2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD/3500HD Driven: Big Boys
It’s all about the tow.
BEND, Oregon—In our review of the 2020 Chevrolet 1500 diesel, I pointed out that the launch felt a bit like one of their "real people" commercials. What I didn't mention is that Chevy asked that we bring just such a person along with us to the event, which also included the new 2020 Silverado 2500 and 3500 HD. They also requested that person have minimal towing experience. While I myself also fit the bill, I decided my dad would be perfect for the job.
Before we took any of the heavy-duty trucks on the road, we tackled a number of challenges to test Chevy's latest towing tech in a closed environment. I started with the basics: lining up the hitch with the trailer. For 2020, Chevrolet has added 15 camera views to help with that bane of towing, visibility. I selected a camera view that shows an overhead angle of the hitch overlaid with a line graphic that helps with aim. All I had to do was turn the steering wheel an follow the guide to line everything up.
My next task was to wind through a cone course—essentially a very slow autocross circuit—with a box trailer hooked to the beefy Silverado 3500HD. Rather than just relying on the wide side mirrors, I was also able to take advantage of the other live camera views while navigating the route.
Since trailers turn in more sharply than the trucks pulling them, the new views include one showing a low angle of the trailer's wheels. Rather than being a perfect 50/50 split, however, the ratio of how much the driver can see on each side changes dynamically as the wheel turns, providing more detail on whichever side is needed.
During my pass through the obstacle course, I only trampled one cone that had already been displaced by another journalist, making clear the technology's benefits. Chevrolet says its cameras offer one-megapixel resolution and render the video feed at 30 frames per second, which translates to a clear view and a complete lack of latency.
When it came time to practice backing into a tight spot, a maneuver that would normally require both a driver and a spotter, I was instructed to switch to a view from a camera mounted on the trailer. I was able to pull into the space, blocked off by cones, perfectly, within inches of the stop sign. Another camera can be placed inside the trailer to, say, check on animals inside to ensure they're faring well during the journey. (Our view was a yellow C7 Corvette, which I'll admit does pack plenty of horses.) For the final exercise, I switched to a front camera view to pull into another spot. I then toggled to a 360-degree view to make sure I was positioned perfectly. I was just relieved I didn't disappoint my dad on the job.
Next, my dad and I took turns wheeling a 3500HD lugging a custom fifth-wheel trailer with a 32,000-lb construction tractor perched on top. (The Silverado HD's max tow rating is 35,500 pounds with a fifth-wheel, or 20,000 with a ball.) My dad had the first crack, and he was blown away by how easy it was to move such a burdensome load. The 6.6-liter turbo-diesel V-8's 910 lb-ft of torque—admittedly less than the new-for-2020 Ram HD's impressive 1,000 lb-ft—and 445 horsepower proved ample to move what is likely several times heavier than what typical, or even more advanced, HD truck drivers need to move. When it was my turn, the briskness of acceleration impressed. What was even more eye-opening—beyond some of the more extroverted grille designs—was how well the truck handled with all of the weight in tow. Directional changes felt stable, and braking wasn't an issue either, although we admittedly were on a flat airfield.
The following morning, we trekked out to Mt. Bachelor in a gasoline V-8 Silverado 2500HD LTZ with the Z71 package. This 6.6-liter powerplant is the base engine for Chevrolet's HD line. It claims this engine was purpose-built for its HD trucks and as such it's optimized for hauling. As we wound our way through the high desert, I was impressed by the engine's linear deployment of its 401 horsepower and 464 lb-ft, although the six-speed automatic transmission didn't seem in a particular hurry to select the next gear. The steering is accurate and true, with few corrections needed to maintain a straight line. The brake pedal offers easy modulation, and bringing the 2500HD down from speed wasn't an issue.
Having successfully reached our destination at a ski resort well up the side of Mt. Bachelor, we were hooked to a 12,000-pound trailer and sent on a 50-mile road loop. The extra weight was immediately evident, but our trailer still was on the higher side of what most drivers will use their trucks to haul. Handling remained faithful, however, and even on steep declines the truck and trailer were easy enough to maneuver.
From the passenger seat, my dad pointed out that it seemed like the transmission could have used a couple extra gears. I couldn't help but agree; downshifts came with more promptness than before, but they were also more frequent, the engine often working in the upper rpm ranges.
After our long loop, we got a quick spin with a heavier box trailer with 14,000 of something or other inside; it was behind a 2500HD High Country featuring the torquey Duramax diesel V-8. Given that we had nearly twice the twist as before, it was easy to haul the slightly heavier trailer. The powertrain, which hooks to a standard 10-speed Allison transmission, handled the load with more refinement than its gasoline counterpart. Gear ratios seemed to more often be exactly what was needed in the moment.
I also took advantage of what is perhaps the coolest feature to be included on the new trucks. Chevrolet calls it "invisible trailer," and it combines a series of camera views into a single image rendered on the central screen to appear as though it the trailer is transparent. The execution was flawless, and it allows you to see pedestrians, objects, and other drivers in what would otherwise be huge, total blind spots.
Leaving our trailer behind, it was time to make our way back down from the mountain in the diesel truck. The more sophisticated drivetrain was greatly appreciated, even if it does offer up some of the telltale diesel clatter even when it's not being worked hard. But being that the Silverado HD is a vehicle designed to make hard work easy, my dad and I agreed the diesel engine was a necessary upgrade.
Outside of powertrain improvements, Chevrolet has also worked on equipping its trucks with a lot of the gear its customers have traditionally added using aftermarket parts. Trucks with diesel powertrains receive a hood vent, a massive 28-inch cooling fan, and an afterrun function to promote engine longevity. An outlet for an engine-block heater also makes a segment-first appearance. HD trucks also get 12 fixed tie-down points and 9 movable ones in the bed. There's a 120-volt outlet in the back as well, in addition to improved cargo-area lighting.
Chevrolet also upped the sizes of its bumper-corner steps and bed steps, which it says can accommodate size-13 boots and hold up to 500 pounds. For more convenience, the HD trucks receive a first-ever power-up and -down tailgate. The diesel exhaust fluid filler is now located inside the fuel door, and the DEF tank is inside the rail frame. Drivers can monitor fluid levels using a new DEF gauge. Finally, the front fascia has been designed for easy snowplow installation such that folks don't have to hack apart the bumper to make things work.
New powertrains and new camera technology make these heavy-duty trucks even more capable and will allow even amateurs to tow and haul with peace of mind. Towing can be intimidating—ask me how I know—and the Silverado's features certainly remove a lot of the anxiety. The new 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD lineup will go on sale imminently, and both Chevy die-hards and those not wedded to an HD brand would be wise to give them a look.
2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500 HD Specifications
|BASE PRICES||2500, $39,000-$70,000; 3500, $43,000-$71,000 (est)|
|ENGINE||6.6L OHV 16-valve V-8; 401 hp, 464 lb-ft; 6.6L turbo-diesel OHV 16-valve V-8; 445 hp, 910 lb-ft|
|TRANSMISSION||6- or 10-speed automatic|
|LAYOUT||2- or 4-door, 3-5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD truck|
|L x W x H||235.5-266.0 x 81.9-96.7 x 79.8 in|