2017 Chevrolet Silverado HD First Drive - More Than Just Numbers

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy
2017 chevrolet silverado hd first drive more than just numbers

At the end of September, some of my auto journo colleagues busied themselves with the French delights of Paris, covering new reveals at the Paris Auto Show.

Me? I was somewhere much more in line with my personality, surrounded by heavy-duty trucks at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway. With both Ford and Ram cresting the 900 lb-ft of torque mark, the General needed to play catch-up.

Enter Chevy’s new 6.6-liter Duramax Diesel.

Over the last few months, GM made a lot of noise about the upcoming changes to its Duramax diesel-powered trucks, going so far as to tease us with clandestine shots of hood scoops and big badges.

Not unlike the horsepower wars of the ’60s, the Detroit Three are locked in a battle for truck supremacy, with sky-high torque figures and braggadocious power claims. For 2017, Ford advertises 925 lb-ft of torque for its 6.7-liter PowerStroke while Ram beats its chest by claiming an even 900 lb-ft out of its 6.7-liter Cummins. GM’s previous 6.6-liter Duramax made 765 lb-ft, but the new-for-2017 version, also 6.6-liter, slots neatly between its competitors at 910 lb-ft.

Using the measure of torque, this revised Duramax falls a bit short of the top step, but there’s more to it than that. GM’s engineers and marketers spoke a lot of “claim trucks” and how GM has consciously decided to focus on the driving experience as a whole and not chasing mythical marketing numbers. Make what you will of that statement, but GM estimates Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sells only about 500 Rams per year equipped to tow 30,000 pounds or more, a figure promoted heavily in Ram advertisements. GM is intent on building a comfortable and capable truck that’s better equipped to handle the demands tossed at it by real-world drivers. In other words, GM isn’t building a truck to haul marketing and advertising fodder.

At Texas Motor Speedway, my seat time was divided between two different experiences: a drive on the oval’s apron in a black High Country 3500 dually and a two-lap sprint through a short infield track in a white LTZ three-quarter ton.

The immediate first impression was a distinct lack of traditional diesel clatter. GM claims a 38-percent reduction in idle noise — and I believe it. The Duramax deploys a common-rail direct injection fuel system with new high-capability solenoid-type injectors, producing a sky-high fuel pressure of 29,000 psi. This makes for a cleaner fuel burn, which results in reduced particulate emissions. The new injectors support up to seven opportunities for fuel delivery per combustion event and contribute to reduced diesel clatter. A new, two-piece oil pan along with foam-covered valve covers also aids in this lack of din. This is a quiet truck.

Eager to not cause damage to the racing surface that’ll host NASCAR’s Texas 500 on Nov 6th, Chevy’s engineers limited us to the flat apron of the track below the white line. Fine by me. I had no desire to find out what physics thinks of drivers who take a one-ton dually truck with a 10,000-pound trailer in tow at full tilt into 24 degrees of banking, nor did I care to replicate the wreck in turn one of lap one during NASCAR’s first outing here in 1997.

To pit road, then, where we lined up our test trucks single file for a full throttle launch. From a standstill in Tow/Haul mode, the dual rear wheels of the sumptuously leather-lined High Country fought for traction off the line with 10,000 pounds attached to a standard two-inch trailer hitch. The 445 horsepower and 910 lb-ft of twist had no trouble getting the Silverado to 60 miles per hour in the 800 feet afforded by an empty pit lane.

Exiting the pits, we roared into turn one and coasted down to 40 mph before nailing the throttle once again to bring the truck up to 70 mph on Texas Motor Speedway’s 1330-foot backstretch. This was a good test of highway passing power with a load in tow. Encouraged by the jocular Chevy engineer sitting alongside, I again circled the track and walked on the loud pedal a second time for the length of pit road.

The Silverado HD’s acceleration was free of drama, holding itself straight and true during the launches and rolling starts. GM seems to have programmed the electronic nannies to permit just enough of the aforementioned wheelspin so the burly Duramax doesn’t come out of boost and bog the launch. Reinforcing the stereotype that everything’s bigger in Texas, the Silverado HD has pedal travel longer than a cross-country cattle drive.

Braking from these velocities was a stable and confident experience with the integrated trailer brake controller locked into an appropriate setting. The integrated exhaust brake system creates added back pressure in the exhaust, resulting in negative torque during deceleration events. While Texas Motor Speedway is bereft of hills, I can only presume the increased negative torque will also help with downhill driving. It was here that GM’s exhortations of “not chasing the numbers” and “real-world customers” rang in the back of my head. Sure, it’s great to have bragging rights, but 1000 lb-ft of torque won’t do ya no good when you’re upside down at the bottom of a steep hill tangled up in your own trailer.

Navigating the sinewy TMS road course in an unloaded Silverado 2500 LTZ revealed typical HD truck fare; no one expects a Miata here. It’ll do fine duty for the folks who rarely tow, but rather use their trucks for the daily office commute. It was an odd experience, as approximately 0 percent of buyers will autocross their Heavy Chevy, but the exercise underscored GM’s chassis work. The 2017 HD trucks are a full 1-percent heavier than last year, yet — for comparison — crank out 12-percent more horsepower and 19-percent more torque than their predecessors. The math works. These things aren’t slow. Unladen, 60 mph arrives in 7.1 seconds, a full seven-tenths quicker than numbers posted by GM’s 2016 models.

GM teased us with photos of the hood scoop for months ahead of this reveal, and it’s indeed a functional unit. Its choice to integrate a scoop on the hood can be summed up in one word: cool — as in cool looks and cool air.

Getting access to cool, dense air is an engine’s Holy Grail and the top of the hood is a logical spot to get it. The radiator, bumper or superfluous fog lights are all in the way in other spaces. GM’s solution was to devise a system to shovel atmosphere though the structure of the hood and into the same pipe that delivers air from the fender-mounted intake. Yes, Virginia, there is still a fender-mounted intake, which is said to deliver about 45 percent of total airflow.

Hailing from a climate in which what falls from the sky is not to be believed, I naturally asked about snow accumulation on the scoop. With about half of the air coming from the fender mounted intake, Chevrolet engineer Tom Dye stated he has no concerns about the Duramax gasping for air upon startup and, despite extensive testing, has not seen any snow in the airbox yet. Good enough, then. An ambient temperature of -20° F was GM’s target for cold-weather startup without a block heater.

Nevertheless, GM did engineer a gravity-based solution for any errant debris or weather that does happen to make its way past the scoop’s intake. A separator is designed to trap fine dust and snow, taking out moisture and collecting it in the underhood bulge you see in the pictures below.

There’s a flat, squeezable nipple (insert crass joke here) meant to collect and automatically release any water that’s collected. Heat should melt what little snow comes in. The nipple is made of rubber and designed to open on its own, using gravity to drain and drop its collection of water down through an open spot between the engine and chassis, which is likely to be wet already. Alert readers will note this system’s proximity to underhood electrical components. When I mentioned this, I was assured by engineers that GM has run thousands of hours of testing and determined it not a problem. The nipple can also be rotated counter-clockwise and completely removed to dump out any random big bits that make their way in through the scoop, such as the scattered leaf. Nipple.

The diesel exhaust refill point remains underhood and accepts 7 gallons. Diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) consumption has increased a bit; as emissions go down, DEF consumption goes up. Engineer Dye stated a relocated DEF filler is high on his wish list. It likely remains underhood in this Duramax iteration because it would be costly to move, given GM would have to make a new stamping for the fuel filler neck. It is this author’s opinion that choosing to spend development dollars elsewhere was a sensible move.

GM’s revised 6.6-liter V8 Duramax provides more performance in a very familiar package. Forgoing the temptation to beat its competitors over the head with torque figures, GM has allowed itself to improve its heavy-duty offering on a host of fronts, from racket-at-idle to braking performance. It’ll take a longer drive to fully experience all of its virtues and faults, but initial impressions tell of a refined and quiet truck that’ll have more than enough grunt for 95-percent of the consumer market. As GM was wont to remind us, it’s not all about that final torque number.

Here’s a quick poll for you, B&B: which automaker will be the first to reach the mythical 1000 lb-ft figure? Will it be FCA and its penchant for all things loud and extroverted? Will it be Ford and its unending quest to vanquish cross-town rivals? One thing’s for sure: it won’t be GM. Given its rationale for focusing on the driving experience instead of the numbers, I can’t say that’s a bad thing.

[Images: © 2016 Matthew Guy/The Truth About Cars]

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2 of 35 comments
  • JimZ JimZ on Oct 07, 2016

    the full size Transit van has duckbill valves underhood also.

  • Mfgreen40 Mfgreen40 on Oct 07, 2016

    I have seen the duckbill drain fail to open on a Cadillac air cond. system and soak the carpet so they are not fool poof.

  • Analoggrotto By the time any of Hyundai's Japanese competitors were this size and age, they produced iconic vehicles which are now highly desirable and going for good money used. But Hyundai/Kia have nothing to this point that anyone will care about in the future. Those 20k over MSRP Tellurides? Worn out junk sitting at the used car lot, worn beyond their actual age. Hyundai/Kia has not had anything comparable to the significance of CVCC, 240Z, Supra, Celica, AE86, RX-(7), 2000GT, Skyline, GT-R, WRX, Evo, Preludio, CRX, Si, Land Cruiser, NSX etc. All of this in those years where Detroiters and Teutonic prejudiced elitists were openly bashing the Japanese with racist derogatory language. Tiger Woods running off the road in a Genesis didn't open up a moment, and the Genesis Sedan featuring in Inception didn't matter any more than the Lincoln MKS showing up for a moment in Dark Knight. Hyundai/Kia are too busy attempting to re-invent others' history for themselves. But hey, they have to start somewhere and the N74 is very cool looking. Hyundai/Kia's biggest fans are auto Journalists who for almost 2 decades have been hyping them up to deafening volumes contributing further distrust in any media.
  • Bd2 Other way around.Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the Pony Coupe during the early 1970s and later used its wedge shape as the basis for the M1 and then the DMC-12.The 3G Supra was just one of many Japanese coupes to adopt the wedge shape (actually was one of the later ones).The Mitsubishi Starion, Nissan 300ZX, etc.
  • Tassos I also want one of the idiots who support the ban to explain to me how it will work.Suppose sometime (2035 or later) you cannot buy a new ICE vehicle in the UK.Q1: Will this lead to a ICE fleet resembling that of CUBA, with 100 year old '56 Chevys eventually? (in that case, just calculate the horrible extra pollution due to keeping 100 year old cars on the road)Q2: Will people be able to buy PARTS for their old cars FOREVER?Q3: Will people be allowed to jump across the Channel and buy a nice ICE in France, Germany (who makes the best cars anyway), or any place else that still sells them, and then use it in the UK?
  • Tassos Bans are ridiculous and undemocratic and smell of Middle Ages and the Inquisition. Even 2035 is hardly any better than 2030.The ALMIGHTY CONSUMER should decide, not... CARB, preferably WITHOUT the Government messing with the playing field.And if the usual clueless idiots read this and offer the tired "But Government subsidizes the oil industry too", will they EVER learn that those MINISCULE (compared to the TRILLIONS of $ size of this industry) subsidies were designed to help the SMALL Oil producers defend themselves against the "Big Oil" multinationals. Ask ANY major Oil co CEO and he will gladly tell you that you can take those tiny subsidies and shove them.
  • Dusterdude The suppliers can ask for concessions, but I wouldn’t hold my breath . With the UAW they are ultimately bound to negotiate with them. However, with suppliers , they could always find another supplier ( which in some cases would be difficult, but not impossible)