What Is It?
The Chevrolet Silverado HD series consists of 2500HD and 3500HD models, but recent examples of each have slipped behind the competition in the all-important areas of towing, hauling and cabin space. The fully redesigned 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD pickups incorporate significant changes that are aimed at correcting those basic shortcomings as well as some useful new standard features and clever options.
2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD First Drive
Strides in Towing, Hauling Step Up the 2500HD's Game
What Is It?
It all starts with significant updates to the HD's gasoline and diesel powertrains. Last year's base 6.0-liter gasoline V8 was the least powerful engine in the segment. That's now ancient history thanks to a new 6.6-liter gasoline V8 that makes 401 horsepower and a class-leading 464 lb-ft of torque. It's still paired with a six-speed automatic, but 84 extra lb-ft of torque goes a long way toward bridging the gaps between shifts.
The optional 6.6-liter V8 Duramax diesel engine takes the opposite approach. It carries over with 445 horsepower and 910 lb-ft of torque, but in this case Chevy replaced the six-speed automatic with a new Allison 10-speed automatic. The switch allows the already strong engine to be more effective via the use of smaller rpm steps between shifts. And this is no headline-grabbing change that applies only to the 3500HD dually. This sole diesel powertrain is available across the Silverado HD lineup.
Extra oomph leads to better towing and hauling, but there's more to the 2020 Silverado 2500HD than new powertrains. All Silverado HD frames have been significantly lengthened and strengthened. The extra length is the most noticeable in the crew cab's back seat as rear legroom has grown by 2.5 inches. Also, the frame stretch allows the standard cargo bed to be 3.3 inches longer. That bed is also far wider than the competition on the inside, and it benefits greatly from 12 standard tie-downs. These are easy to access via standard bed steps at all four corners of the bed.
Chevrolet kept going. Towing is such a big deal that it made extendable towing mirrors standard across the board on all 2500HD trucks. They are manually or power-extendable depending on the trim level you buy, but they all share the same large glass area and convex spot mirrors. Chevrolet also offers an Advanced Trailering System that can support up to 15 views through eight cameras. One such view is called Transparent Trailer, in which the image from a compatible camera mounted on the back of your trailer is electronically stitched together with the truck's tailgate camera image to make it appear that you are looking back at traffic through a trailer made of glass.
Why Does It Matter?
The 2500 series pickup market is hotly contested, but in recent years the Ford F-250 and Ram 2500 have edged ahead. Neither of them has optimized every element to the fullest, though. Chevrolet needed to make some big moves here, and it appears that it has.
Towing and hauling are indeed important in this segment, so Chevrolet has gone after this aspect aggressively. There's no doubt that the improved powertrains and useful bed enhancements will make its truck better. But Chevrolet seems intent on going beyond the numbers to make towing and hauling easier. And since 2500 series trucks are oftentimes weekday work vehicles that serve double duty as recreational workhorses on the weekend, the extra space in the crew cab will pay extra dividends when the "crew" is your friends and family.
What Does It Compete With?
The Ford F-250 Super Duty is a strong product that is unique in its use of an aluminum body. It has always boasted a high payload and strong diesel tow ratings, but the towing capacity of its gasoline engine (which is rumored to be replaced soon) has slipped behind this new Chevy 2500HD. Also, Ford F-250 tow ratings are far more sensitive to which specific options you choose when configuring your truck.
Another strong player in the segment is the Ram 2500, which is also fully redesigned for 2020. It boasts a potent new diesel engine, but the 2500 doesn't get the marquee 1,000 lb-ft version everyone is talking about. Instead, the Ram 2500's version of the Cummins turbodiesel makes far less power and torque than the Silverado 2500HD, and it also makes do with a six-speed automatic. Ram 2500 maximum tow ratings are similar to those of the Chevy but, like the Ford, the actual capacity is highly dependent on the selection of certain options.
There's also the GMC Sierra 2500HD, the Silverado HD's dressier cousin. Everything is essentially the same here, but it offers a few premium features and options. The Denali trim level is perhaps the most obvious of these. But the GMC 2500HD also offers the MultiPro tailgate that was first seen on the Sierra 1500. This feature may be even more compelling on the 2500HD because the 6.9-foot standard bed is the shortest offering, which means you'll be able to utilize the MultiPro's load-stop feature to corral 8-foot sheets of construction material even with the standard bed.
How Does It Drive?
We drove gasoline and diesel versions of the 2500HD. Both were 4WD crew-cab trucks with the 6.9-foot standard bed. But they did represent different trim levels, so we encountered differences that went beyond the powertrains. And we drove both with and without heavy trailers.
Right off, we were reminded that any empty 2500 series truck will feel skittish at the back when driven over bumps and washboard dirt roads. No surprise there. But what we'd forgotten was how well the front end stays composed in the same situations. Unlike the competition from Ram and Ford that use solid-axle front ends, the Chevrolet 2500HD rides on front independent suspension, with long, low-mounted torsion springs. The low unsprung mass of this layout pays huge dividends here.
The improvements brought about by independent front suspension also carry over into steering. The Silverado 2500HD does use recirculating ball steering to handle extreme loads, but it stays nicely composed on rough roads, and it does not blindly follow ruts worn into the pavement by log trucks. But here a difference emerges in terms of steering feel. The three lowest trims use a traditional hydraulic system that makes them feel about as vague as any heavy truck's steering. But the LTZ and the High Country use a different power-assist system called Active Hydraulic Assist, which gives the steering much more natural buildup and better on-center feel that mimics that of rack-and-pinion.
What Is the Interior Like?
Designwise, the interior of the Silverado 2500HD is essentially the same as the one in the 2019 Silverado 1500 that Chevy introduced last year. The design, layout and switchgear are utterly familiar and, it must be said, a bit underwhelming. Some of the knobs and their associated labels are small, and the central touchscreen doesn't take full advantage of the available space. There is a good logic to how it all works, though, and a nicely executed head-up display is available as an option. These negative points may be less important to work-minded heavy-duty customers than they are to 1500 series buyers, but we're not certain of that.
The seats are quite comfortable, the driving position is highly configurable, and passenger space is immense. As previously mentioned, crew-cab versions of the 2500HD ride on a wheelbase that has been stretched by 5.2 inches, and that results in 3.3 additional inches of rear passenger legroom. On paper, that's a mere two-tenths of an inch less than the class-leading F-250, but the Chevrolet has an advantage when it comes to front legroom. Look at front and rear legroom together and the Chevy takes the win.
The new Chevy 2500HD's crew cab enjoys a clear roominess advantage over the Ram 2500 crew cab because Ram's freshly redesigned 2020 HD trucks will not utilize the enlarged crew cab it developed for the Ram 1500. Why? Ram HD trucks have always offered a Mega Cab configuration with reclining rear seats, but even that offers a bit less rear legroom than the Chevy's new crew cab. Ram may have rationalized this strategy internally, but from a consumer standpoint it makes comparisons confusing. The Ram 2500's cabin still lacks a telescoping steering wheel, too.
What About Cargo and Towing?
The powertrain differences didn't become readily apparent until we were towing. The gasoline V8 felt plenty powerful but, unsurprisingly, it did start to feel like it was working hard on a grade we were driving up (at an elevation of 7,000 feet, it should be noted). As expected, the turbodiesel felt far more effortless here despite towing a boxier and heavier trailer.
Both transmissions are equally adept at regulating downhill speed, although the extra gears in the diesel's 10-speed (not to mention its exhaust brake) did make up for the diesel's relative lack of natural engine braking. Chevrolet transmission calibrations have always impressed us in the way they downshift to hold speed on downgrades, and these two are no exception.
Through it all, the tow mirrors proved to be fantastic, and we could not stop playing with the camera system. The Transparent Trailer feature is as cool as it sounds, but the unexpected part is that the view automatically changes to a camera pointing back down the sides when you signal for a turn. Once you straighten out, the Transparent Trailer view automatically resumes. There are also straight-down views that use the cameras at the nose of the truck and the tail of the trailer, which help you drive within inches of an obstacle you cannot otherwise see because of the trailer or the broad hood.
As for cargo, the bed steps near the front corners make it easy to reach in and hook something to one of the tie-downs. Deployable versions of this have been sold as an accessory that hangs down below the body, but these are standard items that are permanently molded right into the bed sides at a more effective height. We've never seen anything quite like them before, but now they seem absolutely essential for any HD truck.
Compared to the competition, 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD cargo and tow ratings are far less dependent on the purchase of certain options. It mostly comes down to the engine and the cab-bed configuration you choose. The maximum diesel rating is 18,600 pounds, and the maximum gasoline rating is 17,400 pounds. These are for RWD regular cab trucks. Crew-cab and 4WD versions typically tow a bit less because they weigh more. More than anything, though, Chevy 2500HD tow ratings are up significantly over last year. Diesel crew-cab ratings are between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds higher than last year.
Chevrolet is unique in helping you sort out a given truck on a dealer's lot because each truck has a VIN-specific plate in the doorjamb that lists that truck's payload and gross combined weight rating (GCWR). Tow ratings vary with the weight of people and payload, but the GCWR underwrites it all. It is the one number that determines your tow rating after you subtract the weight of your loaded truck. We find it odd that every truckmaker does not do this, but for now it is a General Motors exclusive.
What Else Should I Know?
Numerous changes make the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD a strong choice. Some are regional in nature. Those who would fit a snowplow will appreciate how the lower bumper fascia has a removable panel that facilitates the installation of a snowplow. The engine block heater socket is located on the side of the front bumper where you can get at it without opening the hood.
Everyone will like how the diesel's DEF fill port is now under the fuel flap where it belongs instead of under the hood. (It's about time, GM.) Those who buy a 4WD truck will like the new "4 Auto" setting that will automatically engage and disengage 4x4 as conditions dictate. A smaller subset of buyers will appreciate that the Chevy can be equipped with a factory-option power take-off, something the competition doesn't offer.
The Silverado 2500HD will be offered in five trim levels: Work Truck, Custom, LT, LTZ and High Country. The regular cab is back, and you can get a double cab or the crew cab. As for fuel consumption ratings, there aren't any. Heavy-duty pickups like this are still exempt from fuel economy testing and labeling.
The 2019 Silverado 1500 didn't light our world on fire because its interior didn't compare well to the brilliant Ram 1500, and it didn't stand out when it came to towing and hauling. The heavy-duty market is another story. The interior niceties may matter less here, and Ram left its best crew cab at home. More than anything, though, the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD now has strong new powertrains that post competitive towing and hauling numbers. It's also packed with clever features that make towing and hauling less of a chore. Bring on the heavy-duty version of our Big Three truck comparison test.