POWELL BUTTE, Oregon—Chevrolet’s shuttle driver stops at a hanger at a private airfield located in the middle of unending fields of alfalfa. There’s a massive door, and I can’t help but wonder if I’m about to be in one of Chevy’s “real people” testimonials. In a way, I suppose I am, but it’s actually the media launch for the new 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax diesel and Silverado 2500 and 3500 HDs. Inside the hanger, there’s a 3500HD hooked up to a gigantic anvil, a cone course, and a Top Gear–style leaderboard with mpg figures.
But rather than as a set to pretend to love Chevys in an ad, this structure serves as our base for testing the new Silverado variants. We can’t tell you about the HDs for a couple of days, but let’s discuss the new light-duty offering, the Silverado 1500 equipped with a fresh Duramax 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, shall we?
The engine is for now unique to this model, and will be available in extended- and crew-cab LT, RST, and LTZ trims, as well as the crew-cab-only High Country, for premiums of $3,890 over the base turbocharged four-cylinder (where applicable) and $2,495 over the 5.3-liter V-8. Its cylinders aligned as they are in a row, it’s hard not to get excited. While this engine is no BMW S54 or Toyota 2JZ—it is a diesel, after all—inline-sixes are known for their inherent stability and silky smoothness, and finding one under the hood of another American vehicle warms my heart. (Ram’s Cummins diesels are straight-sixes, too.)
Chevrolet says it engineered this new powerplant from a clean sheet of paper, and that it packaged it specifically for the Silverado 1500. It produces 277 horsepower at 3,750 rpm and a stout 460 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 rpm. This translates to brisk acceleration on the open road and passing power that remains steady even at the higher end of the 50-to-70-mph range.
Among the trucks we drove was a low-spec diesel with rear-wheel drive and a tonneau cover over the bed, the idea being to achieve as high an mpg figure as we could. I achieved an impressive cluster-indicated average of 44.7 mpg, although we didn’t have any payload or trailer and, well, were hypermiling. Official EPA numbers aren’t available as of this writing, but figure something in the 28-to-30-mpg range on the highway.
Speaking of towing, while we tugged some stuff with the 2500HD and 3500HD—again, more to come on that later—we were only able to do unladen loops with the Duramax. For what it’s worth, Chevy says the Silverado 1500 diesel can pull up to 9,300 pounds. But we ruminated on that only until we saw the gorgeous scenery of the mid-Oregon countryside. As we swung the Silverado’s humongous grille through the high desert, the engine was quiet enough to make one forget diesel clatter is even a thing. In fact, even at idle, the Duramax is so quiet one would be forgiven for thinking it was a gas engine.
The 10-speed automatic transmission, which Chevrolet says it has worked to refine since the unit’s initial deployment, provides smart, crisp shifts. When we called upon the engine for more power, it clicked down to the right gear without hunting and let us get going without delay. And while the turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel fades into the background during highway cruising, it has a delectable purr under full-throttle acceleration.
Although the diesel-equipped Silverado 1500 is a bit heavier than the V-8 model due to required exhaust-scrubbing urea-injection equipment, it still felt nimble enough for a truck when the roads got twisty. The Z71 package, which includes a revised suspension, was the best-handling of the bunch, but these are pickups, not sports cars. If the steering and brakes are reasonably responsive and the overall feel you get is one of control and capability, it’s a win. The Chevy falls in that category, and often drives smaller than it actually is, which is a boon when wheeling something this massive (its hood is practically at eye level).
Additional technology updates made to the light-duty Silverado 1500 for 2020 include adaptive cruise control and trailering tech passed down from the HD lineup. The latter encompasses a new “invisible trailer” display, which composites views from multiple cameras to render what’s hitched to the truck transparent, the better to see what you’re backing toward. In addition, a new In-Command function allows you to control various features of your trailer (if compatible) via the infotainment screen or an app, such as turning on the A/C in an RV prior to getting to the campground.
On this first impression, the Silverado 1500 diesel has the powertrain chops to go toe-to-toe with the diesel version of Ford’s best-selling F-150 and the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, but overall sales of the Chevy trailed each of those overall model lines in the first quarter this year. (Ford delivered 214,611 F-Series trucks to Ram’s 120,026 and Chevrolet’s 114,313.) But intangibles such as styling, features, and daily drivability are playing an increasingly important role in the truck world, and Ford and especially Ram seem to have it on the Chevy right now. (The 2020 Ram diesel can tow up to 12,560 pounds, too.) But this expansion and update to the Silverado lineup could make things interesting. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the sales charts, to be sure.
2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Specifications
|PRICE||$46,000/$54,500 (base/as tested, est)|
|ENGINE||3.0L DOHC 24-valve inline-6 turbo-diesel; 277 hp @ 3,750 rpm, 460 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD truck|
|L x W x H||231.8–241.2 x 81.2 x 75.4–75.6 in|
|WEIGHT||4900–5100 lb (est)|