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Review: The 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax Diesel Provides Maximum Torque And Fuel Mileage But Can't Match Refined Rivals

Few slices of the automotive industry move faster than full-size pickups. In a constant game of one-upmanship, Detroit's Big Three are continually unveiling new trim levels, drivetrain options, special packages, and body styles in an effort to capture the attention—and dollars—of buyers seeking out the most popular vehicles on the planet.

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax diesel front 3/4

In such a high paced environment, even the smallest of stumbles can be enough to fall behind the rest of the pack, forcing a brand to scramble to catch up so as not to be left behind. So it goes with the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax, a truck that checks off each and every box necessary to keep it in the mix, but which still comes up short in a number of key areas that force it on the outside looking in at some of its better-rounded rivals.

Strong Diesel Vibes

Any discussion of the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax must necessarily be split along two different lines.

  2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax diesel engine

First, there's its turbodiesel engine. This six-cylinder unit displaces 3.0L and offers up a respectable 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. That's the same level of twist delivered by the Silverado's optional 6.2L gas motor, but the Duramax brings it online at only 1,500 rpm, which is almost two-thirds lower than the big V8's peak production.

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax diesel  towing

In the realm of light duty diesels, the Duramax's output sits right in the middle of both Ford and Ram's offerings, with the latter at the top of the torque pyramid. Still it's certainly more than enough might to handle any load you might see fit to throw at the Silverado, what with its 9,300 lbs of towing capacity and nearly 2,000 lbs of payload. These numbers aren't class-leading—Ford's gasoline-burning EcoBoost V6 is still large and in charge with a tow rating in the neighborhood of 11,000 lbs—but it's almost three times the average American trailer load.

Sip-Shaming Thirsty V8s

More importantly, the Silverado's Duramax engine balances its strength as a tow option with phenomenal fuel mileage that won't be duplicated by anything other than a diesel. Highway consumption for two-wheel drive models is rated at 33-mpg by the EPA, with 23-mpg listed in city driving. In combination, you're looking at 27-mpg from a full-size pickup, with the four-wheel drive's weight and complexity slicing three miles per gallon from that figure. These numbers tend to hold up in real world driving, too, as I've discovered when piloting both this Silverado and the related Suburban in diesel editions (although intense stop-and-go will, of course, drop efficiency significantly).

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax diesel rear 3/4

In terms of unloaded, daily commuting, the Chevrolet Silverado matches the 5.3L V8 edition in terms of off-the-line acceleration and cruising capability, outshined only by the massive 6.2L V8's ample horsepower. A 10-speed automatic transmission toils unnoticed in the background, and while the Duramax is certainly much louder than a gas engine at idle (particularly on cold start), it's not all that intrusive in the cabin.

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax diesel badge

There's really nothing but upside to ordering this fuel-sipping engine, which only adds about $1,000 to the price over and above the Silverado's entry-level V8, or $2,500 above its base turbocharged four-cylinder engine, starting at the popular LT trim level.

Almost, But Not Quite, Competitive

Pivoting from the drivetrain to the truck it's attached to is almost like a tale of two different pickups. As modern and impressive as the Duramax engine is, there are portions of the Silverado that feel stuck in the past, especially when directly compared to the Ford F-150 and the Ram 1500.

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax diesel interior

My tester arrived in High Country trim, which is the top tier version of the Chevrolet Silverado. And yet, opening the driver's door revealed a cabin stuffed with plastic, some soft and some hard to the touch, but all generally unattractive to the eyes. It's a sea of undifferentiated blacks and grays where other full-size pickups display detail both visually and in terms of materials. Sure, there are a few wood-grain inserts on the console, door pull, steering wheel, and LCD screen surround, but they look tacked on and out of place, rather than part of any comprehensive design.

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax diesel guage cluster

Yes, trucks should be rugged, hard-wearing, and easy to interact with, even when wearing work gloves, but to be honest there are some parts of the big buck Silverado's interior I didn't want to touch UNLESS I was wearing something to protect my hands. It's a far cry from the environs provided by the gorgeous Ram Limited and upscale F-150 Platinum, from its basic infotainment system to its clunky column shift lever to its drab leather upholstery. It's too bad, because the Silverado's cabin is roomy and practical, just like a full-size truck should be, but all of that goodwill gets washed away by the fact that you paid top dollar for what looks like an entry-level truck's living space once you park it alongside the competition.

Weak Flex

I also wasn't impressed by the 'Multi-Flex' tailgate attached to the truck. Complicated, somewhat heavy, and not all that useful, the unit's fold-down step was no more helpful to me when loading tires into the back than the integrated bumper steps already on the truck. It's hard not to see the fussy design quickly getting filled up with muck, salt, and grime over the course of the year.

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax diesel rear view multiflex tailgate

It's also worth noting that the Silverado rides rougher than either the coil-spring Ram or the softer F-150, which can be irritating if you regularly have to deal with broken pavement or potholed gravel roads like I do. No doubt that stiff suspension setup is geared towards getting the job done, but if you're hauling air you’re going to notice the Chevrolet's unrefined character.

Help Is On The Way—For 2022

Don't get me wrong: the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado will do all the truck tasks you throw its way, and the Duramax is a strong choice for anyone who puts mega miles on their pickup thanks to its excellent efficiency and hearty torque. It's just that Ford and Ram do the same, only with much better cabins, more useful features and technologies, and luxury pricing that actually delivers a premium experience.

Ford F-150 on Nittos

General Motors is well aware that the Silverado lags behind the rest of the pack, which is why for 2022 it's gone all-in on a comprehensive refresh that includes major changes to both exterior styling as well as the look and feel of the entire cabin.

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax diesel front view

Unless you can't wait to replace your current truck, or you've somehow managed to snag a deal on leftover inventory (which seems unlikely given production difficulties associated with the Duramax due to the current global chip shortage), your best move is to wait until those updated trucks roll onto the lot sometime next year.

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