’s 13,000-pound gross vehicle weight rating (the maximum allowable weight for a fully loaded pickup, including passengers, cargo and trailer tongue weight) is only 50 pounds less than the F-450’s 13,050 pound GVWR.

The Silverado’s big numbers wouldn’t be possible without its 6.6-liter Duramax V-8 diesel engine that makes 397 horsepower (at 3,000 rpm) and 765 pounds-feet of torque (at 1,600 rpm).

The eight-cylinder oil burner, dubbed “LML" internally, is the fourth generation of GM's HD diesel since it was first introduced in 2001 under the LB7 code name. The LML is 97 hp and 245 pounds-feet stronger than the original Duramax. It’s also the first time GM has owned all of the design and engineering work for the Duramax, which is produced in a joint venture with Isuzu at a factory in Ohio. Sixty percent of the LML Duramax’s parts are new, and on paper GM says it's 11 percent more fuel efficient than the previous LMM Duramax.


Making sure all of that power is efficiently sent to the wheels is an updated Allison 1000 six-speed transmission. It has a stronger case and new clutches that are engineered to handle up to 860 pounds-feet of torque (if and when that becomes possible), plus a new output shaft.

With three of us in the truck (two journalists and Jim Mikulec, GM’s lead development engineer for full-size HD pickups), we hopped in the backseat for the first leg of our drive to get a feel for the truck as a passenger.

In addition to pumping power up to levels that seem like they could rip the fabric of space and time, GM put special effort into reducing noise levels up to 50 percent in the 1,500-1,600 rpm peak torque operating range. It’s accomplished by using a method similar to what Ford uses in its new 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 that injects two pilot injections into the cylinder before the main combustion injection. From our rear perch, that meant we could easily talk with people in the front row at just about all speeds. Wind noise was more of an issue than diesel clatter. Ford’s more extensive use of sound-proofing material seems to keep things a bit quieter in the 2011 F-Series Super Duty than the Silverado.

Wi-Fi Inside

HD trucks are often used as mobile offices at job sites, so while we were in the backseat, we tried out GM’s new dealer-installed Wi-Fi system from Autonet Mobile. It turns the Silverado into an Internet-connected hotspot that broadcasts a 150-foot Wi-Fi bubble around the truck.

Autonet’s in-truck router costs $199 with a two-year service agreement, and monthly 3G network data plans start at $29 a month for 1 gigabyte or $59 a month for a 5GB subscription.

That’s a good deal compared with Ford Work Solutions, which uses an optional in-dash computer that costs $1,195 for Wi-Fi service via Sprint's 3G wireless network. Sprint costs $49.99 a month for up to 5GB of total data transfer, and $25 a month for up to 25MB of total data transfer.

Heavy Duty Quick Comparison Chart

Chrysler also offers in-vehicle wireless internet connectivity from Autonet for Ram HD pickups through its Mopar parts division, but that dealer-installed system costs $499 for the Wi-Fi router. Data plans cost the same as GM’s.

The Wi-Fi system performed well in the Baltimore metro area, even moving along at highway speeds. We could get on the Internet quickly with data transmission rates that were acceptable for reading websites, checking email and updating Twitter. But as we started climbing into hill country, Internet access became as spotty as cell phone service. There were times on backcountry roads when we couldn’t get online at all or only at much slower speeds. Mobile Wi-Fi still isn’t ready for rural work that takes you off main highways.

The only thing missing from this setup was a 110-volt outlet in the console, like what Ford offers in the Super Duty, so that backseat occupants can plug in a laptop. We’d also like to see USB ports for rear passengers to recharge phones and other portable electronic devices.

Interior Quality Falls Behind

Soon enough, we took our turn behind the Silverado’s wheel.

GM hasn't updated the Silverado’s interior, which is now the weakest part of the truck. It continues to offer a choice of two distinct treatments for both the Silverado and Sierra. The “pure pickup” interior for WT and LT trims features large controls, traditional looks and cloth seats, but our high-end LTZ Silverado had the luxurious “low and forward” instrument panel with navigation and leather chairs that are shared with GM’s full-size SUVs.


In 2007, when these interiors debuted, they were near best-in-class for fit and finish. Just three years later, GM has fallen to third place behind the newer high-quality interiors offered in the 2010 Ram HD and 2011 Super Duty pickups.

Although our Silverado had a navigation and entertainment system with an excellent map, a larger screen in the head unit is desired for improved readability. The Silverado and Sierra also need sophisticated, high-resolution, multifunction in-dash computers that provide rich information and data to the driver, like the Ram and Ford Super Duty offer. Ford’s 4.2-inch productivity screen is the benchmark in the segment.

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With a new interior and body upgrade (sure to be soon), this is a dream truck for any heavy hauler.

Exhaust brake button - I'd never know what that button was for if I didn't read the caption.
This is what TruckTrend said - On the downgrade, we engaged the exhaust brake button (which uses the icon of an ice cream cone lying on the ground. Huh?)

This is a little off topic but the according to a brochure I just picked up on the Superduties the horsepower listed in the comparison chart for the gasoline engines is only for 10,000 pound and under trucks (read F-250's). For the trucks over 10,000 pounds (F-350's) the engine is listed with 315hp and 397 lb.-ft. of torque.

This de-rating of the engine in heavier duty trucks is rather dissapointing and should be noted in the chart. Also, when you do the shootout you need to get one of each engine for the test. I would also like to see the test include a V-10 for reference.

you very reserve,in your comment about power,

hahahaha nice try chevy ohh excuse me CHEVROLET , maybe next year lol ill stick with the leader Ford all the way

Um... i honestly cant believe Americans can buy these things in any volume at 58,900 bucks.. thats just insanely OVER god id like to go back to the ole 85 dodge cummins with 400 lb ft that was good nuff for me and the gas and price was right. this truck should be 35k MAX... i am disgusted that some fools will run out and buy this not be able to pay for it and the tax payer will have to bail them out...cuz thats how obama works...disgusting price...outrageous... i just remember the ole chevy W/T from the late 80s early 90s.. 4.3 liter stripped down.... 12k..yeah i know that was then..but wages have not gone up in this country for any one but govt workers teachers cops ect..this truck...u would have to be insane to buyone..OUT OF YOUR FREAKING MIND at 59k.

Walt, The derating of the over 10,000 lb Superduty is the power the engine makes at a lower RPM then the F250 because of noise regulations. It is the exact same engine just rated at a lower rpm to satisfy regulations.

ohh and all i have to say is look at those mirrors lol they look nice hah NOT

Where is the integrated 5th wheel and gooseneck system like the Ford? New frame and this was not included?

Swing and miss GM.

@Jason: GM has worked with Sequent on such a system. I wouldn't be surprised if its available next year. But you're right, it should have been available now.

this is the difference about a,,,truck,,and..acar.....a nice pickup look clean ,like gm inside dash,ford is like they have a box of part and they need to fund a place to install in the dash,,,,everything from the outside and inside ford is a box illusion of expensive design....the same they try to do whit the front grill,illusion of a big truck,Wye do you thing ford put is big blue oval so big..illusion of the size of the people by a ford they have a illusion they drive a biggg truck,,whit a small nice clean truck not over design,,like dodge....

Hey Mike, Do you think that Ford will produce a much higher horespower powerstroke next year to compete for best in class horsepower cause ive heard that the 6.7l has plenty of room for more power

@Built4rdtough: Yep. Higher hp and torque. But why wait until next year. ;-)

Awesome to hear Mike, and im likeing the idea of not even waiting till next year lol GO Ford

If you like the looks of the Ford that is. I couldn't get out of the truck and look back and say this is one cool lookin mofo. But hey if they change the design to look like the Super Chief then I might be interested. I'll wait to see if they are all reliable or update the designs prior to spending that much cash. If Dodge brings up the HP/TQ then there might be another contender. Many of us are stuck on our brands and it would take a lot to make us leave. For now I'll stay with my 05 Chevy dually and would consider the 2011 but we'll see. Now if Ford could go back to the older body style (2003-2007 front works for me) but with the 6.7, I'd certainly consider it. From 2008 to current, no way.

@ Not There Yet, I couldnt agree more.. everyones going to like there brand no matter what and it all depends on what people want and what application of truck they are looking for

Chevy has some identity issues going on - all of the Chevy's are pulling "Denali" trailers.

Inadvertent advertising for their sibling?

Ironic considering the recent - "you can't say Chevy" mess.

@Not there yet - yeah, I've been thinking the same thing. They should have tweaked the 03 base design for the front ends. Just went too far and heavy for me. But the power train wars are tough to beat.

gm duramax,start 2001to 2009,the best puller,on flat,and hill..if duramax beat powerstoke again;no big deal,but if ford beat the duramax,,watch the media.kissing bull..

So the power plant its built in Ohio-USA ?
The rest of the truck is built in -USA ?
OVER PRICED ? Hell Yes !
Shouldn't the legal taxpayers of the USA get a good
discount since we helped pull GM outta the gutter ?

so what gm don't have a 5th wheel.package,they have the frame and better diesel,don't give me this bull because truck company don't have the same like the order truck,you get a pickup for what is capable if you like to look good by a ford if you like to pull and don't look stupid get gm...specially if you pull,don't forget ford lover pass year power stoke was the most garbage engine to get,is look like you forget fast.and pickuptruck you tack about ford like a new inventions.this is because ford pay for advertising,y don't see too much gm and remember cr,you not better...and y hop they fix the tranny,,,,ford have a better truck..only in TV add reality is difference..if you look whit your eyes open...y got 2009 f150 and is nothing to be proud...

This is really a 2007 with upgraded engine but it still blows anything Ford has out of the water. I guess the Found On Road Dead company better start thinking about making a better truck, a nicer interior just doesn't cut it.

Who won the PM test? What company did ML say is the best HD truck hands down? The answer: Ford.

I own a 05 Duramax,and try out a new one everyyear,and would not buy,drove a 2011 today and will be ordering a new one,is amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

give it up Lou... The only people that keep dragging on that can't say chevy "mess" is GM haters like yourself... My god man, call it whatever you want... Its not like they are saying calling it Chevy is illegal...

just let it go...

Have any of you watched the torque video ford has with Mike Rowe? Watch close and you will see when they are testing the Ram, the truck has no oil pressure.

When is GM redesigning their 1500 or 1/2 ton series?

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