MRO Magazine

Heavy-duty options abound

When you're looking for a heavy-duty pickup truck, there's many choices, among them the Ford F-Series and Dodge Ram nameplates, and a selection from General Motors that's incredibly broad. GM's full-s...

February 1, 2002 | By Bill Roebuck

When you’re looking for a heavy-duty pickup truck, there’s many choices, among them the Ford F-Series and Dodge Ram nameplates, and a selection from General Motors that’s incredibly broad. GM’s full-size pickups include Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500 (half ton) and 2500 (three-quarter ton) regular duty models, as well as 1500HD and 2500HD heavy-duty models and the one-ton 3500 Series in both marques. In all, there are 31 heavy-duty models in the GM stable.

The models come in regular, four-door extended and crew cabs, as well as chassis cab versions. Cargo boxes are offered in 6.5-ft and 8-ft lengths and are longer, wider and deeper than previous generation models of these pickups. The Chevy and GMC divisions of GM both launched these all-new designs for 1999, although the 1500HD versions were only introduced halfway through the 2001 model year.

Innovations in the new models included upgraded passenger compartments, an improved appearance (without changing the familiar Chevy Truck and GMC styling cues), improved suspensions aided by stronger frames, and better hauling and trailering capabilities.

The new models also offered four-wheel disc brakes for the first time on GM heavy-duty pickups. The higher capacity brakes are designed to last twice as long as the previous design. In our test drives, we found the HD pickups have a solid brake pedal feel, with good stopping distances. Braking distance had been one of the weaknesses of earlier GM models.


The heavy-duty models can be outfitted with a wide array of power train configurations, including a 6.6-litre Duramax Turbo Diesel and 6.0- or 8.1-litre Vortec V8 engines, which can be mated to one of four transmissions — an Allison five-speed automatic, a ZF six-speed manual, a Hydra-matic four-speed automatic or an NVG five-speed manual. The most popular is the Allison.

At its launch, the new Duramax diesel, which produces 300 hp and 520 lb-ft of torque, was claimed by GM to be the most powerful diesel ever produced for a pickup truck. It boasts better fuel economy than its predecessor, a 6.5-litre. It also offers high durability, rated to 320,000 km, twice what previous engines were designed for.

GM has even tackled one frustration of diesels — the loud rattling they make. The new Duramax produces just 78 decibels of sound, which is about half the noise level of its next quietest competitor, Ford’s 7.3-litre diesel.

Power is a trademark of the Vortec 8.1-litre V8, the most powerful gasoline engine in the heavy-duty pickup market. It produces 340 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque. In comparison, the smaller 6.0-litre Vortec produces 300 hp and 360 lb-ft of torque. Its oil change interval is long at 16,000 km.

Both Vortec models also offer the same durability rating as the Duramax. All these engines come with an hour meter on the instrument panel. Oil changes are the only scheduled maintenance they require for the first 160,000 km of operation. An oil life monitoring systems alerts owners when an oil change is required based on actual usage and need.

All models come in two- or four-wheel drive versions. All 2500HD models have single rear wheels, while the 3500 Series models have “duallies.” And if this wasn’t already complex enough, you can choose from two rear axles with ratings of 6,900 lb or 10,000 lb, and either a 3.73 or 4.10 drive ratio.

Trailering capacity now ranges up to 12,000 lb. The transmissions feature a tow/haul mode and engine grade braking for improved stability and control. We found that it worked quite effectively on both unloaded and fully loaded vehicles during test drives in Alberta’s hilly badlands east of Calgary.

Gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWR) are 9,200 lb in the 2500HD Silverado and Sierra models, and 11,400 lb in the 3500 Series pickups. Payload ratings are equally impressive, varying with cab and cargo box configurations from 3,127 lb to 3,931 lb in the 2500HDs and 4,804 lb to 5,349 lb in the 3500 Series.

GM hasn’t ignored creature comforts in its pickup lineup. The air conditioning system features an interior air filter, a driver message centre has 18 alerts, a tilt steering wheel is standard, and headlights turn on automatically as needed.

Front seats are a 40/20/40 split bench, with individual buckets (and a huge centre console) available. Leather can be ordered on the uplevel models.

Improvements also have been made to the heating, ventilating and air conditioning system, for quicker cool-down and better heater performance. The upgraded Silverado LT and Sierra SLT extended cab and crew cab models come with GM’s On Star security and information system.

The current Silverado line includes LT and LS models while the Sierra wear SL, SLE and SLT badges. Interestingly, 2002 is the 100th year that GMC has been producing trucks — and only trucks.

For 2002, Sierra and Silverado gain extendable sunshades and a new AM/FM stereo with an optional CD player. They also can be ordered either as a bi-fuel (CNG/gasoline) or as a dedicated compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle. Prices range from $22,565 to $46,310.

Chevrolet plans to enhance certain 2002 Silverado models by introducing a four-wheel steering system called Quadrasteer, currently available on the high-end Sierra Denali pickup. The system, which improves low-speed manoeuvrability and high-speed stability, handling and control, should be available mid-year.

Next issue, we’ll test drive more heavy-duty pickups. Archives of the MRO TruckTest columns can be found at


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