2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500 First Drive: Towing Made Easy

6a017ee6664cf9970d0240a4934681200d-800wi.jpeg photos by Evan Sears

This is really shaping up to be the year of the heavy-duty pickup truck renewal — we've seen new or refreshed models from all of the Detroit Three arriving this year. First was the new and HDs, which we've already driven, and we've also seen (but not driven) the new . We just drove the third part of the heavy-duty pickup trio — the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 and 3500 — during Chevrolet's media introduction in Bend, Ore. (Per our ethics policy, pays for its own lodging and airfare at such automaker-sponsored events.) The news for the big Silverado comes on several fronts — new looks, new equipment, new technology. In this hyper-competitive segment, it takes a lot to get noticed, so how'd Chevrolet do with the new redo of the Silverado HDs?


Engine Goodness, Transmission Oddness

Beyond the obvious dramatic new sheet metal, the big news for the Silverado HDs is almost entirely under that massive hood: New powertrains are here for 2020, including a brand-new gasoline 6.6-liter V-8 that Chevy says was designed specifically for use in the HD trucks. It makes 401 horsepower and 464 pounds-feet of torque, and delivers it all in silken rush of power. Quiet is the name of the game for the new 6.6-liter, whether idling or at wide-open throttle, but especially when cruising at highway speeds. The big Silverado's engine is hushed and serene, with the truck cruising along with more tire noise than engine growl. The gas V-8 engine is mated to a standard six-speed automatic transmission, which is where my concerns start. On a couple of occasions, the transmission refused to kick down when acceleration was called for — resulting in less forward motion than I was requesting. It happened again while towing a trailer — foot to the floor, low rpms, but no kickdown to get things moving. So while the new engine is sweet, how it works with the transmission seems a bit curious.

No such complaints with the turbo-diesel 6.6-liter Duramax, which has an but unchanged power and torque output. This puppy makes 44 more horsepower than the gas engine, and more than twice the torque — 445 hp and 910 pounds-feet to be exact. And the difference it makes in how the Silverado HDs feel is significant: Chevy claims an unladen truck can run from zero-to-60 mph in 7.4 seconds, and we're inclined to believe it. In our own testing, a . Without anything in the bed or being dragged from the bumper, the Silverado diesel is more responsive and sprightlier than anything this big has a right to be.

Towing Duty

But you don't buy trucks like these to run around empty. The vast majority of HD truck owners buy them for towing, and that's what the Silverado HD is made to do. I towed with each of those two powertrains in a Silverado 2500 single-rear wheel. Fun fact: Every Silverado equipped with the gas engine is rated to tow more than 17,000 pounds, while the one sporting a diesel engine is rated to tow more than 30,000 pounds. A properly equipped Silverado 3500 with the diesel engine has a new maximum tow rating that's 52 percent higher than the old truck — a whopping 35,500 pounds that you can't even really tow on public roads unless you have the commercial driver's license needed when towing above a gross combined weight rating of 26,001 pounds, which most of us don't. Chevy provided a brief opportunity to tow 35,500 pounds in a Silverado 3500 built for just that purpose, but it was a closed course on which we never got above 30 mph or 2nd gear, so I'll reserve comment on how well it handles this task until a more realistic test can be arranged.

My on-road towing consisted of a lengthy spin in a 2500 crew cab with the 6.6-liter gas engine and a 12,000-pound flatbed trailer. Stability is the word here; despite the weight behind the truck, it never felt like it was being pushed around or struggling. The Silverado felt confident and in control the whole time, but as good as the gas engine is, it's not the one you really want for towing duty. For that, step up to the 6.6-liter diesel Duramax. I tested that engine with a 14,000-pound enclosed trailer and was even more impressed with the truck's agility and capability. Three and 4 percent grades at 6,500 feet of elevation were no problem. The 10-speed Allison transmission downshifted when necessary and the massive torque took over, pulling the rig up through the high Oregon desert with minimal drama and even without the crazy roar that sometimes accompanies other trucks' diesel engines. The transmission's smoothness is really what stands out. There wasn't any gear hunting, no abrupt shifts; it was seamless and invisible, really. Braking, crosswinds, visibility — all of it is superb in the new Silverado HD when you've got a big load behind you, just as good as we remember from our during which we towed comparable loads.

The Tech to Make Towing Easier

Chevy is pushing all kinds of technology aimed at making towing with the new Silverado HDs as stress free as possible. The company is using its onboard electronics in ways that help drivers do everything from hooking up the trailer to assisting drivers while towing. The company's slick, new Advanced Trailering System places eight cameras in various places around the truck, offering up to 15 unique camera views to help maneuver the trailer. The most unique view is the transparent trailer view, which uses a combination of camera feeds stitched together to make it appear that the trailer isn't actually there while you're driving down the highway, providing an unobstructed view to the rear at all speeds. That view requires the purchase of a remote accessory camera mounted to the rear of the trailer, but other views are just as amazing, whether it's the one that makes it seem like you're looking down on the truck from space or the one that makes it seem as if you're standing in front of the truck looking at it. Other heavy-duty trucks have top-down views, but Chevy offers several top-down views including the trailer and hitch; it feels like wizardry. With the right equipment, you can even see what's inside the trailer — keeping an eye on that Corvette you might be hauling, for instance. The one thing it's missing is the ability that Ford still has an exclusive lock on: , which provides the ability to steer your trailer and truck while you back up using just a knob on the dash.

The Silverado HDs' technology comes in more areas than just the nifty camera monitoring system. Apps to monitor everything from trailer tire pressure and temperature are available (when you've specified the required dealer-installed equipment), and there are memory functions for specific trailers and settings including trailer brake gain to maintenance reminders. Even structural body changes make towing with the HDs easier than ever, like the steps built into every HD's bumper and fenders to help access the cargo box.

Still Needs a Better Interior

The new Silverado has capability in spades, well beyond what most buyers will ever truly need, but where Chevrolet could've spent a little more attention was on the interior appointments. They're not bad, but they're no longer up to snuff with the competition. The cabin is spacious, comfortable, quiet and easy to use, with materials that can be perhaps most charitably described as "durable looking." But it's also already dated looking — the interior barely looks different from the last generation and isn't an improvement over the light-duty Silverado 1500 either. When it comes to a nicer interior, sometimes you have to deliver something that customers aren't expecting, like what Ram and Ford have been doing lately.

Regardless of the materials, the new HD interior is just as well equipped as the half ton. You can get something ranging from a bare-bones, vinyl-swathed interior that's easy to wash to an interior done up in leather and simulated wood. Chevrolet's latest multimedia system is easy to use and mounted high in the dash for easy viewing, and has easy connectivity to your personal electronic devices. Chevy just needs to take a page from Ram and figure out how to let you conveniently store and access them — there still is insufficient personal electronics storage in the new 2020 Silverado HDs. Comfort isn't an issue, as the front and rear seats are big and supportive, at least in the crew-cab models. And just like in the half-ton models, Chevy has fixed the annoying steering wheel offset issue. The steering wheel is now in front of the driver, as it should be, instead of several inches inboard. Double-cab models aren't quite as spacious in back, but are more than acceptable for short distances. Like the rest of GM's pickups, the dash is high and the roof is low, making for a bunkerlike view out of the cabin.

Pricing and Availability

Chevrolet changed how it's , making entry-level models less expensive but boosting the price on the more luxury-oriented High Country model by more than $5,000. Chevy says that the highest volume models for HD trucks are the lower Work Truck and LT trim levels, which are bought for commercial businesses, and the high-end luxury LTZ and High Country models, which are bought by affluent buyers hauling personal toys and recreational vehicles. That's why you'll see a Custom mid-range trim level for the 2500, but not for the 3500.

As expected, Chevrolet has created a new truck with massive capabilities, playing on its strength in powertrain and chassis development to deliver new Silverado HDs that are sure to please returning customers. The new 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 and 3500 will arrive in showrooms later this year, but don't expect to see much variety — Chevy says that it's pursuing a slow introduction schedule and plans to start with only crew-cab models this year. The other variants, like the standard-cab, double-cab and dual-rear-wheel models will follow in early 2020.

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Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

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