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2021 Chevy Silverado 1500 Duramax: Subject to change

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The Chevy Silverado 1500 Duramax has seen its fair share of change in its brief lifespan. The diesel option pricing has changed for the better, EPA figures have been adjusted the wrong way, package pricing and availability is a moving target, towing capacity is up this year, auto start/stop is said to be on its way out, and a service interval may change.

And don’t forget new colors, too.

So why does a 2021 “all-star” drive much like any other 3.0-liter Duramax? Because none of the changes affect how it drives.

I hear you mumbling, yeah, start/stop is gone, that changes how it drives. OK, it may use incrementally more fuel without it—no car company spends money on R&D and components for a system that isn’t somehow advantageous or required—or it may use less. I never had a problem disabling it or just lifting the brake pedal a millimeter when the cross-traffic light turned yellow.

Those who rack up miles, such as diesel owners, appreciate longer service intervals, especially when said service involves dropping the transmission. So, GM suggesting they’re looking at validating the oil-pump belt for longer than 150K-mile service is encouraging.

The oil-pump belt conundrum

We’ve previously addressed this belt conundrum and were told space constraints dictated a belt because a chain tensioner wouldn’t fit. However, there is a chain back there already, driving the high-pressure fuel pump, and another from there to camshafts, just like BMW’s diesel that drives the oil pump with a chain. A few cars in my fleet have oil pumps driven by gear, including one that’s an inline-six, and most of my gear drives are no wider than a belt. However, they may be noisier than GM wanted, even though I can’t hear any of them when the engine’s running. And nobody mentioned the electric option.

I also find the claim of little engine damage from belt failure (though none has yet) potentially dubious. Yes, you can light up the dash and sound warnings, but that doesn’t guarantee anyone will stop: YouTube under-the-influencers have documented component destruction despite all those lights and gongs, and I once watched a “professional automotive journalist” crack the oil pan bottoming a Corvette Z06 and drive it for miles with zero oil pressure and multiple warning signs until the 427 seized outright.

Finally, when the 6.5-liter turbodiesel (the “noiseless, smokeless” that was neither) debuted nearly 30 years ago we had one for a large comparison test. It didn’t want to start, but extended cranking eventually lit it, and once running, it would fall on its face in the 2,500 to 2,700 RPM range. We returned it for inspection/repair, and the report said the oil-pressure safety switch (not associated with the gauge), which was to cut fuel pumping if oil pressure dropped, had failed. While that cut any pumping of fuel, the engine still ran on fuel vacuum. So, had that engine actually lost oil pressure, and the driver wasn’t paying attention, it would have been toast. Or maybe just the turbo — it’s all speculation, but with fail-safes that aren’t and relying on the driver, I sure hope the 3.0-liter has good self-preservation software.

How good is the diesel engine?

For this 2021 LT the diesel engine is a $2,390 upgrade from LT’s standard 2.7-liter turbo and $1,045 more than the 5.3-liter V-8, a premium I would happily pay even where diesel’s the priciest on the island. The All-Star Package—a collection of popular options and 20-inch wheels—is listed at $1,900, but on Chevy’s build-and-price site the $1,900 was crossed out, replaced with $1,650 and was “not available for order.” I wouldn’t want it anyway because I prefer my Z71 with more sidewall of the standard 18s, not less.

That made this sample about $55,500. Naturally, apples-to-apples comparisons are impossible, but the most-similarly equipped F-150 Lariat and Ram 1500 Laramie diesels both cost more — by $3,800 for the PowerStroke and $4,995 for the EcoDiesel. I’m tempted to say buy as soon as pricing and availability normalize, and before GM realizes they’ll upgrade you to a 3.0-liter for about what it costs to diesel a Colorado.

And I like this engine more than its competitors. Inline sixes are inherently balanced — just one reason BMW and Mercedes still build them in car sizes — and this engine reminds me a lot of a vintage 5-year-old BMW 5-series N57 diesel (which was 255 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque in the U.S. but up to 380 horsepower and triple turbos overseas) in operation—quiet, smooth, and in only a few conditions noisier than the gasoline option. It’s hard to believe I’m comparing a pickup truck’s diesel to a touring car’s diesel, but that’s how good it is. And if you think an inline four this size would be better, go drive a ProMaster diesel, Cummins R2.8 or even a Colorado 2.8.

Silverado 1500 Duramax

Fuel economy & gas costs

I’m a big proponent of running the numbers, often proving to potential buyers a diesel is not for them. However, fuelly.com averages can be extrapolated to 16.8 MPG for a 5.3-liter V-8 and 23 MPG for the diesel. Since both call for synthetic oil changes at 7,500 miles and the 5.3-liter V-8 holds more of it but the diesel filter is pricier, at mid-June’s $3/gallon gas and $3.25 diesel, allowing $0.003/mi DEF, the diesel handily pays the $1,045 premium in less than 50,000 miles — all other things being equal.

Even pulling the transmission at 150,000 miles won’t knock off its advantage.

When this truck was delivered, the trip computer’s 50-mile window said it had an average fuel economy of 25.4 MPG and the best of 27.3 MPG. After I had it for a week, which included plenty of idle time for photos and eating without bugs, and a quarter of the miles run in low-range or low gears, the same display showed 27.7 and 32.1, respectively. Idling aside, 19.3 MPG after the trail was the lowest I saw, and by fuel added it averaged 23.4 MPG, not enough for a long-term number but enough to say the EPA’s 22/26 city/highway MPG seems legit.

The on- and off-road drive

Three overdrives and 3.23:1 gears equal a long-legged truck, needing a tailwind on mirror-flat pavement to use top gear at 55 MPH, but cruising well beyond 80 MPH at 2,000 RPM. Acceleration is plenty lively, and I liked the throttle mapping in “off-road” mode, but despite having a valve in the exhaust it didn’t have much in the way of engine braking. Cresting a grade at 70 MPH and shifting from D to L, which dropped it direct to seventh gear, I still needed a downshift to sixth just to maintain 72 down the 7% hill without using the brake, and at low speeds I often chose 4WD only because first-high wasn’t slow enough for the trail. I did bring tools to remove the airdam if needed, but careful spotting meant just enough clearance to avoid lying in the muck.

Any difference between 2019 trucks and this one regarding comfort and agility I attribute to the 20-inch wheels — it’s been too long to detect any recalibration in damping, spring, bushing or antiroll bar rates. The 2021 High Country does offer the trick dampers of upper-trim Sierras now, but not for us peons in $50K trucks. Like every Silverado of this generation I’ve driven, ride quality improves with some load to settle the rear end.

The redesigned Silverado got panned for a “lackluster” or “dated” interior. I dare not school you on style or your favorite materials, and while I prefer “truck” interiors rather than those imitating big luxury sedans manufacturers no longer build, I think the other guys’ cabins feel better. Heck, I’m just excited to see they think my arms are the same length now.

Silverado 1500 Duramax

A few nagging issues

Were I given a meeting with product planning, I’d bring up the following: This is not unique to GM, but those door posts that keep getting wider are not helping visibility, or my head when tossed into them. And you’d think by now power tailgate releases could be integrated with cameras and sensors, so they wouldn’t drop if it wasn’t clear. The grab handle on the A-pillar could be downsized because if you palm the wheel during maneuvering, such as backing a boat trailer or weaving around some boulders (don’t tell me you’ve never done it), outstretched fingers hit that handle—I did it twice.

I don’t want a “temporary use only” spare tire on anything, let alone a 4WD truck. And then you have the Z71 badge, which looks neat — until you have to clean it with a Q-tip. While we’re on design flaws, a five-spoke wheel with six lug nuts challenges my sense of symmetry, those air curtain front fenders caught so many wildflowers and bugs I wonder if they remain intact in heavy snow or a bow wave, and the driver’s mirror element vibrates.

The bottom line on the Silverado 1500 Duramax

I can change the spare and wouldn’t have 20s, so the above issues aren’t deal-breakers, just ideas. And that engine and 10-speed automatic are good enough to make this a first choice for anyone who carries a load on a long commute.

Editor’s note: Photos on this page by GR Whale.

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GR Whale

GR Whale has been breaking parts for 45 years and writing about it for 30. An award-winning writer, he's served as Technical Editor on a few magazines, been published in more than 40 outlets and quit counting at one million miles and 10,000 vehicles driven. Equally comfortable with vehicles to 56,000 GVW or sports cars, he'd rather be sailing. He owns nothing newer than 2006 and holds no positions with any automaker.

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