You would think the nearly countless permutations of the Chevrolet Silverado and its twin, the GMC Sierra, would satisfy anyone's needs, but you'd be wrong. For a select few, even the largest of GM's regular pickups isn't big enough to tow their motorhomes and trailers and boats. Fortunately, GM offers a pickup version of its seriously large GMC TopKick and Chevrolet Kodiak chassis. It's not as big as Ashton Kutcher's International CXT, but it's close.
Typically, the Kodiak and the TopKick are used as dump trucks, moving trucks, school buses, and shuttle buses, but Monroe Truck Equipment of Monroe, Wisconsin, builds these over-the-top pickups in its plant in Flint, Michigan, down the road from where the Kodiak and TopKick chassis roll off the assembly line. About 750 of the beasts are built annually.
The TopKick that was sent our way was a C4500 crew cab with four-wheel drive, the least beefy of the available chassis. The optional four-wheel drive was new for 2005 in the pickup version. Pickups can be had in C4500 or C5500 garb. The really heavy-duty C6500 and C7500 don't get the conversion. The C4500 and C5500 get the same Duramax 6.6-liter turbo-diesel that's available in heavy-duty Sierras and Silverados, albeit in a lesser state of tune. A 325-hp gasoline-powered 8.1-liter V-8 is also available. The lone transmission with the diesel is an excellent five-speed automatic built by Allison that shifts smoothly and quickly.
With 300 horses and 520 pound-feet of torque, you're not going to win many drag races, but the truck has no problem keeping up with traffic. The run to 60 mph takes 14.4 seconds, and top speed is governed at 75 mph, presumably to save the tires when the truck is fully loaded. The 11,300-pound TopKick is actually faster to 60 mph than an automatic-transmission four-cylinder Ford Escape. From a stop, stand on the throttle, and you'll experience the brief hesitation of turbo lag. Once the turbocharger spools up, the truck rushes forward with decent alacrity to the sound of the optional dual-exhaust stacks that poke up through the bed. Lower the windows, and you'll hear the chrome pipes belt out a loud sucking noise that will scare the "Calvin and Hobbes" stickers off lesser pickups. Now we're truckin'!
Monroe dresses up the interior of the TopKick with thick carpeting, leather seats independently suspended on air bladders—just like the truckers use—and faux-wood trim. Once you work your way up to the cab of the TopKick, one immediately notices the panoramic view. Ever wanted to look down on a Hummer H2? Better yet, you'll be able to look eye to eye with most truckers.
Unloaded, the TopKick will shake its occupants mercilessly. Two beefy solid axles with thick leaf springs up front and air bladders in the rear make it possible to carry an astonishing 5000 pounds in the bed or tow 14,300 pounds, but the truck will shake and shudder at the slightest imperfection. Aside from the ride, the TopKick drives much like a smaller truck. The turning circle is tight enough to slip easily into a parking spot, and the short, sloped hood gives an excellent view of obstacles ahead. The 95.9-inch-wide TopKick fits in parking spots, but just barely.
We wanted badly to see how the TopKick would behave on a skidpad, so at the risk of wrinkling the asphalt we circled the 300-foot-diameter skidpad at 0.61 g. Not surprisingly, there's extreme understeer at the limit. Braking from 70 mph was drama-free as the TopKick stopped in 228 feet. C4500 and C5500 TopKicks have hydraulic brakes; the larger-series trucks (C6500 and C7500) get air brakes that go pfffft when you stop. After each 70-mph stop, the TopKick went into a limp-home mode and wouldn't shift out of second gear for about a minute in an attempt to allow the brakes to cool off.
So what does all this mother trucking cost? Our four-wheel drive crew-cab truck cost $52,171 from GMC, add the Monroe conversion that contributes a pickup bed and almost countless options (dual exhaust stacks, rear-seat DVD, leather seats, power-folding rear bench, hitch camera, adjustable rear air suspension, power-retractable tonneau cover, aluminum wheels, chrome grille), and the TopKick can climb to about $90,000. More-basic versions can be had for closer to $70,000, which is far less than a Hummer H1 and only a bit more than an H2. Faced with those choices, the TopKick looks almost rational.
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