The diesel emissions scandal that enveloped Volkswagen a few years back has done a lot to tarnish “oil burners.” After gaining traction in the early part of the decade, a number of manufacturers have walked away from the high-mileage powertrain technology. There are a few exceptions, such as Mazda’s new SkyActiv-D, but the real energy, if you will, is concentrated in the pickup truck segment where there are more diesel options than there have been in decades.
The list will soon include the bowtie brand which is introducing its first full-size, light-duty model in more than twenty years. And the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel is a package that a lot of potential buyers are likely to take seriously.
No, it doesn’t have the raw, stump-pulling power of the 6.6-liter Duramax that also will make it to market this coming year in the all-new Silverado HD, with its 910 pound-feet of torque and maximum 35,500 pounds of towing capacity. That said, at 277 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, the new 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbodiesel is no slouch.
It’s also surprisingly quiet, quite smooth and, as we discovered during a drive in the open countryside surrounding Bend, Oregon last week, 30 miles a gallon is not difficult to obtain.
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While the Silverado HD is getting most of the attention this coming model-year, the 1500 is still a relatively new offering and, with the new High Country package, it is now available in more variants than ever, a total of eight distinct trim levels. Though it faces plenty of competition from the also-new Ram 1500, Chevy has a lot to be boastful about, including features like the industry-first power up/down liftgate.
For 2020, meanwhile, the 1500 also gets something it should have had from launch, radar-powered active cruise control that lets you set a desired speed and which then adjusts your forward progress to match that to the traffic ahead. A new trailering system borrowed from the Silverado HD line also becomes available.
That’s a real plus. For one thing, the multi-camera system offers a variety of different views that let you know precisely what’s happening with your trailer, including “Transparent Trailer” mode in which you look at the big infotainment screen and see an image that appears to be looking right through the trailer, as if it were made of glass. The system also can access a variety of information about the trailer.
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The 2020 diesel, meanwhile, will certainly expand the light-duty model’s appeal. It’s the first time Chevy has offered an oil-burner in the 1500 line since 1999, and the new six makes significantly more power and torque than that old V-8, at just 215 hp and 440 lb-ft. It also brings all that power to bear quite quickly, delivering nearly all of its torque – 95%, to be precise – at just 1,250 RPMs. And, as we discovered in Bend, at an altitude of about 3,600 feet, the turbo keeps pulling at whatever your elevation, unlike old, naturally aspirated diesels.
One of the most impressive things we experienced during an afternoon drive was the smoothness of the new package. From behind the wheel there is none of the rattle and noise you’d expect from older diesels. As our drive partner noted after the run, you’d be hard-pressed to even know you were in a diesel as you cruise down the highway.
It helps that the 3.0-liter diesel is paired to Chevy’s new 10-speed gearbox. That automatic transmission is silky smooth with nearly transparent shifts. More importantly, it doesn’t hunt-and-seek, trying to find the right gear, all the time as some competing eight, nine and 10-speed boxes are prone to do.
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Though Chevy isn’t ready to release key numbers, including fuel economy and acceleration, a wristwatch test suggests the 1500 Diesel will hit 60 in around 9 seconds. During a competition among journalists, some of the diesels pulled crazy mileage numbers, one hitting more than 46 mpg. That took real effort – and the willingness to drive with windows up and AC off on an 80 degree afternoon. But our own drive, with climate control on, came in at 46.4 mpg. In the real world, and everyday driving, we expect the EPA will give the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado Diesel a highway number of somewhere just under 30.
The diesel engine will be offered on a variety of different Silverado trim levels. On lower-end models, the Silverado doesn’t have the refinement of the new Ram 1500, one reason why the Fiat Chrysler truck beat out its bow-tie rival last January to win honors as North American Truck of the Year. At the upper end, however, the pickup is reasonably well-equipped, reflecting the fact that buyers have been moving to larger cabins loaded with plenty of creature comforts – as well as useful work technology, such as that new towing package.
Tow capacity, not so incidentally, will come to a reasonable 9,300 pounds.
Should you buy the diesel? Several factors will come into play, including whether the fuel is available nearby. It’s far more common than a decade ago, but still can be tougher to find in some places than regular gasoline.
Then there’s the issue of cost. Expect a $2,495 step-up from the six-cylinder gas model – the same as you’d shell out for the Silverado 1500 V-8. In terms of drivability and towing capacity, it’s a good value. And, if our expectations about fuel economy prove accurate, it could save you more than what that initial premium comes to, especially if you’ll be clocking plenty of miles, towing a trailer or are plenty to keep the diesel model for a long time.
Chevy expects the diesel to account for about 10% of Silverado 1500 sales going forward, with truck marketing chief Sandor Piszar telling us there’s room to increase availability if the demand is there.
While diesels aren’t for everyone, we think that the attributes of the new oil-burner could win over more buyers than the automaker is expecting. It might have taken 20 years to figure things out but we think lots of buyers will be pleased by the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel.