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2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 4WD Pickup Truck Review

Hi-Ho, Silverado!

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2011 Chevy Silverado HD Truck

2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 4WD Truck

© Jason Fogelson
The universe provides balance. Heat/Cold. Yankees/Mets. Chocolate/Vanilla. Over-the-roll/Under-the-roll. Ford pickups/Chevy pickups. The balance teeters, but balance is maintained. Usually. Then, I spend a week in the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD. With a base price of $40,070 ($51,770 as tested), the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD SRW 4WD Crew LT comes with a 3-year/36,000 mile basic warranty and a 5-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. The EPA doesn't require fuel economy estimates for vehicles over 8,500 lbs GVWR, but I got 15.5 miles per gallon of diesel fuel during my week with the big Silverado truck. Let's drive.

First Glance at the Silverado HD Truck - Better Bones

Silverado got a makeover this year. Not a total redesign, just a significant amount of work beneath the skin. The truck still rides on the same GMT900 platform that has formed its underpinnings since 2007. The same architecture forms the basis for the GMC Sierra full-size pickup, as well as the Chevy Avalanche, the Chevy Suburban and Tahoe, the GMC Yukon and the Cadillac Escalade, and probably a whole mess of other GM vehicles that I've forgotten about. The good news about that is that GMT900 is a very good platform, even better for pickup trucks than it is for SUVs.

The sheet metal hanging off the fully boxed frame of the Silverado is mighty attractive. The big grille is all business, its horizontal layout emphasizing width and strength, anchored on each side by rectangular headlamps and highlighted in the center by a big gold Chevy bowtie emblem. Rather than show off with big truck features, like the Ford Super Duty and Dodge Ram pickups, the Silverado front end is classy and relatively understated, but still with plenty of shiny metal parts to maintain some interest.

Coming around the side, Silverado's modest body cladding serves to protect its doors against bumps and dents. Big arches define the wheel wells, but no exaggerated muscular bulges brag about prowess. 18" aluminum wheels are standard on the LT, and they look good on the 3500HD.

I'd lose the drop in bedliner that comes with the Silverado. It isn't sealed to the body, so it may let moisture accumulate underneath, a very bad thing. The bedliner also complicates access to the bed tie downs, necessitating the removal of round plastic plugs in order to use them. A good spray-in liner would be a much better choice, and I'd get one installed as soon as I bought a new Silverado.

In the Silverado HD Driver’s Seat - Bringing Back the Bench

2011 Chevy Silverado HD Truck

2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 4WD Truck

© Jason Fogelson
Silverado 3500HD comes in several flavors: the base WT, popular LT and fancy LTZ. Each trim level is available with single-track wheels or with dual-rear wheels (in Chevy parlance the "Dooley"). Three cab sizes are offered: Regular, Extended and Crew Cab. And two bed lengths: Standard (78.8") and Long (97.7"). Crew Cab can be matched with either bed, but Regular and Extended cab models only get the Long Bed. So, with my limited command of math, that means that there are about 30 combinations available. Add in the choice of 4WD or 2WD, gas or diesel and there are 1,000 combinations. Not really, it just seems like it.

The Crew Cab/Long Bed combination may be the sweet spot for a lot of truck buyers. The LT trim level felt just about right to me, a comfortable level of coddling in the cabin without too much fuss and nonsense. The front seat is a genuine three-passenger bench seat, but with a big fold-down armrest that doubles as a center console when there's no passenger present. The second row is almost as roomy as a full-sized SUV's, and even has a few cupholders available at floor level. When unoccupied, the 60/40 split bench seat easily folds up to reveal a handy, flat 65.4" wide load floor inside the cabin. This is my favorite feature in the Crew Cab, because it provides weather-proof, secure storage for tools and other gear without compromising the pickup bed with a tonneau, cap or storage box.

I kind of wish that Chevy had given the Silverado's dash a little more attention when it was attending to this makeover. Some of the plastics are a little hard, and the places where materials meet do not reflect the highest level of fit and finish. Check out the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra to see how nice a truck interior can be, then get back to me, Chevy.

On the Road in the Silverado HD Truck - Big Torque on Tap

The real test of this big pickup will come when it's time to get to work. My test vehicle was certainly equipped to get things done, with an Allison 6-speed automatic transmission ($1,200) and a Duramax 6.6-liter turbo diesel engine ($7,195) packing 397 hp and 765 lb-ft of torque. The stock 6.0-liter gas V8 is no slouch either, with 360 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque on tap. But for pulling power, you can't beat the diesel 3500HD's 17,000 lb towing capacity (21,700 lbs with a fifth wheel) and 6,635 lb payload. Those are class-leading (for now), serious work truck specs. If you need more capacity, you'll have to step up to a real truck, not a pickup.

Silverado's cabin is a serene place to be, even with the diesel engine fired up and working hard. There's just a hint of that traditional diesel clatter at idle, but once underway, the sound was as subtle as a gas V8. The beefed up frame and suspension on the 3500HD definitely affects the ride and handling, adding stiffness and a transmitting a bit of harshness into the cabin. I would say it's a fair trade-off for the added capacity and strength. Silverado is still a very comfortable all-day ride.

I loaded up my test truck with twenty bags of mulch, about a half-ton of material, to see how it affected the ride, handling and acceleration. The Silverado ignored the puny payload like a rhino with a bird on its shoulder. If anything, the ride and handling were a little better with some weight in the bed.

Journey’s End - Buying Decisions

2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 4WD Truck

2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 4WD Truck

© Jason Fogelson
There's something about a big, honking diesel pickup that really appeals to the Neanderthal in me, I have to admit. I felt supremely confident and powerful behind the wheel of Silverado HD, and I didn't mind the compromises of driving a big truck most of the time. I've gotten pretty good about avoiding parking garages, tight parking lots and narrow streets that confine mere mortals in their puny cars and SUVs.

Silverado 3500HD is a serious tool for serious work. Posers need not apply. I like what Chevy has done with this truck, concentrating on ability and capacity, and not on show-off features. The most important element of tool selection is making sure that you know what kind of job you need to accomplish before choosing your tool. A hammer drill is a great tool, but if you are fixing a hinge on a jewelry box, it's not the right tool. Same thing with pickup trucks. If you occasionally tow a small speedboat or pop-up camper, you probably don't need a heavy-duty diesel pickup. If you regularly haul loads of stone or tow a four-horse trailer over a mountain range, you will love the quiet efficiency and power of the Silverado 3500HD.

Silverado HD's serious competitors are the Ford Super Duty and Dodge Ram HD, along with stable mate GMC Sierra HD. Chevy has upped the game on the spec sheet this year, but the numbers are all very close between the three vehicles. Your decision may come down to how well the truck fits you, and which one looks best on you. Silverado is the subtlest of the four choices, with the fewest big truck visual cues. It's a matter of taste. I do think that Silverado HD and Sierra HD have a slight advantage in ride quality over the other two, especially when it comes to cornering and handling, and as such would be my choice for best heavy-duty pickup. Your opinion may vary.

Disclosure: Our review truck was provided by General Motors. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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