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Sometimes the words “fuel” and “economy” don’t really go to together but are linked anyway. One of our favorites is Ford’s “Best-in-class” claims at 23 highway and 17 city in the vaunted F-150 lineup. The funny part is they are perfectly correct. The sad part is they are perfectly correct.

For some reason we’ve been sold on the more-power-and-less-mileage package on trucks. In the interests of full disclosure, other than a Ford Courier I had in my teens and the Ranger I roll around in now, every truck I’ve owned has had some truly terrifying mpg. It’s not that a V6 that averages 20 mpg and sports 300hp isn’t impressive; it is. We’d just like to see something like a small truck that averages 30 mpg or better.

We’re not saying that the larger trucks are worthless or that they aren’t making them better in power, fuel, and work output than they were a few years ago. It just seems the auto makers are cutting small trucks and small engines and going bigger each year. We’d like the choice back, instead of being forced to go bigger or older.

Ford Pickup Comparison [Ford Motor Company]


22 Responses to Truck Fuel Economy Claims

  1. PutnamEco says:

    I think it may have something to do with what people would be willing to pay, I have a feeling that a compact truck would cost as much as what they offer today, and with the American mindset, I don’t think people would go for the smaller vehicle when they could get a bigger “better” truck for nearly the same price.
    I wish we could license the Kei class trucks for on road use, one of those would be suitable for a lot of what I do.

  2. Roscoe says:

    So what’s your Ranger get?

    I’ve not known anyone to make upper 20s, even in a compact truck, which is odd, since compact SUVs and even Minivans can do it no problem.

  3. ime says:

    Yea its crazy
    my brother had a ford ranger extended cab.
    He loved the truck hated the mileage .When it died went looking for a new one.I steered him to a Honda Fit kicking and screaming.
    Well he did get the fit and loves it .For all his “I need a truck for STUFF” which I have to admit he really did use his truck for hauling stuff.
    The fit is doing 99% of what his truck did at 3 times the fuel economy and great ride quality .I think for the couple times he really needed a truck he did the rent lowes for an hour truck and one time borrowed a friends truck.
    Does he miss his his ranger ? sure . would he ever go back?
    NO WAY.

  4. rick says:

    A lot depends on how you drive it. If you drive exactly the same as the EPA test, thats what you will get. I know my car gets well in excess of the EPA milage (99 jetta TDI, EPA claims 49mpg I think, I routinly get 52mpg).

    The small truck market is a smart place to be in!

  5. Sean O'Hara says:

    @Roscoe well I have the little 4 banger with a standard so i’m running about 26 on average. Sometimes a little more sometimes a little less. Not great, but better than 20. Like I said, I’d rather have a truck that does around 30 or 33 in the same or slightly smaller format but this is the best I can do for now.

  6. Eric says:

    Aerodynamics is the problem. Trucks having to be high off the ground, square, and with huge grilles in order to be manly-looking kills fuel economy because it kills the CdA. At highway speeds, air resistance is the primary thing pulling down your mileage, and pickups just aren’t designed the slip through the air at all, hence the tiny difference between their highway and city EPA mileages.

  7. Scott says:

    I have to agree with the Aerodynamics comments, but I would like to add engine comments. Specifically, if we want mpg’s close to 30, why do we not use diesels? I would think, on a gut level, that a 4 cyl. diesel in a small truck could easily manage close to or greater than 30 mpg. A large truck could do much better with a 6 cylinder diesel than with a 6 or 8 cylinder gas engine and still be able to tow. I know that the way the Feds regulate and tax diesel fuel is probably a major factor, but if they want to make trucks more efficient, it is time to change that old diesel paradigm. Although I do miss my old Ford full-size with a 6 cylinder gas and a 4 speed manual. It did much better on gas mileage than my 1996 Chevy Silverado with a 350 V-8, that gets better mileage than the newer versions.

    • Remarksman says:

      my 1996 Chevy Silverado with a 350 V-8, that gets better mileage than the newer versions

      Odd — I replaced a ’96 Silverado with the 350 a couple years ago with a 2008 Silverado with the V-8-that-can-also-be-a-V-4 engine, and the new truck easily averages 2-3MPG better than the old one, city and highway.
      In agreement with the sentiment of this article, when I bought that truck I looked very carefully at the Colorado, Dakota, and Tacoma models as I don’t really need a full-sized truck. However, their MPG ratings were all within 1 or 2 MPG of the Silverado. With the additional towing and cargo capacity of the Silverado, I couldn’t convince myself that the smaller trucks were worth it, plus no local Dodge or Toyota dealers.

      • Brew says:

        My ’91 chevy (ex cab, 4×4, 5.7l) got 24 on the highway, my 2000 gets 14 (5.3l)

        I had a toyota pickup that I bought to be “cheaper” than the ’91 and it never got over 12? So it is all a crap shoot.

  8. Kris says:

    From what I have read it’s the big 3 that don’t bring us small diesels – they are afraid that the price premium (diesels cost more to make) would drive people away. Also, most people are hung up on horsepower. To steal a quote, “people buy horsepower but want torque.” If you look at the VW TDI horsepower figures, you would think that it is a real wimp – it isn’t.

  9. Michael says:

    You are so right on. The last two “mid size” truck models were just killed. I don’t know what the manufacturers are thinking (other than their profit margin). I am sure there are many people that would consider a pickup if we had a choice of size and fuel economy. Not all of us are contractors that need a honkin’ V8 dually!

  10. Paul says:

    My 4cyl Ranger will get 29mpg on the highway if driven in its ‘sweet spot’ for mine this is about 72mph in OD. Any slower and its really got to work as it will drop out of its optimum power band.

    I’ve had a number of powerful vehicles in the past, its certianly different having a vehicle that will lose speed traveling at the speed limit on a slight incline on the highway with no load and my foot to the floor.

    My daily driving is 100% city as practially all of my highway trips are in rush hour traffic. I get about 19mpg city.

  11. John says:

    I understand the desire to get higher mileage, but when it comes to getting the heavy work done and towing a trailer, I can’t go with a mini-pickup. My customers “pay” for my lower mileage in the full size truck. I am happy to get 15 mpg, which isn’t very often, in my 99 Silverado.

  12. Mike says:

    For those longing for a small truck that gets great gas mileage, it’s out there in the form of a Ford Ranger. You just can’t buy it in the United States. Go to the Ford.com.uk website and you will see a full line of Ranger pickups with the Ford built diesel engine. Why don’t they sell them here? Somewhere the Detroit automakers got it in their collective heads, Americans will not buy diesel engine vehicles. Maybe it’s because they have so poorly executed that task to date is the reason why. I get into a lot of auto plants in my line of work and have been preaching a small truck with a turbo 4 diesel engine. Fallen on deaf ears, though they all make them overseas. Can’t buy a small truck overseas with a gasoline engine because the cost of fuel prohibits trucks that get crappy fuel mileage overseas. As Earl Pitts would say: “Wake up America!”

  13. Chad says:

    More power doesn’t always equal less fuel economy… Increases in efficiency can increase both power and fuel mileage. An increase in compression ratio for example will often provide both additional power and economy.

  14. Dr Bob says:

    My wife bought a 98 2WD GMC Sonoma which has a 2.2L I4 with automatic. This is absolutely the worst power train in my 45 years of owning vehicles – 115 HP with 135 ft lbs of torque at 4500 RPM, the truck can’t maintain 55 MPH going up a slight hill with a single passenger and no cargo. Forget about pulling a light trailer.

    It now has 150K miles on it and the rear end is going out – it’s probably not worth fixing – we’ll take it to the boneyard and see what it would cost to throw it a low-mileage used axle to get a few more years out of it. Regardless, I’ll be thrilled when it is gone.

    The point here is that this miserable specimen of crappy GM engineering got pitiful mileage and abysmal performance precisely because it was so woefully underpowered. My wife’s Cadillac DHS with its Northstar V8 got better mileage than that pickup.

    Go figure.

  15. Coach James says:

    Actually, a lot of contractors do not need big honkin’ V8 duallys either, but they drive them “..because I’m a contractor.” I know a few contractors that get by fine with small pickups or minivans. They have trucks to do the towing and hauling, but as contractors, they spend most of their time “managing” so they forego the status of a huge truck and go for the practicality of something else.

    I have heard the big three are responsible for the lack of diesel options in the US and I have heard it is due to epa and federal mileage/pollution requirements. I really do not know which is true.

  16. MR Mike says:

    After 40 years driving I’ve evolved from a Toyota HiLux, Mazda, Mazda/Ford, and now a Nissan Frontier. (2WD with manual 5spd = 24mpg)

    Recently I spotted an ancient Toyota in a parking lot to compare for the nostalgia. It was multi-colored from rust, small, had a stained and torn bench seat, bits falling off or missing, rust, little tires, single panel bed, and did I mention rust? Small trucks were once synonymous with cheap, and for that matter so were big trucks. But we Americans like our comforts and our stuff, so small got bigger and bigger.

    Don’t expect to find many trucks with manual transmission anymore, everyone has their hands tied up on a cellphone. And even though 4WD is not all that practical 95% of the time, don’t think you could turn it off like the old days. And can anyone with a Honda Ridgeline actually heft a sheet of plywood high enough to clear the bed? That’s my idea of the worst of truck design.

    All these design features add weight, air resistance, road friction, etc. and car/truck companies get to sell more expensive components and repairs. Don’t get me wrong, my Nissan truck is more reliable, more comfortable, and way less rust (like none!). But there is way less choice when it comes to finding efficient and practical commercial trade vehicles. Europe and Asia have more variety and better designs, but in the US we have import restrictions to “protect” Detroit. The new CAFE standards should have been developed 20 years ago. But how can a consumer prevail against the power and influence of mega-corporations?

  17. Coach James says:

    The mega corporations built all those huge pickups and SUV’s because people bought them. When gas got expensive in the 70’s and people wanted more efficient cars, Detroit built them. Not very good ones, but they did build them.

    Later when gas got cheap and people wanted trucks and SUV’s, Detroit built them. If people in this country really wanted more choice in small pickups, Detroit would respond. Most drivers do not want manual trannys, but they do want trucks that look like luxury cars inside hence Detroit building them that way.

    I want a small pickup I can sweep out with a broom, no power windows or locks and just an AM/FM radio, but I am in the minority. Blaming everything on “Big industry X” reduces the American people to the level of helpless children that can’t think for themselves.

  18. John says:

    The reason you can’t have your small truck is called the “chicken tax” (google it) passed in 1963 the only part of it left is an effective ban on a importation of “light trucks”. The few foreign branded small trucks here are built in factories in the states to avoid the ban. So there’s essentially no competition in the small truck market, and big trucks have much higher profit margins; you do the math. 🙁

  19. Michael says:

    Since Ford can put a BIG V8 in their new mustang and squeeze 600 ft lbs of torque and top out at 200 mph and still get 15 mpg’s city and 23 mpg’s highway it makes you wonder why their truck lines still use stone age technology?

  20. joe homeowner says:

    My 1991 toyota reg cab 4cylinder gets 32mpg on the highway
    and 26 in the city one of the last of the hilux trucks sold here. Toyota still makes a small truck with a diesel but not for sale in the usa. Ranger is now dead so is the Dakota. I like the small Chevy, Nissan, and Tacoma. A full size will never fit in my garage.

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