In an all wheel drive truck, no matter how you turn the wheels or in what driving conditions, there is no scrubbing resistance because the center differential, acting with the front and rear differentials, continuously transfers torque from any slipping wheel to those with a firmer grip.
For those out there who have doubts about the durability or superiority of full time all wheel drive versus part time four wheel drive consider the following. The Range Rover and Hummer H1 use permanently engaged all wheel drive systems and both vehicles are among the most capable off-roaders available, bar none. On road you need only look to the German luxury manufacturers which consider full time all wheel drive an essential safety component, such as Audi's Quattro system.
On most all wheel drive luxury cars you will normally find a 50/50 power split between front and rear power distribution but because this is a pickup truck with an unloaded bed, the default split on the C3 is set to 38/62.
You've read the above concepts and theories, but now that we have driven the Sierra C3 we can also practically state that it is indeed the most capable handling pickup truck on the planet.
We drove the Sierra C3 from Santa Barbara, California up the coast to Morro Bay. On this trip we tested the truck on highways, surface streets, hilly roads with lots of twisties and the beach.
Of course the first thing we tried to do was step on the gas and see if we could get the rear wheels loose - which turned out to be next to impossible unless you wanted to lose control of the truck entirely. The C3 sticks to the road under all conditions, period.
On the highway and surface streets you aren't even aware of the all wheel drive's handling improvements, nor should you be unless you are in a defensive driving position trying to avoid an accident.
Between the highway and the beach we drove the C3 on a hilly mountain pass for a few miles. The truck was quite stable and under the driver's control at all times. No way was the rear coming loose - even while taking the turns at what fellow passengers might have considered aggressive speeds. In a two wheel drive truck you would have seen the rear end come around you on some of the turns. It's amazing the confidence you feel from the all wheel drive as it translates to the steering - not too much oversteer, not too much understeer but just right.
The beach was much the same story where we briefly drove the C3 right to the edge of the Pacific Ocean . Entering the beach we immediately executed a tight 180 degree turn with virtually no fish-tailing to speak of (no pun intended). Driving further down the beach we also tried slaloming the C3 around some piles of driftwood and seaweed. Again there was no oversteer on the sand beyond what would have been expected if we were on dry pavement with a two wheel drive truck.
Once we were on the 101 headed north out of Santa Barbara we took some time to appreciate the rest of the C3 in addition to its all wheel drive attributes.
GMC wants to position the Sierra C3 as an alternative to what they term 'international class' automobiles like the Lexus and BMW. So, for those folks who want a performance oriented vehicle in what is a decidedly nontraditional package, this truck is for you.
With its 6.0-liter V8 engine producing 325 horsepower and 370 LB-ft of torque, the C3 definitely has an international class engine. GMC claims the Vortec 6000 is the most powerful naturally aspirated engine in a half-ton pickup and its performance is indeed outstanding. Redesigned with aluminum heads for 2001 to save weight and provide freer-flowing intake and exhaust ports, the engine also incorporates a new low profile camshaft to take advantage of increased airflow into its combustion chamber. Acceleration is very good from both a standing stop and on the highways at cruising speeds.
While most international class cars come with the option of a five speed manual for performance enthusiasts, the Sierra C3 only comes with a four speed automatic, but what an excellent transmission it is. The well regarded 4L60-E transmission is taken from the Heavy Duty Sierra.
Now here is something you can't or wouldn't do with your Mercedes. The C3 arrives ready to tow 8700 lbs. out of the box. Though we didn't get to tow anything with the trucks we drove we have to believe that the C3's towing package combined with the all wheel drive is an unbeatable combination in a full size, half-ton pickup today. The only thing missing is the Quadra Steer option on this truck which is not available on the C3 for 2001.
Four wheel disc brakes are shared with the 3/4-ton Heavy Duty trucks and provide amazing stopping power.
The ride quality of the C3 on the highway is very good, especially for a pickup truck, but it you are used to driving a luxury sedan it is still quite a change. The C3 still doesn't translate road feel to the driver like a fine European sedan does. The ride doesn't seem quite as firm or the steering as precise. This opinion comes from a person who also drives a Quattro equipped Audi A4 so take it as you will. There is quite a difference in vehicle size to explain the differences in ride quality not to mention the C3's increased center of gravity and heavier weight.
Inside the difference between the C3 and the typical international class car decrease significantly. The C3 is filled to the walls of its extended cab with leather and its instrument panel is loaded with all sort of cool electronics. Heavy carpeting, good enough for your home, helps dampen NVH levels in the cabin.
One very annoying attribute inside the truck was its placement of the audio controls on the steering wheel. Set too far back it was almost impossible to adjust the volume or change stations without taking your hand off the wheel or bending your wrist into an awkward position.
The center console houses a trick little driver information center that records up to 15 days worth of trip information including mileage driven (split into business and personal mileage if you like), fuel economy and ranger. For those of you who give junior the keys to the C3 you can also look back at the top speed for a given day to make sure he isn't out drag racing.
A next generation OnStar system caps off the interior. Using telematics we were able to dial a phone number and hold a conference call in the truck all hands-free using our voice. Throw in some other cool voice recognition features matched up to your OnStar profile and you can also ask the OnStar system for stock quotes, sports scores and the latest news all tailored to your personal tastes.
On the exterior GMC continues to try and differentiate the C3 from the rest of the General Motors truck lineup. A newly revised grille with chrome trim and projector style headlamps adds to the truck's luxury class looks. The body colored front bumper with integrated fog lamps blends nicely into the rest of the truck. Running boards are standard along with rearview mirror 'puddle lamps' to help illuminate your step at night. Only three paint choices will be available: pewter, onyx black or polo green. A body colored tonneau cover is also standard on the C3.
We were disappointed by the lack of a crew cab C3 model. In today's market, especially if you are going after luxury car enthusiasts as your primary buyer, you need the versatility that four full size doors offer. A crew cab with the C3's capabilities would definitely be a class leading truck. We do believe that this will become an option in the not too distant future and we emphasize that it should happen as soon as possible.
As we look back at the Sierra C3 and its great abilities we cant help but wonder and hope that what happens with this truck will not be the same fate that awaited the Syclone. Like the Syclone the C3 has a very high price tag that we think will put it out of reach or send many buyers into sticker shock - $38,995. Is the world ready for a $40,000 half-ton, extended cab truck by the time owners drive out of the showroom? GMC believes that 10% of all extended cab trucks sold for 2001 will come badged as C3s. At the very least we hope that the all-wheel drive feature finally finds a permanent place within the GMC family of trucks as on option on all trim levels.
To sum things up, if you are a current luxury car owner looking to buy your first pickup, this is the truck for you. GMC has definitely created a vehicle whose comfort, safety and performance capabilities place it well within the luxury class.