Review: Chevrolet Silverado 2500 4WD Crew Cab

Ten years ago I went on a week-long salmon safari in Alaska, living out of a slide-in camper in a Silverado equipped with a Duramax 6.6-liter V8 turbo diesel. It was an epic adventure, and looking at my old notes I see I raved about the truck's performance. "Moved well from a dead stop. Quiet, even at full throttle. MPG: averaged between 11 to 14 mpg."

A lot has happened to GM since then. After teetering on the brink of insolvency for years, it finally plunged into bankruptcy two years ago. What many people don't know was that the company came perilously close to Chapter 11 in the 1990s. But they got a stay of execution. Know why? The Silverado. It was just about the only GM product people wanted to buy...and they bought enough of them to help keep the company afloat.

The Silverado was good then...and it's good now.

I can say that after logging 900 miles in one recently. The 2500 4WD Crew Cab is a stout build, and boasts a maximum towing rating of 17,000 pounds. That means that when you drive it without a trailer or with an empty bed, it's a bit rough. But when you get some weight on those rear wheels, it tames down nicely.

The biggest difference I saw, apart from the more luxurious appointments of the truck, was a nice improvement in fuel economy. I averaged 19 miles per gallon. Admittedly, that was with no trailer in tow, but for a vehicle of this size and heft to get nearly 20 mpg while still maintaining the payload required of a full-size pickup shows you just how hard GM engineers have worked at refining this engine. Of course, the Allison six-speed transmission is a good part of the story. This transmission shifts surely and smoothly with none of the irritating gear hunting found on some truck transmissions. As a result, the 2011 model I drove delivered an 11 percent increase in fuel economy (over the previous year), and coupled with a 36-gallon tank GM says you'll get up to 680 miles of driving range. I didn't monitor the gauge that precisely, but I know that my fuel stops were few and far between, enabling me to take advantage of cheaper fuel in another state.

The truck also benefits from four newly available standard features--intelligent brake assist, diesel exhaust brake, trailer sway control, and hill start assist. Given the loads that sportsmen pull when going into deer camp or to the lake to fish, these are all welcome additions. Intelligent brake assist consists of preloaded calipers that apply the brakes faster in a panic-braking situation. But the overall feel of the brake pedal, a long-standing issue for Silverado owners, has been corrected as well with the addition of larger rotors and calipers. The diesel exhaust brake helps the turbo create back pressure to slow the truck. The result is reduced brake fade--a big issue for hunters pulling a horse trailer--which translates into longer brake life.

Trailer sway is a big issue, especially when towing a high-profile accessory such as a boat. But GM's StabiliTrak senses any sway and will automatically apply the truck's brakes (with no input from the driver) to help maintain control. Finally, hill start assist automatically engages (on inclines of more than five percent) to keep the truck from moving for one second after the brake is released, giving time for you to accelerate without any movement backward.

By now, you're likely asking, "What's all this performance going to cost me?" The test truck topped out at $57,199. Base price was $44,645. The big hit, at $7,195, is the diesel engine. But diesel options are always expensive. On the plus side, if you take basic care of the engine, it'll run for a very long time. The 6-speed Allison transmission is another $1,200, and the rear vision camera system is $450. When this feature started appearing on trucks a few years ago, I thought it was gimmick. But I've done enough towing to really appreciate this feature. And outdoorsmen who install a cap over the bed will find it's nice to know what's sitting behind the truck when they back up. It will save more than one mailbox, that's for sure.