Road Test Follow-Up: 2003 GMC Sierra 2500HD SLT

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Dec 18, 2002.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Tool Time

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    By Ed Hellwig
    Last updated: 2002-12-17

    It wasn't too long ago that all trucks were considered "work trucks." They had rubber floors, vinyl seats and an AM radio — if you were lucky. They were driven by scruffy guys who owned more tools than kitchen utensils, and the fact that they were loud, uncomfortable and perpetually dirty was practically a standard feature.

    These days the average pickup driver is as likely to be a history teacher or accountant as he is a hairy guy in a hard hat. With interiors as plush as Camrys' and equally subdued road manners, it's not surprising that so many buyers have found full-size trucks to be perfectly acceptable daily drivers. This shift in buyer demographics has helped Ford, GM and Dodge sell a lot of trucks, but it didn't change the fact that there's still a need for vehicles that work as hard as they play.

    The Big Three responded to this trend by creating dual lineups of their popular full-size pickups — essentially light-duty trucks for daily use, and heavy-duty versions for those who need serious towing and hauling capacity. GMC made the split in 2001 with the introduction of its all-new Sierra HD pickups. Although the standard Sierra was quite capable in its own right, if you wanted real muscle the Sierra HD offered it in spades.

    We drove a 1999 light-duty Sierra for two years and came away with mixed feelings. It could burn the tires right off the wheels and was handy for moving day, but the brakes were skittish, the steering was vague and the interior build quality left much to be desired.

    For 2003, the entire Sierra lineup received minor styling changes, upgraded brakes and numerous interior enhancements.

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    A six and a half foot bed is standard with the four door model.

    We recently got our hands on a new heavy-duty Sierra 2500 crew cab complete with a raucous Duramax diesel engine and enough options to fill an RV. We were curious to see whether GM's assertions of improved build quality would pan out while experiencing the prodigious torque of the 6.6-liter diesel V8. We never managed to find any tree stumps that needed yanking out or mobile homes that needed relocation, but we did get an idea of just how far trucks have come in the past decade and how GMC will likely fare against its tough competition.

    No heavy-duty truck would be complete without major-league power under the hood, and the Duramax diesel in our Sierra certainly filled the bill. With 300 horsepower and 520 pound-feet of torque available from a low 1,800 rpm, this 6.6-liter V8 is built to work. Fitted with aluminum heads, four valves per cylinder and the added persuasion of a high-output turbocharger, the Duramax debuted in 2001 as the most advanced and most powerful diesel engine on the market. Since then, both Ford and Dodge have released new versions of their respective diesel offerings, triggering a torque war of sorts among heavy-duty trucks.

    Long known for their cackling engine note and thick plume of exhaust smoke, modern diesels have come a long way in recent years. Although the Duramax is still louder than a comparable gas engine, interior noise in our Sierra wasn't overwhelming, registering a 72-decibel reading at full throttle (compared to 71 in an 8.1-liter-equipped 2500HD crew cab tested earlier). Heavy smoke was virtually nonexistent during our track testing, a testament to the Duramax's advanced design that allows it to burn cleaner and more efficiently (it was granted a Low Emission Vehicle rating last year thanks to minor improvements).

    Drivability is excellent, with instantaneous power and a flat torque curve that belies its turbocharged assistance. With an engine-speed limit of just 3,250 rpm, the power of the Duramax can be deceptive. We found ourselves unexpectedly chirping tires around corners with even the most modest accelerator application, while getting up to speed on the highway was much easier than we would have ever thought possible in such a monstrous truck.

    The optional Allison five-speed automatic transmission performed flawlessly during full-throttle acceleration, executing smooth, well-timed shifts despite our constant poking and prodding of the gas. Our only complaint came during lower-speed operation when the transmission seemed determined to jump down a gear as soon as possible to improve engine braking. We chalked it up to a design meant to keep heavy loads in check at all times, but those who don't intend to load up their truck bed very often might find this transmission's tuning a minor annoyance.

    Looking at the spec sheet, we expected our leaf-sprung (torsion bars in front) crew cab to have a primitive ride that would constantly remind us of its 12,000-pound towing capacity. Instead, we found it nearly as refined as many of the lighter-capacity half-ton trucks we've driven lately. While noticeably stiffer than that of most half-tons, the ride was rarely harsh, smothering rutted mountain fire roads with minimal cabin intrusion. Around town there's little of the jolting and bucking typically associated with high-capacity trucks, just a firm, well-controlled ride that won't leave you wishing you had a load of cement in the bed to keep things settled. With positive comments from nearly every editor who got behind the wheel, it's safe to say that this is one heavy-duty pickup that graduated from finishing school with top honors.

    The refinement of the Sierra's ride and handling was similarly reinforced by the improved ergonomics, feature content and build quality of the interior. With its revised center console, dual-zone climate control, redesigned bucket seats and XM Satellite Radio, our Sierra proved to be a supremely comfortable and entertaining place to spend a few hours. We bestowed plenty of praise on our long-term Sierra's well-bolstered seats so it came as no surprise that we found the "new and improved" versions in our test truck just as agreeable. With a wide range of movement and the right balance of support and softness, the Sierra's seats are about as good as it gets in a pickup, but we do wish GMC had kept the articulating headrests.

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    Interior improvements include a redesigned steering wheel, seating areas, and center console. The doors feature improved window, mirror, and seat heater switches. A new XM capable radio and dual zone automatic climate system round out the changes.

    Material quality in the cabin hasn't changed much so there are still plenty of low-quality plastics throughout, but we did find the overall build quality in our test truck to be much improved. Dash panels were solid, the center console didn't budge and even the switchgear showed signs of higher-quality construction. Door seals were a constant problem on our long-term Sierra, but the doors on our test truck closed with a reassuring level of precision that leads us to believe that significant improvements were made in this area as well. With only a few hundred miles on our test truck's odometer, we didn't expect anything to be falling apart but, compared to numerous GM trucks of the past, this Sierra was a step above the rest.

    With four full-size doors, the Sierra crew cab is a lot like an SUV in terms of its passenger-carrying ability — calling this truck a six-passenger vehicle isn't a stretch. Rear shoulder room is identical to GMC's Yukon sport-ute and legroom is actually slightly better. And our vehicle's optional flip-down DVD entertainment system (with the screen mounted in the headliner) reflected GMC's awareness that these vehicles are more than just worksite tools. We also enjoyed the optional XM Satellite Radio system integrated into the standard head unit. With so few stations to choose from in the L.A. area, having a whole slew of new options made the otherwise dreadful commute that much more bearable.

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    Although we never really drove the Sierra in its element, the fact that we still found it to be a pleasurable vehicle to drive on a day-to-day basis is testament to just how far heavy-duty trucks have come. The current Sierra has as much or more capacity than any other GMC truck before it, yet it's quieter, more comfortable, rides and handles better, and offers more available features. As a work truck, the Sierra HD measures up to the competition in nearly every major quantifiable category, although the new diesels from Ford and Dodge surpass the previously class-leading Duramax in the all-important torque category.

    And don't forget, the Sierra HD's capability comes at a substantial cost. Our test truck, complete with a long list of optional equipment, stickered at nearly $48,000 — not exactly chump change. Ditch some of the new gee-whiz features along with the $5,000 diesel engine and you could easily enjoy roughly the same setup for under $40K, but even that still begs the question — all that money for a pickup truck? Well, if you're a teacher or an accountant it might seem overboard, but if your truck functions more like the most important tool you own, the Sierra HD might just be worth every penny.

    Pros: Comfortable ride for a heavy-duty truck, endless torque from strong diesel engine, smooth shifting transmission, cavernous interior, extensive list of available features.

    Cons: Diesel engine still louder than its gasoline counterparts, gets expensive when you pile on the options.

    Edmunds.com Says: A surprisingly comfortable, easy-to-drive heavy-duty truck that can handle the biggest boats or the dirtiest worksites — but be prepared for a little sticker shock.

    MSRP of Test Vehicle: $46,884

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    Last edited: Dec 18, 2002
  2. Neosis

    Neosis Guest

    ..slamed on 24's
     
  3. kellyclan

    kellyclan She only loves you when she's drunk.

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    jesus christ, a diesel pickup costs $48,000 these days? :(
     
  4. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Loaded up diesel trucks have been real expensive for a few years now.

    If you wanna play, you gotta pay. :(
     
  5. fortch03

    fortch03 HEAD

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    rear tire looks so tiny
     
  6. jrmcm

    jrmcm Actriz Porno

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    $48,000???????????????????????????

    holy fuck
     
  7. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Imagine what a loaded 1 ton costs!
     
  8. Painkiller

    Painkiller The Synarchy of Molten Bones

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    even without the diesel it's still too much.
     
  9. Painkiller

    Painkiller The Synarchy of Molten Bones

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    can wait to see the F-series pricing with the new PS and trans :sad2: cars are getting to fucking expensive.
     
  10. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    The half ton extended cab models are affordable, but when you start talking diesel and options the sticker skyrockets.

    :sad2:
     

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