With all the hubbub about Ram, Ford, and now Chevrolet offering light-duty diesel engines in their 1500 and 150 series trucks, it’s easy to forget it isn’t a new idea down at Chevy HQ. Up until 1999, you could get a turbodiesel V-8 in a Chevy 1500 truck that made, at its zenith, 215 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque. For the bowtie brand, then, the all-new 3.0-liter turbodiesel I-6 in the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 is old-hat.
It’s also an all-aluminum testament to engineering progress. That old cast-iron V-8 was a workhorse, but it couldn’t keep up with today’s tech. This new motor makes 277 hp and 460 lb-ft with two fewer cylinders and less than half the displacement. Thanks to modern turbocharger technology, 95 percent of that torque is in production at just 1,250 rpm, so the only time you’ll ever experience turbo lag is when you floor it at a stop. Nothing a little brake-torqueing can’t fix. Do it right, and you’ll hit 60 mph in roughly 8.7 seconds by the unscientific stopwatch (we’ll have a fully instrumented First Test as soon as possible).
If the Chevy hits 60 in just under 9 seconds, it would be even with the last Ram 1500 EcoDiesel we tested (a 2014 model—the next-generation EcoDiesel engine is not available yet) and over a second behind a Ford F-150 Powerstroke. We’ll reserve judgment until our test crew can get its hands on a Silverado 1500 Duramax diesel, but just know that the Chevy feels peppy from behind the wheel. Truck fans will argue numbers until the cows come home, but more important is whether the truck feels slow, and Chevy’s doesn’t. There’s a healthy surge of torque every time you touch the throttle, making the truck feel quick and agile around town and on the highway.
Making that possible is Chevrolet’s new 10-speed automatic, the exclusive pairing for this engine. Although it was co-developed with Ford, Chevy’s version suffers none of the drivetrain lash and clunky low-speed shifting of the F-150 diesel. The many gear changes are quick and smooth, and the ratios are tightly spaced so the engine is always in the heart of its power band and the transmission never has to hunt for the right gear.
Healthy power and smart gearing mean good fuel economy, too, though we’re still waiting to find out exactly how good. Mixed driving on country roads around central Oregon had the trip computer self-reporting a 28 mpg average, which would put it right on par with Ford and Ram. Official EPA numbers should be released soon.
Of course, the question remaining is how well it tows. As you may recall, we liked the F-150 diesel just fine until we tried to tow with it; we found it gutless at freeway speeds with less than 60 percent of its maximum rated tow weight on the hitch. Chevrolet didn’t provide us an opportunity to tow during this event, so we’ll have to wait until we get the truck back to HQ to see how it stacks up. We’re also looking forward to further testing all the latest towing aids Chevy is passing down from the Silverado HD, including the clever “Invisible Trailer” accessory camera system. This stitches together images from two cameras to make it look as if you can see through your trailer on the infotainment screen and the ASA InCommand app that lets you control various camper functions through the infotainment screen.
Whether or not it tows well, we can at least say the diesel hasn’t messed with the Silverado’s handling or ride quality. Silverados (and their GMC Sierra counterparts) steer and handle sharper than the F-150 and Ram 1500, and building the diesel out of aluminum means Chevy hasn’t added a bunch of weight to the nose (Chevy claims a 25 percent weight savings versus an iron-block six-cylinder diesel engine). That also means the ride quality isn’t any worse than gasoline models, which is faint praise considering the F-150 and especially the Ram ride better.
We’re less enamored with the brake pedal. It’s got very little travel, engaging the brakes lightly if you so much as breathe on the pedal, but then it goes wooden and takes a strong leg to get real, urgent stopping power.
Then there’s the matter of the interior. Props to Chevy’s noise engineers for getting the new diesel whisper quiet and maintaining a serene cabin, but the cabin itself still needs help. The mildly updated design lags well behind the Ram’s and F-150’s interiors, and the materials were clearly selected based on cost. The seats are a bit too firm and flat, and if you don’t buy a mid- to high-trim truck, all the missing features’ button blanks stare you right in the face.
You will, at least, be saving a little money, though. The cheapest F-150 diesel you can configure is an XLT, and even then, the diesel is a $4,995 option, putting the base price at $46,900. Undercutting Ford, Chevy has made its diesel the same price as its big gas V-8 option and will let you order it down to the LT trim level, putting the base price around $45,700 based on current pricing. Final EPA numbers and the towing experience will make or break the value equation.
With several key questions still up in the air, we’ll have more to say about the new 2020 Silverado 1500 diesel when we get an opportunity to test it further. In the meantime, our early impressions are solid.
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