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GM HD TRUCKS: Hot and heavy

General Motors sets the benchmark with the all-new 2015 GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado HD trucks

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2015 GMC Sierra Denali

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The 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD High Country pickup combines rugged luxury with heavy duty pickup capability, and offers a choice of gas, diesel or CNG power.

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The 2015 GMC Sierra HD features a convenient CornerStep bumper that makes climbing up into the truck bed a breeze.

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The 2015 Silverado HD features an all-new interior that is quiet and comfortable, with ample storage for work or travel and the intuitive connectivity of Chevy MyLink. Customers can chose from gasoline, CNG or diesel power, including the legendary Duramax turbodiesel and Allison transmission.

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When the all-new 2015 GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado HD trucks started hitting the mean streets of Winnipeg a couple of weeks back, it didn't take long for these big rigs to start stalking me.

It seemed like every time I stopped at a red light one of these hulking behemoths was eyeballing my ancient 2000 Chevrolet Silverado HD.

Yep. Full-disclosure time, I'm a lifelong fan of General Motors trucks and drive one daily.

Here's the thing, though: For the past few years, the trucks that were once the object of my affection have done little to stir my senses. Sure, the General's trucks have advanced since they built mine nearly 15 years ago, but the changes and improvements haven't been radical enough to make me open my wallet and drop somewhere in the neighbourhood of $50,000 to upgrade my truck.

So, when GM invited me and a pack of torque-hungry auto journalists (most of them truck guys) out to Calgary last week to drive the new Sierra and Silverado HD models, I was hoping to rekindle the romance.

And it wasn't just a test-drive. We were able to compare the new GM trucks in a bumper-to-bumper duel against the heavy-duty offerings from Chrysler and Ford.

Our two-day adventure began with a fleet of shiny new Sierra and Silverado HD models parked in a tidy row in front of the Calgary airport. Moments after I walked over to take a closer look, a construction crew working at the airport joined me, and this pack of Alberta boys with hardhats and Duck Dynasty beards gushed and guffawed all over these new trucks.

It was hard not to get caught up in their excitement. With a blocky exterior that looks like it was carved out of granite and luxurious interiors that rival many luxury sedans, these trucks definitely look the part.

But would they perform as well as they look?

Following a brief presentation that outlined our journey from Calgary up to Waterton Lakes National Park in the southwest corner of Alberta, I rushed to the front of the line to get dibs on a white 2015 GMC Sierra 2500 Denali HD crew cab.

My co-driver for the event was Mark Atkinson from autoguide.com, I pair up with Atkinson whenever possible because his vehicle knowledge is second to none and his New Brunswick accent reminds me of my grandfather.

For the first leg of our journey I opted to drive and, as the lanky Atkinson climbed into the passenger seat and started moving the power seat back, I couldn't help but cringe for General Motors product manager Craig Couch, who hopped in the back seat. Upon closer inspection I seriously considered asking Couch to trade seats -- even in the back seat, the crew cab in these new trucks offers far more legroom that anything Air Canada has to offer.

Moments later we were smack in the middle of the stampede that is Calgary traffic. While the cabin seems to totally envelope the driver and passengers, there's a commanding view from the driver's seat. The new HD models share interiors with the GM 1500-series trucks that were all-new for 2014. The seats are supportive and comfortable, with a wide range of adjustments. The controls are simple to operate and the ergonomics are intelligent.

The vast array of options offered in the Denali version include heated-and-cooled seats, lane-departure warning and an 8.0-inch touch-screen monitor with navigation. And before you go accusing me of driving a truck that no one buys, more than 625,000 GMC trucks decked out in Denali trim have been sold since the introduction of the GMC Yukon Denali back in 1999, and Denali accounts for nearly 25 per cent of all GMC Sierra HD sales.

The Duramax diesel 6.6L V8 turbo engine under the hood of our tester delivered 397 horsepower and a whopping 765 pound-feet of torque. Paired with the beefy Allison 1000 Series Transmission with overdrive, this powertrain offers a maximum highway range of up to 1,100 kilometres on a single fill-up.

While these new trucks are more fuel-friendly than previous models, they remain ridiculously powerful. In regular driving without a load or a trailer, they accelerate far faster than any truck this size ever should. More importantly, when hauling a massive payload or pulling a laden trailer, they perform markedly better than similar offerings from either Ram or Ford.

The second day of testing proved this conclusively. When we arrived at the Bar U Ranch, a national historic site set in the rolling foothills of the Rockies, a Ram 2500 and a Ford F-250 were pitted against a Sierra 2500. Each truck was pulling a trailer loaded with a massive John Deere tractor. It was initially a bit daunting pulling such a heavy load, but the big Sierra quickly instilled confidence and literally left the competition in the dust on uphill climbs.

For the trip back to the airport we opted for a Chevrolet Silverado equipped with the standard 6.0-litre Vortec V-8 engine that makes 360 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque. Although we never towed with the gas engine, it had no trouble rolling through the hilly terrain we encountered and is also a lion off the line.

If you try hard enough, there are more than 150 variations of the Silverado available. Regular-cab and crew-cab versions have been joined by a new double-cab configuration that replaces the former extended-cab model, and buyers can choose either an eight-foot or 6.5-foot (crew-cab only) bed.

New to the both trucks is a convenient CornerStep bumper and built-in hand assists that make climbing up into the truck bed a breeze. Other convenient available features include integrated bed tie-downs, under-rail LED auxiliary lighting and an EZ lift-and-lower tailgate. Also new are available segment-exclusive safety features including forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning and park assist.

If I had one complaint with these new HD trucks it's an old one. Despite a fully independent coil-over-shock front suspension and multistage progressive rear leaf springs, when not loaded or pulling a trailer the ride on these big rigs is notably stiffer than the softer 1500 series trucks. Then again, why buy a truck capable of towing a trailer as big as your house unless you intend to do so?

After finally getting the chance to drive the new Silverado and Sierra HDs, I'm convinced these are the nicest heavy-duty trucks the world has ever seen. They offer plush interiors as quiet as a bank vault, smooth and powerful engine and transmission options that deliver improved fuel-economy, and absolutely stunning curb appeal

My friends who rely on trucks to make a living are also excited once again about these new heavy haulers. Mere moments after posting a photo of the new GMC Sierra Denali HD on Facebook, my buddy Graeme Robertson, a local contractor who hauls heavy equipment around all day, commented: "Beautiful truck, I might have to pull a mortgage for one."

The truth is, he wasn't kidding.

willy@freepress.mb.ca

 

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