BOSTON — Strip off the badging from the country’s best-selling pickup trucks, and many folks would have a tough time telling them apart.
Whether it’s the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, or the RAM 1500, all have (though the rabid fans of each particular truck will vehemently argue otherwise) more or less the same price, capabilities, features, safety, and everything else.
Only a handful of items will move the needle, like the availability of an electric F-150, the terrific interior of the RAM 1500, or, as in my test vehicle this week, a genuinely terrific engine. I’ve written about GM’s wonderful Duramax 3-liter turbodiesel before. Still, after spending more than a week with it — putting well over 1,000 miles on it — I can wholeheartedly say that it is worth buying this truck solely to get this engine.
Typical “truck guys” love V8 engines, but I don’t because they’re inefficient for most purposes and have less-than-stellar low-end torque, which is what you need for going from 0-20 mph and then from 50-70 mph.
It is critical to have a good experience whilst accelerating at those speeds, where most drivers spend most of their time. That’s why electric vehicles (including the aforementioned electric Ford F-150 Lightning) are so much fun to drive and why the Duramax diesel-equipped Chevrolet Silverado is such a pleasure behind the wheel.
Under development for more than a decade before it was released, the six-cylinder diesel notches 22 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, one of the best fuel efficiency numbers for full-size trucks. That helps at the pump, though it’s worth noting that diesel prices have remained stubbornly high while gasoline prices have fallen in recent months.
Whether driving in big city Boston traffic or climbing grades in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the diesel is silky smooth, gliding through the 10-speed automatic gearbox effortlessly. Like most turbodiesels, the little 3-liter doesn’t rev exceptionally high, so it is shifting gears a lot, but you hardly notice. As a bonus, you’re nearly always in the optimal torque band.
Just about the only difference between the diesel and the standard gas-powered trucks is the need to go to a different pump and that you’ll need to keep an eye on the DEF fluid indicator — DEF is a consumable fluid that helps reduce diesel emissions, and you’ll need to keep an eye on it if you buy one. The truck is very good about letting you know when it’s low, and DEF can be purchased at basically any filling station that sells diesel.
I was so enamored with the diesel engine that I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the truck. I’ve reviewed Silverado 1500s before, and the big update for 2022 was a much-needed (and fantastic) new interior. With a large touchscreen and intelligently laid out controls, the Silverado is competitive in the truck segment.
A lot of attention has been (rightfully) paid to the Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup, though compared to the overall full-size truck market, Lightning’s production numbers remain a small chunk. But electric trucks are coming, including a new electric Chevrolet Silverado — but those trucks almost feel like entirely different vehicles, especially the electric Silverado, which has a completely new design.
It remains to be seen how quickly customers will take to these electric pickups, but I think it’ll be many years before consumers opt for electric trucks in higher numbers than their fossil-fueled counterparts. That’s why engines like this 3-liter Duramax are so important. This might be the last new engine developed for GM’s full-size trucks and SUVs, so it’s good that it’s so good.
I don’t need to tow with any regularity, so if I were going to buy a pickup today, I would take a long, hard look at the Ford F-150 Lightning. It’s a terrific truck, with many tremendous design touches and features that make it stand out as a truck, electric or not.
But if I weren’t ready for electric or needed to drive longer distances than the 300-mile range of the F-150 Lightning would allow without charging, my first stop would be a local Chevy dealer to test-drive a diesel Silverado 1500.