The 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax diesel is the quiet-talking, big bet by GM

June 22, 2019

Chevy’s first light-duty diesel pickup comes just as the truckmaker slides into third place behind Ford and Ram in the lucrative race for more and more truck buyers. Through May 2019, Ram relegated Chevy from its longtime perch at No. 2, a relative blow to the bowtie brand whose second-place position was as reliable as the pickups themselves.

The answer? Perhaps the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500’s fuel-efficient turbodiesel inline-6, a newly developed engine from GM that took its time to arrive.

The much-anticipated diesel, which was delayed from the 2019 model year to 2020 to comply with higher scrutiny from the EPA in the noxious wake of the Volkswagen diesel scandal, makes Chevy the last of the Detroit truckmakers to offer a diesel in its light-duty pickup.

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 diesel

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 diesel

“We prefer to be very, very sure, and we are, that everything has been done properly according to requirements, sometimes a little more than what is required,” Nicola Menarini, director for diesel trucks at Chevy, said about the EPA certification.

The 277-horsepower 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline-6 with a 10-speed automatic transmission churns out 460 pound-feet of torque at 1,500 rpm. Available on the top four of eight trim levels, the Duramax diesel is one of five engines (and three transmissions) offered in the redesigned Silverado. The turbodiesel costs the same as the 6.2-liter V-8, $2,495 more than the 5.3-liter V-8, $3,890 more than the 2.7-liter turbo-4 and the 4.3-liter V-6 the diesel may eventually replace.

But with a towing capacity of 9,300 pounds, the 3.0-liter Silverado diesel falls short of its own V-8 engines and the 12,560-pound capacity of the 2020 Ram 1500 turbodiesel and 11,400-pound capacity of the Ford turbodiesel.

While it has plenty of towing capability, the light-duty Duramax diesel was designed with another goal in mind.

DON'T MISS: Read our 2019 Chevrolet Silverado full review

“We did it for fuel economy,” Menarini said.

Official numbers won’t be out until closer to the diesel’s fall delivery date, but the initial figures were promising. At an early drive of the Chevy turbodiesel truck in June, other drivers pushed well over 40 mpg hypermiling at about 40 mph on the loping two-lane roads in the flowing skirts of the Three Sisters in the Cascade Mountain range.

I didn’t come close. The cabin was so quiet and insulated, I had to put down the windows and absolutely hammer the throttle to make sure it was a diesel. It accelerates from a stop like a much lighter vehicle, and cruises as soft and quiet as a crossover.

In a more fuel-conscious but real-world loop at about 52 mph and pausing for a brief construction delay, the diesel averaged about 34 mpg. The EPA rates Ford's engine at up to 30 mpg highway; the old Ram rates 27 mpg.

That could be a big enough difference to exceed Chevy’s sales expectations for the turbodiesel. Chevy said they expect 1 in 10 buyers to opt for the optional engine.

The powertrain impresses in all the right ways: It’s barely noticeable until you want it to be. Even under heavy throttle, it’s hard to discern the road noise from the engine noise.

“The 6-cylinder is naturally balanced and the combustion is really quiet because we have the latest and greatest for air management,” said Vincenzo Verdin, chief engineer of the diesel engine.

The inline-6 has lighter-weight, aluminum construction and reduced friction compared to a V-6 thanks to half the camshafts; there’s less mechanical complexity overall, and it should be easier to work on and should last longer. Additionally, cold weather drivers may appreciate active thermal management and ceramic glow plugs that heat the engine quicker.  

For all of the advanced technology under the hood, there is as much behind the wheel. All of the Silverado HD towing features and technology will move into 2020 Silverado 1500s, including the diesel.

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 diesel

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 diesel

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 diesel

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 diesel

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 diesel

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 diesel

The Advanced Trailering System uses eight available cameras to project 15 different camera angles. Three of the cameras would be in addition to the estimated $2,000 ATS package, including one in the trailer, one outside the trailer, and the camera-based rearview mirror available on select other GM models.

Even without those, there are eyes everywhere, including an excellent transparent trailer view that shows tailgaters you might not see otherwise. The side camera view, activated by steering wheel position or turn signal indicator, shows the blind spots on both sides, then calibrates it from a 50/50 view to 60/40 to 80/20 based on steering wheel position, so the view expands as you turn. Never clip a curb again. Maybe.

The hitch guidelines also display a single yellow tail that accurately captures if you’re over the ball. Pair that with the birds-eye hitch camera and trailering may be a one-man operation in the future. But if the truck rolls when put in park, no matter how little, then all is lost and the curse words flow. Chevy doesn’t want you to swear; the auto parking brake locks the vehicle in place when put into park. In several trial runs, these features neutralized the difference between amateur and expert in getting the hitch to the right spot.

READ NEXT: 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD to cost less than outgoing truck

For more peace of mind, there is a trailering checklist for newbies to use; a VIN label on the door sill indicating that specific vehicle’s towing capability, GCWR, and other essential towing info; and a trailer tire pressure monitoring system that reduces anxiety while towing.

While the diesel output might not have the best towing specs, the bed in the Silverado has the most cargo volume thanks to a bed wider by 7 inches. Chevy also boasts 12 fixed tie downs, nine moveable ones, an available power liftgate, and larger corner step bumpers.

The success of the diesel will come down to fuel economy. If Ram’s numbers are accurate and its steep incentives normalize, a more fuel-efficient Silverado might be enough to reclaim second place.

Chevrolet provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report. 

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