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Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD SLE Extended Cab Pickup (2001)

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

Sometimes being last makes it easier to be first. The current generation of Chevrolet's Silverado pickup line debuted after its competition, with regular-duty half-ton 1500 models introduced in 1999. The lineup has recently been completed with the introduction of the 2001 three-quarter ton 2500 and one-ton 3500 heavy-duty models. The appropriately-named HD pickups out-equip and out- power their competition, with sophisticated design and specification and brute power.

"Sophisticated design" in a commercial-grade pickup? Count on it. Trucks are changing, and there is no reason for any truck driver or passenger, even in what have traditionally been thought of as primarily "work" vehicles, to be uncomfortable. To that end, a new and much more rigid chassis that utilizes the "hydroforming" technology pioneered in the current Corvette, and a stiffer body structure reduce noise and improve steering response and handling. Three powerful V8 engines - a reworked 6.0-liter, an almost completely redesigned 8.1-liter "big block", and a new 6.6- liter " Duramax " turbodiesel - provide serious power for heavy- duty towing and load-carrying. The larger engines are matched to a standard six-speed ZF manual gearbox or a high-tech automatic built by truck specialist Allison. Standard levels of comfort equipment are high.

As is the case with full-sized pickups, a full range of Silverado HD models are available, with choices including two- or four-wheel drive, regular, extended, or crew cabs, short or long cargo boxes and chassis-cab models for aftermarket conversions. I had a chance to drive most at the press introduction in Branson, Missouri, last summer, and was very impressed, especially by the performance and refinement of the diesel. So I arranged to test a Duramax-equipped Silverado 2500 HD at home recently. It's not a vehicle for everyone, but could easily fit the needs of anyone who needs a truck with a 3,600-lb payload or the ability to tow 12,000 lbs, and do so with commendable fuel economy. And, if that's not enough, larger models can tow almost 16,000 lbs.

APPEARANCE: The Silverado HD is a large, handsome pickup that is similar in most respects to the regular half-ton Silverado, but is noticeably larger. In extended or crew-cab form, it dwarfs a Suburban. The "power dome" hood and larger, more trapezoidal grille are unique to the HD; the bowtie-bedecked chrome bar across the grille and over-and-under light arrangement should erase any doubt as to its manufacturer. Running lights on the cab roof distinguish it. With a six-foot cargo box and 157-inch wheelbase, the extended-cab HD is seriously long.

COMFORT: It's a good step up to get into the HD, but once inside you'll find accommodations that are much better than basic. Standard equipment, even in the base SL, includes cloth upholstery and a 40/20/40 split front bench with outboard belt-to-seat harness anchors that is as comfortable and supportive as most bucket seats, a well-designed instrument panel with comprehensive instrumentation, an AM/FM stereo, and courtesy lighting. The SLE adds power windows and mirrors, remote entry, a CD player, and more, giving it all of the conveniences of a well-equipped family car. The SLT adds leather front upholstery and the OnStar telematics system. The rear seat is comparable in accommodation to that of a mid-sized sedan; the six-foot cargo box is a little more commodious than the average sedan's trunk. People who buy trucks like this often spend long periods of time in them, and at any trim level, the Silverado HD has plenty of room, comfort, and equipment for them.

SAFETY: All 2001 Chevrolet Silverado HD pickups have four- wheel antilock disc brakes, dual front air bags, and side guard door beams.

ROADABILITY: Compared to the way serious pickups used to feel, the extended-cab Silverado HD is remarkably civilized. While a blindfolded occupant won't mistake it for a car, it won't be confused with a Conestoga wagon, either. Increased frame and body rigidity reduce noise and improve steering and suspension response. The suspension design is conventional, with independent double control arms and torsion bars in front and a solid axle mounted on leaf springs in the rear, but well-matched spring and shock rates give reasonable ride comfort. Unloaded, it's bouncy, especially on a bumpy road. This is an unavoidable pickup characteristic - the 2500 extended-cab can hold over 3,500 lbs of cargo, and its suspension is designed accordingly.

PERFORMANCE: Recalibrate your thinking about diesels. The 6.6-liter Duramax not only makes 300 horsepower and an astounding 520 lb-ft of torque, it's remarkably quiet (although still noticeably a diesel), and extremely fuel-efficient. In 200 miles of mixed city and highway driving, my test truck used around a quarter of its 34-gallon fuel tank. Even allowing for gauge and reading accuracy, that's around 20mpg - from a 5500-lb pickup! Acceleration is not exactly sluggish, either, with a 0-to-60 time (unloaded) under 9 seconds. My test truck was equipped with the optional Allison five-speed automatic transmission, which worked exceptionally well, downshifting like a manual when slowing in "tow/haul" mode. "Performance" in the context of a truck like this includes towing and hauling ability, and the HD Silverado will not disappoint. The 2WD 2500 extended-cab model is rated at 12000 lbs for trailering, and 3677 lb payload capacity. A 5,000-lb boat and trailer would hardly be noticed.

CONCLUSIONS: The new Chevy Silverado HD pickups offer strength and sophistication.

2001 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD Extended Cab Pickup

Base Price              $ 26,925
Price As Tested         $ 34,325
Engine Type             pushrod overhead valve 32-valve 
                          direct-injection turbo-diesel V8
Engine Size             6.6 liters / 402 cu. in.
Horsepower              300 @ 3100 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)          520 @ 1800 rpm
Transmission            5-speed electronically-controlled 
Wheelbase / Length      157.5 in. / x in.
Curb Weight             (est) 5600 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower   18.6
Fuel Capacity           34 gal.
Fuel Requirement        diesel
Tires                   LT 245/75 R16 Firestone Steeltex 
                          Radial R45
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / solid disc
Suspension, front/rear  independent double control arm with 
                          torsion bars / solid axle with leaf springs
Drivetrain               front engine, rear-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      n/a / n/a / est 20
0 to 60 mph            8.5  sec
Towing capacity        12,000 lbs 

Duramax 6600 V8 Diesel                   $ 4,310
Allison 5-speed automatic transmission   $ 2,295
Locking differential                     $   285
Heavy-duty trailering equipment          $   190
Polished forged aluminum wheels          $   110
Deep-tinted glass                        $   107
Front foglamps                           $   140
Destination charges                      $   690