I find truck stops romantic—not for the leathery hot dogs or fluorescent-lit mini-mart aisles, but for the sounds. Specifically, I like the sound of an 18-wheeler’s diesel engine. I don’t think of that sound as “clatter.” A diesel engine sings of power and potential borne of an efficient, robust design, and its hypnotic industrial tune is one big reason that I’m a sucker for a well-executed, king-of-the-road style, diesel pickup like Chevrolet’s 2012 Silverado 2500HD.
Chevrolet’s truck engineers—and plenty of Americans—apparently enjoy the same song (pickups again top American sales charts). I recently drove a Silverado 2500HD 4WD LTZ Crew Cab packed with enough luxuries to almost make me forget I was in a utility vehicle. But then there was that rhythmic rat-a-tat-tat emanating from underneath the contoured hood as well as the cannon-sized exhaust pipe, courtesy of the 6.6-liter, Duramax V8 turbo-diesel engine. During hundreds of miles of driving, sometimes I turned off the Bose-speaker stereo and the GPS’s female narrator just to hear the diesel go.
The engine makes power as easily as it makes harmony. Dip the accelerator and almost immediately there’s the thrust of 765 lb.-ft. or torque; put your Justin boot into it and, by the time the unobtrusive, six-speed transmission reaches 3,000 rpm, the truck’s 397 horsepower is apparent. Chevrolet claims an unburdened, 6,400-pound Silverado leaves its competition behind in going from zero to 60 miles per hour in under eight seconds, and that with a 3,000-pound payload while driving uphill in thin mountain air the truck will still reach 60 mph in under 15 seconds. No argument here.
The Silverado and its diesel, however, are really meant to impress while under load. For 2012, Chevrolet bolstered the Silverado’s already impressive payload and tow ratings: My tester could pull about 15,000 pounds worth of horse trailer or 5th wheel, while the bed will stand up to 3,000-pound payloads. Ford’s F-Series, with its Lego-like, endless, mix-and-match configurations still outsells Silverado. But you can’t fault the Chevrolet for its superb brawn and unyielding work ethic. So what if the QE2 makes a tighter U-turn. With my to-do list of furniture-moving duties easily tackled, I knew I couldn’t give the Silverado hard enough chores.
My tester’s cabin, meanwhile, was genteel. The leather surfaces felt durable and buttoned down but inviting, and the dashboard was packed with Cadillacky luxuries including dual climate control, heated/cooled seats, and a GPS/entertainment/back-up camera that ultimately relented and became second nature, at least after I conquered a steep learning curve involving jumps from screen to screen. Ironically, the many amenities’ collective downside is a lack of real estate: While there’s plenty of storage, dashboard room is limited. Good luck using a leather-gloved finger to control the door-mounted seat-heater buttons. At least the highway ride is smooth.
In its natural environment, however, there’s no mistaking the well-proportioned, slab-sided Silverado for a Caddy. On dirt and over chunky roads, the truck feels of a piece (GM engineers have worked tirelessly on torsional stiffness), and the big diesel purposely loafs to slow you on slippery descents. Generous wheel wells fit about as much dirt as the Grand Canyon, and the radar-dish size side-view mirrors help you monitor that pricey camper. This last descriptor—money—can’t be overlooked: The Silverado 2500HD starts under $30,000, but you’ll pay $45,000 for a loaded model and another $7,200 for the diesel powerplant. My luxe tester came to over $60,000, and while the Silverado delivered relatively good fuel economy (about 16 miles per gallon), diesel nowadays is expensive. You won’t get your money back on this investment soon.
But if you’re committed to ruggedness, comfort, towing capacity, diesel durability, and under-hood sounds, a truckload’s worth of dough might seem appropriate for this rugged ride.
Andrew Tilin has been a writer and editor for national publications for the last 25 years. He’s been on staff at Outside and Time Inc.’s Business 2.0 magazines. Andrew is longtime car geek—over the years he’s written car reviews about vehicles ranging from EVs to McLaren’s Formula One cars. His third book, “The Doper Next Door,” was published in the summer 2011.
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