First drive: Heavy-duty diesel hauls 2020 Chevy Silverado HD to the front of the class

In the vast sweep of the country outside of cities, where the deer and the antelope play, Americans use heavy-duty trucks to tow their livelihoods and their toys. They are wealthy, they are working class; they tow fifth-wheel campers and gooseneck trailers; they tow race cars and watercraft, garage queens and showboats; they tow prized livestock and beloved horses; they tow earth machines and skid steers, diggers and dozers; they haul hay, and here, in the wide open valleys of the Cascade Mountains outside of Bend, Oregon, they tow alfalfa.

“Usually the thing they’re hauling is worth far more than the truck itself,” said Tim Herrick, executive chief engineer of Chevrolet Trucks. 

That wasn’t the case with the giant promotional anvil being towed earlier this month on a gooseneck by the Chevy Silverado 3500 HD Duramax diesel workhorse. The best-in-class towing capacity of 35,500 pounds, which is a 52 percent increase over the outgoing Silverado HD, was worth far more to heavy-duty customers than the prop made of Styrofoam and wood. 

The truck, which will arrive later this summer, is available in five different trims (Work Truck, Custom, LT, LTZ, and High Country) and costs at least $35,965 in base configuration.

The Silverado HD’s massive towing capacity in the endless game of one-upmanship in the cutthroat truck business was dwarfed by something else at the truck’s debut in February: the polarizing new look. 

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD

Locomotive breath

The HD was designed to stand out from the light-duty half-ton pickup truck. It’s 4 inches taller than the light duty, and the only shared sheet metal is the roof. It grows in length, width and height over the outgoing HD generation, adding nearly 3 inches of overall interior space in Crew Cab models, much of it benefits rear-seat riders who get nearly 3 inches of additional leg room, compared to the outgoing version. 

The giant vertical fascia with stacked lighting has been called everything from big and burly to the Griswold family truckster on steroids.

“These things need to look like what they’re pulling behind them,” Brian Izard, lead exterior designer for Silverado HD, told us at the foot of Mt. Bachelor, Oregon. “It looks like a locomotive pulling a train car behind it.”

Since the bed is lower and the nose 4 inches longer from the A-pillar forward, it looks much more streamlined in person than in photos. 

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD

Function precedes form as every opening is meant to cool the massive 6.6-liter V-8 gas and diesel engines, including the hood vent. The lighting, which is stacked like an inverted staircase, was pushed to the corners for maximum airflow. 

Those corners are important to where it matters most—for the driver’s outward vision.

“HD customers want to see the corners of the truck as they drive,” Izard said.  

They can also see what’s ahead, behind, overhead, side-to-side and pretty much anywhere else around the truck. 

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD

The 15th eye

The advanced trailering system uses eight available cameras to project 15 different camera angles. Two of the cameras would need to be installed inside the trailer and at the rear, while a third camera would be the rear mirror camera. Even without those, there are eyes everywhere, including an excellent transparent trailer view that shows tailgaters you wouldn’t be able to 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 you can see the trailer body and wheels while turning. Split-view angles, such as a birds-eye split with a front projection, help what you can’t see right in front, such as a parking block. 

Other exterior improvements across the 22 HD configurations include a bed step at the front of the bed to easier hook up a fifth wheel or move loads up. The corner steps are 75 percent larger, and the trailering mirrors are larger with new features including a forward-facing spot lamp when you don’t want to light up the entire work site or campground.

A power-folding tailgate on equipped models can be raised or lowered from inside the cabin, the key fob, or the pushbutton on the gate.

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD

The HD gets other unique features too, such as a relocated engine-block heater outlet integrated into the bumper on the driver’s side. It can be plugged in from the outside, so there’s no need to open the hood or run wires through the grille. Herrick said it’s easier to attach a snow plow without needing to drill additional holes in the bumper, but this was not demonstrated.

The interior of the Silverado HD was as underwhelming as the redesigned Silverado, leaving the trailering technology, bed upgrades and powertrain improvements as the most significant changes. 

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD

2500 HD gas versus 2500 HD diesel

The difference between the 401-horsepower 6.6-liter V-8 gas engine with 6-speed automatic transmission and the 445-horsepower 6.6-liter turbo diesel V-8 Duramax with 10-speed Allison automatic transmission is about $9,800 more across the five available trim levels.

The base Work Truck with a regular cab/long bed starts at $35,695, including mandatory destination charges of $1,595, which is $300 less than the outgoing base model. The top High Country with crew cab/ standard bed is $62,695. Options escalate from there.

The differences behind the wheels of the 2500 HD models largely comes down to the transmissions. Towing about 12,000 pounds uphill with the gas engine at an altitude of about 7,500 feet, the 6-speed has to hold gears longer and work harder to get the max 464 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. While coasting on the way down that same grade in tow haul mode, engine braking kept it at about 4,500 rpm until it leveled out. 

Pulling a load from a stop is no problem, thanks in part to the higher compression ratio and the increased displacement from 6.0-liters in the outgoing gas model. One hard brake event downhill before a 90-degree turn provided plenty of confidence to do it again.  

For the HD owner who tows regularly, the Duramax diesel is worth the upcharge. Off-setting the upcharge in an Oregon summer were prices of B20 biodiesel for $.50/gallon less than gas.

New and exclusive to the HD diesel, the 10-speed Allison transmission held its gear at about 3,500 rpm while towing 14,000 pounds on the same ascent and descent. Once we flattened out and had to resume accelerating, the 10-speed went through three smooth and subtle gear changes to hit the optimal range, whereas the gas engine battled through a single gear. 

Diesel acceleration with a full load took only a shrug to conquer a mountain. 

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD

3500 HD diesel

In brief test runs hauling the anvil in the Work Truck trim with a regular cab in rear-wheel drive and a bulldozer in the High Country trim with a crew cab with four-wheel drive, the 6.6-liter turbodiesel V-8 felt capable of conquering much more. All 910 lb-ft of torque is available in first gear of the all-new 10-speed Allison transmission exclusive to the diesel, so accelerating from a dead stop with a full load was easy. There’s no doubt when pulling out to cross a divided highway. 

This impression was backed up by the numbers. The unladen Silverado diesel dually hits 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, quicker than many crossovers.  

Chevy says every component between the transmission and the 17-inch wheels has been upgraded for the huge boost in towing capacity, including larger front and rear axles, a 12-inch ring gear, and larger diameter prop shafts so that every dually diesel will tow more than 30,000 pounds. 

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD

As important as towing capacity, hard braking in a straight line exceeded our expectations by tons, literally. It felt more like a pontoon than a bulldozer. While accelerating into coasting, there was some push-and-pull shuddering with all that weight, but the engine was quiet under all but heavy throttle.

Cooling the Duramax engine after hauling such heavy loads has gotten easier, too. The 28-inch diameter fan is 2.5-inches larger and can automatically cool the engine. Try to kill the engine after a long haul, then the auto-run feature will kick on and shut down once cooled.

If the diesel-powered heavy-duty truck is intended to power other machinery, a factory integrated, engine-driven power takeoff is available with the Allison 10-speed. 

The 3500 crew cab/ long bed with dual rear wheels starts at $42,495 in base Work Truck trim to $65,295 in top High Country trim.

In limited time towing near max loads with the 3500HD dually, which has a gross combined weight rating in regular cab of 43,500 pounds, we walked away in awe of how such a mighty machine can haul all that alfalfa.


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

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