With class-leading tow capacity and thoughtful features designed for RVers, the new Chevy 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty pickups make towing easier than ever
Confidence. This single word defines the overarching objective behind Chevy’s new 2500 and 3500 HD pickups. In conducting consumer clinics, during which 1,000 RVers were interviewed, 57 percent said that towing a trailer was a stressful experience, and 12 percent admitted they had been in a fight with a significant other or family member while towing. Perhaps even more alarming (at least for this author), many of the people surveyed didn’t know the tow rating of their truck or the weight of the trailer they were towing. Considering its research also revealed that 460,000 RVs were sold in 2018 (100,000 of them fifth-wheels), Chevy viewed the RV market as a substantial opportunity for both profit and problem-solving when engineering the 2020 Chevy Silverado HD.
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Certainly, a lot of towing uncertainties can be solved with capability. The combination of a powerful engine, a bulletproof transmission and a sturdy chassis makes for easy towing, so GM focused on optimizing the entire package to arrive at a segment-leading maximum tow rating of 35,500 pounds, a 52 percent improvement over the previous model. Surprisingly, the flagship Duramax diesel is essentially unchanged at 445 horsepower and 910 lb-ft of torque, but a larger, variable-speed 28-inch mechanical fan and a functional hood scoop keep the diesel cooler. In addition, a new engine after-run feature allows the Duramax to run for up to 15 minutes before shutting off.
Everything aft of the engine has been upgraded. A new 10L1000 10-speed Allison reportedly does a more efficient job at delivering the diesel’s power through 30 percent larger prop shafts, larger front and rear axles, and a 12-inch ring gear on 3500 models (11.5-inch on 2500 models). The fully boxed ladder frame has also been “enhanced,” according to GM, but no details on added strength or torsional rigidity were specified. However, the manufacturer did point out that any diesel-powered dually in its 2020 lineup can be equipped to tow 30,000 pounds or more, not just one or two models.
A new standard 6.6-liter gas engine produces 401 horsepower and 464 lb-ft of torque, 11 and 22 percent improvements over the outgoing 6.0-liter powerplant, respectively. Using an iron small block with a steel crank, forged powder-metal connecting rods and aluminum cylinder heads, the engine leverages direct injection to elevate the compression ratio to 10.8:1.
Built specifically for the HD-truck application, the engine has a longer stroke to deliver more low-speed torque and will be offered with dual alternators. It is backed by the 6L90 six-speed automatic transmission with tow/haul mode.
Built at the Flint Assembly plant in Flint, Michigan, the new Silverado HD is longer, wider and taller than its predecessor with a wheelbase that has been stretched 5.2 inches on Crew Cab models. And unlike its competition from Ford and Ram, this new HD shares almost nothing with its half-ton brethren; the only common component is the roof. Five trim levels, available across 22 cab, bed chassis and driveline configurations, provide customers with a wide range of choices.
You could say that reducing anxiety when towing also increases confidence, so in addition to a generous selection of standard towing features (see sidebar on page 34), the new Silverado HD also offers up to eight cameras and 15 camera views. In addition to tailgate- and bed-view cameras that assist with hitching a travel trailer or fifth-wheel, the Silverado also offers a front camera that makes parking a lot easier, as well as a camera on each exterior mirror.
Camera views can also be “stitched” together in some cases to create a graphical representation of what is around the vehicle, such as the now-popular top-down bird’s-eye view. The Silverado leverages this technology further with a front top-down view, a rear top-down view and the “bowl view,” a 3-D surround image as viewed from the front of the truck, looking back.
In addition, Chevy offers an optional rear-trailer-view camera that obviously helps with backing but also makes a couple of other interesting views possible: a somewhat confusing picture-in-picture side view, which combines the side- and rear-trailer-camera views, and an innovative new creation called “transparent trailer.” By stitching the tailgate and rear-trailer-camera views together, the customer can virtually “see through” the top half of a conventional box or travel trailer. We’re told they haven’t worked out all the details with this view on a fifth-wheel yet.
STANDARD TOWING FEATURES
2020 CHEVY SILVERADO HD
VIN-specific trailer label
Auto park brake: Energizes electronic parking brake when the truck is placed in Park to prevent truck movement when the hitch is aligned
Hill start assist and hill descent control: Prevent truck from rolling backward on steep inclines and control speed when going downhill
Tow/haul reminder: Tells the driver when tow/haul mode should be selected
Trailer sway control and rollover avoidance
Auto grade braking and diesel exhaust braking (Duramax only)
ASA iN-Command integration
Enhanced digital variable steering: Dynamically optimizes power steering according to driving conditions
Trailer profile storage: Stores up to five trailer profiles
Electronic trailer-brake memory: “Remembers” trailer-brake settings when trailer is plugged in
Trailer electrical diagnostics
Trailer tire pressure and temperature monitoring
Trailer theft deterrent: If the trailer is unplugged while the truck is locked and the security system is armed, a horn will honk and lights will flash.
Finally, Chevy offers another customer-added camera for the interior of the trailer to help keep tabs on valuable cargo during transit. When four or more camera systems are specified, the truck is equipped with two exterior ports (near the standard seven-way Bargman receptacle) to plug the cameras into, so the views are clear and free from any radio interference that could occur with a wireless system.
To demonstrate how helpful the camera systems can be, Chevy issued a unique challenge at its press introduction in Bend, Oregon: Pros versus Joes. Journalists were encouraged to bring a guest that had little or no towing experience, and then the couples were pitted against each other on an obstacle course. The kicker is that the experienced RVers had to navigate the course with no camera help, while the novices could take full advantage of the 15 views the eight-camera system had to offer.
Naturally, your man at Trailer Life nailed the course with mirrors only (sniff), but it was interesting to ride through the course with complete beginners. Once they became familiar with the various views (which can be selected on the touch screen), the tasks of turning, parking and backing with a trailer in tow were totally stress-free. Particularly useful was the bias side view, which displays the entire side of the truck and trailer when turning. We can just imagine how many tires and wheels will be saved from curbs and how much body damage will be prevented by avoiding posts, trees and other obstacles.
Yet another way to reduce stress when towing is to make every aspect of it easier, from choosing the right tow vehicle to setting up at camp. To this end, the 2020 Silverado HD includes a VIN-specific Trailering Information Label that lists the truck’s specific trailering data including curb weight, gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr), gross combined weight rating (gcwr), maximum payload, maximum hitch weight, gross axle weight rating (gawr) and fifth-wheel/gooseneck ratings. We found that the label’s position, located inside the driver’s door, along with its small print and busy background, made it difficult to read. However, this is a small problem that could easily be rectified, and we hope the label will be fixed on production trucks because it is a great addition.
Setting up gets a little easier with a new feature called Smart Trailer Integration, developed in a partnership with ASA Electronics and its iN-Command control system. Designed to be integrated with and accessed through the myChevrolet mobile app, either on compatible Android/iOS smartphones or via the vehicle’s infotainment system through Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, iN-Command allows owners to monitor and control a range of systems in the trailer, such as water-tank levels, HVAC controls, generator start/stop and even slideouts in recreational trailers equipped with the technology, according to GM. We did not have an opportunity to see how the system works, but it would be nice, for example, to start the generator and turn on the A/C in your toy hauler before parking in a desert site.
Other towing technologies include an in-vehicle Trailering App, complete with trailer-light test, trailer electrical diagnostics, trailer tire pressure and temperature monitoring, maintenance reminders and a handy predeparture checklist. Many of the in-vehicle Trailering App’s functions, including trailer profile creation and trailer-light test, are also available with the myChevrolet mobile app.
With good looks, additional capability and an abundance of thoughtful features designed for RVers, Chevy’s HD models have all the goods and may even steal some customers away from Ford and Ram.
A frequent contributor to Trailer Life, Chris Hemer is the former technical editor of Trailer Life and MotorHome, and has been an RV and automotive journalist for more than 20 years. An outdoor enthusiast who now makes his home in Portland, Oregon, he enjoys camping, motorcycle riding, mountain biking and hiking.