The GMC Sierra pictured just outside Waterton Lakes National Park.
I was recently invited to spend a couple days in Southern Alberta driving the new GMC Sierra HD and Chevy Silverado HD. Heavy-duty, by pickup truck standards, these vehicles fall on the lighter end of the spectrum in terms of the trucks I regularly write about. However, cruising Southern Alberta in HD pickups sure beats a day at the office so needless to say, I was there.
The 2015 GMC Sierra HD and Chevy Silverado HD have been completely redesigned and somehow manage to serve up equal portions of ruggedness and elegance. I was particularly fond the Sierra Denali, which when fully decked out (cooled seats?!) carries a price tag of $87,000+. The Sierra and Silverado share the same powertrain and as such, both are equally capable of any job you can throw at them. These trucks are especially at home pulling heavy loads: up to 19,600 lbs by hitch and 23,200 lbs by fifth wheel. Or, load up the box with up to 7,374 lbs. I carried about 1,000 lbs of firewood in the box of a Silverado and barely noticed it was there. I had the chance to drive a handful of trucks with varying payloads and never did it feel like it was too much for the truck to bear.
The heavy-duty pickup segment is fiercely competitive. You’ve got the Sierra HD, Silverado HD and their Ford and Ram counterparts and there isn’t a dog among them. Still, GM people feel their trucks are a little better – particularly when it comes to low-rpm pulling capabilities. They arranged for us a real-world towing comparison, featuring three identical trailers laden with identical John Deere tractors grossing somewhere close to 10,000 lbs. We had the chance to drive the Sierra, Ford F250 and Ram 2500 on the undulating hills of Southern Alberta to see how they compared. We’d line the trucks up nose to tail on the hills (maintaining a safe following distance), drop our speed to about 80 km/h and when the instructions came from the lead truck via walkie talkie, we buried the throttle. Each time, the Sierra pulled away from the Ford, which in turn distanced itself from the Ram. The results were consistent – and surprising.
The Chevy Silverado HD (left) pictured with its sibling the GMC Sierra HD.
The Sierra, after all, has the lowest published torque of the bunch. However, the torque that’s published on spec’ sheets and boasted about in advertisements is measured at the engine – not where the rubber meets the road – and this can be misleading. Product manager Craig Couch explained to me that the secret to GM’s pulling strength at low rpms is the Allison transmission. We all know that Allison builds transmissions for heavy-duty trucks and industrial applications. To Allison, pickup trucks are small potatoes. The transmission mated to the Duramax diesel engines found in the Sierra and Silverado has been over-engineered for pickup applications and so it can handle all the torque and power the Duramax can throw at it.
The Ford and Ram, however, have to torque-manage to ensure their transmissions are capable of dealing with the mass amounts of torque produced by the engine. This is what gave the Sierra HD a marked advantage in the head-to-head towing comparison we conducted. (And no, I have no reason to believe there was any funny business when it came to selecting the Ford and Ram used in the comparison; GM folks said the spec’s were as closely matched as possible).
Another area where the Sierra and Silverado HD shine is in their towing packages, or you could also call them their ‘towing confidence’ packages. This includes features such as a highly effective exhaust brake and StabiliTrak with Trailer Sway Control. These features instill in drivers unaccustomed to pulling heavy loads the confidence that they need to do the job safely.
Now, if you’re trying to decide which of these trucks – the Sierra or Silverado – is the best for you, it comes down to your styling preference and the image you’re trying to convey. The Silverado is more of a blue collar truck while the Sierra is the “professional grade” truck that says you’ve made it. The successful fleet owner may find himself behind of the wheel of a GMC Sierra HD while the proud owner/operator will show up to work in a Silverado.
The Sierra Denali offers the max in pickup truck luxury. However, Chevy’s coming out with a High Country version of its Silverado which will represent the brand’s first ever premium heavy-duty pickup. I prefer the exterior styling of the Sierra but I love, love, LOVE the western-inspired interior of the High Country. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a High Country available for us to drive on this trip but it should be arriving at dealer lots later this year. If pickups are your thing, go check one out. You can read more about our driving experience here.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies