Refined and quiet, Chevy’s inline-six attempts to make a case for the diesel half-ton pickup.
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 mostly 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 Data
So, we know the results of hypermiling this pickup. We also know that the efficiency of the 3.0-liter Duramax six is not quite as impressive in the real world: Back in Michigan, an all-wheel-drive Silverado 1500 LTZ crew cab, with the Z71 Off-Road and Protection package, 20-inch wheels, and a 3.23:1 axle ratio, returned 26 mpg on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy loop, which is 1 mpg better than what a comparable 2020 Ram 1500 Limited with its optional EcoDiesel V-6 managed. Predictably, this is still shy of the EPA’s 29-mpg highway driving estimate. We averaged 23 mpg in the 5653-pound Silverado, which matches its official city estimate. For additional comparison, an all-wheel-drive, extended-cab Silverado 1500 with the new turbo 2.7-liter inline-fouraveraged 16 mpg with us and posted an 18-mpg return on our highway fuel-economy test.
The Chevy’s maximum tow rating is 9300 pounds, which is good yet still a considerable amount below the max ratings of the light-duty diesel pickups from Ram (12,560 pounds) and Ford (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).
The 1500 Duramax is easily outgunned by the 6.2-liter V-8–powered model, which bolts to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds and covers the quarter-mile in 13.9 seconds at 100 mph. The diesel model’s 7.1- and 15.5-second efforts in those measurements, the latter at 88 mph, also notably trail those posted by an extended-cab model fitted with the 5.3-liter V-8. Still, the diesel six feels plenty powerful and refined in day-to-day driving. And compared to similar diesel half-tons from Ford and Ram, our Duramax test truck is the fleetest of the bunch, beating both of its competitors to 60 mph by more than half a second.
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, though maybe GM has listened to some of our criticism and introduced a running change because this most recent loaner rode much better than we remember. That or our memory isn’t what it used to be. Either way, the 2020 model year brings several new options that 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 is pretty decent in the broader context of half-ton pickups, though still not as good as we hoped for. 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.