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PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Farmers and contractors are lucky people. They, along with horse people and drivers of racing cars, get to play with all the cool stuff.
They drive tractors, diggers or heavy loaders. They go fast around tracks, move wild beasts and live and breathe their work instead of commuting to a routine job like the rest of us.
These are the outdoors types who also tend to buy the biggest pickups -- the diesels, duallys or Denalis, the HD trucks that are defined as much by how much they can haul as how tough they look.
In the U.S., one in four pickups sold is an HD truck -- the three-quarter and one-ton pickups that accounted for 475,000 sales in 2013. Of course, some of those HD trucks are for work, but many are used for personal or family transportation.
And no wonder. Step inside an HD pickup such as the 2015 GMC Sierra or Chevrolet Silverado and you get an immediate appreciation for the world in which these people live. Acres of space, the power equipment, the refinement and fit and finish, the sheer pleasure of driving something that doesn't just command the road but owns it, is reason enough to question one's chosen career path.
The GM HD trucks, following the debut of the new half-ton trucks last year, are one leg of GM's three-truck strategy (alongside the new Colorado and Canyon mid-size trucks). The HD trucks, available with either a 6ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ¯ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ¿ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ½ or eight-foot bed, can be configured in more than 150 combinations of body style, powertrain, bed length, axle type and so on.
Starting at $37,430 in Canada for the most basic 2WD Sierra 2500 and climbing to more than $68,000 for a 4WD Crew Cab 3500 before options, the trucks are as lucrative as they are essential to GM's overall business.
Taking design cues from the Silverado and Sierra half-tons, the Sierra and Silverado HD trucks get the new double cab and revised crew cab bodies seen in the 2014 1500 models, creating an extra five centimetres of legroom in the rear. Both the Sierra and Silverado, replete with grilles the size of Kevin O'Leary's ego, still maintain unique identities, even if the underpinnings and fully-boxed steel frames are the same.
But where the Silverado is less appealing than the Sierra as a half-ton, the Silverado looks the better of the pair as an HD, although the Sierra's interior is still more upscale, with real aluminum and a more premium feel.
Both trucks have great storage, lots of USB and power outlets, plus the latest-generation GM IntelliLink infotainment system with an eight-inch colour touch screen that's fairly intuitive, although the navigation maps lack detail. Overall, it's an attractive cabin.
And quiet? You want quiet? Lighting the Duramax diesel in the 2500 Silverado, two of us inside the cab had to double check that this was indeed the 6.6-litre diesel offered as an option on the 2500 and 3500. Of course, it helped a big badge on the sculpted hood screamed Duramax, but the badging is almost louder than the engine itself -- at idle and under heavy acceleration.
Out on the highway, the truck is Cadillac quiet, only the big trailer mirrors causing enough turbulence to make some sound.
It's efficient as well: Cruising at a steady 100 to 120 km/h, I averaged 10.2 L/100 km, impressive for a vehicle that weighs as much as two Cruzes.
That 397-horsepower turbo diesel is clearly the star of this rodeo, able to grunt with 765 pound-feet of torque. Yes, that's less than Ram's 800 lb-ft in its 2500. But in consecutive uphill wide-open-throttle races towing 10,000 pounds, the Chevy pulled away from the Cummins-powered Ram -- and Ford's Powerstroke diesel F-250 -- without much trouble.
The Chevy was also better able to hold its speed downhill through a combination of diesel-exhaust braking and grade-braking through the transmission, both of which are tied to cruise control. I think the Chevy had the quietest cabin too.
With the diesel paired with an Allison 1000 six-speed automatic transmission, the GM trucks can tow an impressive load. I pulled a 17,380-pound Logan three-horse trailer with living quarters up hills and down valleys around Phoenix in a 3500 Sierra Denali without feeling substantial bucking or pushing, and stopping that much weight was not difficult.
Getting up to speed isn't a drawn-out affair either, but does require planning. A 6,000-pound Airstream trailer seemed insignificant behind the 2500 Denali HD. A typical sport or fishing boat wouldn't even be noticed. StabiliTrak with trailer sway control is standard on all models, but trailer mirrors don't have power adjustments for the lower fish-eye section.
The maximum capability for the 2500, equipped with the Duramax, is 14,500 pounds for conventional towing and 17,900 under a fifth wheel. Payload maximum is 4,306 pounds. On the 3500, maximum towing is 19,600 pounds via the hitch, and 23,200 with a fifth wheel. Payload max is 7,374 pounds in the 3500.
While most of GM's HD trucks will be sold with a Duramax diesel, because about 80 per cent of HD buyers choose the $9,600 diesel option over gasoline, the standard engine on the HD trucks shouldn't go without applause. The 6.0-litre Vortec gas V8 with 360 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque is fairly smooth and appreciably quiet. A version rated at 322 horsepower is standard on the 3500s.
Surprisingly, GM hasn't tried to match the impressive numbers touted by Ram, which says its 3500 HD dually diesel can pull a maximum 30,000 pounds in fifth-wheel towing. GM execs say they wanted to make their new HD trucks smarter, and to show that in real life, that it isn't just about the numbers, it's about towing and hauling with confidence and comfort.
If that's the rule by which farmers and contractors measure their trucks, they'll be happy with GM's approach.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014