I drove a $63,000, diesel-powered Chevy Silverado to find out if the engine made a great pickup even better — here's the verdict (GM)


Chevy Silverado Z71 Duramax

  • I tested a $62,515 2020 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck that featured a 3.0-liter diesel engine.
  • The Silverado ranks behind the Ram 1500 and the Ford F-150 in my full-size pickup list, but the diesel motor adds something special to this Chevy truck.
  • Towing capacity is respectable, and fuel economy is appealing at nearly 30 mpg on the highway.
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Of the top three full-size pickups in the US market, the Chevrolet Silverado has long been last on my list. Driving the diesel version didn’t move it up, but it sure did heighten my opinion of the truck.

That list, of course, includes the Ram 1500 and Ford F-150 ahead of Chevy’s offering. The Silverado was new for 2019, but I didn’t think the pickup’s designers and engineers went far enough. Meanwhile, the F-150 retrained its lordly position, and the revamped Ram 1500 was so good that we named it our 2019 Car of the Year.

The Silverado is a good truck, and it’s newer than than the mighty F-150, which is slated for a redesign in 2020. But it just hasn’t been good enough to pass the other two. 

A funny thing happened a few weeks back, however. Chevy loaned me a 2020 Silverado featuring a Z71 off-road package and a 3.0-liter Duramax diesel engine, and it was so good that it made me completely reassess my view of the truck. Read to find out why:

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My tester Silverado sported my favorite Chevy pickup-truck paint job: “Cajun Red Tintcoat.” The base price was $49,000, but numerous extras took the sticker to $62,515.

I’d already sampled the gas-powered Silverado, redesigned for the 2019 model year.

Read why the Silverado lost out to the F-150.

My more recent tester was effectively the same crew-cab pickup, but an LTZ trim package added $6,700 and a Z71 off-road kit tacked on $1,600. In all, my Silverado was more than $10,000 heavier on the price scale than the cheapest of the diesel options.

The real excitement was with the 3.0-liter, inline six-cylinder Duramax turbo-diesel, making 277 horsepower and an impressive 460 foot-pounds of torque. This mill is mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission.

The Z71 package adds special shocks, protective skid plates, a more sophisticated transfer case for the 4×4, a sturdier air filter, and chunky all-terrain tires. If you’re following along at home, the idea is to provide Silverado fans with a viable Ford Raptor alternative.

Owning a diesel means looking for green-nozzle pumps and refilling the urea-injection system (blue cap), which mitigates oil-burner emissions.

But the reward for these troubles is both the Silverado’s juicy torque and decent fuel economy for a half-ton pickup, which is rated at 23 mpg in the city, 29 on the highway, and 25 combined. That’s notably better than what you’d see from a 6.2-liter Silverado V8 running on gas, which gets a mere 17 mpg combined.

The spray-on bedliner protects the body from rust and damage.

Inside, the new Silverado isn’t massively updated from the previous generation.

Chevy kept the column shifter, which is charming but old school.

The infotainment system runs on a modest eight-inch touchscreen, but it has Chevy’s excellent setup, which is among the most user friendly in the business. The Silverado also has 4G LTE WiFi connectivity and GM’s OnStar data and driver-support feature.

It also has wireless charging, which is a must-have in my book. But should your devices not support wireless re-juicing, there are also plenty of other options in the Silverado.

So what’s the verdict?

Overall, I flat-out love the engine.

But let’s first address the big issue: You can tow 9,300 pounds with this configuration, which is well down from the nearly 13,500 pounds that the mightiest gas-powered V8 Silverado offers.

That still isn’t bad, though. The ultra torque-y Duramax feels abundantly powerful, doing a passable imitation of a much larger motor while presenting an appealing option for customers who want to pay less at the pump and don’t need to haul houseboats.

I suspect the motor plus the Z71 pack would make for some exceptional off-roading thrills, but as with all trucks of this type, the best I can do test wise is to drive around in rain or snow and sometimes venture into muddy, unimproved parking lots.

The upshot here is that while I still prefer the Ram and the F-150, this diesel Silverado is my favorite number there. I were buying a Silverado, this would be my choice.