The 2020 Silverado Duramax 3.0L might be all the truck you need

Two pickup truck engines, each alike in dignity—or at least alike in price. Yes, we are starting this review with an allusion to Shakespeare. Why not? The Bard knew all about the narcissism of small differences. The Capulets and Montagues never expressed half of the disdain for each other that a Silverado High Country driver can muster for the poor fellow in a 1LT.

This is a very broad, and very discriminating market. So for 2020, Chevrolet will have a pair of $2495 options in its half-ton Silverado lineup. You can take the mighty 6.2-liter V-8. It makes 460 pound-feet of torque at a slightly excitable 4100 rpm. Alternately, you can try the new 3.0-liter straight-six turbodiesel. It, too, makes 460 pound-feet of torque, but it does so at 1500 rpm. Is there a horsepower difference? Oh yes there is—the 6.2 has 143 more of them. Do you care?

This Duramax 3.0L joins RAM’s EcoDiesel 1500 and Ford’s PowerStroke 3.0 in the newly-popular light-duty diesel segment. Popular, that is, with the automakers. The consumer jury is still out on the merits of putting small diesels in relatively big trucks, largely because the mid-range V-8 options from the Big Three are just so good nowadays. Why endure the annoyances of DEF (diesel exhaust fluid, a mandatory add-on) and truck-stop fueling when you can have the same power in a clean-burning gas engine that, in some cases, can take your 5600-pound pickup to a flat fourteen-second quarter-mile?

2020 Chevrolet Silverado Diesel interior
2020 Chevrolet Silverado Diesel duramax badge

2020 Chevrolet Silverado Diesel profile

Oh well. Ours is not to reason why. One might as well question the simultaneous existence of pillared and hardtop sedans in the ’70s. If a particular segment is large enough, there is money to be made in adding esoteric options. Unfortunately for Chevrolet, their share of the pickup-truck segment appears to be slipping lately. Is it a “cadenced launch”, as the automaker insists, or a simple case of the new product too strongly resembling the old one?

Chevy hopes the 3.0L Duramax will help it recapture a few wayward light-duty buyers. Towards that end, they invited us to visit Bend, Oregon and participate in a fuel-economy challenge using the new truck. Over a mixed bag of hills and corners, at speeds rarely exceeding 50 mph, we managed an easy 35.8 mpg as self-reported by the Silverado’s center LCD instrument panel. Driving the truck with a little more verve drops that figure into the 23-25-mpg range.

The 6.2-liter V-8 will return 20-22 mpg in the same conditions, so what’s the point? Well, if you tow a load of under 7000 pounds on a consistent basis, you are likely to see better results, and greater longevity, from a relaxed long-stroke six than from an engine that is not entirely dissimilar to that in the Corvette. And the little Duramax doesn’t display the unpleasant behaviors traditionally associated with pickup-truck diesels. It’s odorless and noiseless inside the cabin. Outside, there’s little of the Sturm und Drang typically present in one-ton diesel trucks, including Chevrolet’s own Duramax V-8.

2020 Chevrolet Silverado Duramax Diesel engine

The overall experience is remarkably… oh, heck, let’s just say it: European. Until recently, our Continental cousins were positively obsessed with small-displacement diesels in passenger vehicles. They don’t like to rev and they don’t like to run hard, but they can be a remarkably stress-free way to complete a commute or pull a small trailer. This Duramax 3.0L is like that. It’s the most European variant of a full-sized truck one could imagine.

Unfortunately for would-be Duramax fanciers, the three-liter has very little verve when the tach climbs past the “3” mark. If you find yourself sitting on Woodward next to a 6.2 Chevy, or even a 5.3, you’ll want to hit that right-side turn signal and save yourself a whipping. Don’t kid yourself that it won’t matter. Part of the Silverado’s charm is that small-block-Chevy vibe—and this variant has precisely none of it. The badging is also perhaps too subtle; to find out if a particular Silverado is a Duramax, you’ll have to ask the owner.

This will not deter everyone. Some buyers will do the math and calculate that the Duramax is a cheaper, and less stressful, way to pull their boats or even their Spec Miatas. You’ll want to drive it yourself and see if the, ahem, low rev theory is for you when it comes to half-ton pickups. Chevrolet knows you might not be charmed, so their press presentation for the 3.0L Duramax rather unusually mentioned the existence of another model: the 2020 “Custom Trail Boss”, which will be a brand-new, and extremely affordable, way to get a 6.2 V-8 in a Silverado 1500.

Call it a hedged bet against diesel disinterest, or think of it as smart segmentation. What did Shakespeare not say about this situation? Wait, I remember: You can get with this, or you can get with that.

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