First drive of monster utes arriving in Holden showrooms
US monster trucks are here.
The first batch of Chevrolet Silverado pick-ups have started rolling into selected Holden showrooms, so we can grabbed the keys from a local dealer for a two-hour test drive of this three-and-a-half tonne beast.
Here are the top five highlights from our notepad.
1) It's huge
It goes without saying that US pick-ups are bigger than our Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger-style of utes, but I didn't realise you actually peer down into them in adjacent lanes. Even the Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series looks small by comparison. The numbers are staggering: it's more than 6 metres long, as wide as a Kenworth truck, and has a 15.7 metre turning circle. You also need to be careful not to scrape the roof on car park ceilings: it sneaks in under 2 metres tall at 1.985 metres. You can feel the extra space inside: the centre console could double as a swimming pool and you almost need to raise your voice for the front passenger to hear you.
2) It looks factory-built
US pick-ups have been imported and converted locally for decades by small independent operators but this Chevrolet is done by Holden Special Vehicles, which has a direct line to General Motors in the US. It means key details such as a local AM/FM radio and navigation unit and the speedo in km/h are fitted at the factory. Plus HSV has access to the same suppliers when making certain right-hand-drive parts. The dashboard looks factory fit and the right-hand-drive steering system (long an Achilles heel of converted vehicles) is made by the same supplier than does the left-hand-drive versions, so it's exactly as the maker intended.
More than 500 individual components have been made to create HSV's right-hand-drive Silverado. This might seem incidental but the investment is in the millions of dollars, beyond the reach of other converters. Each vehicle takes 100 man hours over five days to switch to right-hand-drive. Unlike other locally-converted utes, the Silverado - and the Ram also converted locally by a division of the HSV/ Walkinshaw group of companies, American Special Vehicles - have been crash-tested here to ensure the conversion is up to scratch. The Silverado also comes with a factory-backed warranty and can be serviced at Holden dealers nationally.
3) It aint cheap
At $139,990 plus on-road costs the Silverado LTZ Custom Sport Edition is serious money. In its most basic form the Silverado 2500 double-cab is listed at $US38,000 before taxes and other charges. The LTZ Custom Sport imported by HSV is a top-of-the-range with options added, such as the 6.6-litre turbo diesel V8, heavy duty transmission and 4WD, heated and cooled leather seats with electric adjustment, heated steering wheel, height-adjustable pedals, Bose audio, wireless phone charging, 20-inch polished alloy wheels, forward collision alert and lane departure warning, front and rear parking sensors, Rancho shock absorbers, a larger front stabiliser bar, and extra underbody protection.
It works out close to $US60,000 ($AUD81,500) before taxes, dealer fees and destination charges in the US. By the time you add freight from the Flint Michigan factory gate, the addition of 530 unique parts engineered and fitted locally, 100 hours of labour, currency exchange rates, and dealer delivery fees, it's closer to $145,000 on the road here.
4) It can haul, in more ways than one
With 332kW of power and a mind-boggling 1234Nm of torque, the 6.6-litre turbo diesel V8 makes light work of this 3.5-tonne beast. Unladen, it flattens hills and the transmission kicks down a gear with no effort at all. More than able to keep flow with traffic, it actually accelerates up hills. It can tow 3500kg with a 50mm ball, 4500kg with a 70mm ball and up to 5890kg with a heavy duty pintle hitch. Suffice to say it'll tow more than a Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series ($84,800 to $123,500) and our current crop of utes which max out at 3500kg.
5) I just want one
It might not be logical, and you definitely need to be selective where you drive this thing - whether it's a narrow dead-end street or a shopping centre car park with a low ceiling - but it's surprisingly normal to drive. By the end of our two-hour test drive we'd become accustomed to its size and weight; it's easy to see why these are so popular in the US.
Pick-ups like the Chevrolet Silverado won't challenge the sales success of the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger locally - and it's a big leap from the $75,000 versions of the Mercedes X-Class and VW Amarok utes. However, it's not too big a step up financially from a LandCruiser 200 Series, and Toyota sells plenty of those. For anyone who wants to tow a decent load and still have plenty of power left in reserve, the Silverado might just do the trick.
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling