Driving the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500's Baby Duramax: It's Smooth, Baby

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Exterior

Cars.com photos by Evan Sears

By Aaron Bragman

It's been a long time coming, but it's finally here: a light-duty 3.0-liter Duramax diesel engine under the hood of the half-ton 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pickup truck. I drove two different trucks at a Chevrolet media introduction in Bend, Ore.: a high-volume LT double-cab two-wheel-drive mpdel with no passengers or load, and a sportier RST crew-cab four-wheel-drive truck with four passengers and luggage. (Per our ethics policy, Cars.com pays for its own lodging and airfare at such automaker-sponsored events.)

Related: Baby Duramax Diesel Makes 277 hp, 460 Torque in Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra

GM's light-duty diesel was supposed to be here for the 2019 model year, but development of the oil-burner compression engine took a little longer than planned, and now it arrives in fall 2019 as a 2020 model. GM's take on the light-duty diesel is different than the scheme over at Ram or Ford: Chevy comes to market with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine, while those trucks use 3.0-liter diesel V-6 engines. The Silverado cranks out 277 horsepower and a hefty 460 pounds-feet of torque, besting the Ford F-150's 3.0-liter Power Stroke, which manages 250 hp and 440 pounds-feet of torque; the Ram EcoDiesel makes 260 hp and 480 pounds-feet of torque.

Silverado 1500 Diesel Drive Is a Smooth Operator

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Under the Hood

The operative word for the Chevy inline-six is smooth, from startup to cruising and everything in between. Fire up the motor and it settles into a quiet, decidedly diesel-sounding yet not unpleasant cadence that reminds you that it's not a conventional gasoline engine. Power comes on in a surge, but what most astonishes is the complete absence of turbo lag or hesitation on accelerator application. Unlike the 2.8-liter four-cylinder Duramax found under the hood of the Chevrolet Colorado mid-size pickup, throttle response for the 3.0-liter I-6 happens proportionately to the application of the accelerator pedal — and does so exactly when you ask for it, not a half-tick behind your foot. In this way it feels rather unlike most other pickup truck diesel engines I've driven. There's no drivability deficit with the diesel here; it behaves in ways that make it a delight to drive.

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 3.0-Liter Diesel Engine

Silverado 1500 Diesel MPG: Astonishing?

My initial stint in the LT double cab was to participate in a maximum fuel economy loop of about 30 miles, which is of course not a long enough loop to truly judge fuel economy, but it did give us some idea of the 3.0-liter Duramax's fuel economy potential. I managed 38.1 mpg according to the Silverado's onboard computer, but other media members attending the drive posted even better numbers, with more than a few attendees showing north of 41-45 mpg. At average speeds of 45-50 mph, that's an astonishing number. By an equally statistically insignificant comparison, my jaunt in a Ford F-150 diesel returned 27.4 mpg over a roughly 10-mile loop. A longer stint of more than 70 miles in a 4WD Silverado 1500 RST crew cab that was not being driven like a Prius, and that had four people and luggage on-board, turned in 33.8 mpg, according to the trip computer, still an extraordinary number for a full-size half-ton pickup.

What's the official EPA fuel economy number for the Duramax? At the time of publishing, we still don't know. Chevrolet says that it knows what those numbers are, but apparently isn't ready to share the EPA's official rating yet. This would suggest that there's more tweaking going on before the official announcement, or that perhaps internal targets aren't quite being met, or that the EPA just doesn't have its act together. Chevy did present a graph of its internal testing results showing that the Duramax could achieve 40 mpg at 50 mph for a 2WD model or 35.9 mpg for a 4WD truck at the same speed. By comparison, Chevy's testing of a Ford F-150 with its 3.0-liter Power Stroke V-6 returned 31.3 mpg on the same loop, but we're not generally inclined to trust an automaker to present us accurate test numbers for a competitor vehicle.

Silverado 1500 Diesel Towing Capacity

The new official number we can tell you about is the Silverado 1500's 3.0-liter Duramax maximum tow rating: 9,300 pounds. That's well less than the Ford's maximum tow rating of 11,400 pounds, but the Ford rating is a ridiculous rating for a half-ton pickup to begin with; the Ram EcoDiesel is rated at 12,560 pounds. Plus, our test-drive of the Ford F-150 Power Stroke with a trailer half that heavy presented performance problems we still need to test for rectification.

Unfortunately, Chevrolet did not provide towing opportunities for the 3.0-liter Duramax, so a report on how well the truck tows will have to wait for a test later this year.

Chevy's new diesel engine is wonderful, and presents a compelling alternative to the company's optional 6.2-liter V-8. You can get the diesel on LT, RST, LTZ and High Country trims, and it's priced comparably to that monster V-8 engine, so it's definitely a premium option. It'll run you $3,890 more than the base turbocharged 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine or $2,495 more than the optional 5.3-liter V-8. Frankly, I'd pick one over the 6.2-liter — the combination of bountiful torque when you need it and stellar fuel economy when you don't is hard to resist, and its refined character all around makes it an easy choice.

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2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Grille Closeup

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax Badge

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Front End

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Side View

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Rear Profile

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Rear End

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Taillights

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Undercarriage

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Undercarriage Closeup

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Cockpit

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Front Row Interior

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Steering Wheel

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Center Console

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Rear Seat Interior

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel Rear Seat Folded Up

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