PMV hits the sand to find out whether the closely related GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado have the muscle to find favour with Middle East construction professionals
The GCC pickup market is one of the most vibrant and lucrative in the world. Rough, remote, and rugged work sites demand tough and durable machines that are able to cope with everything you throw at them, all while clocking astronomical distances during their lifetimes.
The light truck is the backbone of the GCC commercial vehicle industry – and while the Hilux-sized one-tonne utility is the go-to workhorse for most construction jobs, there’s a growing demand for trucks with a little more room and a lot more punch.
US buyers view larger pickups like the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra as work tools. Almost every contractor has at least one of them in their fleet, consigned to a life of hard labour and general abuse by those who need to shift people and tools about work sites.
The Middle East buyer, meanwhile, has traditionally seen these trucks more as recreational tools. Undeniable off-road ability aside, the Silverado and Sierra are seen as the kinds of truck you might use to load up and attach to a trailer for a weekend in the desert, rather than load up with bags of cement.
Both trucks underwent a major overhaul for the 2014 model year, which centred on a stronger chassis, refined aerodynamics, a quieter cab, smoother ride, more efficient engines, and an upgrade of the entertainment system.
The Silverado 1500 LD (light duty) is the more blue-collar of the two, though the LTZ Z71 off-road package elevates it well above the standard stripped-back WT (work truck) spec you’d normally expect to see on a construction site.
The Z71 package includes Rancho shocks, hill descent control, underbody protection for the transfer case, recovery hooks and a heavy-duty automatic-locking rear diff. The 18-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels are standard too, as are the 255/55 Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tyres and the fixed side steps.
In LTZ trim, the standard Silverado comes with a 5.3-litre EcoTec3 V-8 that makes 355 horsepower and 519 Nm of torque. Fuel economy is boosted by an imperceptible cylinder deactivation system, which kicks in when engine loads are low, reducing that V-8 to a fuel-sipping, four-cylinder mile muncher.
Chevrolet claims the 5.3-litre engine will consume just 10.2 litres of fuel every 100 km, making it one of the most economical V-8 pickups on the planet. If you prefer, the LTZ and higher-spec models can be ordered with the 6.2-litre EcoTec3 V-8 that makes a considerable 420 horsepower and 620 Nm of torque.
Trucks generally overcome their aerodynamic shortcomings by simply pouring more power into the mix, but Chevrolet’s design team concentrated a lot of wind-tunnel time to improve cooling measures for the engine with a more efficient airflow over the body to cut drag. The doors were also inlaid to help reduce wind noise on the road.
Inside, the truck is well laid out and intuitive. There’s an eight-inch central display fitted with a MyLink system that controls the stereo and navigation. It’s one of the easiest systems to mate a smartphone to, and there are two USB ports, an SD card slot, and auxiliary jack for MP3 devices in the centre console.
The Silverado is clearly designed with work in mind. There are pockets everywhere to store documents, pens, phones, gloves, and other items. 115V power sockets where rechargeable devices can be plugged in are also installed.
For such a large pickup (it weighs just over three tons), the Silverado handles quite well on the road. The 5.3-litre engine develops plenty of torque and power to haul the truck up to speed without breaking a sweat, and the electric-assist steering is perfectly tuned to hand the truck the right amount of weight and authority without the need for gym sessions.
One of the bug bears with the previous Silverado was access to the rear, but the larger doors and generous legroom in the crew cab version eliminates all criticism here.
The truck’s 5,216 kg maximum tow rating is one of the best in class. If, however, you need to haul something a little more considerable than that, you’re going to need a hefty work truck like the Sierra 2500HD (heavy duty) to do the job.
Five versions of the truck are available, and all come fitted with a 6.0-litre Vortec V-8 engine that develops 360 horsepower and 515 Nm of low-end torque.
The one you see here is also equipped with GMC’s All Terrain package, which is, essentially, the same as the Z71 kit fitted to the Silverado. The crew cab version in the pictures was fitted with an eight-foot long cargo box (the Silverado’s here is six foot, six-inches), and a lift kit that boosts ride height by around 10cm.
Few trucks could make the Silverado look small, but the Sierra 2500HD All Terrain is a commanding unit that dwarves its sibling. The extra step up is a stretch, the view is commanding from behind the wheel, and the sheer size of the truck comes with a few unanticipated complications.
You can forgive the advanced planning required for parking, but it seems a four-tonne truck that stands 2m tall and stretches to over 6.5m in length is still a little too small for some motorists to notice. The truck was almost crashed into twice during our test drive by drivers who failed to spot it before deciding to switch lanes, and we can only surmise that it was so big that they must have thought it was a building.
The HD’s interior is largely the same as the Sierra 1500 that it’s based on. It gets IntelliLink, which does much the same job as the Silverado’s MyLink, and most of the features you find in the Sierra are slightly refined versions of those fitted to its sibling.
The chief difference between the HD and LD trucks is the load they can carry. Our 2500-series 4x4 test truck had a 6,260 kg tow rating and a payload rating of over 1.5 tonnes, making it an exceptional workhorse. The HD’s most significant update, however, is the vastly improved ride, an admirable achievement given that the truck’s rear tyres ride on road pressures of 75 psi.
Despite this, the truck doesn’t bounce or skip too much over speed humps, nor does it become a handful off-road without a load.
The corner bumper step and grab handle in the walls of the bed make climbing into the truck easy, while the optional spray bed liner means you can slide metal boxes across tray without gouging enormous scratches in the paint.
Of the two, the Sierra in this form is the harder working and most capable – but Silverado is a serious work tool that is difficult to look past. Whether you need a V-8 pickup for work or play, it seems GM’s got the answer.