Behind the Wheel of a 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD Snowplow
How Does Chevy’s New 6.6L Gas Engine Cope with Moving Snow?
First Drive: 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD/3500HD
2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD Custom: 2020 Pickup Truck of the Year Contender
Unlike 1/2-ton pickups that often get pressed into family and personal-transport categories, automakers claim that far more heavy-duty pickups actually go into fleet duty doing hard work. Chevrolet, for example, says that up to 30 percent of its Silverado HD sales end up in fleets or helping small businesses get work done. And in the wintertime, that means the truck gets turned into a Silverado HD snowplow.
Chevrolet is very keen to boast about the Silverado HD's unique snow-removal talents. For one, the Bow Tie is the only heavy-duty pickup on the market with an independent front suspension, a torsion-bar setup that compares well to the Ram Heavy Duty and Ford F-Series Super Duty, both of which use solid front axles.
The 2020 Silverado HD also has upgraded half-shafts that can handle so much torque that engineers didn't have to limit the Duramax engine's output in lower gears on the 3500HD model. The same can't be said of Ford and Ram's diesels, which are torque-managed in lower gears to preserve the driveline. So while the 2020 Duramax L5P brings up the rear in terms of torque output ("only" 910 lb-ft), it makes all of that twist in first gear.
Relative to its predecessor, the 2020 Silverado HD also features a stronger front end that can cope with snowplow weight ratings of up to 1,200 pounds, the best in the segment. That number is achieved with the lighter 6.6L gasoline V-8 engine in a regular cab/longbed configuration.
Which brings us to today's assignment: How does that 6.6L gasser do when saddled with the workload of a Silverado HD snowplow? In the truck world, there's a temptation to assume that if you've got huge jobs to do, you need to opt for the diesel. But can a case be made for the cheaper, dimensionally lighter gas V-8?
Gasoline: Goodness or Gutless?
In our 2020 Pickup Truck of the Year test, we sampled two versions of the Silverado HD. One was a well-equipped LTZ with the Duramax L5P 6.6L turbodiesel V-8, and the other was a nearly base-model Custom, a trim level that comes only with the 6.6L gas V-8. Unfortunately, that truck suffered in our testing. While output from the 6.6L V-8 is adequate on paper (401 hp at 5,200 rpm and 464 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm), it's routed to the ground through an outmoded six-speed automatic gearbox. The autobox is down at least two gears on its domestic competition—the Ram gasser has an eight-speed, and most versions of the Super Duty sport a ten-speed.
Unfortunately, we can't say that putting on 800 pounds' worth of Boss DXT snowplow helped the automatic transmission's case. That said, there's absolutely something to be said of the 6L90's longevity and ruggedness, two categories important to fleet operators—particularly ones that find themselves out in the snow and freezing cold often. Still, we can't help but wonder what the otherwise-sufficient engine could accomplish if GM mated it to the Allison 10L1000 transmission found in the diesel Silverado HD.
Alright, the transmission aside, there's a whole lot to appreciate about the Silverado HD snowplow. First off, Chevrolet saw fit to ensure the truck would be easy to upfit, including a skidplate and front valence that can be easily removed to make space for a plow mount with no cutting or trimming. When Jack Frost releases his icy grip and it's time to remove the plow, the valence reinstalls in place, leaving no trace during the summer of the hard work the truck endures in the winter.
And in this sub-freezing setting, we finally found something to appreciate about the Silverado HD's much-maligned interior. Massive, chunky knobs and buttons were easy to operate without removing our winter gloves, a boon for snow dwellers who are constantly in and out of their trucks.
Another easy compliment? Man alive, that 6.6L V-8 sounds really lovely when it's tasked with pushing a plow through several hundred pounds of powder. And the transmission's reticence to downshift on the open road is a nonissue in this setting, meaning we could access most of the engine's output rather easily. In these kinds of situations, the automatic gearbox isn't as much a liability as it is in daily driving, and again, that's not what these trucks are about.
After a few lessons, we learned how to manipulate the Boss V-shaped plow to remove as much snow as possible with each pass. It took some practice, but by the end of the morning, we were doing okay. Not great, not terrible. Our coaches showed us how to plow both roadways and parking lots—this author found something very cathartic in the methodical, row-by-row removal of the latter.
It sounds like damning with faint praise when we say there's a simplicity and charm associated with our Silverado HD snowplow tester, which happened to be a nicely equipped 3500HD LT model. But we mean it genuinely that this truck offers a stiff and robust chassis, excellent grunt from the base 6.6L V-8, and an ergonomic and user-friendly interior. It's a bit like grandpa's truck, modernized for the 21st century and ready to do some hard work. The 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD has a few faults, but in this wintry workplace, it shows that it knows how to get the job done.
Hitting the Road in a 2020 Silverado HD Custom
The day before we hit the parking lot, armed with snowplows and facing the wrath of a late-winter storm, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan gifted us with a bluebird day, sunny and with temperatures hovering just above freezing. The roads had dried out a few days previous, leaving us with a nice ribbon of road between Marquette and Big Bay to explore. Our steed was a Red Hot 2020 Silverado 2500HD Custom, a base-plus model that adds a fair amount of style and some added functionality without demanding a huge amount of cash.
Surprisingly, County Road 550 was smooth and unbroken despite the region's pavement-crackingly icy winters. The Custom responded similarly over the course of our 65-mile trek to and from the Big Bay lighthouse, offering a smooth and serene driving experience. We had a hard time connecting a cell phone to the Chevy's infotainment system, though the fault could lie with the drugstore USB cord we were using. Otherwise, the Custom offered a pleasant mini-road trip experience that we greatly enjoyed.
The only engine offered in the base-plus trim level is a 6.6L V-8 routing power through a six-speed auto. The engine works well, but we wish the transmission were a shade more responsive and modern. Nevertheless, the combination offered a reasonable 17 indicated mpg over the course of our 55-mph drive to Big Bay and back.
The trim level adds carpeting and cloth upholstery, cruise control, keyless entry, and available infotainment upgrades to the base work truck, as well as standard 20-inch wheels wrapped in all-terrain tires and monochromatic exterior styling. The crew cab 4x4 starts at a shade over $46,000, making it a pretty reasonable deal in a world where base-model F-150s with options can cost that much or more.
Of course, there's plenty you don't get with the Custom, such as an available diesel engine, active safety technology, or even a front-bench center armrest with storage. But still, it's reasonably stylish and offers a big-truck driving experience for small-truck money.
Boss DXT Snowplow
Boss Snowplow was out in full force during our time with the Silverado HD, and the DXT was the company's piece de resistance. Featuring a V-shape that easily cuts paths through large drifts of snow, the DXT also makes use of a patented dual-trip design that keeps the plow (and truck) safe when traversing hidden obstacles.
For example, if one were plowing a parking lot covered in a foot of snow and hit a manhole cover or small parking block, the very bottom of the blade (the trip edge) would kick up while crossing the obstacle, then return to plowing position as soon as the road smooths out again. A larger parking block, on the other hand, would activate the moldboard trip, which would tip the entire plow forward, allowing the driver to safely stop the truck if desired, preventing any damage to the plow, the pickup, or the obstacle below.
Boss is justifiably proud of its snowplows' fully hydraulic operation. While some plows are suspended by chains from their hydraulic systems, direct-connected arms control the DXT and other Boss plows, allowing for more reliable and consistent operation.
We had great fun getting to know the Boss DXT in our time behind the wheel, and the whole experience gave us a new appreciation for those perfectly groomed, wintry roadways we see whenever we venture away from coastal Southern California.