2020 Chevy Silverado Diesel first drive review: A smooth and torquey operator

One thing that you can't deny about the new-for-2019 Silverado 1500 is that Chevrolet didn't skimp on drivetrain options. Sure, its polarizing exterior design and middle-of-the-road interior remain sticking points, but variety is the spice of life and, and with I4, V6 and two V8 options, the Silverado offers it in spades.

For 2020, the Silverado's engine lineup expands to include a new, 3.0-liter, diesel I6. And among Chevy's many choices, this one is a real standout.

Torque, economy and capability

This diesel engine was five years in the making, developed jointly by General Motors' engineering teams in the US and Italy. The 3.0-liter turbocharged straight-six engine makes 277 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, which bests the 250 horses and 440 pound-feet from the Power Stroke 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 available in the Ford F-150. In the horsepower column, the Chevy also betters the 2020 Ram 1500's new 3.0-liter diesel V6, but loses in torque to the EcoDiesel engine's 280 pound-feet.

A 10-speed automatic transmission handles shifting duties, and the diesel engine comes with either rear- or four-wheel drive. Official EPA estimates aren't available yet, but the development team's main goal was to achieve the best possible fuel economy. Internal Chevy tests do, however, seem favorable. At a steady 50 mph around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a two-wheel drive Silverado diesel averaged a remarkable 40 miles per gallon, while a four-wheel drive truck returned 35.9 mpg. A four-wheel drive diesel F-150 under the same conditions returned 31.3 mpg, according to Chevy's testing data.

My own testing starts in a two-wheel drive Silverado on a decidedly short, 25-mile loop along the country roads near Bend, Oregon. Admittedly, I'm going easy on the throttle, and there's a lot of downhill coasting. At the end of the loop, I see 35.6 mpg, which is impressive for a big truck, but likely not close to what these pickups will experience in real-world conditions -- especially while towing.

The first turbo diesel I6 to power a Silverado 1500 makes 277 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque.

Chevrolet

Speaking of which, the diesel-powered Silverado can't quite match the tow ratings of its rivals. The Power Stroke F-150 can tow 11,400 pounds and the new Ram 1500 EcoDiesel can pull up to 12,560 pounds. The Chevy, meanwhile, maxes out at 9,300.

Smooth and powerful diesel cruiser

When launching from stops, a hint of audible diesel garble is present before fading into the background. Other than that, this is a super-smooth engine, with no vibrations or annoying noises penetrating the cabin.

As expected, thrust off the line is forceful, with 95% of the engine's torque online at 1,250 rpm. The 10-speed transmission works smoothly and seamlessly, keeping the engine churning at its low-rpm sweet spot. Tuning for the 10-speed transmission is also on point, always going up or down cogs at the right times to keep the diesel churning in the sweet spot between 3,000 to 4,000 revs. Overall, this 10-speed tuning feels much smoother here than the similar unit in Ford's diesel-powered F-150.

The Silverado's comfortable, buttoned-up ride makes for a pleasant cruise through Oregon.

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The ride and handling qualities of my RST test truck mirrors my previous experiences in a 5.3-liter V8-powered RST Silverado. It's truck-like, with some jiggle over bumps when unloaded, but is still overall a comfortable rig -- not as comfy as an air-suspension Ram 1500, but it possess better on-road manners than the Ford. Changing lanes and navigating around smaller residential streets is easy, with responsive and hefty steering, while body roll is always nicely kept in check. The best way to describe it is that it behaves like a slightly more buttoned up Silverado.

Underwhelming, but functional cabin

If you are holding out hope that the Silverado's interior packs any significant improvements for 2020, I'm sorry to say that you're out of luck. It has the same gauge cluster and center stack that can be mistaken as carryover parts from the previous-generation Silverado. Materials are passable in appearance and touch, but the layout is high on function with lots of storage spaces between the massive center console, door panels and dual glove boxes. And there really isn't a bad seat in the house, with oodles of room in my crew cab tester's first and second rows.

The Chevrolet Infotainment 3 system is intuitive, with an 8-inch touchscreen that quickly responds to inputs. Screen graphics are crisp and this multimedia system comes standard with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. There's also no shortage of power points to charge phones, tablets or laptops, with multiple USB Type-A and USB Type-C ports, 12-volt outlets and a three-prong outlet sprinkled throughout the cabin.

Respectable tech in a middle-of-the-road cabin.

Chevrolet

For safety, the Silverado can be equipped with features such as blind-spot monitoring with lane-change alert, rear cross-traffic alert and front and rear parking sensors. And for 2020, adaptive cruise control is finally available on the 1500, along with an enhanced multi-view trailering camera system.

Diesel darling

With torque that matches the Silverado 1500's range-topping 6.2-liter V8 gas engine and what's sure to be a nice fuel economy advantage, the new 3.0-liter Duramax diesel engine does makes a strong argument for itself. And with the exception of towing, it stacks up favorably against the Power Stroke F-150 and is comparable on paper to the upcoming EcoDiesel Ram 1500.

When the diesel hits dealers along with the rest of the 2020 Silverado lineup late this summer, it'll wear an identical price premium to the 6.2-liter V8, costing $3,890 more than the 2.7-liter turbo four-cylinder and $2,495 above the 5.3-liter V8. It'll be available on LT, RST, LTZ, and High Country models. Final pricing for the 2020 Silverado range isn't available just yet.

The diesel broadens the Silverado's impressive engine portfolio further.

Chevrolet

In numerous respects, Chevrolet's latest Silverado has plenty going for it. It's lighter, more capable, more efficient and roomier than before. And now the arrival of the diesel engine options gives it yet another purchase consideration for all the truck buyers out there.

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