Styling changes at GM seem to either come either in questionable radical leaps like the Pontiac Aztec, or creep glacially by, and GM’s 2500HD trucks definitely fit into the latter category. Despite being fully redesigned in 2007 as a 2008 model year truck and gaining a “full mid-cycle refresh” for the 2010 model year, the 2500HD is undeniably a GM truck. That means you get basic slab sides, a large square maw and the same sort of styling creases in the sheet metal that everything else from GM wears.
When GM’s PR people dropped the 2500HD off, the first thing I noticed from my window was the incredibly large, incredibly ugly plastic power dome on the hood. I understand the desire for something unique, but I have to agree with PickupTrucks.com when they say that it appears GM just got “louver envy” and tacked something on that looks more aftermarket than the aftermarket would ever think possible. Aside from the wart on its nose however the rest of the GMC HD is as plain Jane as a Buick, which is to say attractive in a farm-girl kind of way.
Inside the GMC 2500HD you’ll find two different interiors. If you opt for the basic work-truck you get the basic interior; style circa 1995. While the base interior is certainly functional for a work truck, it is at least a decade behind the competition. The acres of questionable black plastic circa the redesign in 2007 have not aged well. While I understand that interior quality is not really the most important item when buying a ¾ ton pickup truck, it would be nice if you didn’t have to spend your day in a plastic penalty box. If you step-up to the SLT trim (our tester was so equipped), GMC swaps the black plastic dash in the 2500HD with the dashboard from the GMT900 series SUVs (Suburban and Yukon). While I appreciate the intention of offering a more car-like dashboard in a heavy duty pickup, I question if a work truck is the right place for acres of awful fake wood? Aside from the never-seen-a-forest veneer, the plastics in our tester were already moderately scuffed after only 2,300 miles of press fleet duty. Make your own longevity conclusion.
On the road the GMC 2500HD yields road manners that are easily second only to the Dodge Ram 2500. For a truck capable of hauling a small house, the GMC drives like a smaller vehicle without any of the harsh “crashy” ride quality that you would assume a high-load capacity truck would bring to the table. Even when loaded up with 3,360lbs of concrete (my favorite load comparison), the road manners of the 2500HD were impeccable. The brakes easily scrubbed away speed, and the 765lb-ft of torque make themselves known when climbing any kind of hill.
Speaking of engines, GM’s V8 diesel is a willing companion for any kind of work. If it weren’t for Ford stealing GM’s thunder with their 800ft-lb torque monster, everyone would still sing GM’s praises. Truth be told the GMC 2500HD scoots to 60 faster with or without a load than the Ford truck. This difference is likely due to the gearing in the Ford and some differences in curb weight. Churning out 397HP and 765ft-lbs of torque, the GM 6.6L V8 sends power to the ground via a 6-speed Allison transmission and this is where the GM disappoints a bit.
The gearing of the Allison transmission’s first gear isn’t as low as Ford’s new 6-speed tranny. This makes the Ford “feel” faster when taking off from stop lights or dealing with stop-and-go traffic. When the accelerometer comes out however it was obvious that the GM truck is still the speed king eeking out a 0.2 second better 0-60 time (8.8 seconds vs 9.0 for the Ford). This area is so subjective that after a back-to-back drive I have to still call this a wash. The GMC is still objectively faster to 60, but the lower first gear of the Ford makes stop-and-go traffic while hauling 13,000lbs far less tiring than the GMC.
If there is one area where GM falls seriously behind even Chrysler, it’s in the electronic gadgets department. While the sounds produced by the top-of-the-line audio system sounded good, they didn’t have the premium feel of the Kicker system Dodge makes available in the RAM. Had it sounded as good I might have been tempted to overlook the lack of decent digital music player connectivity. Yes the GM stereo does let you control your iPod, but attempting to do so will fill you with frustration until you just unplug the damn thing and just browse it manually.
When out on the job payloads and towing capabilities are important but in typical use, the payloads and towing are essentially the same between the F250 and 2500HD depending more upon what tire and option packages the buyer chooses than what brand of truck. When configured more-or-less identically the payload capacity differs by a few hundred pounds, but since most of this is not verified to any specific metric independently, I have to call it a wash. While we’re on the topic of payloads, the days of needing a dually are over for most buyers. There was a time when you needed a 3500 series truck with four tires out back to haul crap but no more, today’s 2500s will carry more than a 3500 could handle a decade ago. Back in 2009 a SRW 3500HD could only haul 2,906lbs and tow 13,000lbs while the dually equipped 3500 DRW could haul 4,042 (about 40% more). In 2011 the GMC 2500HD can haul a whopping 4,192 in its bed when properly equipped. Yowza!
At the end of the week with the 2500HD I decided to drop by my local Ford store to compare the trucks side by side and as a result I must say the 2500HD comes in a close second to the F250, but still second and here’s why: the devil is in the details. Yes the GMC delivers better numbers in many areas, but the difference is small enough that the smaller touches in the F250 swing my personal vote. Ford may not have über-cool exhaust brake option as the Dodge of GMC truck, but Ford offers superior control over the transmission shifts which I found very helpful while hauling heavy loads. In addition the Ford SYNC system makes it easier to focus on your driving instead of your iPod. Adding to the “little touches” list are the 4.2” LCD info center in the Ford’s dash (Dodge has one as well) that is much better at giving the driver feedback than the small electro-fluorescent display GM uses. Ford manages to also put the Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) filler in a more sensible location (behind the fuel door rather than under the hood) making filling far more convenient. Finally at nearly $57,000 as equipped the comparable F250 rings in a hair cheaper. While you can’t go wrong buying the GMC Sierra 2500HD for its better performance, if this is a truck you personally have to live with every day there is a better option.
GMC provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.