Pickup Review: 2021 Chevrolet Silverado Diesel

It’s a good truck. But what is the best engine for it?

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Pickup trucks are like Rubik’s Cubes in that they have a million possible combinations. But while the best combination for the Rubik’s Cube is easy enough to figure out, the best combination of options, engine, cab, and bed for a pickup truck can be less obvious. The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 is a great truck, but what’s the best combination for it?

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Alright let’s assess the basics. You can buy it as a long bed in just one taxi but very few people do. Because trucks like that are only good for work! Standard length beds can be ordered with a double or crew cabin and short beds can only be ordered with a crew cabin. There is also a choice of 2×4 or 4×4 but at higher trim levels the 2×4 cannot be ordered. The crew cabin short bed configuration is the most popular right now, so let’s assume it’s the body style. The most affordable 4×4 crew cabin short bed you can buy will cost you $40,443.

There are eight trim levels and four engines to choose from, but some engines are not available at certain trim levels. Generally lower trims can’t have the bulky 6.2L V8; and the higher trim won’t let you define the four cylinders. But more on that machine later. Our tester was a fully loaded High Country trim, which came in at $81,828 as tested with a long list of options. High Country starts at $67,848.

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And now let’s talk about machines because there are many from them. The bottom of the totem pole is a 2.7L four-cylinder. That makes an impressive 310 hp and 348 lb-ft of torque. It is the only machine that can come with only an eight-speed automatic. Next up is the most common engine, the 5.3L V8 that produces 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque. This engine is paired with eight speeds in a 2×4 configuration; and 10 speed auto when configured as 4×4. We’re only half way through! The most powerful petrol engine on offer is the 6.2L V8 that produces 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. Our testers had Duramax Diesel 3.0L and the numbers tell an interesting story.

That makes less horsepower than the base four at just 277, but matches the massive 6.2 V8 for torque at 460 lb-ft. Peak power comes at 3,750 rpm and peak torque arrives at only 1,500 rpm. For those curious how it competes, the Ford 3.0L diesel makes 250 hp and 440 lb-ft while the Dodge 3.0L produces 260 hp and 480 lb-ft. One note is that the Ford and Ram offerings are V6 while the Chevy units are in line-six. In my personal opinion, the I6 makes for a better sounding engine than the V6.

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Now, how much the diesel as an option costs depends on what trim package it is paired with. It costs $3,245 to add it to the High Country but it will cost more than that to add it to the lower trims. No matter which way you slice it, the diesel is the most expensive engine in its range.

Both V8s get nearly the same mileage, both going 14.7 L/100 km in the city when equipped with 10-speed and 4WD; while the 5.3 gets slightly better off the highway at 11.0 L/100 km, the 6.2 is slightly worse, depending on trim. The 4WD diesel engine gets significantly better mileage than the V8, with 10.6 L/100 km in the city and 9.2 L/100 km on the highway. So you will save money on fuel with diesel, especially if you do a lot of city or towing trips.

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Diesel Chevrolet Silverado 2021
Diesel Chevrolet Silverado 2021 Photo by Clayton Seams

So what’s the best engine for the Silverado? For starters, we can cut out the four cylinders — the 5.3 V8 isn’t that expensive, and you get much better power and torque, not to mention a better soundtrack. The 6.2 beats 5.3 in strength, but it’s also a match for the economy. If you can afford 6.2 over 5.3, it’s a clear winner. That brings us to an old challenge: Big petrol engine vs small turbodiesel.

And the answer depends on what’s important to you as a truck owner. In terms of crude dollars, gas is a lower upfront cost but will have higher operating costs due to higher fuel consumption compared to diesel. Once running, the diesel is the clear champion of towing, that low torque means less need to downshift whereas the V8 needs to be cranked up in the rev range to generate power. If you can afford it, diesel is a better choice for towing and city driving. My heart loves diesel, my brain loves V8. Whichever way you order it, it’s a pretty good combination.

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