Trucks/Test Drive: Chevrolet Silverado 3500 HD

A pickup truck these days is called upon to do triple duty: tow a backhoe to the jobsite on Monday, take the spouse out to dinner Friday and tow the boat to the lake on Saturday. That’s an example, but it gives you some insight into the challenges truck designers face when they draft a new pickup. More than any other vehicle today, a pickup truck is expected to be all things to all people.

Given those demands, it’s no surprise that the light-duty truck market has morphed into so many different sub-species: There are compact and full-size models, heavy-duty trucks, long- and short wheelbase models, SUVs and truck-SUV hybrids (such as Chevy’s Avalanche). On top of those base choices you can opt for one of the new line of so-called “crossover” vehicles like the GMC Arcadia, which look like an SUV on the outside, but have the DNA of a station wagon on the inside or over-the-top haulers like the Hummer H2, International’s CXT or GM’s Topkick lines of super pickup trucks.

Recently I spent a week test-driving a truck that combines many of the aforementioned performance, luxury and practicality options: Chevrolet’s Silverado 3500 HD dualie pickup truck. Long, sleek, and painted midnight black with chrome trim accents on the Silverado’s 2007 facelift, the long-bed, four-door Chevy is a definite head-turner around town and on the highway with its wide rear fenders and optional sun roof adding an extra splash of attitude.

The Silverado HD (and its Sierra cousin) can be spec’d in regular, extended and crew cab configurations, which are complemented by standard (6-foot 6-inch) and long (8-foot) cargo box lengths. My dualie demo model featured the long, 8-foot bed, which was set-up to handle fifth-wheel trailers. The new 170-degree-opening rear access doors with fully retractable power windows on extended cab models are practical and easy to open even in crowded supermarket parking lots, but weren’t present on the four-door, full-sized cab demo truck.

Tighter tie-downs
One smart thing GM has done is increase the versatility of the bed tie-down system while increasing strength and capacity on its pickup truck beds. Sliding tie-down brackets are easy to manipulate and reposition, whether you’re tying down a cooler or a compact utility loader. A one-piece wheelhouse and inner box side add strength and a smoother, more integrated overall appearance evident in the trucks’ flowing exterior lines. The beds themselves are 1.18 inches deeper in the front and 1.57 inches deeper at the rear. Revamped inner box walls now offer additional strength, allowing them to better accommodate ladder racks, toolboxes and other accessories. Cargo bed volume is 60.7 cubic feet with the regular box and 75.5 cubic feet with the long box. The dualie’s cargo boxes are now all steel, and include tough, new hydroformed sheet metal outer fenders for enhanced strength. All dualie models feature marker lights on the fenders and new, sleek cab roof lights aerodynamically integrated into the top of the cab.

Big torque
GM’s Vortec 6000 V-8 gas engine is standard equipment for Silverado HD trucks. This power plant cranks out 353 horsepower and 373 pound-feet of torque – impressive numbers for a gas engine. But my demo model was packing the optional 6.6-liter Duramax turbo-diesel engine. Isuzu-built Duramaxes have been setting the standard for smooth, quiet and consistent diesel power since their introduction in 2001, and the 2007 version of this engine only sets that performance bar higher churning out 365 horsepower and a whopping 660 pound-feet of torque.

And that pulling power is abundantly evident, too, as a friend of mine noted one day on a back road, two-lane highway. “Without a trailer behind it, this truck doesn’t even know it’s on the road,” he noted, as the Silverado easily gobbled up incline after incline and lunged for the finish line every time we hit a long, flat straight-away.

Like all ’07 diesel engines, the Duramax received emissions-control upgrades, including a new diesel particulate filter system that provides a 90-percent reduction in particulate matter and a 50-percent reduction in NOx emissions (compared with 2006 engines). A lot of credit for the Duramax’s seamless transition to the tougher EPA emissions belongs to the Allison 1000 six-speed transmission it’s mated to. Together, the Duramax/Allison team delivers good fuel economy, power, quietness and control highlighted by the transmission’s manual gear selection feature, which lets you override the transmission and shift into the gear of your choice in tough driving conditions like towing a heavy trailer up a hill.

Quieter ride, more luxurious trim
Driver views to all quarters are exceptional, and despite its length and bulk, the Silverado HD handles like a much smaller truck. Partly this is thanks to a more refined steering system for ’07 and a new, brawny ladder-type frame with hydroformed front section. A new steering control box has refined feedback from the recirculating ball steering system, delivering improved control and on-center steering. The new frame is reinforced with a series of cross-braces, which help provide a smooth ride and lateral stability through turns. Incidentally, the strength of the frame combined with the powerful new engine and transmission allow both Silverado and Sierra HD models to offer a larger, 2.5-inch trailer hitch receiver platform. This enables the trucks to pull up to 13,000 pounds with conventional trailers. Trucks with fifth-wheel hitches can tow up to 16,700 pounds when properly equipped.

The 2007 GM pickup cabs are more spacious and quieter than previous model trucks, and those enhancements are readily available on the large HD models. The demo truck was tricked out with a whole host of options, including GM’s Bose stereo and GPS navigation system, factory-integrated trailer brake, large capacity storage compartments and all-new instrument panel. One previous deficiency GM engineers were keen to correct was the noisy, plastic-dominated interior trim found in the last generation of Chevy and GM pickups. All 2007 models feature more richly appointed interiors, highlighted by flush surfaces, tight gaps and tolerances on the instrument panel, center stack, clusters and other components. GM officials note that most gaps on the instrument panels and clusters are now 0.5 mm or less. This new dedication to detail is followed through by concealing the fasteners and metal structural components on all seats. As a result, no exposed hardware is apparent on the trucks’ interior or door sills. Drab plastic interior surfaces have been replaced by low-gloss, soft-touch finishes for the instrument panels and other trim pieces throughout the cab.

2007 Chevy Silverado HD quick specs

  • 2500HD (three-quarter-ton) and 3500HD (one-ton) models – including “Dualie” dual rear wheel configuration – with 2WD and 4WD
  • Standard Gen IV 6.0L V-8 gas engine with variable valve timing and class leading power and torque (353 hp/373 lb.-ft.)
  • Optional Duramax 6.6L turbo-diesel engine with dramatic reduction in emissions and class-leading power and torque (365 hp / 660 lb.-ft.)
  • Six-speed automatic transmissions, including new Hydra-Matic 6L90 with gas engine
  • New integrated trailer brake controller