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Big utes with towing power

GMC Denali utility has a claimed 4.5 tonne towing capacity.

If driving a Range Rover or LandCruiser briskly through the bends is akin to pedalling a block of flats, then this is like steering a housing estate. Towing serious toys demands the right gear and while there are plenty of wagons that claim 3500kg capacity, sometimes there’s a danger of exceeding the payload or gross vehicle mass.

Cue the Stars 'n' Stripes blowing in the breeze, hoisted by a GI in dress uniform. The local arms of the US brands do precious little to flex them here. Ford, GM and Chrysler crank out large pick-up trucks but leave it to private importers to bring them in.

There are several eastern states importers of GM utes, Dodge Ram and Ford F‒Series bruisers. Now an Adelaide firm has joined the fray, bringing in the Chevrolet Silverado and its GMC Denali cousin. These claim 4.5 tonne towing capacity as well as the ability to go "gooseneck" with the semi-trailer style hitch in the tray for fifth-wheeler mobile homes. That’s not something that can be done with your average local dual‒cab ute.

PRICE

Purchase price is commensurate with capability - some start at about $120,000 in near-new condition. But when you consider a Toyota 200 Series LandCruiser tops out at $120K and can pull "only" 3.5 tonnes, there’s something to be said for singing The Star-Spangled banner Brothers John and Danial Munro of Camperagent RV find homes for these big trucks.

John Munro says entry‒level versions start under $50,000 but there are extra costs before a vehicle leaves the US. "The utes we buy are top‒end diesels, $US65,000 with all the gear on them," John Munro says.

"In the US most (pick-ups) are petrol so we have to search and that can take as long as a month. There aren’t many for sale. Plus you have to pay registration, stamp duty and tax when you buy it (in the US).

"Conversions are $36,000-$40,000. Engineering, certification, seven-year warranty and transport from Melbourne - we do it all."

ABILITY

The company cut its teeth with caravans, motorhomes and fifth-wheelers and looked at the towing options for the larger vehicles.

"(On a conventional tow-ball) you are limited to 4500kg because of the air-brake rules (but) it could be 5000kg," Munro says. "With three passengers and some gear, then the towed vehicle, you could be over the payload. With (the imports) you’re not over the payload or towing capacity and they’ve got the grunt to pull it all."

Munro says boaties, horse people, race-car owners, retirees, builders and small business owners are getting into these large utes. However, more than half the sales are to people wanting just a big comfy truck.

"There are people who need the capacity. If they have an accident and they are overloaded, there could be insurance issues. The thing with these is they have over 1000Nm of torque, more if you tune them up. They are not working hard and they return mid-teens fuel economy when towing,” he says.

DRIVING

After Carsguide’s stint at the wheel of a GMC Denali 2500 HD extra-cab - converted by American Vehicle Sales in Victoria - size became less of an issue. A slight offset of the steering to the left of the driver isn’t overtly off-putting, neither is the column-shift automatic.

Slot it into drive and the surprisingly quiet V8 turbo diesel effortlessly shifts the large 4WD and the two-tonne caravan hitched to it. The grunt is immense. This vehicle is set up on a full ladder-framed chassis.

Steering is over‒assisted and light but the turning circle isn’t too shabby for something this long - and the transmission and exhaust brakes team well (especially in Tow/Haul mode) to pull up without much apparent effort either.

Without a load, ride quality from the leaf‒sprung rear end is jumpy, as you’d expect but, as with most utes, with a bit of cargo on board that would probably settle down to an acceptable level.

The cabin quality is better than some previous efforts from the US, and the features list isn’t underdone either - 18-inch wheels, full-size spare, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled front seats, power-adjustable and extendible exterior mirrors with kerb mirror, tyre pressure monitor, auto headlights, reversing camera, dual front and side airbags, - but the steering adjusts for tilt only.

Power adjustable pedals offset that to some extent, as will the less-stressed nature of the drive and the fuel economy when towing. The test vehicle was the extra-cab version with the rear-hinged back doors for wide access to the jump seats (which could easily accommodate a couple of kids).

VERDICT

There’s a lot to be said for having the big, bold and brawny tools for the job. The workhorse has the muscle on its bones to haul heavy loads and even though it won’t make a regular inner-city commuter it feels capable of completing most daily tasks without issue.

GMC Denali / Chevrolet Silverado
Rating: 3.5/5
Price: from $129,000 (est)
Engine: 6.6-litreV8 turbo diesel , 297kW/1036Nm
Transmission: 6-speed Allison automatic; 4WD

Top mainstream towing vehicles that pull 3500kg*

 

 

Porsche Cayenne

Price: from $101,100 (92A)
Engine: 3.0L six-cylinder, 180kW/550Nm
Transmission: 8-speed auto, 4x4 On Demand
Thirst: 7.4L/100km, 195g/km CO2 

 

 

 

 

Audi Q7

Price: from $90,500 (TDI)
Engine: 3.0L six-cylinder turbodiesel, 180kW/550Nm
Transmission: 8-speed auto, 4WD
Thirst: 7.4L/100km, 195g/km CO2

 

 

 

Ford Ranger

Price: from $51,390 (XLT)
Engine: 3.2L five-cylinder turbodiesel, 147kW/470Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, 4WD
Thirst: 9.2L/100km, 246g/km CO2

 

 

 

Mazda BT-50

Price: from $48,890 (XTR)
Engine: 3.2L five-cylinder turbodiesel, 147kW/470Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, 4WD
Thirst: 9.2L/100km, 246g/km CO2

 

 

 

Isuzu D-MAX

Price: from $36,300 (LS)
Engine: 3.0L four-cylinder turbodiesel, 130kW/380Nm
Transmission: 5-speed auto, RWD
Thirst: 8.0L/100km, 211g/km CO2

 

 

 

Jeep Grand Cherokee

Price: from $51,000 (Laredo)
Engine: 3.0L six-cylinder turbodiesel, 184kW/570Nm
Transmission: 8-speed auto, 4WD
Thirst: 7.5L/100km, 198g/km CO2

 

 

 

Land Rover Discovery

Price: from $68,545 (4 TDV6)
Engine: 3.0L 6-cylinder bi-turbodiesel, 155kW/520Nm
Transmission: 8-speed auto, 4WD
Thirst: 8.5L/100km, 224g/km CO2

 

 

 

Mercedes-Benz ML

Price: from $82,900 (250)
Engine: 2.1L four-cylinder turbodiesel, 150kW/500Nm
Transmission: 7-speed auto, 4WD
Thirst: 6.4L/100km, 168g/km CO2

 

 

 

Nissan Patrol

Price: from $60,390 (ST)
Engine: 3.0L four-cylinder turbodiesel, 118kW/354Nm
Transmission: 7-speed auto, 4WD
Thirst: 11.8L/100km, 313g/km CO2

 

 

 

* For all vehicles, ball download and overall capacity can vary with vehicle model and load, check owner’s manual.

Pricing Guides

$32,611
Based on 100 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$18,471
Highest Price
$62,000

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
DX (4x4) 3.0L, Diesel, 4 SP AUTO $27,950 – 28,950 2014 Nissan Patrol 2014 DX (4x4) Pricing and Specs
ST (4x4) 3.0L, Diesel, 4 SP AUTO $32,888 – 39,990 2014 Nissan Patrol 2014 ST (4x4) Pricing and Specs
ST Plus (4x4) 3.0L, Diesel, 5 SP MAN $33,660 – 40,040 2014 Nissan Patrol 2014 ST Plus (4x4) Pricing and Specs
ST Titanium (4x4) 3.0L, Diesel, 4 SP AUTO $36,990 – 39,990 2014 Nissan Patrol 2014 ST Titanium (4x4) Pricing and Specs
Stuart Martin
Contributing Journalist

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