Review: 2011 GMC Sierra 2500HD Duramax Diesel Crew Cab

Yankee Driver: 2011 GMC Sierra HD

The 2011 GMC Sierra 2500HD Crew Cab: Impressive

I remember when I was about eight years old grabbing a butter knife out of the drawer to turn a flathead screw. My dad warned me that butter knives were for slicing butter, and that screwdrivers were for turning screws. It was an incident that always stuck with me, and while I’ve strayed from that message from time to time, I’ve always endeavored to use the right tool for the job.

A three-quarter-t0n pickup with a 6.6-liter turbocharged Duramax diesel engine and an Allison transmission isn’t the tool for commuting to work on a daily basis. Its sheer size means that it’s too long for a lot of parking spaces, its super-wide mirrors make even the most generous thoroughfares too narrow, and the 153-inch wheelbase (longer if you opt for the full-length cargo box) means that pulling out of side streets often requires a three-point approach.

Fuel economy? Since the 2500 HD falls beyond the EPA’s scope, the Sierra 2500 HD isn’t even rated for fuel economy. But driving around locally means that you’ll see somewhere between 15 and 16 miles per gallon on average. Pretty horrendous if you’re planning on just taking yourself to and from the office every day. For a lot less money, you can get yourself into a nice vehicle that will essentially pay for itself in increased fuel economy, especially when the price of diesel is nudging $4 a gallon.

The GMC Sierra 2500HD really isn’t the right tool for that job. But it is an absolutely essential tool for some jobs.

I had occasion to require such a tool a week ago. Back in August I moved with my family from southern Vermont  to our home turf inside the 495 loop in eastern Massachusetts. With all our belongings, two motorcycles, a vintage Vespa scooter, our two daily drivers and a 1968 Buick Riviera, we simply ran out of time and ability to get one more vehicle home: A 1970 Land Rover Series IIa. My friend Jim Howe — who maintained the eclectic collection of vintage vehicles at Hemmings Motor News during publisher Terry Ehrich’s reign — agreed to hang onto it for a few months for me, and give it some attention while it was in his care. It had been months since I’d seen it and I felt bad that it was stored at Jim’s place, so I managed to secure the pickup for the weekend.

The Sierra 2500HD came to the house with a massive 2.5-inch hitch receiver, which luckily had a two-inch adapter to sleeve the receiver down to accept my Class III hitch. I rented a dual axle car carrier from U-Haul and made my way up to Vermont at 5:00 on a snowy Sunday morning, my daughter Katie along for the trip.

Along with the overkill tow pacakge, the SLT-4SA-equipped Sierra has all the features you’d expect from a luxury car: 10-way adjustable leather bucket seats, a massive console, heated outside mirrors with turn signals inside, a killer Bose audio system with a USB port, dual zone climate control, and an endless list of convenience features. With the exception of a carpet that’s a little more set up to handle the rigors of horsemanship or general contracting, it’s every bit as nice inside as a Cadillac. And I love the layout of GM’s full-size truck dashboard. It simply works, and doesn’t force you to take your eyes off the road, a critical feature when you’re piloting a vehicle this big. The back seat is massive, with plenty of room for three. My two year old son and his NASA-style car seat was dwarfed when I took him for a ride.

I had to keep looking back to see if I’d lost the trailer on the way to Vermont. Up over the mountains on Route 9, even with a few inches of snow covering the roadway, the truck hauled along unperturbed. The limited slip rear axle and traction control would’ve been fine on its own, but as an added measure of safety, I used four-wheel drive in the high range when the going got especially tough.

I’d been concerned all the way up because we’d gotten so much snow recently. I knew there wouldn’t be much room to turn around, and the thought of backing the trailer down Jim’s long driveway was daunting. But once I got there, the GMC’s massive mirrors came to my aid, and I was able to pivot the trailer in a space that my imagination wouldn’t allow.

The Land Rover securely tied down, we were back on the road by 9:30 am. I’ve been over the mountains before with my 5000 pound 1968 Buick in tow, with a gas-powered 2003 Chevy 2500 as the tow vehicle. It’s a pretty rough haul, even with a substantial truck. But the 6.5-liter diesel was amazing. It offers an impressive 397 horsepower at 3000 rpm, but that figure isn’t even worth talking about. It’s the jaw-dropping 765 ft.lbs. of torque that make the Sierra 2500HD so adept at this particular job. And that maximum torque comes on at just 1600 rpm, so instant tow power is just a feathered throttle away.

The engine’s doing the heavy work on the way up the mountain, but the six-speed Allison transmission takes center stage on the way back down. It features a Tow/Haul mode that holds shifts longer, and also provides electronic engine braking, which saves the brakes from overheating on long descents like the one coming from Hogback Mountain on the eastern side of Wilmington, Vermont.  We climbed and descended and never did we have an impatient driver behind us. I actually had to work to be sure that we weren’t exceeding the speed limit, the truck feels so secure.

Yankee Driver: 1970 Land Rover Series IIa

The Land Rover Series IIa we picked up

Our 360-mile round trip was in the history books by 1:00 that afternoon. In low range, I backed the trailer up the snow covered hill I call a driveway and had the trailer unloaded in no time. In 360 miles of driving, all of it towing a trailer, and 180 of it hauling a 3600 pound vehicle, I rang in an average of 14.5 miles per gallon.

You may well get better mileage in a Prius, but you won’t hauling that load.

Complaints? The price, I guess. The SLT trim level, crew cab and four-wheel drive means that you’re starting at $45,145. Adding the diesel ups the ante by $7,195. The required Allison transmission, another $1,200. By the time all is said and done, you’re looking at $53,394, which is a titanic price in anybody’s book. But consider the Volvo S60 AWD I’m driving this week has a sticker price north of $43,000. If  you’re smart, the Sierra 2500HD is going to be a truck that more than pays for itself during the course of ownership, whether it’s plowing parking lots or hauling Bobcats. It’s like the lease on an office building: the price of doing business.

All in all, I loved this truck. It’s the right tool for the big jobs.


About Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald is an automotive writer, photographer and editor with credits in Hemmings Motor New, the Boston Globe, Forbes, the Washington Post, Esquire and
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3 Responses to Review: 2011 GMC Sierra 2500HD Duramax Diesel Crew Cab

  1. dt says:

    When I went down to interview Kanter in NJ I took one of these, similarly equipped. Scary fun in Jersey traffic.

  2. McFadden says:

    2011 Duramax. GMC is not equipping the diesel exhaust fluid tank with a skid plate even when the truck is ordered with the Z71 skid plate package. i call this a major defect as the DEF tank sits below the frame rail. GMC says too bad, not acknowledging as a defect. not impressed!!

  3. Gary says:

    have owned the 2011 chevy hd crew cab with duramax for a year now. It is a dream. Will pull the camper to the beach and still maintain 15 MPG. Around tiown its around 17 and 18 and on the interstate 20. Now that is not in the mountains either and also close to coast. So far It was the best truck I have ever purchased. By the way the last one. It is my retirement truck and I’m sure it will outlast me.

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