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General Motors is the current leader in heavy-duty pickup trucks. GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado heavy-duty trucks are more powerful and more comfortable than any heavy-duty trucks in history. They ride more smoothly and feel more refined than the current heavy-duty trucks from Ford and Dodge.
Completely re-engineered and redesigned for 2001, the GMC Sierra line is mechanically nearly identical to the Chevy Silverado line. However, there are some key differences. The Sierras are more stylish. Positioned as "professional grade" trucks, the GMCs offer more features, more technology, and more luxury then the Chevys.
These trucks can move mountains. GM says its 3500 series boasts the most power, the heftiest gross vehicle weight rating and the highest gross combined vehicle weight rating available.
To understand the lineup, it helps to speak the language: "Half-ton," "3/4-ton" and "one-ton" are outdated terms because modern trucks haul far more than 1,000-2,000 pounds. However, we still tend to use these terms. Sierra 1500 series are the so-called half-ton trucks. Just to make things as confusing as possible, GMC sells a light-duty 2500-series truck line, which we might refer to as a half-ton truck because it's based on the 1500 Series. (See separate newcartestdrive.com review of the Sierra 1500 and 2500 light-duty trucks.)
2500HD pickups are what we commonly call 3/4-ton trucks. All GMC 2500HD trucks come with single rear wheels. Their suspensions and chassis are a heavier duty design than the light-duty 2500 series models; the two can be distinguished by the 2500HD's raised hood.
3500-series trucks come with dual rear wheels; these so-called one-ton trucks are commonly referred to as "duallies."
Regular Cab, Extended Cab and Crew Cab bodies are available with 6.5-foot short beds or 8-foot long beds. Wheelbases run 133, 143.5, 153.0, 157.5, and 167 inches long on 2500 HD pickups; wheelbases are available in 133, 157.5, 161.5, and 167.5 inches on 3500 duallies.
Three trim levels are offered: SL, the well-equipped SLE, and the leather SLT.
Engine choices: 6.0-liter Vortec V8, 8.1-liter Vortec V8, and 6.6-liter Duramax Turbo Diesel.
Just as important are the transmission choices: five-speed manual or four-speed automatic for the Vortec 6.0-liter; six-speed manual or an exciting new Allison five-speed automatic for the Vortec 8100 or Duramax 6600. And, of course, two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are available.
For 2002, GMC has added two new Sierra Professional models; they are designed as extended cab short box work trucks and are available in 2WD and 4WD.
We drove a Sierra 3500 Crew Cab duallie for two weeks and it was a marvel of power, comfort, and payload capability. It was smooth and comfortable for moving part of a house from Maryland to Virginia, and made short work of moving a garage full of stuff around Williamsburg. It was clearly underwhelmed by this light duty, but very comfortable when taking the mother in law to lunch.
Ride quality is excellent, the best among the duallies currently available from Ford and Dodge. Handling is surprisingly good for such a big truck. It covers real estate quickly, whether on the Interstate or on winding back roads. A hydroformed front frame gives it extraordinary rigidity, which allowed GM's engineers to tune the suspension more precisely for a better ride and handling. Front suspensions use torsion bars for durability.
Four-wheel disc brakes have reduced stopping distances and give the driver a solid pedal feel, a huge improvement over GM's previous-generation trucks. Bigger front rotors, larger brake pads, improved linings offer better stopping power and longer pad life. Dynamic rear proportioning shortens stopping distances by transferring front and rear brake bias to the tires with the best grip.
The base engine is the Vortec 6000, a 6.0-liter V8 (366 cubic inches) that generates 300 horsepower and 360 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 rpm. Introduced for 1999, it's designed for a 200,000-mile operating life with 10,000-mile oil change intervals. Its aluminum cylinder head is similar to that of the L56 Corvette. It comes with a choice of a heavy-duty five-speed manual and GM's 4L80-E four-speed electronically controlled automatic, which comes standard on Extended Cab and Crew Cab models. The four-speed automatic features a Tow/Haul mode.
The big Vortec 8100 V8 delivers 455 pounds-feet of peak torque at 3200 rpm. Torque is that force that propels the truck off the line and this 8.1-liter, 496 cubic-inch V8 has gobs of it. It generates 400 lbs.-ft. at just 1600 rpm. Don't expect neck-snapping acceleration, however. Quicker acceleration performance when towing is the objective. And it does this very well. Introduced last year, this 8.1-liter V8 replaces GM's 7.4-liter V8. It has advanced features such as an engine oil life monitor and a limp-home mode. This gas engine is an $850 option.
The new Duramax 6600 diesel is smooth, quiet, and powerful. It punches out an amazing 520 lbs.-ft. of torque at just 1800 rpm. GM's Duramax diesel engine is built in Moraine, Ohio, but was developed with Isuzu, one of the world's largest manufacturers of diesel engines. The new 6.6-liter Duramax offers improved fuel economy over the old 6.5-liter GM diesel it replaced. The Duramax was designed for a 200,000-mile operating life, according to GM engineers, and for easy serviceability. Half of heavy-duty truck pickups are sold with diesel engines. The diesel adds $4810.
The Duramax and Vortec 8100 offer a choice of a ZF six-speed manual or optional Allison 1000 five-speed automatic ($1200). Both have close-ratio gearing, which provides exceptional launch, hill climbing, and towing capability and economy. Their heavy-duty components are stronger than those typically found in one-ton truck transmissions, providing exceptional durability.
The ZF six-speed manual is easy to shift and is fully synchronized in all gears with dual-cone synchronizers in second and third. A convenient shift pattern allows the shift lever to be moved forward for reverse and straight back for first, making it easier to maneuver quickly in tight spaces. Second gear works well for taking off with a light load; first is a creeper gear.
As good as the six-speed manual is, the optional Allison five-speed automatic is one of the most impressive features of these trucks. We highly recommend it for its responsive performance. Available for the Vortec 8100 and Duramax engines, the Allison is designed to last 200,000 miles; GM engineers said it's "over-designed," meaning
The GMC Sierra is the ultimate in heavy-duty pickups. The new Sierra Professional models are highly functional, a good place from which to live and work. SLE models are very comfortable and SLT trim is very luxurious.
Crew Cab Sierras are the ultimate pickups in our minds. Order a 3500 SLT and you can move mountains from the comfort of your luxurious leather-lined cabin.