Tow test: 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 3.0L Duramax diesel

Video is the 3.0 duramax good for towing

There’s only one downside to this truck: finding diesel at the pump. Beyond that, if I were truck shopping right now, this beast would be among the top of the list. In fact, it checks virtually every box on my tow vehicle must-have list. You should buy one.

What’s that? You need more details before handing over $50,000? Let’s dive in.

The truck in question is a 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT Crew Cab 4WD with the 3.0-liter Duramax turbo diesel I-6 engine, which I spent a week with towing up and down mountains to see if it would meet my towing needs. What are those needs, you ask? I have a “light” setup that involves an open trailer that, when loaded with my lightest SCCA road racing car, tips the scales at 3,500lbs — but honestly, even minivans can pull that. So for this test, I hitched up an enclosed trailer weighing just shy of 6,500lbs and headed up one of the largest mountains in my vicinity. The journey began nearly 900 feet above sea level and crested at close to 8,000 feet. The first 3,200-foot climb was an easy freeway jaunt; the 4,000 feet that followed came on tight two-lane side roads.

The Silverado 1500 LT diesel I tested sported a base price of $45,700, but with options and delivery, the sticker in the window read $55,565. Those options included the Duramax 3.0L diesel (a $2,390 option over the standard 2.7L I-4 turbo in LT trim), $1,900 for the All Star Edition Plus (which most notably includes a rear sliding window, eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and 20-inch wheels), $985 in leather appointments, an $890 safety package (front and rear park assist, lane change alert, and rear cross traffic alert), $850 for the Z71 off-road package (largely skippable for towing), $685 for a bed protection package (money well spent), $445 for the Multi-Flex Tailgate (a surprisingly useful feature), and $275 for a built-in brake controller.

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The options were nice, but the engine is what I was interested in. Consequently, if you want more information about interior accoutrements, along with fit and finish, look elsewhere: I’m here to tow.

The Duramax diesel sports 277 ponies and a 460lb-ft kick of torque from the 3.0L I-6, right on par with small diesel offerings from other manufacturers. In reference to other F-150s, the other two LT trim engine options are the standard 2.7L turbo with 310hp and 348lb-ft of torque and the 5.3L EcoTec3 V8 with 355hp and 383lb-ft of torque. Also for reference is the fact that the diesel comes with the 10L80 10-speed automatic as standard, while the 2.7L is limited to an 8-speed. The V8 comes with either an 8- or 10-speed transmission.

While I found the 3.0L Duramax to be quite magical in its versatility, the transmission undoubtedly aided in its performance, offering a ratio for every occasion. For example, while climbing Southern California’s infamous Grapevine, I manually selected fifth gear and cruised at 60mph.

Chevrolet lists the Silverado 1500 with the Duramax and 4WD as having a 9,100lb tow rating (9,500lbs if you opt for the 2WD model). Here’s another data point: The 5.3L V8 offers 9,400lbs of conventional tow rating, with that upping to 11,100 with the Max Trailering Package (which largely offers a shorter final drive of 3.42 vs. 3.23). Surprisingly, at 9,200lbs, the 2.7L I-4 has a similar rating to the Duramax.

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If I were handed the keys to the Duramax and had no idea of its rated tow capacity, I would have placed it equal to or greater than the V8 optioned with the short final drive. It could be said that the Duramax and the 10-speed auto combination is the honey badger of half-ton trucks: It just doesn’t care. Want to accelerate from 25mph to 60mph uphill? I barely touched 4,000rpm in the process while passing a big rig. Want to limit brake use down a decline? I only periodically touched the left pedal thanks to the engine’s compression.

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The only limitation I found when pulling roughly 70 percent of this truck’s tow rating was that the rear springs were softer than I would have liked. But honestly, the weight distributing hitch compensated for much of that.

Other nits to pick included finding it impossible to see around the trailer while towing, as the Silverado’s side mirrors don’t protrude far; also, there’s the aforementioned issue of finding diesel at the pump. In addition, if I were to build my own 2021 Silverado 1500, I would either select the $1,395 Assist Step option or have an aftermarket step installed. I’m not short, but the step into the cabin was a bit much for me.

Hitting the road, the fuel economy was astounding. The Silverado 1500 with the Duramax diesel is EPA rated at 22mpg city, 26mpg freeway, and 24mpg combined, and that’s exactly what I experienced in my limited time spent without a trailer. Considering the truck’s 24-gallon fuel tank, that means you can travel more than 600 miles on a tank before looking for diesel.

With a trailer, your mileage results will vary, but here are mine.

Climbing to roughly 4,100 feet at 60mph with a 6,500lb box trailer attached, I averaged 13.3mpg along that 144-mile stretch. The next 60 miles involved roughly 4,000 more feet of climbing, but this time with speeds of up to 45mph and as low as 25mph. At the mountain’s peak, the truck indicated 10.5mpg average for the one-way jaunt. Round trip completed, the fuel economy had returned to 13.3mpg. That works out to be 319 miles of potential range while towing an enclosed 6,500-pound trailer up and down mountains. Not shabby.

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Interesting side note: If you purchase the rear-wheel-drive Silverado 1500 Duramax you will lose two gallons of fuel capacity. That said, both Chevrolet and EPA list that model’s fuel economy as 23mpg city and a jaw-dropping 33mpg highway. I suspect fuel economy while towing would turn out to be marginally better than that of the 4WD model, but wow, 33mpg in a half-ton pickup. Should that latter EPA number be achievable, that’s 726 miles of unloaded freeway range with the fuel economy of a mid-size sedan.

If towing a roughly 10,000lb trailer is your game, then the three half-ton hot tickets in the $50,000 range right now are the Ford F-150 3.5L V6 PowerBoost hybrid, the Ram 1500 with the 3.0L Turbo EcoDiesel V6, and this (Ford recently discontinued its 3.0L Power Stroke V6 diesel F-150). Optioned carefully, prices of the three are near identical, and while the PowerBoost has a power advantage, the small-displacement diesel motors are downright impressive. And in a strict Chevy-to-Ram 3.0L diesel comparison, the Silverado has a two-gear transmission advantage. Plus, completely subjectively, the Chevy is a looker.

The Duramax-equipped Silverado 1500 is a workhorse, with diesels having a well-earned reputation for longevity and durability. Toss in Chevy’s Multi-Flex tailgate (something I first saw as a gimmick but quickly changed my mind) as well as that ever-ready 10-speed transmission, and the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT with the Duramax diesel could certainly fit the bill as your next half-ton tow rig.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>