First Drive: 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD
For better or worse Chevy offers a truck that still feels like a truck.
THE PROS & CONS
- What's Good: Simplicity
- What's Bad: Ride and Interior plastics
BEND, OREGON – How was the 6.6? Well, it seemed to have plenty of torque. No, not the diesel, the gas one. Oh. That was the conversation I heard over and over at dinner after our drive ended for the day. Because for 2020, Chevrolet has given the Silverado HD a brand new gas engine. With the same displacement as the diesel. Could they have fudged that number a bit, like Ford did for years with the 5.0, and Mercedes did with the AMG models before they started doing it with everything in their lineup?
Sure they could have. But they didn’t. Was it a bad marketing choice, or was it honesty? We got to drive the brand new Silverado HD in the high desert of Oregon to try and find out.
This new Silverado is an all-new truck, and it doesn’t share many bits with the light duty 1500 model. The only shared sheetmetal, for example, is the roof. Bigger axles (including a 12-inch ring gear) a stronger frame, stronger drive shaft, you get the idea.
There are two engine choices for 2020, and neither of them is shared with any 1500 model. The 6.6L Duramax diesel V8 returns this year with 445 hp and 910 lb-ft of torque. There’s an all-new 10-speed automatic behind this monster, which means that even though it doesn’t have the highest torque number on the spec sheet, it’s able to put it to good use on the road. There’s a functional hood scoop for the air intake, that comes with an easy-open water drain and debris clear-out. There’s a 28-inch cooling fan. And the engine can even re-start and run after you get out so that it’ll cool down when you’ve been working hard.
It’s not as quiet as the new light-duty diesel, but frankly, in this class, buyers probably don’t want it to be. You’ll see a single tear roll down the cheek of a Chevy emissions engineer the first time one is inevitably modified to roll coal. It does, however, provide enough shove and enough gears to make our crew-cab tester, and this is tough to say, sprightly. A few months ago, I first spent time in the new Ram HD and thought that even though it offered 1,000 lb-ft, it felt sluggish. Not the case with this Silverado HD.
The transmission is nearly transparent, too. Quick shifts and no searching for gears. Even at low speeds with the single cab dually at max tow capacity. You felt the trailer back there, but it wasn’t straining to get it moving, keep it moving, or stopping the load. Unloaded, it was even better.
GM calls that real-world performance and says that the Silverado is better at it. They claim that at 7.4-seconds to 100 km/h, the Silverado 3500 diesel dually is a full two seconds quicker than the similar Ram. With 8,200 kg hanging off the back, it’s quicker still in the comparison. 19.9 vs 22.5 seconds for the same run.
The second engine is an all-new 6.6L gas V8. Designed as a truck engine, it makes 401 hp and 464 lb-ft of torque. It’s definitely not as sprightly as the diesel, and it’s not a whole lot quieter, either. The 2500 gas tester we had could haul a 12,000 lb trailer (2,500 lbs less than its max capacity) without issue, even at our 2,000 metre altitude, but it didn’t seem all that excited to do it. The six-speed auto would let the engine rev, and would downshift to maintain speed on some very steep grades with that trailer along, but it was never quiet about it. It wasn’t the scream that’ll make you cringe of some older gas models, but it was a stark contrast to the diesel. So was the fuel economy, with our mountainous test route sending the gauge to worse than 25 L/100 km.
On the road, the new Silverado HD isn’t going to convince you it’s a car, but it definitely rides and drives more like a light-duty than the HDs of old. Loaded, the truck settles out and feels happier on the road. Less bed shake and less of the skipping across bumps feel that these big trucks suffer from.
And this is a big truck. At 6,349 mm long, our crew cab standard box truck is 264 mm longer than last year. And 35 mm wider, meaning that I’m cringing every time I approach one of the myriads of cyclists trying to climb these mountains. It’s 40 mm taller overall, including the massive hood that makes me extra glad to have a nose view as part of the 15 camera view array that’s available.
It’s not the soft ride of the new Ram HD’s air suspension, but big truck buyers should be happy with the level of on-road refinement.
Towing and payload are the raison d’etre of the HD truck, and the Silverado offers up the biggest number of them all. A dual-rear wheel 3500 HD regular cab diesel can handle 16,102 kg. That’s about 200 kg more than anything else. Interstingly, Chevrolet has made tow ratings simple. There’s a sticker on the cab that shows exactly what your particular truck can do. But you don’t need to hunt through the options list to find the right truck for your trailer or gear.
The competition has tow ratings that can vary by thousands of kg. A 2019 Ram 3500 4×4 Crew Cab long box dually can have a diesel tow rating ranging from 8,922 kg to 15,481 kg depending on axle ratio and other tough to decipher option boxes. The similar spec Silverado 3500 is 14,243 kg. Period. There, easy.
It’s those max-weight trucks that have the widest gap, too. The only differences for the HD Silverados are fuel and cab size. Instead of cab, box, differential, trim, and other details that can have two same-looking trucks from other brands with tow ratings that vary by thousands of kilos. GM says their trucks will handle the same weight trailer regardless of altitude, while Ford suggests lowering max capacity when you’re sky high.
The Silverado HDs can be had with 15 camera views that let you see over, under, sideways, down, and even inside and through your trailer. The view that uses an accessory camera on the trailer along with the two mirror cameras lets you see “through” your trailer. It’s almost enough to make you forget its back there. The mirror cameras are mounted in the base of the mirrors, too, on the cab. Not out in the mirror itself where it could get damaged if you forgot just how far out the tow mirrors protruded and how close your garage doors were.
In the box are 12 fixed and nine movable tie-down points, plus an available 120-v power outlet. The box corner steps are bigger and are joined by a second set ahead of the rear wheels. So you can get stuff in the front of the box. They’re designed to fit size 13 work boots, and I can confirm that they offer plenty of grip for my size 12 sneakers. Something that last year’s model could not. They can support around 250 kg of worker in those boots and the gear they’re lugging in and out of the box, too.
Half of the drive was in Custom trim trucks, the other in High Country. Which spans almost the full breadth of Chevy’s offerings. From second to lowest to fully loaded. The cloth-seat Custom trim was an interesting beast. Offering a front bench seat with seating for three-wide instead of the center console that’ll fit a small horse that the High Country truck got. Cloth seems a bit out of place in a truck that’ll likely be the best part of $70,000 with the diesel – pricing hasn’t been released yet, so that’s based on the old one – but it’s more comfortable, and likely more durable than the leather. Not that there’s anything wrong with the hide chairs in the High Country.
This is a massive cab, and if you’ve seen the light-duty Silverado, it’ll look familiar to you. It seems to be identical. Though with even more room for back-seat passengers than the smaller one. At least for the crew cab this is more legroom than anything short of a LWB luxury sedan. Even some of those would come up short here.
It’s a functional dash, with the many buttons well laid out and easy to use. Even with work gloves on. But in a cab this big, the infotainment system screen looks small. Easy to use, and responsive, but somewhat lost in the acres of hard plastic that makes up the center stack. While we expect loads of plastic in what is ultimately a work vehicle, some of those bits looked somewhat flimsy. And felt and sounded very flimsy. The housing for the ventilated seat button in the top-trim truck flexed a good centimetre with normal finger presses, making a decidedly un-trucklike sound when it did so.
There are plenty of USB ports front and rear, including USB-C. The truck also has an app that can let you monitor your truck and trailer remotely. That works through the dash, too, letting you use optional tire pressure and temperature sensors to monitor trailer rubber, do a light-check solo, and even store trailer miles and maintenance info.
Chevrolet says that the 2020 Silverado HD offers more real-world performance. That’s that honesty that probably led them to use the same displacement for both engines. The spec sheet shows simplified trailer towing capacity choices. That’s real-world. The diesel is quicker than sports cars from 20 years back, even if it weighs three tons. That’s real-world performance. It might not offer the luxury cabin materials of the Ford Superduty or the tacky but delightful details that fill the Ram, but for better or worse it offers a truck that still feels like a truck. With a whole load of trailer towing camera tech added on.