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  • First Drive: 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Duramax

First Drive: 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Duramax

A Civil Union

Sep 24, 2019
GMC has had a busy year, between the 2019 Sierra 1500's arrival in showrooms late last year and the debut of the 2020 Sierra HD earlier this year (see our first drive on page TKTK). Yet, in the midst of all those massively important launches, the truck you see here is the one we've been looking forward to driving the most: the 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Duramax.
When that all-new Sierra 1500 was announced in March 2018, company representatives said it would be available with an all-new 3.0L turbodiesel I-6, and they made good on that promise. We're finally behind the wheel of GMC's -ton Duramax.
Naturally positioned between the GMC Canyon's 2.8L Duramax I-4 and the Sierra HD's 6.6L Duramax V-8, the 3.0L I-6 features loads of technological advancements, including Active Thermal Management that redirects and prioritizes cooling to keep the diesel engine operating in a uniform, optimal temperature range. There's also a variable intake manifold that can prioritize efficiency or output depending on demand, a lag-reducing variable-geometry turbocharger, and both a high- and low-pressure exhaust gas recirculation system to reduce parasitic boost losses and improve turbo efficiency without increasing emissions.
Photo 2/8   |   First Drive 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Duramax Lead
And underneath all that technical ballyhoo, the three-oh Duramax boasts all the low-tech goodness of an I-6 engine. Its inherent primary and secondary balance precludes the added weight and friction of a balance shaft, and a single set of dual-overhead camshafts further reduces parasitic losses. Finally, an I-6 is just naturally good at providing a wide, flat torque curve (460 lb-ft from 1,500 to 3,000 rpm, if you're wondering).
Slipping behind the wheel, we learn the marriage of conventional wisdom and new technology is a very happy one indeed. Our first taste of the oil-burning mill came on an off-road course in an AT4 model. Over scrabble, large rocks, and logs, we were able to park our feet at about 15 percent throttle and allow the engine's linear torque to pull us through. Climbing hills was a non-issue. And a brief spin through wide-open two-track showed the diesel could spin up quickly and remain on boil—not as good as the 6.2L V-8, mind, but that's the difference between a gas and a diesel engine. Sidebar: GMC listened to our complaints about the AT4 trim's substandard damping and slightly retuned the suspension for 2020. It's a surprisingly effective improvement relative to last year's truck.
Photo 3/8   |   First Drive 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Duramax Muddy
With off-road antics in the rear view, we hitched a Sierra 1500 Denali Duramax to a 7,000-pound trailer and hit the pavement. Over 25 miles of hilly, twisting road, the engine proved to be a willing companion. An exhaust brake keeps everything under control on descents, while a nice groundswell of torque means maintaining freeway speed is a cinch. There's no perceptible steering wheel shake when resting at idle (unlike the slightly grumbly 3.0L Power Stroke V-6 found in the Ford F-150), and the engine runs commendably quietly.
Of course, the 3.0L Duramax's primary shortcoming is its relatively low towing capacity: GMC hasn't released its own official numbers yet, but the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 diesel can only tow 9,300 pounds, quite a bit below the 3.0L Power Stroke's 11,500 pounds and the 3.0L EcoDiesel's 12,560 pounds. The Duramax does offer excellent, class-competitive fuel economy: 23 city/30 highway/25 combined for two-wheel-drive trucks and 22 city/26 highway/23 combined for four-wheelers.
Obviously, each individual truck buyer's needs vary, but we can say this: The 3.0L Duramax I-6 is an impressively smooth and grunty powerplant, and we commend GM for putting it in the 2020 GMC Sierra 1500. Combined with either the AT4's off-road chops or the regular Sierra 1500's excellent towing platform, it's a happy marriage indeed.
Photo 4/8   |   First Drive 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Duramax Crawl
 
2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Duramax
Vehicle type: Fullsize five- or six-passenger pickup
Base price: N/A
Price as tested: N/A
Engine: 3.0L 24-valve single-turbo diesel I-6, dual overhead cams, direct injection
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Horsepower: 277 hp @ 3,750
Torque: 460 lb-ft @ 1,500 to 3,000 rpm
Curb weight: N/A
Towing capacity: 9,300 pounds (est. )
EPA mileage rating: 23 city/30/highway 25 combined (two-wheel drive), 22 city/26 highway/23 combined (four-wheel drive)

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