Wagon Wheel: 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax

The plan was to leave on Friday, March 12th before 7:00AM. We had a long haul ahead of us, somewhere in the 12 hour range once we factored in stops. I was loaded up and ready to help my brother move from Albany, NY to Charlotte, NC. But the story didn’t start here. It started exactly one year ago to the day.

In March of 2020, coronavirus lockdowns were starting to propagate through the US. My brother was forced to consider bunkering down indefinitely by himself in a 1-bedroom Manhattan apartment or leaving almost everything behind and staying upstate with our parents. Whether it was the prospect of home cooked meals or not having to wait in line at Whole Foods for toilet paper, my brother packed a suitcase and came home. Six months later he was able to negotiate an end to his lease and hire a no-contact moving crew to pack his apartment and deliver it to a storage facility locally. By December, he had found a new job opportunity in Charlotte. By the time February rolled around, it was time to think about moving. My brother is not alone in his move south. A 2019 U-Haul study found that the metro area of North Carolina to be the #1 destination for one-way rentals of its services. Through the start of 2021, New York’s Emmy-award-winning, octogenarian-endangering governor and his lingering lockdown policies meant the state has been steadily bleeding residents. On top of that, 2020 has taught most businesses that employees don’t need to live near or report to an office. So Charlotte it was! And with only a bachelor pad worth of furniture, he didn’t need an expensive moving service or large truck. We resolved to fit his entire life into a 6’x12′ U-Haul trailer and drive it south in a Spring road trip of sorts. And that gave me an idea.

Chevrolet developed a clean-sheet diesel engine as an option in the all-new 2020 Silverado 1500. It’s the first diesel in a Chevy light-duty truck since 1997. Known for impressive torque figures and efficiency, diesel engines are not just for heavy-duty trucks anymore. And GM hasn’t stopped with just their pickups. The all-new 3.0L diesel engine can be had in full-size SUVs across Chevrolet, GMC, and even Cadillac brands. That’s right, you could have a diesel engine in your all-new Cadillac Escalade. A diesel light-duty pickup seemed the perfect tool for the job. The spacious cabin and high-tech amenities would made an ideal road trip space while the bed and trailering capability could handle the demands of packing one’s life into boxes. Chevrolet agreed, loaning us a 2021 Silverado Crew Cab LTZ for the 1,600 mile trip. The 3.0L Duramax turbo-diesel under the hood of the Silverado 1500 produces 277 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. Set up correctly, its capable of towing up to 9,300 lbs. From front to back, it was developed to make the most out of modern materials and technologies. Chevrolet cast the block and cylinder out of aluminum to save weight. For added confidence while towing, an exhaust brake is available when tow-haul mode is activated. A host of other innovations focused on efficiency have also found their way onto the truck. A variable geometry turbocharger and electronically-controlled variable intake manifold provide smoother power through the rev range and a low-pressure exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system helps lower combustion temperature and increases the turbocharger’s efficiency without impacting emissions. Ceramic glow plugs and active thermal management help the engine get to operating temperature more quickly to operate efficiently. Paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission, it is the quietest and smoothest diesel engine we’ve ever tested.

Loading a U-Haul trailer equates to a life-size game of Tetris. But there’s a set of ground rules that can make or break your trailing experience. More weight should be ahead of the trailer axles, at least 60%, which will naturally give the trailer the best straight line stability. Don’t believe it? Check out this small-scale example straight from U-Haul. It’s also good practice to evenly balance your load left-to-right, or else you can have a bad time of a different variety. You definitely also want to load the trailer only when its connected to the truck you’ll tow with. You’d be surprised at how hard it will be to lift the tongue weight of a loaded trailer off the ground or off another trailer hitch. It also opens up the possibility that the trailer can roll away untethered to a tow vehicles. These are dangerous scenarios that you should avoid. The U-Haul trailer uses a four-pin power connector. Interestingly, the Silverado 1500 doesn’t have a four-pin connector built into the truck, only a 7-pin port. You’ll need an adaptor, common among truck owners but surprisingly also not included with our tester, to power the lights on the trailer. As soon as you connect the trailer’s power connector, the truck recognizes a trailer and prompts a helpful onboard setup via the infotainment screen. The Silverado lets you name the trailer, enter the type, and configure any other settings it may have. Our trailer didn’t have any onboard cameras or brakes controller, but the settings are saved and recalled each time the truck is connected to the trailer. You can even run a trailer light test by yourself. The Silverado will cycle through activating the running lights, brake lights, left and right turn signals, and reverse lights continuously until you stop it via the touchscreen. No more yelling commands to a second person sitting in the driver’s seat to make sure you’re ready for the road. We also noticed some helpful behavioral changes the Silverado made when a trailer was attached. Instead of the typical three-blink turn signal activated by pressing the stalk, the Silverado automatically changed to a five-blink signal to give more indications while trailering. It also automatically activated a side mirror-mounted camera to display the lane next to the trailer when indicating. This extra view, displayed on the infotainment screen, made it easy to check the truck and trailer’s blind spots before changing lanes. It even helped navigate around some curbs in residential areas.

With a loaded trailer connected and the bed full of furniture, the Silverado’s rear axle bounces less. The suspension still has plenty of give to absorb bumps and road imperfections and the dual-axle trailer helps minimize the movement of the trailer from being transferred to the truck. That means our journey is smoother than expected. A twelve hour drive provides plenty of time to utilize every feature and option this Silverado LTZ has to offer. Our $61,000 tester came well equipped with the safety and convenience options that made trip easier. The Technology Package adds the aforementioned surround view cameras, rear camera mirror, heads up display, and a larger 8″ driver information display. The Safety Package II adds lane keep assist with departure warning, forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control, among other aids. Most beneficial of all, however, was the LTZ convenience package. Adding the 8″ touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, wireless charging pad, and a Bose premium sound system, we could keep an eye on Waze the entire time without tying up a USB port. My brother also found the standard OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi and 120V power outlet in the instrument panel fantastic for in-car productivity. Is it still considered “working from home” if your entire home is traveling through Pennsylvania at 65 mph?

With over 600 miles of indicated range from the Silverado’s computer at the start of the drive, our first stop wasn’t for diesel fuel. Instead, the Silverado’s 5-gallon diesel exhaust fluid was depleted. Not wanting to go into a low power “limp mode”, we stopped to fill the tank and top up the diesel fuel simultaneously. Two 2.5-gallon containers of DEF ran me $32 on top of $55 in diesel fuel. Pulling back onto the highway, the effortless torque of the Duramax engine made quick work of getting the trailer back up to highway speed. There wasn’t a highway merge or left-lane rest stop that made the Silverado feel like it was working hard. In tow-haul mode, the truck holds gears longer for better acceleration. It also makes more use of the exhaust brake to help slow the truck off throttle. This would be a helpful features coming out of the Appalachian mountains into North Carolina. Combined with the strong braking feel, the Silverado made comfortable and confident towing easy. Thankfully, easy traffic and minimal road work saw us into Charlotte on time around 9:30pm. The final challenge of the night was to canvas the neighborhood and find a parking spot suitable for 35 feet of continuous truck and trailer. Over the first 750-mile leg of the journey, trailer and all, the Silverado 1500 Duramax averaged an impressive 16.3mpg. If towing was going to be the easy part, unloading into a 3-story townhouse was definitely going to be the hard part. Thankfully the in-unit garage bay allowed for quick unloading of the trailer.

By 4:00pm on Sunday , things were sufficiently in place to allow for my departure. The trailer had been returned, meaning I could put the Silverado back into normal driving mode, switch to 2WD from Auto, and head as far north as possible before weariness lead me to stop for the night. I made it to Roanoke, VA before stopping for fuel and checking into a hotel. By 8;00am the next morning, I was back on the road. Without a trailer in tow, cargo in the bed or cab, and now by myself, the miles passed at a more rapid pace. Fair weather and traffic conditions meant my only stops were for food or restrooms. The Silverado’s rear end was noticeably more active, but not jarring, with an empty bed. The silky smoothness of the inline six also meant the cabin was quiet and comfortable. The only complaint was that the adaptive cruise control was sluggish to push the Duramax to accelerate and close the gap to an accelerating car ahead. This often left me lagging behind in traffic, leaving a gap large enough for others to merge in and create the same situation again. The only remedy was to goose the throttle enough to cause the transmission drop a few gears in aid of closing the gap. Commuting in a car is one thing, but spending over 24-hours behind the wheel in the course of 4 days is a much different experience. Even the slightest ergonomic misstep can cause misery. It has to be said, the Silverado’s seats and cabin are among the most comfortable and supportive I’ve ever spent that duration in. Room to stretch, firm and supportive seats, and easy-to-reach controls with a well-placed steering wheel meant I climbed out of the cab by 5:00pm on Monday evening without a stiff back, sore shoulders, or numb legs. Unencumbered by the move, the Silverado 1500 Duramax returned an astonishing 26.5mpg on the homeward leg of the journey. Over the full 1,600 mile trip, that works out to a 20.6mpg average.

In those long hours behind the wheel of the big Cherry Red rig, I grew quite fond of it. My personal admiration of chrome on trucks, plus the oft-complimented hue, really made this particular rig quite sharp. It’s rare to spend so much time behind the wheel of test vehicle. It’s also rare to have a test vehicle so perfectly suited for the task at hand. We needed a powerful, spacious, and capable truck to haul a trailer hundreds of miles, only to turn around and get me home unscathed shortly thereafter. The 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax did just that with ease. The onboard safety and technology features kept me alert and entertained for hours. My passenger was able to be productive and “connected” despite traversing a large portion of the east coast with his entire life in tow. In all, the new Duramax turbo-diesel was impressively refined and efficient, costing only $130 in fuel. That includes filling the tank back at home before returning the truck. If you’re going to get out of town, there really isn’t a more ideal setup.

-Christopher Little

2021 Chevrolet Silverado Crew Cab LTZ 4×4$52,400
Technology Package$2,070
Safety Package II$1,095
LTZ Convenience Package II$1,070
Duramax 3.0L Turbo-Diesel$995
Z71 Off-Road Package$850
Chevytec Spray-on Bedliner$545
Cherry Red Tintcoat$495
Destination Charges$1,595
As-Tested MSRP$61,115

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