The fellow driving our work-truck-white 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD Custom was clearly terrified—and when he didn’t slow down as the road ahead turned from perfectly-paved to gravel-over-dirt, so was I. In the back seat next to me, my wife started gesticulating for my attention. “He…” she silently mouthed, hoping I could understand, “is… using… his… left… hand… to… grip… the… assist… handle.” It was true. We were doing 60 miles per hour on a dirt road, with 12,000 pounds of trailer swaying behind us, and this dude was driving with one hand. About a mile into this ordeal, he slowed down and announced, to no one in particular.
“I’m ready to… not drive any more. I’m not really… into towing.” The other three passengers in the truck, self included, breathed a long and deep relief. Yet I had to admit that even at relatively high speeds, operated one-handed by an utter novice, with two and half times its own weight dragging behind it, our 6.6-liter V-8-powered Silverado HD had seemed almost eerily composed. No S-Class ever stormed down the autobahn with any more arrogant self-assurance than this three-quater-ton truck applies to loose surfaces and daunting loads.
Our preview for the 2020 Silverado HD, in both 6.6-liter gas V-8 and 6.6-liter V-8 Duramax Diesel configurations, took place on and around Oregon’s Mount Bachelor. Wikipedia says that this particular ex-volcano was once named Bachelor Butte; it was “upgraded” to mountain status so skiers would take it seriously. The same philosophy applies to the Silverado HD. Once upon a time, the three-quarter-ton and one-ton variants of Chevrolet’s bread-and-butter pickup looked much like their half-ton siblings—but then Ford proved that buyers truly, madly, deeply wanted to look “professional” on the open road. This is doubly true for recreational buyers, who tend to purchase the upscale LTZ and High Country variants. What’s the point in paying Lexus LS500 money for a one-ton diesel crew-cab 4x4 if it looks just like the $29,999 specials littering a Wal-Mart parking lot?
Thus, the nose—and everything else—of this new HD line. Only the roofline is shared with the half-tons; even the rear door is different, losing the characteristic “kick-up” line of the 1500 in favor of an industrial-looking square window. Your humble author is the owner of a 2017 Silverado LTZ, which puts approximately eighty-nine square feet of plastichrome into a grille configuration apparently intended to mimic the baleen grimace of a blue whale—but this new nose is too much even for me. Upscale variants ditch the “SILVERADO” warning across the front in favor of a big chrome bar. It does look different.
Still, I wonder if Chevrolet has perhaps not done enough to make its visual case. Much of the buying public appears to think that the 2019 pickup was a light refresh of its predecessor, an assertion furiously refuted by every GM engineer with whom I’ve spoken. “It’s…. ALL DIFFERENT, from the frame up!” one fellow sputtered.
“Okay, but it looks just like mine, except for the uglier face,” was my entirely unwelcome response. This is particularly true of the interior, which looks suspiciously like the one fitted to the previous generation. What can I say? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—and Chevrolet, to some degree is unable to fix it. Thirty years ago, the company chose a “horizontal” style for its trucks, in contrast with Ford’s “upright” design philosophy. Today’s 2020 Silverado HD has a clear visual link to a 1988 Chevy 1500; sleek, with interior and exterior design that mimics upscale automobiles. The problem is that today’s Fords and Rams look like big rigs. GM can’t go for the big-rig look without ditching that horizontal styling.
So while Ford scrunches its headlights and puts fist-sized knobs all over interiors filled with pseudo-ribbing, Chevy just continues with a passenger-car-style interior. I think it’s unpretentious and decent. Your opinion may vary. Where we will certainly agree, however, is on the matter of ride and handling. GM engineers at the event were defensive about the Short-Long-Arm suspension, claiming that it outlasts the Twin I-Beams and solid axles fitted to Super Duty Fords. How true that is, we can’t say—but there is an obvious improvement in comfort. These massive trucks ride and handle like luxury sedans, betrayed only by their load-rated tires. Unladen, the 2500 is better than my 1500. Loaded up, they inspire tremendous confidence.
The same is true of the powertrains. The Duramax Diesel has slightly less torque than the Cummins fitted to RAM trucks. Chevy claims that their trucks are faster anyway. They can certainly pull. My spouse, the club racer and ne’er do-well known as Danger Girl, tows her MX-5 Cup Car all over the place with a half-ton truck. Under the watchful eye of Chevy reps, she towed a 35,500-pound stack of steel plates around an airport with the dual-rear-wheel diesel. It was a party trick, for sure, like all the footage you see of pickup trucks towing jetliners. The proof was on the road, pulling 12,000 pounds behind the gas engine and 14,000 behind the diesel.
The new 6.6 small-block is a revelation, developing 401 horsepower and 464 pound-feet of torque. Think of it as an iron-block take on Chevrolet’s famous 6.2-liter Corvette and light-truck engines, although that’s an oversimplification. It has direct injection. When I asked Danger Girl to deliberately abuse the poor “six-six”, she decided to run it flat-out up Mount Bachelor pulling a front-end loader. Three minutes into the ordeal, with the tach pinned at 4k and speeds slightly climbing even in the face of a mountain grade, the Silverado called time—likely for transmission temperature. We were restricted to mid-throttle for about thirty seconds before full power was restored. It would be nice if you could get the 6.6, which is an absolute delight in freeway passing situations, with the super-trick 10-speed Allison transmission. A company representative declined to comment on this, but did not decline to wink at us on the subject.
You can have the 10-speed right now with the 6.6 Duramax diesel. It makes 445 horsepower and 910 pound-feet of torque. I find it hard to imagine a situation where this powertrain would prove inadequate. It hauled a massive concrete block up Mount Bachelor the same way my 6.2-liter 1500 hauls empty air up a freeway on-ramp. Quiet and almost vibration-free inside the cabin, this diesel is exceptionally well-mannered, particularly in comparison to the Ford PowerStroke.
Chevrolet is justifiably proud of its focus on towing, citing a membership in an RV manufacturers’ association and bragging about countless hours spent on R&D. Their tow-camera system, which utilizes several “eyes” that plug into the trailer hitch and are then placed around the trailer, is simply superb. You can see everything. There’s even an “invisible trailer” mode for the center dash screen that utilizes a bunch of computer trickery to turn full-sized RVs and car haulers transparent. You just use the screen as a rear-view mirror. Remember those signs on tractor-trailers? “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” No longer.
The breadth and depth of customer desires for these trucks—fleet buyers tend to take the mid-line LT trim, personal owners choose plain-jane Customs or cowboy-Cadillac High Country trims—means that the HD has to shine no matter how you spec it. We drove two extremes: a $47,000 gas-powered 2500 Custom and an $80,000 diesel High Country. Both were charming in their own right, although it’s easy to see why people end up buying the upscale variants. In for four-point-seven million pennies, in for three pounds of American Gold Eagle coins.
Do these trucks “beat” Ford and RAM? Almost certainly not. Are they perhaps the most sensible take on the formula, and perfectly suited to preserve the self-respect of Chevy loyalists? Absolutely. Are they the most civilized big-payload pickups in history? I’d say so. If you can live with the way they look, these new Silverados are immensely desirable. After all, ugly is only skin deep. Beauty goes to the core—and in that respect, they’re positively gorgeous.