First Drive: 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD – Pull a Fast One

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy

In case you haven’t noticed, America’s truck wars are in full swing. Now, more than ever, the Detroit Three are gleefully beating each other over the head with a proverbial chair printed with towing and torque figures. Prodigious power? Sure. Enormous cabins? Yewbetcha. Grilles to the moon? They got ya covered, buddy.

Hot on the heels of a half-ton rethink, the crew at Chevrolet turned their attention to the Heavy Duty series of pickups. In a perpetual race with their competition, and the introduction of new engines and no fewer than fifteen camera views, you know this thing is going to haul trailers like a large poutine from Frank’s Diner turns your author’s bloodstream into artery putty.

[Full Disclosure: Chevy flew your author to Oregon and put us up in a hotel for two nights. We were permitted to bring a guest, someone unfamiliar with trailering who could provide a prole’s view of the HD’s hauling prowess. This was an offer we politely declined].

Let’s get one thing clear right from the start: the styling of any 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD is controversial, no matter the trim or weight class. From certain angles, there are a couple of models which simply look like one of those faceless Dr. Who monsters that exist simply to terrify small children. Others, such as the High Country model, wear the styling choices rather well. Like wasabi and cod liver oil, the front of this truck is an acquired taste.

Looks don’t haul trailers, though. Power does — and the Silverado HD has plenty of it. For 2020, there is a choice of two engines, both of which displace 6.6L of American freedom from their cast iron blocks. The standard engine is a new 6.6L V8 gas with direct injection making 401 horses and 464lb.-ft of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. That’s an 11-percent increase in horsepower and a 22-percent increase in peak torque over the old gas burner, respectively, resulting in 18 percent more towing capability.

Most buyers, however, will check the box specifying GM’s Duramax 6.6L Turbo-Diesel V8. This is an engine capable of cranking out 445 horsepower and 910 lb.-ft of torque. It’s coupled to an Allison ten-speed automatic, a marketing tie up going back to approximately the Jurassic era, despite this transmission being anything but prehistoric. GM engineers are proud to point out that every component between the transmission and the wheels has allegedly been upgraded to enable an available 52-percent increase in max towing capability, a number which now soars to 35,500 pounds.

Of course, that amount of hauling is approved for a single body style: a two-wheel drive Duramax dualie with regular cab seating. However, Chevy says that every single dual-rear wheel HD pickup equipped with the diesel is capable of hauling at least 30,000lbs. At base camp, a white Silverado equipped to tow the oft-touted 35,500lb weight limit permitted us the opportunity to haul the equivalent of six fully grown amphibious ungulate mammals.

The anvil on that trailer, a delivery for Wile E. Coyote, weighed about 1400lbs, by the way. The remainder of the weight was made up of steel plates laid flat on the trailer. As for towing this real-life panel from a Road Runner, the Duramax growled its way up to speed around an airport tarmac with nary a complaint. This was a closed course, though, and your author was anxious to hit the road.

Before we did just that, PR reps from GM were making lots of noise about their truck’s ability to best its competition in a 0-60mph drag race. This was an odd claim, as your author knows that heavy hauling is a marathon, not a sprint. It also helps explain why Dominic Toretto never once deployed a diesel dualie while dispatching Johnny Tran. In particular, the Chevy folks chose to beat up on Ram.

According to GM internal tests, an unladen diesel-powered Silverado 3500 DRW scoots to 60mph from rest in 7.4 seconds, two clicks faster than a comparable Ram. When burdened with an 18,000 pound trailer, that gap stretches to 2.6 seconds. Passing maneuvers — from 40-60mph — are allegedly within a second of each other between the two trucks. Reaching out to Ram about these claims, their response was as swift as it was predictable: “When making a long trip with grades, the initial 0-60 time is not a factor. A much more important factor is the ability to comfortably and confidently tow up to 35,100 pounds at speed on a steep uphill grade in all types of conditions.”

We’ll allow the reader to draw their own conclusions. Can the new Silverado HD pull a fast one? Sure. But with a myriad of trailering tech and a solid on-road feel as speed, The General didn’t really need to light the fuse on that particular 0-60 argument.

To the tarmac then, where we hooked up an 14,000lb trailer to the back of a Silverado 2500 Duramax 4×4. Towing nerds take note: burly stabilizer sway control bars were deployed as part of a weight distribution system along with thick safety chains and a brutish-looking shank.

Chevy’s killer app in the trailer game is their ability to provide drivers with no fewer than fifteen different camera views, the most helpful of which must currently be plugged into the truck via cables. One of those two top cables shown in the photo above receive signals from the cam that’s mounted on the back of a trailer in order to provide the gee-whiz ‘invisible trailer’ view. This is an innovation which is supremely helpful in identifying tailgaters and random tins of Skoal dropped on the highway. The white truck shown in the picture below was not visible in the Silverado’s side mirrors, for example. The other cable runs a live feed from a camera placed inside the trailer, handy for keeping an eye on one’s Very Expensive Horse.

Seasoned haulers will note those two connectors supersede the traditional 4-pin harness which is generally used for small trailers that don’t have electric brakes. When asked, GM reps told me that a 4-pin connector can be swapped into place of the camera plugs. Those views are in addition to cameras offering sightlines down the truck and trailer’s flanks, images which instantly appear on the infotainment screen when one hits the turn signal. Some camera angles are able to be displayed there indefinitely (like the ‘invisible trailer’ view) while others time out after eight seconds. Why? Blame the bedwetting lawyers who insist certain views are driver aids while others are distractions.

Hammering up Mt. Bachelor in the state of Oregon, the Duramax hauled its 14,000lb load with élan, the ten-speed automatic shifting at the appropriate times and never feeling flatfooted in the wrong gear. The term effortless sprung constantly to mind, with the Duramax handily taking care of acceleration duties leaving your author to concentrate on proper towing etiquette and whether or not Kawhi Leonard is going to re-sign with the Raptors. With basically the same size brakes as last year, the tow/haul mode and exhaust brake kept us whoa’d up on long downhill slogs. The diesel option is about a $10k premium over the base gasser, by the way.

Note well: GM has finally moved the filler neck for diesel exhaust fuel from under the hood to inside the fuel flap where it belongs. A bigger engine fan and hood scoop helps to keep things cool, in addition to a new “after run” feature that automatically keeps the engine running (and eventually shuts itself off) after you’ve left the truck to properly cool it down after you’ve beaten on it all day.

Speaking of all things non-diesel, we also hooked a 12,000lb trailer (2500lbs under max for this truck) to a Silverado powered by the 6.6L gasoline engine. While the two mills share displacement, they certainly do not share power characteristics. In the Oregon hills, the gasser was content to sit near its redline at about 5000rpm while maintaining highway speeds climbing up a steady grade. This was in stark contrast to the easygoing diesel and predictably produced an indicated single digit fuel economy during our testing loop. You’ll also notice the gasser has earned the diesel’s hood scoop, foiling eagle-eyed truck spotters bent on spying Duramax-equipped GM trucks in traffic. While the scoop is functional on the diesel, it is equipped with a block-off plate on the gas truck.

If you’re considering a 2020 Silverado HD for frequent towing, pop for the Duramax. Full stop. Its ability to shrug off hills like Drake shrugs off criticism is matched only by its transmission’s aptitude to always be in the right place at the right time. You know this won’t be the last word in hauling, of course. Around these parts, the truck wars never sleep.

The 2020 Silverado goes on sale this summer.

[Images: © 2019 Matthew Guy]

Matthew Guy
Matthew Guy

Matthew buys, sells, fixes, & races cars. As a human index of auto & auction knowledge, he is fond of making money and offering loud opinions.

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  • Geo Geo on Jun 29, 2019

    Chevy designers were trying to emulate the double-decker grille from those of the early sixties, trucks many consider to be some of the most beautiful of all time. I think it looks quite okay and matches the rest of the truck.

  • Millmech Millmech on Jul 07, 2019

    Another horizontal windshield, silly. Suspecting any mpg gain offset by extra load on AC. Great for the tan!

  • MaintenanceCosts If you trust that Tesla vehicles are capable of "Full Self-Driving," then maybe you should also trust that this is surface contamination and that the underlying metal is unaffected.(Although it's also worth mentioning that surface contamination comes off traditionally painted cars with a sponge and a little soap.)
  • Ajla They are expecting flat sales?!
  • Honda1 Losing 45k per vehicle! This company won't be around to release the R2. Put a fork in it!
  • Zipper69 Alternatively, get cousin Goober in the back seat going "VROOM, VROOM"
  • John The answer is to wipe it off? I don't recall ever having to "wife off rust" in any car I've ever owned. Well... once a year claybar for rail dust maybe.