Rig Review: Truck maker scores with TopKick models

by John Curran

BOBCAYGEON, Ont. – With soccer’s World Cup ready to shift into high gear there will be many kicks of note over the next month, but certainly none will beat GMC’s redesigned line of TopKick trucks.

With two lines ranging from Classes 4 through 8, the lighter family two and its beefier cousins in family three were first promoted at last year’s Truxpo and Expocam shows respectively.

While some time has passed since then, the new vehicles are starting to roll out and the manufacturer recently gave Truck News a chance to put these mainstays of Canadian job sites through their paces.

We headed out north of the company’s Oshawa, Ont. corporate offices accompanied by Randy Pidlubny, assistant brand manager of commercial trucks, and in fact a team of GM staffers and vehicles. Our goal: To eventually deliver seven yards of stone to a local Boy Scout Camp in need of a make-work project for some of the less-than-disciplined campers.

A contractor’s dream

We made our way – via the back roads – through the Canadian-shield cottage country in a hard working 2003 version of the C8500.

This particular baby 8 featured the Duramax Diesel 7800 I6 engine – a 475 cu.in. power plant boasting 275hp at 2200rpm.

Its peak torque hits 860lb-ft. at 1450rpm aided by its high-torque Eaton nine-speed manual transmission.

“It’s a lot more power than you really need for a single axle dump,” admits Pidlubny in explaining why the unit is ideal for an independent contractor.

“It’ll easily take a small trailer and a Bobcat, too.”

With lots of juice to climb the hilly stretches of two-lane encountered on our journey, the run was still quiet enough for a pleasant conversation without the need for raised voices. GM says it cut the noise, vibration and harshness experienced in the operating environment by about 50 per cent.

Loaded with nearly the legal limit of gravel for this spec, the C8500’s front 14,600-lb and rear 23,500-lb multi-leaf suspension systems afforded a smooth ride even motoring over the so-called level rail crossings common to this, and many other, backcountry areas.

Slightly smaller

If you’re thinking the C8500 is a little more truck than you need, part of the trip included a spin behind the wheel of the slightly smaller C6500.

This Class 6 dumper only offered a carrying capacity of about five yards of gravel and with its 210 horses and 520lb-ft. of torque, it certainly didn’t want to charge up hill with the same force as the 8500.

However, about two-thirds of the way through our run it was time to do a fuel check and the real benefit of this machine shone through.

While all of the other trucks in our convoy – including four over-sized pickups from family two – burned half-a-tank, the gauge on this little beauty was still at about three-quarters.

A big factor contributing to this result was the Allison 2000 five-speed automatic trannie. Matching perfectly with the Cat 3126E engine, its performance would certainly make any owner proud – to say nothing of profitable.

It’s a spec growing in popularity according to Pidlubny.

“About 30 per cent of our tandems are now spec’d with automatics,” he explains.

Seeing is believing

The TopKick’s grown windshield, 25 per cent larger than previous offerings, combined with a new sloped hood and dash to give a great view of the road and both shoulders.

The instrument panel has been lowered slightly and the result is the ability to see everything more than 18.8-ft out off the bumper.

This enhanced view, offered a great vantage point for testing how maneuverable this dump truck actually was and the GM press people weren’t stretching the truth in saying, “It will turn inside a Buick Regal.”

New steering geometry – including high inside turn angles, longer front suspension springs, a slightly set-back front axle and a 53-degree wheel cut – clearly contribute to what is likely a best-in-class turning radius.

Clean cab design

GM’s new TopKick cab isn’t likely to win any design awards, but the fact is award committee members don’t drive truck.

The company’s clean cab offers a simple, yet spacious, environment from which to turn the wheels for a living.

With seat designs borrowed from the company’s full-sized vans, the rigs can be spec’d to include driver and front passenger air suspension seats for peak comfort.

A range of Delco audio systems, powerful climate control systems and a host of amenities like large cup holders and map pockets give the operator everything they need to do their job effectively and efficiently.

A fact attested to by the less-than-happy campers who now face remedial roadwork thanks to our delivered payload, which arrived on time and without incident to the local Scout Camp.

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