2021 Chevrolet Silverado needs a fresh face and a revamped cabin

2021 Chevrolet Silverado

What changes will make the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado different?

A fresh look inside and out could be on tap for the 2021 edition of this full-size pickup truck. The changes would come just two model years after Chevrolet fully redesigned the Silverado 1500.

That would be far sooner than normal and would suggest Chevy attributes slumping Silverado sales to its lackluster styling and cut-rate cabin décor compared with archrivals Ford F-150 and Ram 1500. The automaker could be right.

Indeed, the long-awaited launch of the redesigned 2019 Silverado was dimmed by introduction of a redesigned 2019 Ram 1500, which not only had a flashier body but boasted an interior that set new standards for amenities and materials. The Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles half-ton has gone on to a feat once unthinkable: it’s passed the Silverado to become America’s No. 2-selling full-size pickup, behind the F-150.

Demand is also down for Silverado’s mechanically similar sibling, the Sierra, from Chevy’s corporate cousin, GMC. Combined sales of the two still outpace those of the Ram, but sources say the 2021 Sierra is likely due the same sort of refresh slated for the ’21 Silverado.

Should I wait for the 2021 model or buy the 2020?

Wait to see what Chevrolet has in store for the 2021 Silverado before making a purchase decision. If Chevy fast-tracks exterior and interior updates, getting a ’21 ensures you’ll have the most up-to-date model – at least until the next full redesign, which is expected around model-year 2024.

If updates that might accompany a 2021 facelift matter little to you, or if you like the 2019-2020 truck, buy a ’20. You’ll almost certainly benefit from generous factory incentives similar to those offered on the 2019 Silverado, for which eligible buyers were offered $9,000 or more off the sticker price of some models. If model-year-2021 updates are confirmed, even juicier incentives would be placed on the ‘20s to clear inventories.

Even if the 2021 Silverado isn’t refreshed, the core lineup should be a repeat of the ’20’s. It’ll begin again with the Work Truck (WT) and ascend through Custom, Custom Trail Boss, LT, RST, LT Trail Boss, and LTZ, to the flagship High Country. There’s some chance Chevy will introduce the rumored Silverado ZR2 off-roader aimed at the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, Ram 1500 Rebel, and Toyota Tundra TRD Pro. It would most likely reside between the LTZ and High Country in the lineup.

Every ’21 Silverado 1500 model would again be available as a crew cab with four full-size doors and a choice of two cargo beds, a 5-foot 8-inch short-bed and 6-foot 6-inch standard bed.

All but the LT Trail Boss and High Country should continue to be available with the shorter extended cab with four front-hinged doors and the 6-ft-6 bed. Expect the WT to remain the only ’21 Silverado available as a two-door regular cab with an 8-foot-2-inch long-bed. Among half-ton pickups, the only other regular-cab offering is from Ford. This configuration is primarily for special order to fleet and commercial customers.

Engines for ’21 will likely include a V-6, two V-8s, a turbocharged four-cylinder, and a turbodiesel inline 6-cylinder, the latter of which joined the Silverado lineup for 2020. Rear-wheel drive should again be standard on all models except the Trail Boss. Four-wheel drive (4WD) would be available on these models and standard on the Trail Boss.

Will the styling be different?

Good chance, especially inside. Don’t expect the ’21 Silverado’s exterior to be radically different. Designers will likely tone down some of the harsher body lines, particularly around the headlight assemblies, front fenders, and bumper corners. Chevy’s full-size Tahoe SUV will be redesigned for model-year and some visual overlap between it and the Silverado is quite likely as a way to promote cohesive design language and potentially reduce manufacturing costs.

Silverado’s Trail Boss would continue to include a lifted suspension, blackout grille and wheels, and off-road-ready tires. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the ’21 Silverado RST would favor body-color elements and slightly sleeker lines befitting of its position as a “street truck.” LTZ and High Country would again attempt to court high-end buyers with accents of bright and dark chrome and other specific exterior addenda.

Even Chevy must realize it needs to improve this truck’s interior appearance and functionality and a 2021 refresh would provide that opportunity. Based on our test drives of 2019-2020 models, it’s clear this is Silverado’s biggest deficit against its American-brand rivals.

On the upside, Chevy doesn’t need to change some elements of this latest Silverado generation. It could carryover the comprehensive instrument cluster with its informative central LCD display; the easy-to-use climate and secondary controls; and the intuitive infotainment system and its standard support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto (although its speed and responsiveness could use some work).

Chevy also ought to alter the infotainment screen itself; carrying over the maximum 8-inch-diatmeter display would keep the ’21 Silverado at a competitive disadvantage. Another anachronism is the column-mounted transmission lever, although it’s unlikely it could be moved to the center console, as in the F-150, or replaced by a dashboard dial, as in the Ram, prior to Silverado’s next full redesign.

Easier to address and perhaps even more vital in the short-term is an upgrade to cabin materials. The faux wood and/or silver-painted plastic bits on the 2019-2020 Silverado are fine in the WT, Custom, and Trail Boss but inappropriate in the far costlier LTZ or High Country. They need to match the high-quality wood, leather, and real metal that trims upper-grade Ford and Ram pickups.

Adding a physical step to access the bed would be another welcome addition. The standard cutouts in the corners of the bumpers are certainly better than nothing, but they’re not as convenient as the factory- or dealer-installed add-ons that are offered by Ford, Ram, or even GMC.

Look to the F-150 and Ram for the most accommodating rear seating in the segment, but the ’21 Silverado’s crew cab will continue to fit three adults in reasonable comfort. And all configurations will again have spacious and supportive front seating.

Any mechanical changes?

Probably not. Chevrolet made notable additions and some effective changes to engine availability in 2019 and 2020 and those will probably carry over for ‘21.

The redesigned 2019 Silverado 1500 launched with drivetrains that largely were continuations from the previous-generation model. Entry-level grades retained a standard 4.3-liter V-6 with 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Late in the 2019 model year, Chevrolet added a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the first in any full-size pickup. Likely returning for ’21 as standard on the LT and RST, it would displace 2.7 liters, produce 310 horsepower and 348 pound-feet of torque, and use an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Chevy bills this powertrain as ideal for the recreational truck buyer. Our test drives show power delivery is surprisingly linear, with very little turbo lag (a delay in throttle response). However, the turbo four doesn’t feel as strong as its horsepower and torque ratings would suggest. It’s fine for around-town driving but can feel strained when passing or merging into fast-moving traffic, even with an empty bed. The potential upside is much better fuel economy versus a V-6 or V-8, but our testing did not deliver on that promise. See the fuel-economy section below for details.

Our recommendation is to stick with one of Silverado’s excellent available V-8 engines, which will likely return unchanged for 2021. Most buyers should be happy with the base 5.3-liter unit, which makes 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. For 2020, GM paired this engine with its state-of-the-art 10-speed automatic transmission in the LT Trail Boss and made the tandem available as an option on the High Country. Though unlikely, it would be prudent for GM to discontinue the six-speed automatic included with the 5.3-liter on the WT, Custom, and Custom Trail Boss in favor of the silky smooth eight-speed automatic that accompanies it in other models.

The ’21 Silverado’s other carryover V-8 will be a 6.2 that’ll likely remain at 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. It should again come with the 10-speed automatic. An optional Performance Package should again increase output to 435 horsepower and 469 pound-feet.

For 2020, Chevrolet expanded availability of the 6.2-liter V-8 beyond the 4WD LTZ and High Country, making it an option for the 4WD RST, Custom Trail Boss, and LT Trail Boss. It’s a gem, teaming with the smooth-shifting 10-speed for a prompt, uninterrupted flow of robust power. And Chevy says a 6.2-liter RST is capable of towing up to 13,400 pounds, while a Custom Trail Boss with the same engine will likely remain the most affordable light-duty pickup with more than 400 horsepower.

Also debuting on the 2020 Silverado 1500 was a new 3.0-liter turbodiesel 6-cylinder engine with 277 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. It, too, uses the 10-speed automatic. We have not tested a Silverado so equipped, but it has the chops on paper to be a serious rival to diesel-powered versions of the F-150 and Ram 1500.

Lower-trim grades will again use a part-time 4WD system that cannot be left engaged on dry pavement. Others, including the Trail Boss, will have full-time 4WD that can; they will also have an all-wheel drive mode that can automatically apportion power in case of wheel slip. Every 4WD Silverado will include low-range gearing.

Drivetrain refinement should remain a high point on any Silverado, with the V-8s offering class-leading smoothness. The turbo four-cylinder is the roughest of the bunch, but it’s no louder or less well-behaved than comparable V-6 engines available in Ford or Ram trucks.

For ’21, we hope to see some suspension improvements that could enhance the truck’s ride quality and handling. Silverado doesn’t feel as “old school” the 2019-20 Toyota Tundra, but it lacks the Ram’s high level of sophistication. Rumors suggest the next-generation Chevy Tahoe will use an independent rear suspension. We’ll almost certainly have to wait for the next redesign for Silverado to adopt something similar without a major sacrifice to towing or payload capacity.

Count on Trail Boss models to reprise the “Z71” off-road suspension that’s optional on many other Silverado models but with an extra 2 inches of lift. Despite their firm shock absorbers, enhanced height, and blocky off-road tires, ride quality should remain roughly the same as other Silverado models, which is an impressive achievement.

Will fuel economy improve?

Probably not for 2021. The addition of the turbodiesel engine brought about gains for the 2020 Silverado lineup, and we expect those ratings to carry over. Full ratings for the ’20 were not available in time for this review, but most of them mirrored those of their 2019 counterparts.

If the 4.3-liter V-6 returns, we will again suggest avoiding it because its 2019 EPA ratings are rather dismal, at 16/21/17 mpg city/highway/combined with rear drive, 15/20/17 with 4WD, and 14/18/16 on the Custom Trail Boss.

Trim-level selection and tire/wheel size should again play a role in how other ’21 Silverado models rate. As such, we will include ranges where applicable.

With the turbo four-cylinder, the ’21 Silverado should rate 19-20/22-23/20-21 with rear drive and 18-19/21-22/19-20 with 4WD. Our extended cab 4WD LT review sample returned a disappointing 17.4 mpg in our suburban test loop.

Should the six-speed automatic transmission return as a pairing with the 5.3-liter V-8, expect ratings of 15/20-21/17 mpg with rear drive and 15/19-20/16-17 with 4WD.

Upgrading to a 5.3-liter Silverado with the eight-speed automatic nets GM’s Dynamic Fuel Management, which allows the engine to run on as few as one cylinder in steady-state cruising.

Fuel-economy ratings would improve to around 17/24/19 mpg with rear drive and 16/22/18 with 4WD. Trail Boss ratings would be unchanged over the V-6 so there would be no reason to avoid the V-8. The 6.2 V-8 should return exclusively as an option for 4WD models and rate 16/20/17 mpg.

While combined ratings of the diesel engine were not available in time for this review, the city/highway estimates are an impressive 23/33 with rear drive and 23/29 with 4WD.

GM would recommend, but not require, premium-grade 91-octane gasoline for the 6.2-liter V-8. All other gas engines would use 87-octane regular. The diesel engine would use a urea-based exhaust aftertreatment system that requires periodic refilling, though it would not require a dealer visit to do so.

Will there be new features?

Adding features not previously offered isn’t too likely, but we’d urge Chevy to rethink the distribution of some existing equipment, notably, safety features. It ought to make important driver-assists available on more than just the top two 2021 Silverado trim levels.

The LTZ should offer a Premium Package ($6,350) that includes front-bucket seats in place of a three-across bench, ventilated front seats, power-sliding rear window, extra USB ports, power up/down tailgate, power sunroof, imbedded navigation, Bose-brand audio, wireless smartphone charger,

These safety features include forward-collision warning; low-speed autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection; obstacle, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection; lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction; and automatic high-beam headlights. For model-year 2020, these driver assists were included only in a $6,350 Premium Package for the LTZ model and in a $3,940 Deluxe Package for the High Country.

Otherwise, expect the ’21 Silverado’s feature distribution to essentially repeat that of the ‘20’s. Aside from standard CarPlay and Android Auto capability, the WT isn’t liable to have any standout features. Custom grades should continue to include 20-inch wheels and LED taillights. The Custom Trail Boss would add an off-road suspension with 2 additional inches of ride height, unique exterior trim, specific wheels and tires, and a trailering package.

LT grades would drop down to standard 17-inch wheels but add the turbocharged four-cylinder engine, tailgate with damping to ease raising and lowering, body-color and chrome exterior trim, full LED headlights, automatic climate control, extra USB charging port, and GM’s OnStar telematics with built-in WiFi hotspot capability. The LT Trail Boss would blend the LT’s and Custom Trail Boss’ equipment.

The RST would have 18-inch wheels, keyless access, pushbutton ignition, remote engine start, and USB charging ports for rear seat occupants.

LTZ grades would add an 8-inch infotainment screen (up from the standard 7), leather upholstery, heated front seats, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, driver-seat memory positioning, heated steering wheel, and dual-zone automatic climate control.

The High Country would include imbedded GPS navigation that doesn’t require a connected smartphone, Bose-brand audio system, wireless smartphone charger, ventilated front seats, and a tailgate that includes power up and down operation.

Will 2021 prices be different?

They’ll likely increase. If Chevrolet updates the exterior and interior styling, its cost might rise beyond typical year-over-year inflation. For reference, the 2020 Silverado 1500 spans $29,895 for a rear-drive WT regular cab all the way to $58,395 for a High Country crew cab standard bed. Note these prices are inclusive of $1,595 destination fee. A 2020 Custom Trail Boss with the 6.2-liter V-8 has a base price of $43,865, which we would say is the best value in the lineup.

Extra-cost engines, including the 5.3 and 6.2 V-8s, as well as the turbodiesel six-cylinder, would likely cost anywhere from $1,400-$3,900. And Off-Road Appearance Package ($2,495 on the 2020) adds running boards, roll bar, and a soft tonneau cover. The Z71 Off-Road Package ($350-$2,695) would include off-road suspension tuning, hill-descent control, underbody protective skid plates, specific wheels, and locking differential.

Most key options should return in the form of packages. Some examples from the 2020 model that will likely reprise their roles for ’21 include the WT Convenience Package ($1,120), which includes remote entry, cruise control, dampened tailgate, rear window defroster, and power exterior mirrors. The WT Safety Package ($1,140) includes front- and rear-obstacle detection, blind-spot alert, rear cross-traffic detection, chrome bumpers, and black exterior mirror caps.

The Custom/Custom Trail Boss Convenience Package ($800) adds remote engine start, rear defroster, dampened tailgate, and LED cargo bed lights. The Custom Value Package ($1,470) includes the Convenience Package plus trailering package and OnStar telematics with imbedded WiFi hotspot. Note that OnStar and trailering equipment are standard on the Custom Trail Boss.

LT and RST grades should again offer an All Star Edition package that ranges in price from around $2,075-$2,815. Contents, depending on trim level selection, would include dual-zone automatic climate control, power driver’s seat, heated front seats and steering wheel, keyless access, pushbutton ignition, extra USB ports, trailer package, and a locking differential.

The LTZ should again offer the aforementioned Premium Package with front-bucket seats in place of a three-across bench, ventilated front seats, power-sliding rear window, extra USB ports, power up/down tailgate, power sunroof, imbedded navigation, Bose-brand audio, wireless smartphone charger, obstacle detection, blind-spot alert, rear cross-traffic detection, and a suite of driver aids, including: forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction, low-speed autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and automatic high-beam headlights.

In addition to the safety features, the 2021 Silverado High Country’s Deluxe Package should again include a power sunroof and 22-inch wheels. Expect it to also return the Technology Package ($1,625 for 2020) that would add a surround-view camera, a camera display for the rearview mirror, and a head-up instrument display.

When does it come out?

The 2021 Chevrolet Silverado will likely have a release date in the fall of 2020.

Best competitors

Ford F-150, GMC Sierra 1500, Nissan Titan, Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]