What Is It?
If you're not towing and hauling a good deal much of the time, you're probably not looking to buy a 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD pickup truck — or you shouldn't be. Perhaps I can interest you in a nice 2500HD instead? That's because huge payload and tow ratings are the main reasons 3500 series trucks exist. The 3500 level is where you find the first dual rear-wheel (DRW) trucks, and no one buys those on accident. Yours Truly used to own such a "dually," and when it wasn't towing a huge gooseneck trailer, I had it parked.
2020 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD First Drive
Now With 51% More Towing Capacity
What Is It?
Chevrolet has not necessarily fared well in recent years as the competition ratcheted up their maximum dually tow ratings. The GM truck engineering team has now responded, and the results are impressive. The Chevrolet 3500HD diesel dually can now tow 35,500 pounds, the highest tow rating in the 3500 segment. Incredibly, this number is a full 51% higher than last year's Silverado 3500HD maximum of 23,500 pounds. To put it another way, the amount it has raised the maximum towing capacity of the 2020 Silverado 3500HD dually is 12,000 pounds.
It's no fluke, either. Any configuration of the 3500HD dually can tow more than 30,000 pounds, which is something no other competitor can match. Not into stratospheric tow ratings but still need more than a 2500HD can offer? For you there's the normal-looking single rear-wheel (SRW) version of the 3500HD. The diesel version of that truck can tow up to 21,500 pounds, and you can tow up to 20,000 pounds of that with a conventional receiver hitch.
As for payloads, the SRW maximum is 4,493 pounds, and the DRW top number is a staggering 7,466 pounds. Both of those apply to gas-engine trucks, so the moral of the story is this: Buy gasoline if payload is all you care about and diesel if you are single-minded about heavy towing.
The powertrains needed significant upgrades to make this happen. Last year's base 6.0-liter gasoline V8 was shown the door and has been replaced by a 6.6-liter gasoline V8 that makes 401 horsepower and a class-leading 464 lb-ft of torque.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 it is better able to bridge the gap between shifts because it makes 84 extra lb-ft of torque than before.
The optional 6.6-liter V8 Duramax diesel engine does not follow this template. It still makes 445 hp and 910 lb-ft of torque as it did before. But here Chevy swapped out the six-speed automatic transmission in favor of a new Allison 10-speed automatic. This setup allows this already-strong engine to apply its torque through smaller rpm steps between gears better. Also, this is the only diesel Chevy sells. You'll find no two-tiered diesel strategy here.
Putting all of that power and torque to use at very high loads requires a completely upgraded chassis. Here the 3500 HD differs greatly from the 2500HD. It employs a beefier frame, stronger front and rear axles, a 12-inch ring gear, along with beefier universal joints, driveshafts and propeller shaft. And who could forget the extra pair of tires on the dually?
Why Does It Matter?
Towing is huge in the 3500 series pickup market, and Chevrolet hadn't kept up with the competition. The changes made to the 3500HD's powertrains and chassis have catapulted this truck into the thick of it. And in fact, the diesel dually tow ratings now reign supreme.
Chevrolet didn't significantly upgrade the diesel engine because it didn't really see the need to, though the competition will surely point out that their engines make more torque. We're not convinced that's the difference that makes a difference, and Chevrolet's decision to greatly enhance the diesel's cooling capacity for 2020 and make it work with a 10-speed automatic instead of a mere six-speed seems to us to be the wiser move.
Besides, Chevrolet has aggressively implemented features and technology to make towing and hauling easier and more efficient. Getting a load moving is one thing, but being able to see around it and keep it under easy control is another.
What Does It Compete With?
The Chevy's primary competition has always been the Ford F-350 Super Duty. Its diesel engine makes a bit more power and torque, but that doesn't amount to higher tow ratings. Also, Ford's higher tow ratings are much more dependent on equipping a truck with just the right options in ways that are unnecessary with the new Chevy. Ford also tends to confuse the issue by pointing people in the direction of the F-450, but that truck is a quasi-commercial beast that rides on expensive commercial wheels and tires. It's not quite a true competitor, but it does fill a niche.
The Ram 3500 was recently redesigned for 2019, and you've probably heard boasts about how its 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel makes 1,000 lb-ft of torque. For one, that engine's 400 hp trails the Chevy Duramax considerably. Also, that's not the only diesel the Ram 3500 can be fitted with. The standard output Cummins makes 370 hp and 850 lb-ft of torque. So you have to make sure to buy the right one, and even then you only get a six-speed transmission either way. And like the Ford, Ram 3500 maximum tow ratings are heavily dependent on which engine, axle ratio and other gear you buy.
How Does It Drive?
We got behind the wheel of a diesel-powered Silverado 3500HD 4WD crew-cab dually, which is the perfect setup if you've got a huge triple-axle fifth-wheel camping trailer with dual slide-outs and granite kitchen countertops. But we were towing something more commercial in nature, namely a three-axle gooseneck flatbed with a bulldozer lashed onto it. This trailer weighed in at 31,000 pounds.
The initial takeoff was smooth, thanks in part to the 10-speed's high first-gear ratio. After that, it accelerated smoothly through closely spaced gears. I've had experiences towing trailers weighing 18,000 pounds that were more nerve-wracking than what it was like towing this 31,000-pound example. Braking action was sure and easy, and the Silverado's electronic trailer brake controller was easy to tune to match the sheer size of the trailer.
What Is the Interior Like?
Designwise, the interior of the Silverado 3500HD is pretty much identical to the 2019 Silverado 1500 that Chevy introduced last year. Its design, layout and switchgear are utterly familiar and, it must be said, a bit dated. It's all-new but comes across as a mild evolution of the outgoing truck. Some of the knobs and their associated labels are small, and the central touchscreen looks smaller than it could be. It's all easy to figure out and use, but we can't help thinking that drivers wearing work gloves might want bigger controls.
As with the 2500HD, the seats are nicely shaped and supportive. It's easy to find the right driving position thanks to their numerous adjustments and the presence of a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. More than anything, though, passenger space is very generous, especially in the rear seat, which has 2.5 more inches of rear legroom thanks to a longer frame that can accommodate a larger crew cab.
In this regard the 2020 3500HD has changed from worst to a virtual tie for first with the F-350, the difference between them is now just two-tenths of an inch. Curiously, the newly redesigned 2019 Ram 3500 does not utilize the enlarged crew cab introduced on the 2019 Ram 1500. Some of the attractive design elements are indeed present, but some critical features are absent, such as a telescoping steering wheel. What that means is that Chevy has the bigger crew cab with a more configurable driving position.
What About Cargo and Towing?
Chevrolet's approach to towing and hauling goes well beyond the tow ratings themselves. It has also spent a lot of time improving features you'll appreciate even if your trailer is immensely heavy.
For one, extendable tow mirrors are standard across the board, but the trim level you buy will determine if they are manually or power-extendable. The previous truck had corner bed steps built into the rear bumper, but this year another pair of steps have been molded into the fenders ahead of the rear tire. It's now very easy to hop up and get in the front part of the bed, and this accessibility even applies to the dually.
Both the standard and long beds are wider inside, and the standard bed is 3.3 inches longer than last year. There are 12 fixed tie-down loops, arrayed with three in each corner set at different heights. The high-mounted third brake light is flanked by bed lights and a camera to help make fifth-wheel and gooseneck hitching a solo job, even at night. The rear corners of the bed contain additional lights, as well as a 120-volt 400-watt power outlet and a second seven-pin trailer lighting receptacle.
Chevrolet's Advanced Trailering System can support up to 15 views through as many as 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. We could not stop marveling at the usefulness of this one.
This trickery only works if you are towing a conventional trailer, but those towing a fifth-wheel or gooseneck can still use the rear-mounted trailer camera to monitor the rear view continuously and conventionally while towing. Additional views down the sides of the trailer are extremely handy when maneuvering in tight quarters. And the trailer and nose cameras both have downward views that allow you to creep within inches of obstacles you cannot otherwise see because of the trailer and the breadth of the 3500HD's massive hood.
What Else Should I Know?
Like the 2500HD, the 3500HD incorporates a number of other less obvious changes that make it a better truck than last year. A couple of them apply specifically to those who live in colder climates. The optional engine block heater comes with a separate cord that plugs into a socket on the side of the bumper. The trim panel below the front bumper can be removed when it is time to install the snowplow and replaced in spring after you take it off.
More than anyone else, 3500 series truck buyers are likely candidates for wanting a power take-off unit, and the 2020 3500HD is unique in that it actually offers one as a full factory option. Another change: Last year's diesel engine came with a DEF fill port that was inconveniently located under the hood, but now it resides under the fuel flap where it always should have been. And those of you who want to install a gooseneck or fifth-wheel hitch in the bed can select an optional prep package that equips the bed with compatible sockets and an underbed support structure to transmit the loads into the frame.
Chevrolet will offer the 3500HD in four trim levels: Work Truck, LT, LTZ and High Country. The Custom trim level available on the 2500HD is absent here. The regular cab comes with an 8-foot bed, and the double and crew cabs have the new longer 6.9-foot standard bed. Each of them can be upgraded with an 8-foot bed, and any cab can be had in a dually chassis configuration if they're paired with the 8-foot bed.
Don't bother trying to look up EPA fuel economy figures, though, because these HD pickups are exempt from fuel economy testing and labeling.
The Silverado 3500HD had fallen behind the pack in recent years because its cab space, powertrains and towing capacity didn't measure up. But the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD now excels in these critical areas. But it's not just about sheer capacity numbers. The new 3500HD is also loaded with clever towing- and hauling-related features that will really make a difference every day. Do not expect a repeat of the 1500 series pickup comparison test when we eventually conduct a similar 3500 series test.