Given the EPA's full frontal assault on diesel-powered anything and the exhaustive scrutiny it applies to diesel-engine certification in the wake of Volkswagen's Dieselgate scandal, it's a wonder this oil-burning 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 exists at all. Even more remarkable is that, once the Chevy arrives in dealerships later this year, each of the Big Three truckmakers will have a light-duty diesel option.
With this new diesel, Chevy now offers five different engines for its half-ton cash cow. And this one's good. The turbocharged and intercooled 3.0-liter inline-six twists out 460 lb-ft of torque at 1500 rpm and makes a respectable 277 horsepower. The aluminum-constructed powerplant uses a variable-geometry turbo, air-to-liquid intercooling, and a new low-pressure exhaust-gas recirculation system to boost efficiency and responsiveness. And this engine is mighty smooth, thanks to the inherent balance of its inline-six configuration and because it's mated to General Motors' 10-speed automatic transmission featuring a mass-damper-equipped torque converter. Yes, this means that the 3.0-liter diesel manages not to shake Chevy's moneymaker to pieces.
We drove the Silverado 1500 Duramax in and around central Oregon's valleys, exploring the outer reaches of prudence to maximize fuel efficiency and to experience the truck in a way no sane person ever will. The result was fuel economy that no one is likely to reproduce-an OPEC-enraging 40.6 mpg in highway driving, according to the truck's onboard computer. To achieve this feat, however, we kept speeds below 60 mph, left the air conditioning off (and soaked our clothes with sweat in the process), folded the side mirrors, shifted manually, and applied only butterfly kisses to the accelerator pedal.
Parsing the (Available) Data
So, we know the results of hypermiling this pickup. What we don't know yet is the results of the EPA's fuel-economy testing of the new Duramax engine. As of this writing, Chevy is awaiting final EPA certification for the engine, which means it's still subject to additional tweaks in calibration to reach compliance. And, as other manufacturers have learned, that can be a risky proposition that will sometimes force them to choose between offering a vehicle that drives the way they want but doesn't produce the fuel economy they need or vice versa. We'll let you know when we know.
We do have figures on that other critical measure of diesel-engine performance: towing capacity. The Chevy's max tow rating is 9300 pounds, on par with that of the light-duty pickup from Ram (9290 pounds) but a considerable amount below the diesel Ford F-150's (11,500 pounds). The half-ton Silverado diesel is also out-tugged by the company's own 6.2-liter gas V-8, which can drag up to 13,400 pounds. The diesel can match that small-block's price, though. Both engines command $2495 upcharges compared to the 5.3-liter gas V-8 on LTZ and High Country trims (on lesser trims, the 5.3 is a $1395 option itself). And, of course, we expect that the 3.0-liter diesel will deliver better fuel economy than the 6.2-liter. So there's that.
Otherwise, this diesel-powered Silverado is just like other Silverados, for better or worse. It carries the same suspect interior materials and exhibits the same busy ride that banished the Silverado to last place in our most recent comparison test of half-ton pickups. But the 2020 model year brings several new options that will help its case, including adaptive cruise control and the 15 camera views introduced on the GMC Sierra 1500 earlier this year. That system, which is helpful in avoiding trailering pitfalls, can use two of the eight available cameras to produce a stitched-together image that essentially lets you see through the trailer.
But that camera system is available in other Silverados without the Duramax. Whether the diesel engine is a good value comes down to fuel economy and towing capability. The former awaits the EPA's blessing and our real-world testing, and the latter, well, it's hard to make a case for any engine option, diesel or not, that does less work for the same money.
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