Pros: Will tow anything you hook to it. Strong engine.
Cons: Fuel efficiency, but if you want a truck this size you already properly considered that.
How to start? Unlike all the modern half-tons that try to look like ¾ tons, this is the real deal. This is a ¾ ton. He of the large heavy-duty wheels and overall bulky variety. And it still fits in your average drive through (though I'd never go fast in one).
Of course, it's worth mentioning that I try to find a spot to park where I'm clear on either side, but in a pinch it's possible to park in a space that already has vehicles on either side. I'm just saying, maybe the effort and proximity to other vehicles simply isn't worth being a little closer to your objective. Maybe the situation needs consideration. Especially if you want the back doors to open. But really though, who wants to park in a crowded area?
As the story goes, I needed a bigger truck for my line of work. I needed something that could tow my travel trailer from state to state without issue, contract to contract. Unfortunately, that function could not be performed by my previous truck, which I also happened to review some time ago. It was a 1996 Chevrolet Silverado C1500, with a 5.7L V8. Yes, the full size engine and all. But it wasn't part of the truck fad that followed soon after, where people started to seriously consider towing capacity numbers for competitive reasons. A modern half ton could probably, in a pinch, tow my RV now. I wouldn't try it, personally. The idea of pulling a very large, heavy, home on wheels with a truck that weighs quite a bit less doesn't process. Does not compute, says your brakes. Trailer brakes or no (I learned this!).
So a trade is made to a very happy Carmax used car dealership, wherein they get to sell a ¾ ton truck that's been on their lot for a little longer than average. Nobody wants them anymore, after all. Well guess what, I'm not trying to compensate for anything sir. I need something that can tow. Why? Because my last truck turned a 24 hr trip from south Texas to western Arizona into a 3-day trip from satans toilet. It just couldn't do it. Overheating, a max speed of about 60mph on roads rated for 85mph, barely managing 40 mph uphill, a frightening lack of stopping power when encountering construction zones and city stop lights at speed...you get the idea. This, my friends, is why you don't pull a reasonably sized (or bigger) travel trailer with an old half ton truck. Mine is 26ft long btw, with slideout, etc.
So onto the newer truck, and why it's so much better. After all, why go bigger these days? I just answered half the question above. Now for why it is better.
I needed something that could tow my RV. I had just made the above-mentioned road trip in the Fall of '07, specifically mid September. I took my first couple of paychecks and drove 3 hours to the nearest Carmax dealership for the simple reason that they don't mess around - and they had what I wanted. Or thought I did. You see, I'd been told by all the truck-minded folk at work that I needed to go Diesel, or "really big gas." So I look for diesel first, because it sounds interesting. They're work horses. So I get there, and it turns out the Carmax ad was wrong. This truck I'm looking at isn't Diesel, though it might take even a truck nut a second to process this fact (this happened). It's a gasoline truck, that the original owner got all the options on. This person, evidently, wanted a toy. Leather, automatic everything, OnStar, climate control, driver profiles, 4-wheel-drive, and of course, an 8.1L (494 cubic Inch) big-block engine.
Lets talk briefly about this engine. It's the heart of the vehicle, so why not? It's a massive Vortec 8100 8.1L V8, and it looks to barely fit into even this ¾ ton truck. Evidently, this engine was an accessory option that was discontinued after 2003, and is an example of the Chevy Big Block lineup. UHAUL put them into their largest move-your-entire-house-at-once trucks, and Chevrolet fit them into their "medium-duty" Kodiak (often converted to Dump trucks, heavy work trucks, etc.). Finally, and perhaps the most commendable, this engine was the heart and soul of Class A Gas motorhomes up to 38' until the "Green" wave forced its discontinuation only recently. Essentially, the only limit to the engine is the fact it's been put into a light duty 3/4 ton truck (poor thing). The failure rate for these engines appears to be extremely low. Generally, they burn some oil, but I'm not worried about it. I keep a quart under the back seat for every once in a while.
Gasoline vs. Diesel:
Now, why get this over Diesel? Fuel availability and price consistency (har har) is the first, obvious, reason. It still gets poor gas mileage, but only if you're comparing it to a Honda Insight (electric hybrid). I could paste what the EPA numbers are for anything, but how often is that even close to reality? My last truck, the '96 half ton, got about 14-15mpg on a good day and the papers said higher than that. Try and tow something with it, and it drops to 6 mpg. Yes, 6. Stop at every station you see. This truck averages about 10.2 mpg in the city (we have a lot of lights here). However, give it a nice flat stretch of road at the sweet spots (RPM, gears, etc.) and you'll see the rolling fuel efficiency hover around 15-17 mpg. Try and tow something with it, and unlike the smaller truck, it will only drop to about 8-9 mpg at highway speeds (where it would get the worst mpg). ~45mph is the sweet spot, try and go much faster, and you start to see your efficiency drop. These bad highway numbers are because the HD variants have access to the 4.10 rear end. Essentially, the 4.10 ratio means the driveshaft is spinning more per axle rotation than otherwise. The engine/trans needs to spin the driveshaft faster to meet any given speed.
Now I'll be honest: You'll probably get more MPG in all driving conditions with some diesels. Especially at high altitude when a gas engine can lose up to 30% of its power. Even though Diesel fuel costs more, it might come to about even after you've figured in getting a couple more MPG. A diesel puts all of its power into the lower RPM's, since it's focus is on torque. My 8.1L gas won't hit max power until its RPM's are shy of the redline.
Where a diesel invariably starts to cost more is in maintenance and repair. On average, it will always cost more to own one than a gas would, because all that has to happen is one of its many expensive >$2000 engine parts to fail and you've just offset all of those fuel savings completely, and that's if you're lucky and the part failure didn't cause a chain reaction or engine suicide (Ford 6.0L's...). A diesel has more fluids, and more filters to attend to. You can get a diesel because it can tow the same weight a big gas would, but can do it better. If it has a turbo, then it isn't bothered by high altitude. It puts all of its power into the lower RPM's (they are inherently lower-RPM engines), so it won't have as much trouble getting up a hill.
For all that, there is another down side: The engine and drive train are heavier. This actually reduces your towing capacity because it subtracts from your available remaining Gross Combined Weight Rating (towing), Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings (hauling), and axle limits. I was surprised to see that while a gas engine truck won't tow quite as well as a diesel, it often "has room" to tow more than their diesel counterparts (at least in the light truck ranges). This is a big deal when 300-500 lb's can keep you in your limits driving through anal states (I hear the Carolinas have highway patrollman dedicated to flagging you into weight stations, and they impound the vehicle if it's over any of the limits). This might concern you because I've seen statistics that indicate 60% of people towing things are doing so illegally. For some states, this equates to consistent revenue.
General Performance: Holy-dear-god-barbeque (the more appropriate version of some internet slang meaning "Wahoo!") Accelerating from a stop to about 45 mph is monstrously fast and easy. It doesn't even matter if you're hauling some hay or feed in the bed. The power starts to taper off once you get to 50-60 mph. For all its power, the 8.1L engine is slaved to a transmission and rear end designed to pull things, not win races. At any lower speed you could jump on the gas and pass people relatively easily. However, at around 60 mph, in a 65 mph zone, you want to zip up to at least 70 mph for a short period to get around the slow guy in front, right? Well, you'll need a decent stretch of road to accomplish this. Impossible on a winding road. The truck just isn't geared for it. It'll jump off the line faster than some racing trucks (Youtube it), even though it might be twice as heavy, but it just can't pass like a NASCAR at high speeds.
Towing Performance: I drove around all day today with a large "round bale" of hay in the truck bed because I didn't have time to get it out before classes. Probably the first time a lot of people around here had seen such a thing, and you wouldn't figure on there being any horses on Galveston, but anyway. I had to be consciously aware that it was back there, because the truck certainly didn't care. I didn't want it flopping out sideways on a turn or anything, though I doubt it would have. A round bale of hay weighs as much as 900 lbs, so roughly half a ton. The truck, as I said, didn't care. It didn't sink noticeably, even though it was only a few hundred pounds shy of its namesake for truckbed capacity (by the way, namesakes and actual limits are wildly different now).
Towing Performance (Cntd.): I mentioned it took me 3 days to get to Arizona with my last truck. I made the return trip in one - in time for Christmas, so it had become a regular Disney channel story. I was easily able to max the speed limit, up to and including accelerating uphill without issue. Acceleration was still awesome, considering. I was towing a trailer that weighed something in excess of 7,000 lb.'s empty, but of course it wasn't empty. I also forgot to empty the clean water tank before pulling out, and liquids are heavy. Fuel efficiency dropped to about 6 mpg in the looong stretches of west Texas hill country, but this was an excellent tradeoff because I was going the full speed limit - double that of what the half-ton could accomplish in the same territories using the same amount of gas. The old truck was nearly redlining just making the top of the hill, this truck was purring.
So, a gas guzzling truck that is somehow cheaper to tow with than something half the weight. I drove the same distance in a fraction of the time, so I probably saved a few tanks more. This has made "driving the right class truck for your load" crystal clear to me. I've used the 4x4 modes rarely, driving down the beach or parking the RV in the yard near what was left of the house after Hurricane Ike so we could live out of it. The yard was still very soft. Switching into 4x4 is simple, there are three buttons to the left of the steering wheel, on the console: 2WD High, 4WD High, and 4WD Low. Note: Using 4WD Low, or switching to true Neutral for wheels-down towing, requires reading the manual.
Of course, I don't always have to tow something with it. I'm fortunate in that I don't have to drive much anyway. Thus I can justify having the one, thirsty, vehicle (how long does it take for a 2nd, more fuel efficient vehicle, to make sense in savings anyway?). I can get by on one tank (26 gal.) for a given two week span, usually more.
The LT trim interior of the vehicle is pretty good as trucks go, and I dare say it's better than my Mom's Ford King Ranch (Ford King Ranch seats are horrible). I have no negative comments about it. The information is readily available, the controls are easily reached, and customizable. I have all the OnStar and radio buttons that matter on the steering wheel, and more on the rear-view mirror. There are two profile buttons for two drivers that dictate climate control, chair position, and radio settings on the driver side door. Next to this is a flexible seat heating control - heat the seat cushion and back, or just the back, with 3 different power levels. This is also available on the passenger side. Personally, I use the back heater often. There is also an electronic control for setting the firmness of the back of the chair (the lower back support is superior to a King Ranch).
The A/C settings for driver and passenger side are separate knobs. This was a great annoyance in my last truck, where it was absent. The passenger side vents in it often blew colder air, so passengers often dictated my comfort level (yes, this was often my Mom). The radio in my vehicle, as part of the LT package, is a full BOSE system.
The largish computer display under the speedometer has a sense of humor. It'll tell you what you need to know, keeping track of your coolant and oil levels for you. Also, it's connected to a temperature sensor, so the first time you stagger out to the car in absolutely freezing weather, it'll kindly tell you that ice on the road is possible. You might even pause briefly to laugh at it through chattering teeth.
The ride can be a little rough. I don't care, personally, but softer folk might be bothered by it. The truck rides on large 80 PSI tires attached to a suspension designed to haul, so you can feel quite a bit on neglected roads. Steering is commensurate with a large, heavy vehicle. There are few places you can perform a successful U-turn. Road noise is good, even with the oversized Flowmaster exhaust system the original owner installed, which gives it a really throaty sound that really reverberates under bridges and the like. I have occasionally found this to be an issue when I've already got a bad headache, but I don't take medicine for such things, so maybe it's avoidable.
Back seat space in this extended cab is an excellent interior storage space for those of us that don't have many passengers. I tend to live out of my truck (secure snack stash). But if you really have to seat people in it, it probably wouldn't be very tolerable on a long trip to those in back if they need lots of leg room. For those situations, get the larger cab variant with the full size back doors (Edit 2/4/09: The back seat itself is fine, just a lack of leg room). Contrary to my older truck, the back doors in this newer truck have handles so they can open their doors from the inside as well. Also, there are 4 doors, not 3.
The truck did not come with a brake controller, though I imagine it would have been an option. Clearly, the previous owner wanted a toy. I wanted a towing vehicle, thus I had all this stuff installed. It isn't intrusive, whereas in my last truck it was somewhat in the way of my right leg.
Due to an increase in difficulty disposing of oil waste locally, I have not been able to perform maintenance on the vehicle personally. It doesn't seem difficult, and I've seen the underside of the engine. It takes more oil, of course. The oil filter must always be replaced with the correct one though - most recently, they installed one that was too long, and the drive shaft punched a hole in it - giving me a serious oil leak. The oil filter is positioned just over the drive shaft, at the bottom back side of the engine (could be a 4x4-only arrangement). Also, this truck is very heavy. You most likely cannot use any of your standard lifting equipment or vehicle ramps with it. The actual curb weight for these is often around 6000-8000 lb.'s (discard manufacturer "shipping weight," it's useless), and would crush that stuff like a beer can (I...um...tried this once. I wasn't thinking!).
I'm sure I'll think of more over time, and hope you know a little more about this type of truck than you did. I'm surprised that as of this posting, there wasn't a review up for it yet. I tried to put in Wiki links where relevant, but the browser didn't like it.
Edit (2/4/09): I think it's a shame this vehicle doesn't have any pictures or a thumbnail. I've uploaded a couple of mine to Imageshack. I'm sure they'll eventually dissapear from inactivity or bandwidth limits, but for as long as they last (Edit2: Apparently both IE and Chrome can't make hyperlinks with this software...)
Edit (2/9/09): As requested, some subject headers have been added or highlighted where relevant. Chrome and IE won't make it bold...trying Firefox.
Edit (11/14/2010): Added various engine-related and gas vs diesel bits due to increased knowledge and experience.