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Powering Down: The Search For A Fuel-Efficient Pickup

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author photo by Autotrader March 2011

Despite a show catalog touting “green vehicles,” looking for a fuel-efficient pickup at this year’s Fort Worth Auto Show is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. And given its semi-rural (it is – after all – known as “Cowtown”) audience, haystacks are certainly not in short supply. The fuel-efficient pickup, however, would seem to be, due in part to a lack of interest on the part of both truck makers and – at least historically – the buying public.

With gas prices climbing, however, and no real stability in the Mideast, we think consumers will be paying attention well before next year’s show. The shortage of pickups offering more than 20 miles per gallon in the EPA’s city cycle is disappointing. With pickups in this country selling in the hundreds of thousands (Ford’s F-Series is perennially this nation’s most popular new vehicle), why has there not been a greater sense of urgency to add some efficiency to go along with a truck’s innate utility?

The concepts are certainly out there. In the heavy-duty segment, Ford, Chevy/GMC and Dodge (aka Ram) all enjoy a long history of serving the commercial audience with strong, efficient diesels. For reasons known only to Detroit, the initiatives to put light-duty diesels in the 1/2-ton market have resulted in nothing on a showroom floor, and little even in the rumor mill.

GM has been pursuing the 'mild hybrid' platform for some years now. The result, on both Chevy and GMC showrooms, is a full-size Silverado or Sierra capable of 20 mpg city/23 mpg highway. And while this is obviously respectable territory for a full-size platform, it also requires buyers to step up to a larger truck than they may really need.

In the 2011 model year we can point to but two compact pickups with an EPA city rating of over twenty miles per gallon. The base Ford Ranger, powered by a 2.3-liter inline four producing 143 horsepower, delivers 22 mpg city/27 mpg highway in regular cab, 4X2 form. Toyota’s Tacoma – again, regular cab and 4X2 drivetrain – delivers 21 city/25 highway, propelled by a torque-laden 2.7 liter inline four with 159 horsepower. Other compact-to-midsize truck options like the Chevrolet Colorado and Nissan Frontier both approach the mid-20s on the highway (25 and 23, respectively), but don’t exceed the 20-mpg barrier in the city cycle. Unfortunately the 22 mpg in the city Ford Ranger is about to leave the marketplace. This is the Ranger’s last year in production, and presumably for that reason it’s not even on display in Fort Worth.

Ford has, however, a Plan B, especially for those wanting a means to haul something but prefer the security of enclosing their cargo. The relatively new Ford Transit, which has already captured the attention of small businesses and tradesmen, provides buyers with an amazingly useful box, in combination with an EPA rating of 21 City/26 Highway. The Transit combines the car-like fuel-efficiency with truck-like carrying capability, and we hope more truck makers will follow Ford’s path.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Powering Down: The Search For A Fuel-Efficient Pickup - Autotrader