The auto industry has done amazing things with contradictory platforms — sport-utility vehicles that deliver 30 or more miles per gallon; subcompact cars that keep their occupants safe in a crash; full-sized sedans that ride smoothly yet accelerate and corner like sports cars. But building a heavy-duty pickup truck that offers a soft, compliant ride … well, not yet.
That isn’t to say the industry isn’t trying. Some of the light-duty pickups ride quite comfortably. But if you want maximum payload, towing capacity and off-road capability, you’re in for some punishment.
Driving our burly test truck, a GMC Sierra Denali 2500 four-wheel-drive crew cab (feel free to insert a Tim Allen grunt here) to LaGuardia Airport in New York, we were informed forcefully about the poor condition of the roads in the airport’s vicinity. “This car has lousy shocks,” groaned a rear-seat passenger. No, the shock absorbers were fine. But the truck’s suspension is designed for hard work, not comfort.
The Denali has a solid live axle rear suspension. The light-duty Ram 1500 truck we drove into Boston a couple years ago had a multi-link rear suspension that provided a comfortable ride. But if you need to tow a cabin cruiser or construction equipment, you’ll need the Denali — or the comparable Dodge or Ford trucks, which also have solid live rear axles.
The GMC and its Chevrolet cousin, the Silverado, are among the toughest trucks out there. But if you don’t intend to put your heavy-duty or super-duty truck to serious work, you’ll likely be unhappy with it. Thus, a Denali or Silverado will capably serve the weekend warrior who loads his truck with mulch or uses it to tow a couple jet-skis to the lake, but driving it will be something of an ordeal the rest of the week.
To be sure, our Denali had the personality of a luxury cruiser on smooth roads. It was loaded with comfort features, including dual-zone automatic climate control, power heated bucket seats in front, a roomy back seat, leather upholstery, satellite radio and power-adjustable pedals. The ride was smooth and quiet, as long as you didn’t hit any expansion joints or potholes. The kicks these hazards inflicted, via the rear suspension, were quite vigorous.
The base 2500 crew-cab model, called the Work Truck, starts at $33,035. Our top-of-the-line Denali had a base price of $48,785. Adding a 397-horsepower Duramax diesel V-8 engine, Allison 6-speed automatic transmission, navigation system, dealer-installed steps, and 20-inch forged polished aluminum wheels brought the price to nearly $63,000.
Fuel economy was better than one might expect on so big and powerful a truck. We got about 18 mpg. Of course, diesel fuel costs more than gasoline, and modern clean diesels require the periodic addition of urea to remove nitrous oxide from the exhaust. Ask your dealer how much he charges for urea refills.
Steven Macoy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 6.6-liter diesel V-8, 397 horsepower, 765 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic with overdrive
Weight: 6,601 lb.
Suspension: Short and long arm front suspension; solid live axle rear suspension
Ground clearance: 9.8 inches
Wheels: 20-in. forged polished aluminum (optional)
Tires: LT265/60SR20.0E BSW AT
Seating capacity: 5
Cargo volume: 60.7 cu. ft.
Maximum towing capacity: 16,500 lb.
Fuel capacity: 36 gallons
Fuel economy: 18 mpg (our average)
Fuel type: Regular unleaded