The real reason I was sweating: A full 10,000-pound Case Skid Steer Loader lay dead on a trailer behind my Chevy. It was the perfect little yellow metal boulder, just waiting to fall off the end or tumble over the side of the trailer on the long, steep tow I had in front of me. The road looked like a trucker's nightmare, with steep grades flanked by rocky outcroppings, winding roads through deer-infested forests, and cliffs that looked like Bob Ross paintings.
This is the sort of hauling that you and I will never do, even in our most barbaric dreams. But it is the sort of thing manufacturers dream up because they are as natural of a habitat for testing heavy-duty trucks as a racetrack is for a Ferrari.
For 2011, Chevy is offering a broad lineup of HD pickups, with 10 2500HD models and eight single- and dual-rear-wheel 3500HD models. For my tow, I was driving the new 3500 HD LT Crew Cab “Dually,” featuring the new 6.6-Liter Duramax Diesel V-8.
According to GM, the Duramax now leads the segment with 397 HP and 765 lb.-ft. of torque. That's not a misprint. Seven hundred sixty five pound feet. That's... well, that's a lot of twist. GM also claims that the engine reduces NOx emissions by at least 63 percent, as diesel engines continue to become a far cry from their smog-spewing ancestors.
Sixteen thousand pounds is a lot of weight to haul, but at the end of the day if the truck is unable to control it with relative ease, that number is essentially meaningless. I would not be towing quite that amount of weight of that along my hilly joyride, but I'd like to think that a 10,000-pound trailer and a 2,000-pound payload is more than adequate to obtain a good feel for how well the truck can perform.
Shifting into drive, the truck's power gets the trailer moving with relative ease. Often in these big trucks with earth-pulling engines, the throttle response is more of a snap. The Silverado still has the ability to push you back into your seat, but the throttle response is nuanced enough that you're not spilling your coffee.
Going down the steep hills I had the opportunity to use the immensely effective exhaust brake. The Chevy engineers were very proud of the new “smart” exhaust brake on the Heavy Duties and rightfully so. This driver-selected feature uses the turbine control of the turbocharger along with engine compression to generate remarkably powerful backpressure, which works to slow the Silverado while traversing down steep grades. Applying the exhaust brake worked wonders in controlling the trailer while going down hills, saving the brakes some wear and tear.
All in all, the drive wasn't terribly long, but it was enough to make it obvious that when it comes to towing, the 2011 Silverado HD does the work. Though I never forgot I had a trailer behind me, I caught myself driving as if I didn't. It was as if my subconscious had ceded authority of controlling the trailer to the truck itself and left me to revel in just driving the thing.
If you're buying a truck as a daily driver and occasional tow vehicle, however, you'll be better served with a half-ton pickup. Towing capability for this class of truck has increased in recent years, while improvements to comfort and ride have been engineered in as well. A properly equipped Silverado 1500 can tow up to 10,700 pounds, and with a starting price of just over $20,000, you'll save quite a bit over a heavy-duty truck.
But of course, your toy won't be the biggest or the baddest.