Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Compact truck fuel economy: tragedy

Fair warning: This is a rant about poor truck fuel economy.

Where is the science of good fuel economy in compact pickups, when, for example, Ford's little Ranger with a 6-cylinder engine gets the same fuel economy as Ford's big F-150 with a V8?

(Image: The old truck, in the woods.)

It's astounding that in the past 20 years, the fuel economy of compact pickup trucks has not seemed to improve, and in some cases has gotten worse.

This is one driver who's looking forward to government-mandated fuel economy standards, because it seems this is one place the industry isn't going on its own.

Mea culpa, I drive a four-wheel-drive pickup.

It's a compact. It's 13 years old, I bought it used, and it replaced a truck that was 15 when I sold it. So I take some credit and blame for not generating a lot of new vehicle construction.

My truck is not some gentrified gleaming plaything. It's a working truck. It hauls construction materials, it tows outrigger canoes, it has pulled other vehicles out of mudholes and, heck, it has even been known to pull out tree stumps. I can't think of another vehicle that accomplishes these tasks as well, and so I have a truck.

My truck has a four-cyclinder engine, and actual fuel use ranges from a low of about 17 on short hauls and 20 on the highway, generally averaging 18-19. I don't put many miles on it.

I'm looking for a replacement truck, and there's the rub.

For one thing, a four-wheel-drive compact truck with a four-cyclinder engine is apparently impossible to sell these days. A few of the major car-makers build them, but they're hard to find on the car lots. At a minimum, you get a six-cylinder. And that generally means still worse fuel economy.

A Toyota Tacoma 4x4 regular cab gets 17 to 22 in a 4-cylinder configuration—if you can find it. I couldn't, and was left with 6-cylinders that get about three mpg worse.

For 4x4 in a Ford Ranger, you need to buy an extended cab. It comes with a 4-liter six, and it gets 16 miles to the gallon (14-19, depending on city/highway and automatic/stick options)

Nissan's similar truck gets similar mileage—16 to 17 on average, Dodge Dakota a little less, Chevy Colorado a little more, according to window stickers and auto web sites.

What's frustrating is the sense that they could do better.

Honking big full-size pickups get fuel not much different from these light trucks.

A 4x4 Chevy Silverado with a big V8 averages 15. A big old 4x4 Ford F-150 with a 5.4-Liter V8 gets 15 on average, and the 4.6-liter V8 kicks it up to 16—right in compact truck territory.

Toyota's 5.7-liter 4x4 Tundra gets 14 to 15, and Nissan's 4x4 Titan with its 5.6-liter V8 is at 14.

I suppose someone has considered pulling the efficient 4.6-liter V8 out of the 5,000-pound F-150 and sticking it in a 3,500-pound Ranger. A 30 percent reduction in weight ought to do wonders for fuel economy.

It might even get mileage as good as my 13-year-old truck.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2009

1 comment:

Tom Strobel said...

I share your concern-I'm disappointed with the mileage on my 2003 Toyota Tacoma (22mpg highway, mostly @ 55 mph). I believe that you'll find that the mileage from a v-6 is better than a 4-cylinder.
Even small SUVs are disappointing. Vehicles have gotten heavier recently in response to safety concerns. This should change soon...

Islamorada, FL