Diesel engines have practically disappeared from the passenger car market – in part because of regulatory compliance costs that have hurt their cost-to-benefit ratio. They’re more expensive to manufacturer; and they’re not as fuel-efficient as they used to be.
Diesel fuel also costs about 30 cents more per gallon than regular unleaded – also because of regulatory compliance costs.
All of these factors have eroded the economic case for diesel engines in cars.
But they’re making a big comeback in the light truck department, where other considerations – such as towing grunt and being able to drive without stopping to refuel for a long time are desirable attributes, regardless of the price of fuel.
Ford and Dodge (Ram) already offer diesel engines in their half-ton trucks, the F-150 and Ram 1500.
And now the Chevy Silverado does, too.
What It Is
The Silverado, like the F-150 and Ram 1500 (and the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra) is a full-size truck available in regular, crew and double cab configurations – and with three different bed lengths and in several dozen different trim/package combinations.
Prices start at $28,300 for a base 2WD regular cab Work Truck with an eight foot foot bed and a 4.3 liter gas V6, paired with a six-speed automatic. This truck isn’t a stripper with metal floors and no gauges.
A top-of-the-line High Country 4×4 crew cab with a 6.2 V8 and a ten-speed automatic stickers for $59,295. This one comes with a powered tailgate – up and down – heaters (and leather) for all the seats, deploying and retracting running boards, an upgraded 8-inch touchscreen, 4G in-vehicle WiFi and a 20 inch wheel/tire package.
In between are Custom, LT, RST (on-road sport) and Trail Boss (off road) trims, the latter with a factory-installed two inch lift kit.
And the really big news:
A 3.0 liter turbo-diesel six is now available optionally as part of a bundled package that includes a heavy-duty six-speed automatic transmission calibrated for the diesel, high-output alternator and battery, heavy-duty cooling, an engine block heater and a 3.23 axle ratio.
The price varies from $2,495-$3,890 – depending on which trim you start out with.
In addition to the diesel engine, the ’20 Silverado is also available with adaptive cruise control and an updated trailer-towing system that transmits 15 different close-circuit camera images to the LCD display inside the truck.
Extensive use of aluminum for exterior body panels (hood, doors, tailgate) has reduced the Silverado’s curb weight by more than 400 pounds.
Chevy buyers no longer have to buy a Ford or a Ram to get a diesel.
Most powerful diesel in the class.
Highest highway mileage in the class.
Lane Keep Assist and other driver “assists” are still optional.
Diesel engine isn’t available with the regular cab/Work Truck Silverado. You have to buy a four-door (extended or crew cab) Silverado and then a more expensive LT or higher trim before you can buy the diesel engine.
Lowest tow rating (9,300 lbs.) in the class.
Aluminum panels shave weight but are easier to hurt – and more expensive to fix – than steel.
The Silverado offers the widest range of engines in the class. Five of them – ranging from a turbocharged 2.7 liter four cylinder – the only four cylinder engine in the class – to the biggest V8 in the class – a 6.2 liter, 420 horsepower asphalt-ripper borrowed from the current Corvette that can get this full-sized pick-up to 60 on the heels of a Corvette.
In between are the standard 4.3 liter gas V6 without a turbo, a mid-sized 5.3 liter V8 and the new-for-2020 3.0 liter diesel six with a turbo.
Back in 2000, the 4.3 V6 made 200 horsepower – just for the record.
This engine can be paired with 4WD – but Chevy really sticks it you. The price jumps from $28,300 for the 2WD version to $32,900 for the same truck with 4WD.
That’s what you call an upsell – especially since a truck without 4WD is like a cheeseburger without the cheese. At least McDonald’s doesn’t ask for $4 extra for the slice. Still, the 4.3 V6 is one of the best truck engines around. It’s not an overhead cam engine and it’s not a car engine. It shares its origins with Chevy’s long-serving family of small block V8s, which have been running reliably since the late 1950s in millions of Chevy vehicles. It’s just a shame that Chevy won’t sell you one with 4WD for $30k or less.
So why did Chevy?
For the sake of “better gas mileage.” Which might be a sell if the mileage was a lot better – and the price were lower.
But they’re not.
The V6/2WD Silverado manages 16 city, 21 – reasonable mileage for a big truck; it’s actually about the same mileage you’d get out of a full-size minivan.
With the turbo’d four (and an eight-speed automatic) the figure rises – feebly- to 20 city, 23 highway. Which feeble gain is washed away by the much higher cost of the Silverado equipped with this engine. And the likelihood or at least potential of much higher repair costs when something expensive hanging off this hugely complicated little engine sticks it blued tongue out at some point down the road.
Chevy won’t even sell you this engine in the regular cab/Work Truck version; the only optional engine available with that combo is the mid-range 5.3 V8 (355 hp and 383 ft.-lbs. of torque) which you can buy for a much more reasonable $1,395 extra.
The four – which only makes 310 hp and 348 ft.-lbs. of torque – requires stepping up to the double cabs, which start at $32,200 for a 2WD model. Adding 4WD boosts the MSRP to $35,500.
The new 3.0 liter diesel produces 277 hp and 460 ft.-lbs. of torque – the power of a much larger gas V8 with a much smaller appetite.
Its 33 MPG capability (2WD versions) beats that of the much less powerful base 4.3 liter gas V6 by an impressive 13 MPG . . . while almost doubling its tow rating to 9,300 lbs.
Weirdly, though, the less powerful Ram 1500 and Ford F-150 diesels – 260 and 250 horsepower, respectively – are rated to pull more.
The Ford can handle 11,500 lbs. and the Ram 12,560 lbs.
There used to be a fair amount of difference between trucks – and between trucks and cars.
Some trucks rode – and handled – noticeably better (or worse) than others. And all trucks handled oafishly compared with cars.
That changed when people began driving trucks instead of cars. Which they began to do in the late ’80s, as the effects of government regulations began to felt in the design of new cars, which got much smaller and felt flimsier – which they were. They also shifted over to a front-wheel-drive layout, which was better for economy but terrible for ruggedness. You could hang a 5,000 lb. trailer on the bumper of a full-frame Olds Vista Cruiser with a Rocket 455 V8 up front and a cast iron axle out back – and not risk leaving something behind.
You couldn’t do that with a FWD K-car sportin a 2.4 liter “Hemi” mounted sideways up front.
So people shifted over to trucks (their enclosed-bed brethren, SUVs). And these were carpeted and sound-deadened and re-engineered to be easy for a sixteen-year-old girl to learn to drive in while also being able to do the work people still expected of trucks.
Today’s trucks ride better than most cars – having (like the big sedans and wagons of the past) the benefit of body-on-frame construction with rubber biscuits sandwiched in between, dissipating road shock before it penetrates the cabin space – and they handle almost as well. Their main limitation being they’re so huge that some of them is still entering the curve as the first part is leaving it.
That’s the main thing to know about the Silverado – and the others. They are as easy to drive as a Civic. Light, precise steering. No road/tire drone. On the open road, they are wonderful. You will feel like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character on the fo’c’sle of Titanic:
I’m the king of the world!
The only icebergs in this story is the poor forward visibility caused by the Chevy’s high-mounted, sharply angled windshield. This can be overcome by sitting up higher – but if you’re more than six-feet tall, there’s only so much vertical space you can exploit before hitting the headliner and even if you don’t, it may feel awkward – even if you can see better.
The width of this truck is such that it also takes up most of its lane, without much margin on either side of the painted lines. It needs a green and red lantern to port and starboard.
In its defense, all the current half-tons are like this – because today’s half-tons are dimensionally more like like yesterday’s three-quarter tons.
But so long as you’re aware of where you are in relation to where other things are, it’s startling how easy it is to maneuver these leviathans. And how quick they are. Of course, speed isn’t everything in a truck.
Diesel power is about being about to pull – and haul. The Silverado may not be able to drag as much behind it as its rivals, but with its tank topped off, it can go an incredible 600 miles before it has to stop for fuel. That’s farther than a Prius hybrid – and the Prius can’t pull almost 10,000 pounds.
The diesel also makes the right sounds for the situation. There’s a light burble at idle – and an audible whistle as the turbo boost wicks up.
And just like the Big Rigs, the Silverado’s diesel features a Jake Brake; you can use the engine’s compression to slow the truck on downhill runs – with attendant Big Rig sounds.
Rolling coal optional.
Truck buyers are sensitive people. You don’t want to upset them. The current redesign seems to have done just that.
Chevy recently lost its perennial slot as the second-best selling vehicle in the country (after the F-150) to the just-redesigned Ram 1500 – and the only obvious reason for that is the brickfaced, dumpster-emulating front clip Chevy hung on this thing. The grille’s too big; the headlights too small – though they produce plenty of light.
Which is a shame, because the rest of the truck is objectively better. An increase in wheelbase and length increases leg and cargo room (all cab styles) and there’s more cargo volume in the bed than other half-tons, achieved by widening the bed floor by almost seven inches.
If the face of this truck were as handsome as its dash, it’d probably still be number two. Straightforward analog/dial gauges; big air vents, easy to grab knobs and easy to use buttons. The LCD touchscreen is an accessory – not a necessity to operate essential functions.
As of this writing, the Silverado is the only half-ton truck that is available with a powered tailgate; you can also get a 120V power point in the bed.
Also, you don’t have to buy the Trail Boss to get the Z71 off-road equipment, including skid plates, locking differential, Rancho off-road shocks and Goodyear Duratec M/S tires. You can add this gear to any trim, even the base work truck.
However, only the Trail Boss gets the factory-installed two-inch lift kit.
The Silverado’s aluminum panels save weight – but add hidden costs. Aluminum is harder to repair than steel and so more expensive to repair.
This will inevitably be reflected in insurance costs, too.
Same issue with the Fiord F-150, incidentally – only more so, because all of its bodywork is aluminum.
The diesel also has to be doused with DEF – Diesel Exhaust Fluid – in order to pass muster with Uncle. This is a small cost, but it’s an annoyance – and it afflicts all the diesels you’re still allowed to buy. Think of Greta Thunberg.
Some good news:
All trims come with automated stop-start, however.
But there is an Off button.
The Bottom Line
Because the Silverado is currently number three, Chevy dealers will likely be eager for your business.
That means you stand to make a better deal on a new Silverado.
Assuming you can handle that face.
. . .
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