2004 Chevrolet Silverado LT 2500 HD

One truck and all the works
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If a heavy-duty full-size pickup is what you need, Chevy's Silverado might be the one. Handsome and rugged as it is agreeable, it's easily as good as any, and better than most. For one thing, though the competition is increasingly tough, Silverado HD pickups boasts the segment's most powerful engine lineup-your choice of a 300-hp 6.0-liter Vortec V-8, a 330-hp 8.1-liter big-block Vortec V-8, or the widely acclaimed 300-hp 6.6-liter Duramax diesel V-8. Peak torque ratings for this muscular trio-more important for trucks than power, since torque is what gets your payload moving and accelerates it to speed-are 370, 455 and a stump-pulling 520 lb.-ft., respectively. For vehicles equipped with an automatic transmission and the Duramax diesel, horsepower is increased to 310 and torque gets a monster boost to 590 lb.-ft. Alternative fuel fanciers will also appreciate that the 6-liter V-8 (with hardened upgraded valves and seats to withstand CNG's lack of lubricity and cooling effects) can run on CNG/gasoline bi-fuel systems or dedicated CNG (compressed natural gas).

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Available transmissions outnumber the engines: a standard 5-speed manual, optional ZF 6-speed manual and smooth, close-ratio 4-speed and 5-speed automatics. Our test truck boasted the top-of-the-line combo of the Duramax diesel coupled to the 5-speed automatic. This power team is outstanding, provided you like and/or need the diesel and you see its cost as more than worth its higher torque, significantly better fuel economy, lower maintenance and (potentially) longer service life relative to gas engines. Monetarily speaking, the Duramax diesel (designed and developed by GM partner and diesel expert Isuzu) adds a whopping $5,310 and the 5-speed gearbox another $1,200 to the LT 2500 HD extended cab's $38,730 starting price.

One nice touch with the 6-speed manual's shift lever is that it moves forward for First and straight back for Reverse for easy low-speed maneuvering; you don't have to go across the shift pattern for reverse. Also, First gear can be used as a "creeper gear," while Second can be used for launching when lightly loaded. The Allison 5-speed automatic has full electronic control with two operating modes, normal and "Tow/Haul," plus helical planetary gear-sets for low-noise operation. And to help slow the rig when hauling heavy loads down long, steep grades, a grade braking mechanism automatically downshifts when you apply the brakes.

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Silverado HD's share the styling of Chevy's half-ton models and a strong family resemblance with the popular TrailBlazer and Avalanche-the signature wide chrome grille bar, recessed fog lamps, crisp fender lines, angular wheel openings and restyled taillamps. To our eye, the look is clean and handsome, bolder than Ford's, less over-the-top aggressive than Dodge's pickups. The redesigned instrument panel, cluster, seats and center console will look familiar to previous GM truck owners, yet are much improved in material quality, fits and finishes. A new dual-zone heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, available with both manual and automatic climate control, allows the driver and front passenger to adjust temperatures to their personal preferences up to a 30F difference. Available on-board entertainment systems include Bose audio and a Panasonic DVD with a flip-down screen for crew cab models. All but the base radio feature next-generation Radio Data System (RDS) and can interface with optional XM Satellite Radio, which offers 100 coast-to-coast digital channels (71 music and 29 sports, talk, children's and entertainment) with close to CD sound quality. Rear-seat audio controls in crew cab models allow front- and second-row passengers (especially kids) to enjoy separate audio sources.

An advanced new multiplexed electrical architecture transfers data throughout the vehicle enabling the Driver Information Center to monitor and report on as many as 34 system functions while improving quality and reducing weight. A memory system remembers two sets of preferences for seat and mirror positions, and battery-rundown protection automatically turns off exterior and interior lights after 10 minutes if left on inadvertently. Available steering wheel controls allow personalization of functions and easy adjustment of infotainment systems.

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GM's OnStar communications and security system, standard on Silverado LT, provides access to live, personalized service and emergency assistance at the touch of a button, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, plus available hands-free personal calling and other services. If you subscribe to that level of service, OnStar operators will even read emails to you. Uplevel Silverados feature outside mirrors with power-tilt glass, left-side electrochromatic (self-dimming) glass, power folding and heating, puddle lights, turn signal indicators and an optional memory feature. An available power-adjustable camper mirror can be extended to a vehicle width of as much as 106 inches.

Safety enhancements include a passenger airbag sensing system that automatically assesses whether the occupant is an adult or a child based on weight and belt system tension. If these measurements are typical for a child, the airbag is disabled. A passenger-side deactivation switch is also standard on regular and extended-cab models.

The Silverado catalog offers a wide selection of 3/4- and one-ton pickups, including 2500HD (3/4-ton) and 3500 Series (one-ton) regular cabs, four-door extended cabs, crew cabs and chassis cabs. Three-quarter-ton models offer Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings (GVWR) as high as 9,200 lbs. and payloads up to 3,964 lbs., while the one-tons go to 11,400 lbs. GVWR and 5,753 lbs. payload. Silverado HD 4WD chassis cabs stretch GVWR to 12,000 lbs. and payload to 6,089 lbs., and extended cabs boast the industry's largest rear-door openings. HD models are trailer-ready with standard handling and trailering packages, the latter providing a weight-distributing hitch platform, 8-wire trailer harness with mounted connector and a jumper harness with a plug-in for the electric trailer brake controller. Both the 8.1-liter V-8 and the Duramax diesel can tow up to 12,000 lbs. with a maximum 22,000-lb. gross combined weight rating (GCWR). With a fifth wheel or gooseneck hitch, trailering capability increases to 15,800 lbs. The standard 4-wheel disc brakes feature 4-wheel ABS and GM's powerful Hydro-Boost brake-apply system.

While diesel engines are not our preference due to their noise (try sneaking up on someone, or coming home late at night) and the nature of the fuel, but-considering its performance, economy and relative civility compared to past offerings-this Isuzu-built Duramax is a peach. Also, like all brawny heavy-duty trucks, the Silverado HD rides a little rough when unloaded, the price you pay for its high ultimate payload and towing capabilities. Beyond that and a couple of minor complaints (the extended cab's front seats don't flip forward for easier access to the reasonably roomy rear seat, and the center dash vent wouldn't close on our tester-there's little not to like. All things considered, it's no surprise that Chevy's highly capable and versatile Silverado is GM's most popular nameplate and an industry top seller. (www.chevrolet.com)

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