Chevrolet Silverado HD first drive review: playing with John Deere equipment in the adult sandbox

When I was just a wee lad, I spent countless hours in the sandbox playing with my Hot Wheels and Tonka trucks. The scale discrepancy didn’t bother me because the Tonka trucks worked great for grading the sand into roads and freeway off-ramps for my Hot Wheels.

I eventually lost countless Hot Wheels under the sand (the “sandbox” was actually a pile of sand off to the side of the driveway), but the memories remain. If you go to Linnie Lac Drive in New Berlin, Wisconsin, and search by the side of the driveway, you may yet unearth several old Hot Wheels—many of them probably Redlines.

This week, I got the chance to relive those memories, but on a much larger scale. Chevrolet and John Deere teamed up to give a few automotive journalists a “day in the life of a heavy equipment operator” experience at John Deere’s proving grounds in Coal Valley, Illinois.

Chevrolet put this little adventure together to show off the updated Duramax diesel engine in its Silverado 2500 and 3500 HD pickups–you know, the kind of trucks that independent contractors and owner operators might use as a tool for their work. 

Let me tell you, playing in an adult sand box is even more fun than doing it as a kid.

ALSO SEE: First drive: 2017 GMC Sierra 2500HD Duramax

Chevy says its turbocharged 6.6-liter Duramax diesel V-8 has 90 percent new parts, including the crank, rods, pistons, exhaust, turbo, and fuel system, among others. The block and cylinder heads are stronger, and the oil and coolant systems now flow at higher capacities.

Chevrolet Silverado Heavy duty drive with John Deere, Jessica Walker, courtesy of Chevrolet

Chevrolet Silverado Heavy duty drive with John Deere, Jessica Walker, courtesy of Chevrolet

As a result, emissions are reduced by 35 percent, horsepower is up 12 percent to 445, and torque increases 19 percent to 910 pound-feet. That’s still 15 lb-ft shy of the 925 in Ford’s Powerstroke diesel, but Chevy claims it isn’t worried about winning the numbers game. To handle the extra torque, the tried-and-true Allison 6-speed automatic transmission also gets a beefier output shaft, torque converter, and valve body.

Otherwise, the the truck is pretty much the same as it was last year, except for a newly functional hood scoop that takes in cooler air and filters out rain, snow, and other debris.

Chevrolet Silverado Heavy duty drive with John Deere, Jessica Walker, courtesy of Chevrolet

Chevrolet Silverado Heavy duty drive with John Deere, Jessica Walker, courtesy of Chevrolet

Chevrolet Silverado Heavy duty drive with John Deere, Jessica Walker, courtesy of Chevrolet

Chevrolet Silverado Heavy duty drive with John Deere, Jessica Walker, courtesy of Chevrolet

Chevrolet Silverado Heavy duty drive with John Deere, Jessica Walker, courtesy of Chevrolet

Chevrolet Silverado Heavy duty drive with John Deere, Jessica Walker, courtesy of Chevrolet

Riding heavy

My “day in the life” experience” started with a towing demonstration in Duramax-equipped Silverado 2500 and 3500 HDs. My first ride was in a 3500 duallie hitched to a 22,000-pound load, close to its 22,600 max towing capacity. The trailer was a fifth-wheel unit, and Chevrolet wouldn’t let journalists drive unless they had a Commercial Driver’s LIcense. I’m not a professional truck driver, which relegated me to the passenger seat.

From there, I could feel the 11-ton load desperately trying to act as a big brake, applying a constant drag on the truck. Still, the Duramax got it up to freeway speeds in a reasonable amount of time and kept it going up grades, while the truck kept things stable. Chevy’s integrated exhaust and trailer brakes helped slow things down at off-ramps, too.

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