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The 2020 Silverado HD is all-new and claims the segment’s highest max-tow rating at 35,500 lbs. (Chevrolet)

Heavy capability for Chevy’s 2020 Silverado heavy-duty pickups

That there are a staggering eight different trim levels for the new 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD lineup says much about the importance the commercial-pickup segment holds for each of the Detroit Three automakers. Like the half-ton pickups sold to everyday consumers, these models, once known mostly as “work trucks” have assumed a complex role that far exceeds their one-dimensional roots.

And it’s no secret the profits heavy-duty pickups deliver are almost as heavy as the loads they’re designed to haul.

The 2020 Silverado HD (2500/3500) line includes “just” five distinct trims, but there are sub-trims for three; all told, it’s Work Truck, Custom, Custom Trail Boss, LT, RST, LT Trail Boss and High Country. As you work up the trim-level ladder, the line separating commercial duty and lifestyle accoutrement becomes blurrier—particularly when you understand it’s possible to lay down nearly $90,000 for a check-all-the-boxes version of the new High Country trim.

Fancy prices for “work” pickups aren’t news for Tim Herrick, Chevrolet Trucks’ tuned-in executive chief engineer. Many customers tow expensive equipment or campers that are substantial investments, he said, so they’re willing to make a comparable outlay for a pickup with the capability to tow up to 35,500 lb. (16,103 kg). And do it in the kind of enhanced comfort that’s coming to define even heavy-duty pickups.

New chassis brings new capability
Herrick said the 2020 Silverado HD architecture is based on an up-rated version of the prior boxed-steel ladder frame, all to handle that max tow (for the Silverado 3500) that’s 52% greater than before. As is invariably the case, the new structure also brings more size: a 5.2-in. (132-mm) enhancement for the wheelbase of the most-popular crew cab body, to 158.9 in. (4036 mm) for the standard bed. Compared to the outgoing 2019 HD pickups, the crew cab also is 1.4 in. (36 mm) wider and overall length is up by a not-insubstantial 10.4 in. (264 mm). That length brings a standard bed that provides 9 cu. ft. more volume and 3 in. (76 mm) of newfound rear-seat legroom.

In a day of high-desert test driving, our favorite new-chassis element might be the short/long-arm independent front suspension that is a noticeable refinement compared to the solid front axles common to the segment. The improved steering precision and comfort the setup provides is augmented by an optional “digital” assist for the base hydraulic recirculating-ball power steering. The digital assist ties into the tow/haul setting for unique steering calibration while towing that was a game-changer with the 12,000-lb. (5443-kg) and 14,000-lb. (6350-kg) test tows Chevy arranged on hilly public roads.

Bigger gasoline V8, same diesel powerhouse
Those with outsized towing and hauling requirements are known for their loyalty to diesel engines and the 2020 Silverado HDs continue with the 6.6-L Duramax diesel V8 that makes 445 hp and 910 lb-ft (1234 Nm), but there’s a twist: Herrick said the new trucks’ revised and strengthened frame, along with a 30% larger-diameter prop shaft, larger front and rear axles and beefy 12-in. (304-mm) ring gear mean the Duramax is able to channel all 910 lb-ft in first gear of the new standard Allison 10-speed automatic transmission—an ability that allows GM to offset rival Ram brand’s High Output variant of its latest Cummins-made 6.7-L I-6 turbodiesel that belts out 1,000 lb-ft. (1356 Nm), but may not be able to deliver maximum torque in first gear.

And taking a direct shot at Ford’s competing Super Duty lineup, Herrick also said Chevrolet’s tow ratings are not reduced by elevation. “We can tow the number we say—anyway in the galaxy,” he boasts. Diesel-engine/Allison transmission HDs also can be had with a first-ever integrated power takeoff (PTO) that’s driven directly from the engine via a chain drive; Chevrolet said the feature, eliminating the need to fit an aftermarket PTO, is a first for the brand. Another thoughtful touch is gauge to indicate diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) level, while the DEF tank itself is relocated so that the filler is next to the fuel filler.

A simply monstrous 28-in (711-mm) diameter cooling fan is part of a carefully conceived cooling strategy that includes a new “after-run” feature that automatically keeps the engine and ancillaries running for up to 15 minutes if the truck is placed in park after a demanding haul.

The 2020 Silverado HD’s gasoline-engine option is an all-new 6.6-L gasoline V8 that develops 401 hp and 464 lb-ft (629 Nm); the previous 6.0-L V8 made 360 hp and 380 lb-ft (515 Nm). The iron-block engine remains based on GM’s iconic small-block architecture, with cylinder-head casting related to the light-duty 6.2-L small-block, assistant chief engineer for small-block engines Mike Kociba told Automotive Engineering. The engine is backed by GM’s 6L90 6-speed automatic transmission.

Kociba added that compression ratio was increased from 9.7:1 to 10.8:1 and the new internals include a forged-steel crankshaft and connecting rods and a new piston design for the HD application. Meanwhile, the new addition of direct injection “I believe defines the character of the engine and sets us apart in the market,” he said.

All 4-wheel drive models get a new 2-speed active transfer case that, in “4 auto” mode automatically apportions and adjusts drive between the front and rear axles as 4WD is required. There also is a locking rear differential.

New styling, customer-driven utility tech
Sandor Piszar, director of Chevrolet marketing, said that in a departure from past practice, the 2020 Silverado HDs were designed to be visually distinct from the light-duty Silverado, so the only shared sheetmetal with the Silverado 1500 is the roof panel. Production began first with the crew cab body style, with regular cab, double cab and duallies coming in the fall.

Most Chevy officials stayed away from the widely-maligned grille treatments for some trims and Piszar said the variety of trims is response to surveying that indicates HD customers “want the [specific] truck that’s right for them.”

He also said the 2020 Silverado HDs incorporate more than 50 segment firsts, but the highlight has to be the external-camera suite that encompasses as many as eight different cameras offering up to 15 views— the magical being the “invisible trailer” function that can continually show a virtual view of the road normally obscured by a large trailer. Test drives also proved the optional head-up display (HUD) available on some Silverado HD trims to be particularly useful for towing, while the available power up/down tailgates are a treat, too.

The sophisticated camera system, developed in cooperation with supplier Valeo, is a prominent example of a development priority for Chevy’s new-generation HD pickups. Chief engineer Herrick said that apart from the expected attention to overall performance that’s vital in the HD segment, development placed a high emphasis on easing the tension of towing.

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