Mountain Wheels: Silverado’s diesel power puts the heavy in Heavy Duty |

Mountain Wheels: Silverado’s diesel power puts the heavy in Heavy Duty

Andy Stonehouse
Summit Daily auto writer
Special to the Daily 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD Crew Cab 4x4

Back in college, I knew I had truly found myself in the hinterlands when, on a summer job, a coworker’s overly rugged daughter turned up wearing a T-shirt explaining that “the smell of diesel made her (let us say, ‘excited’).”

Yes, it’s not an entirely city-fied notion, but for tough girls and tough boys across the West, the throbbing whallop and clatter of a diesel engine is indeed a thing of beauty.

If you live next to a guy who leaves his diesel work truck clattering for four hours in the morning to warm up, you may have an entirely different opinion.

So it comes as no surprise that the already solid and work-ready Chevy Silverado HD pickup line suddenly turns ultra-super macho when equipped with the optional and not inexpensive Duramax turbodiesel engine.

For about $7,000 premium on the standard 6.0-liter Vortec that’s standard with the 2011 Silverado, GM will drop in a gigantic 6.6-liter beast of grunting, oil-burning calamity, able to generate 397 horsepower and a ridiculous and ungodly 765 lb.-ft. of torque. An exhaust pipe the diameter of a tree stump indicates your intentions and prowess to the world.

The new engine, plus an optional and interconnected $1,200 heavy-duty Allison 1000 transmission, adds about 800 pounds to the Silverado 2500 (impress your friends by telling them your pickup tips the scales at just over 7,200 pounds), but also means that the 4×4 version of the machine can haul a 16,700-pound fifth-wheel trailer. With very little problem. And improved exhaust braking to help keep you from burning out the brake pads

In the process, the new-for-2011 diesel engine gets better fuel economy, can run, hippie-style, on biodiesel (my friend’s daughter’s comments then may have been more closely associated with the smell of converted fry oil, which is itself a little more disturbing). And its NOx emmissions are down 63 percent from the 2010 models, to boot. It’s practically a gigantic version of the Nissan LEAF.

The 2500HD, built in Flint, Mich. and Ft. Wayne, Ind., is also a master of epic vehicular proportions: 240 inches long, 78 inches high and sporting a slightly overwhelming 26 inch step-in height. Clambering aboard requires one to stand on the running boards and grab the wheel to get inside; there’s no driver-side access handle inside the A-pillar, so I had to improvise.

Under the sheet metal, there’s new, super-stiff boxed frame assemblies, larger engine mounts and a new, heavier-duty front suspension (suitable for mounting a snow plow on every 4×4 model). Rear suspension has been optimized for those gigantic loads

What’s it like to drive? I’m thinking a diesel locomotive might be a good comparison. Unlike the civilian-issue diesels I’ve advocated in modern Volkswagens and the odd Mercedes, the Duramax makes no concessions to hiding its noisy, low-revving character. Fire it up with the optional remote starter and you can hear it a block away, with some very noisy characteristics during your first miles.

But when you’re underway, that unstoppable torque tends to get the gigantic beast rolling in no time at all. It’ll do 60 mph in less than 9 seconds (and remember that it weighs as much as a small house) and will do the quarter mile in less than 16.

And with tons of articulation space above the wheels in 4×4 guise, the resulting Silverado is able to suck up rough territory but is also a little precipitous on the road and bouncy on dips. Don’t mistake it for a sports car.

My mileage ranged quite a bit but during a highway stretch I saw numbers in the low 20s; the 36-gallon tank allows you to get up to 680 miles out of one very expensive fill-up (do the math and you’ll see GM is betting on you getting about 19 mpg, which really isn’t that bad).

There’s even more chrome than before on the outsides, including a full-width chromed steel bumper, and you can choose wheels and tires up to 20 inches, standard.

Get in and it’s also rather magnificent, with black leather seating, faux hardwood highlights and automobile- (reached by ladder) styled comfort for five.

And the technology suite inside ranges from Bluetooth and the new 9.0 version of OnStar, plus available mobile WiFi and XM satellite radio, in addition to navigation.

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