2009 GMC Sierra Hybrid
2009 GMC Sierra Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

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First Drive: 2009 Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra Hybrid

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2009 GMC Sierra Hybrid

Oshawa, Ontario – When hybrid vehicles first appeared in our showrooms, size was a major factor: the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius were small vehicles. When the technology eventually made its way into large SUVs, I always thought of them as low-fat potato chips: just as those are better than regular snacks, but not as healthy as an apple, it would seem to make sense for many buyers to just get into a smaller car.

That isn’t always an option, though, especially when the vehicle in question is needed for serious work. And so General Motors has taken the hybrid system it uses in the Suburban, Yukon and Escalade hybrids, and has fitted it to the pickup siblings of the Chevrolet Silverado and my tester, the GMC Sierra. Toyota and Dodge have indicated that the Tundra and Ram will receive similar gas-electric systems, possibly by 2010, but for now, the GM versions are the sole hybrid trucks on the market.

2009 GMC Sierra Hybrid
2009 GMC Sierra Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

General Motors first offered the Silverado and Sierra as hybrids for 2005, but these new trucks are entirely different. The earlier versions were “mild” hybrids, with an electric motor that only assisted the gasoline engine when needed. The new models can operate on gasoline or battery alone, depending on conditions, which gives them their name of 2-Mode Hybrid. As with all hybrids, the gasoline engine stops running at idle, such as when stopped at a traffic light, providing it isn’t too cold outside and the battery is sufficiently charged. This not only saves fuel, but eliminates tailpipe emissions, and since the electric motor restarts the gasoline engine, there’s no worry about wearing out a conventional starter.

The 2-Mode comes solely with a 6.0-litre V8 engine, also used in conventional pickups. While you might initially question using such a big powerplant, the Sierra Hybrid gets better fuel economy than the 4.8- or 5.3-litre V8 engines available in GM’s conventional model, and even better than the available 4.3-litre V6, while still retaining acceptable towing and hauling capacity. Part of the fuel savings comes from the engine’s Active Fuel Management system, which shuts off half the cylinders under light load, such as when cruising on the highway; thanks to the electric motor’s additional power boost, the truck can stay in this fuel-saving mode for longer periods of time. My 4×4 tester is officially rated at 10.5 L/100 km (27 mpg) in the city, and 9.8 L/100 km (29 mpg) on the highway, while I averaged 12.1 L/100 km (23 mpg) in combined driving. In comparison, a conventional 6.0-litre 4×4 Sierra gets 15.7 L/100 km (18 mpg) in the city.

2009 GMC Sierra Hybrid
2009 GMC Sierra Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

As with any hybrid, the trade-off is the price. The Sierra Hybrid is going to be a low-volume seller, and so choices are limited: you can only get it as a four-door crew cab with short box, in either 4×2 or 4×4 configuration. It comes as a fairly loaded trim line, starting at $46,725 for the 4×2, and $50,875 in 4×4. The hybrid’s list of equipment puts it about halfway between the Sierra SLE trim line, which starts at $34,910 for 4×2, and the SLT, which starts at $43,065. Average those out, and you’re looking at a premium of about $7,700 for the hybrid system. Transport Canada estimates you’ll save about $680 each year in fuel over the conventional model, so it’ll take some time to even that out.

Standard features on the Hybrid include trailer package, electronic stability control, 18-inch chrome-clad wheels, heated mirrors, soft tonneau cover, variable intermittent wipers, Bluetooth, power windows, keyless entry, split-bench cloth seat, satellite radio, leather-wrapped wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, cruise control, and carpet. An upgrade package can be added, for $7,340, which adds power-adjustable bucket seats, navigation system, hard tonneau cover, rear parking assist, rear defogger and garage door opener. I didn’t have that package on my tester, but mine was equipped with several stand-alone options, including leather bucket seats, rear-seat DVD system, power-folding mirrors, sunroof and fog lamps, for a total of $57,885 before freight and taxes.

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