2011 GMC Sierra 3500 4WD SLT Crew Cab DRW Road Test Review

Arv Voss - CAP staff
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If the old adage "bigger is better" holds true, then GMC's latest 2011 Sierra 3500 HD Crew Cab must be among the best, since it's humongous. If your need is to haul a heavy load, rip out a large tree stump by its roots, or simply to have top bragging rights, then this could very well be your ride of choice. This heavy duty hauler isn't just "bigger than a breadbox," it's bigger than the whole darned bakery. The "Dually" version is the biggest in GMC's HD lineup, and my test rig happened to be the Dual Rear Wheel (DRW) model. It, of course, has two rear wheels and tires on each side. For the record, Chevrolet offers a similar model under the Silverado name.

The 3500 models are one-ton trucks, with the 2500 series rated as three quarter-ton vehicles. Both stables of heavy duty trucks are all-new, featuring different grille and hood designs, unique interior themes, and class-leading power and efficiency. We'll only deal with the Sierra 3500 here, which is offered in four trim levels: WT, SLE, SLT and Denali. All GMC heavy duty trucks come in three cab configurations, with three bed styles and two bed length choices. There are Regular Cabs, Extended Cabs and Crew Cabs, with either a standard pickup box (2.0 m / 6.6-foot / 78.7" bed length) or a long box (2.5 m / 8-foot / 97.6" bed length).

Powertrain choices include a gasoline fueled Vortec 6.0-litre V8 mated to a Hydra-Matic 6-speed automatic transmission, or a Duramax 6.6-litre turbodiesel V8 coupled to an Allison 6-speed automatic gearbox. Either combination is available in rear or four-wheel drive. The 6.0-litre gasoline motor delivers 360 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque, while the 6.6-litre turbodiesel cranks out an impressive 397 horses and an even more impressive 765 pound-feet of torque. Maximum towing capacity is 7,700 kilos (17,000 pounds) with a conventional hitch, and jumps to 9,800 kg (21,700 pounds) when the vehicle is equipped with a fifth-wheel hitch.

Visually, the heavy-duty line differs externally from light duty truck models, exhibiting a bolder, more "in your face" persona.
                           
Inside, are two distinct cab treatments: a "pure pickup" approach, with a greater emphasis on use as a work truck; and a "luxury-inspired" execution that focuses on a plusher interior atmosphere, with fancier trim, etc.

My test behemoth was a GMC Sierra 3500 4WD Crew Dual Rear Wheel with a long bed, in SLT trim, powered by the Duramax turbodiesel mated to the Allison transmission. The price of my Fire Red finished hauler with an Ebony toned leather interior accented by faux polished wood trim isn't available yet, but last year's truck in similar trim was set at $57,850. Standards in my US-spec SLT include adjustable power pedals, locking tailgate, EZ-lift tailgate, and Rear Parking Assist (the latter is a necessity with a machine this big). Rolling stock consisted of Michelin LT 265/70 R17 tires mounted on 8-lug aluminum alloy wheels up front and steel dual wheels with chrome composite covers in the rear.

Options outfitting my US-spec test rig include a skid plate package, the Duramax 6.6-litre turbodiesel V8; Allison 1000 6-speed automatic transmission, dual 125-Amp alternators, diesel engine winter cover, trailer wiring provisions, and destination charge. Specific options are not yet available in Canada.

Driving one of the General's heavy duty workhorses adds up to a really BIG experience. Environmentalists tend to glare at you not only because of its overall mass, but also because of what they perceive its impact on the global fossil fuel supply to be. It weighs more than three tons (3,350 kilos / 7,387 pounds), after all.

Ultimately, the GMC Sierra 3500 4WD Crew Cab DRW in SLT trim is a vehicle that is intended to serve as a comfortable base camp for the professional tradesperson that has the need to go almost anywhere and haul almost anything to accomplish his or her assigned task. Sure, you can drive it to the shopping mall, but trying to find a space big enough to park it in may pose a bit of a challenge, and even if you manage to get lucky, you may return to find a nasty note from one of those aforementioned environmentalists.

This is not a truck for everyone, but there are certainly those who are able to justify the need for such a vehicle, who could not earn their livelihood without it, and who should not be judged by others for owning it.

I was not able to put the truck through its paces to the fullness of its potential during my test loan period, but I had earlier enjoyed the opportunity to tow a large trailer over a slalom course when the trucks were introduced to the automotive press, and other than obstructing vision via the rearview mirror, the trailer's presence was barely noticeable. The Duramax turbodiesel provides all the torque you'll ever need -- especially mated to the Allison transmission -- and it's more fuel efficient than its gasoline counterpart.

Additional noteworthy features for the 2011 model year include B20 biodiesel capability and quicker acceleration; a larger gas tank for up to 1,090 km (680 miles) between fill-ups; an all-new "smart" exhaust brake feature for greater control on grades and reduced brake pad wear; and an array of control features, including trailer sway control, integrated trailer brake control, hill start assist, automatic grade braking, intelligent brake assist and larger brakes. There's also consumer-focused technology, including available mobile Wi-Fi, USB connectivity, Bluetooth connectivity, XM Satellite Radio, On Star 9.0 and navigation.

The ride quality is indeed very truck-like when unladen, but the handling characteristics are positive, and it's certainly easier to drive than ever before. A plus for this big truck is that it can carry a couple of dresser Harleys with ease.

If you have the need for a truck this large, it's a keeper. GMC has been one of the industry's strongest truck brands for more than a hundred years.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Pickup, GMC, 2011, Sierra, $30,000 - $39,999, $40,000 - $49,999,

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