2020 Chevy Silverado 1500 review: Still hit-and-miss
This truck does some things extremely well, yet it misses the mark in a host of other areas.
The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 does a lot of things well. The latest generation of this half-ton truck drives better than many midsize pickups and offers some of the best powertrains in the segment and, of course, its towing and hauling numbers are excellent. But despite all these positives, it's a rig that's riddled with head-scratching choices and curious omissions. In short, it's a truck that leaves me with more mixed feelings than the Game of Thrones finale.
My Silverado test unit is dressed in Custom Trail Boss trim and features an extended-cab body with a 6.5-foot bed. That cargo box is probably the most versatile in the business. Engineers moved the side walls out to increase hauling volume and threw in a heap of tie-down hooks.
GM's integrated bumper steps and stake-bed handholds make it much easier to climb into this pickup's elevated bed and eliminate the need for fiddly drop-down or fold-out steps. Conveniently, the tailgate also lowers at the push of a button. You still have to manually close it on my tester, but there's ample assistance there so it's nearly fingertip-light.
As configured, this Silverado can handle a maximum of 1,618 pounds of payload while its tow rating tops out at 9,300 pounds. These are not segment-leading figures, but they're certainly good. GM's trailering information sticker on the driver's side door jamb is a stroke of genius, giving you instant access to these valuable figures.
A dynamite drivetrain
A whopping seven different powertrain combinations are offered in the 2020 Silverado, including multiple flavors of V8, a turbocharged four-cylinder and a base V6. Depending on the engine, three different automatic transmissions are offered. Keeping things simple, my test truck is fitted with the range-topping drivetrain, a scrumptious 6.2-liter V8 paired with a 10-speed automatic.
This engine is absolutely lovely, proof positive that magic happens when two banks of four cylinders share a common crankshaft. Not only is it smooth-running and burly-sounding, emitting a healthy rumble when you give it the spurs, it's also potent, delivering 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Whether you're blasting off from a standstill or passing slower-moving traffic, those figures are more than enough to make the Silverado feel downright quick, its acceleration aided by an equally smooth and responsive gearbox. This 10-speed transmission was co-developed with Ford , but at least in this particular GM application it seems smoother and more discerning, shifting imperceptibly and readily dumping ratios when extra speed is required.
Helping boost efficiency, that big ol' V8 is fitted with both direct fuel injection and variable valve timing, but that's not all. Additionally, it features a nifty technology called Dynamic Fuel Management. Think of this as next-generation cylinder deactivation. Rather than shutting just down four of the engine's pots under light loads, this system has the ability to disable practically any number of cylinders based on driving conditions, with 17 different activation combinations. Thanks to clever engineering and plenty of computer code, this arrangement is seamless. You never feel or hear when it's running on fewer than all eight cylinders. It's quite remarkable how utterly smooth it is, and how effective it seems to be.
The EPA rates my truck at 14 miles per gallon city and 18 highway. Combined, it's estimated to return 15 mpg, a rather frightening score; however, in real-world, mixed driving, the computer readout says I've been getting right around 18.7 mpg, an impressive fuel burn rate for something with about as much frontal area as a two-car garage. Undoubtedly, the engine's silky-smooth stop-start system helps in this area.
Unexpectedly competent dynamics
No one expects a full-size truck to drive like a BMW M3, but this one comes closer than you might expect. With your typical body-on-frame construction and a live rear axle supported by parallel leaf springs, the Silverado is built like a truck and still feels like one, but it's unexpectedly nimble and mild mannered.
My test truck's ride quality is firm, but it never leaves you feeling battered or bruised. Handling is unexpectedly secure, with reasonably crisp steering feel and minimal body roll. In comparison, an F-150 seems less dialed in, and the Silverado feels appreciably smaller than a comparable Ram 1500. This pickup is even better to pilot than the Toyota Tacoma and Ford Ranger midsize trucks I recently tested. It feels smaller than the Toyota and far more buttoned-down than the wallowing Ford.
Aside from plenty of blacked-out exterior elements, Trail Boss models feature a 2-inch suspension lift and the Z71 off-road package. This includes skid plates for protecting sensitive underbody hardware, a locking rear differential to enhance off-road traction and Rancho monotube shock absorbers. You also get hill-descent control and 18-inch wheels enveloped by a set of rugged, Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires.
This Silverado's interior is mostly hushed, though the knobby rubbers do like to sing on pavement. Tire noise is about the only racket that's pronounced inside this truck, aside from a slight whistling sound the exhaust makes under heavy acceleration.
Cracks in the armor
This full-size Chevy is pleasant to drive and has an excellent powertrain, but these important advantages are offset by a few significant weaknesses. The current-generation Silverado has been widely criticized for its lackluster interior, and that's still the case here, especially when compared with the Ram 1500, which easily has the segment's nicest cabin.
My tester's inner sanctum is quite stark, with just about every surface made of underwhelming hard plastic. The color combination does it no favors, either. It's black on black with a dash of gray and a sprinkle of charcoal, which makes things about as dour as a big round of layoffs.
The Silverado's interior ain't great, but I actually like this fairly stark example more than higher-end models because the expectations are lower. Economy-grade plastics and an acute lack of features are a little easier to live with when you're paying $45,000 instead of, say, 60 grand or more.
Putting the 'no' in technology
Another downside to this Silverado is its lack of features. There's no adaptive cruise control or blind-spot monitoring. It's not fitted with reversing sensors, lane-keeping assist or an integrated navigation system. Automatic high beams are nowhere to be found, ditto for rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning and even automatic emergency braking. But here's the kicker. These features aren't even optionally available on the Custom Trail Boss trim, which is nuts since Honda, for instance, practically gives you all this stuff in a base Civic.
Fortunately, this situation is changing somewhat for the 2021 model year. Chevrolet is tweaking the Silverado's trim and options structure. Work Truck, Custom and Custom Trail Boss models will be available with a safety package that includes features like automatic emergency braking, forward collision alert and steering wheel-mounted audio controls, among other things. Also, both wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will be standard on higher-end models and available on some lesser trims.
My test Silverado's dearth of content is evinced by a bunch of plastic block-offs. There are several on the lower portion of the center stack along with a couple dummy switches, and there's another glaring filler piece on the righthand steering-wheel spoke, a big, square chunk of injection-molded sadness that's impossible to ignore. It's also hard to overlook the nonopening center console, which limits interior storage space, the old-fashioned stick-and-twist keyed ignition or the injection-molded steering wheel that practically screams rental car.
The Silverado's tall, expansive dashboard is mostly flat, which makes its standard, 7-inch infotainment screen seem even smaller. Higher-end models come with a slightly larger 8-inch display, but that's still pretty cramped, especially compared with the 12-incher you can get in Ram pickups these days. A bit of good news, Chevy's infotainment system is easy to use and about as responsive as anything else you can get in a truck these days, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard, though a tuning knob is not. There are physical buttons to change stations or tracks.
At least my test truck's front seats are supportive, wrapped in a handsome fabric that feels like it can brush off years of abuse without being any worse for wear. Like an oasis in a desert, the woven headliner is also unexpectedly premium.
Since modern pickup trucks are used for family-hauling duty more often than they are for actual work like towing trailers full of scrap metal or hauling chunks of broken concrete, this Silverado features an extended-cab body. A larger crew-cab configuration is offered, but I'm happy to report the backseat here is more spacious than you might expect. I fit quite nicely and found it comfortable, even if the backrest is a skosh too upright. Increasing its versatility, the rear cushion flips up so you can slide larger cargo right into the Silverado's backseat.
Is this Chevy a smart buy?
Out the door, this test truck stickers for $45,310, a price that includes $1,595 in destination fees and a few options. That 6.2-liter V8 adds $2,495 to the bottom line, the Custom convenience package is worth $800 and an always-appreciated spray-in bedliner cost a reasonable $545. Beyond all that, a couple other minor things flesh out the big number.
This Silverado Custom Trail Boss' dynamics are surprisingly friendly and its powertrain is amongst the best you'll find in any half-ton pickup. A highly versatile bed and snappy infotainment system are welcome advantages as well, but that dearth of features and unspectacular interior make it a bit tough to recommend. I still think the Ram 1500 provides a more comfortable, premium experience and even the gray-haired F-150 still has a leg up over this Silverado.