2010 V-6 Shootout: Fuel Economy and Long-Distance Ride Quality

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Fuel Economy

To evaluate fuel economy, we took our three competitors on a 147.3-mile loop through central Michigan, starting very close to the Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus, then heading north toward Flint, then west toward Lansing, then back down through Ann Arbor, and finally back to Romulus.

The course took us on many city streets, a few backcountry highways, some freeway sections and, in some cases, right through the heart of a few small downtown municipalities. We passed many cornfields, pumpkin patches and a clean McDonald’s at each of our several driver rotations.

Our test drivers were allowed to drive at their own pace (normal driving patterns), and each driver rotated into each vehicle at least once on each of the loops. Each loop took about three hours, and we made two complete loops in a single day. Each truck made the loop unloaded and another loop with a 2,300-pound trailer attached over the same route, with the same stops and the same drivers rotating into each vehicle. Likewise, every fill-up was performed at the same pump at the same fuel station, at which point the miles and fuel quantities were recorded.

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Upon completion, the results we found were interesting but not surprising. In the unloaded test, the Ford F-150, with its six gears and two overdrives, had the easiest time accelerating through traffic while shifting into a lower gear quicker than the other four-speeds (in the Ram and Sierra). As a result, the F-150 (weighing in at 4,760 pounds) completed our road course with an average of 21.4 mpg over the loop. In second place was the Ram (weighing 4,562 pounds), averaging 19.0 mpg; the lightest vehicle, the Sierra (at 4,486 pounds), averaged the worst at 18.3 mpg.

Each test vehicle completed the same loop while towing our work-truck trailers, which had a construction-site cement buggy on top, lashed down tight for safety. The Ford repeated test-leading numbers during the trailering loop. With each truck in Tow/Haul mode, the engines typically made their shifts later and held each gear longer, especially when letting off the throttle.

We had a hunch the new F-150 V-6 would do well here, but it wasn’t clear by how much. As it turned out, the margins on the towing loops were much closer than when cruising empty. In fact, after looking at the numbers, it looks as if the Ford engineers did a better job programming the F-150 for empty driving. That probably makes sense, given the fact most people typically spend more time driving an empty pickup.

The final results of our fuel runs have the F-150 winning the “loaded mpg” run averaging 14.7 mpg, while the Ram recorded 14.0 mpg and the Sierra 13.9 mpg.

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Ride and Comfort

During our fuel-economy loops, our test drivers had plenty of time to get familiar with the ride quality and comfort features of each V-6 half-ton pickup.

The GMC Sierra had reasonable ride quality over much of our loop, with some cabin noise from the front A-pillar at higher freeway speeds. The engine and transmission communication was good, but sort of like an old married couple. With 3.23:1 axle gears, the Sierra did not move off the line well and always seemed to hold the shifter a touch too soon to a higher gear, keeping engine speed right around 1,500 to 1,700 rpm — a bit low for around-town driving. When towing, the Sierra seemed more comfortable, offering a smoother and more powerful feel, but paying a larger penalty in fuel used. Not surprising, the transmission seemed more enthusiastic when in Tow/Haul mode.

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The Ram seemed more comfortable and spirited when empty. The transmission had quite a bit of trouble knowing when exactly to shift from 3rd to 4th or 4th to 3rd with the load. And when in 3rd gear, we found some rather harsh vibrations through the firewall and floor. There was also a transient burbling noise that would briefly enter the cabin at speeds around 50 mph. Still, the Ram’s base seats were a standout and got several positive comments from our loop drivers.

It should be noted our F-150 was a slightly different sort of animal from our Sierra WT and Ram ST base model regular cabs. Both of those vehicles had crank windows and manual mirror adjustments. Our Ram even had five-lug axles whereas just about every midsize and half-ton truck around sports a six-lug.

Our F-150 did have the nice rims, power windows, power mirrors and vastly superior interior with the STX trim package. Seating comfort was strong with the 40/20/40 seating that gave better-than-most bolstering and backside comfort. The six-speed transmission helped the vehicle get in the right gear in city driving, and the 302-horsepower motor allowed it to scoot off the line. With the trailer hooked up and in Tow/Haul mode, there was plenty of gearing to get it moving from a stop light or when merging into traffic. The transmission is the key here, using some significant computer power to figure out in milliseconds just the right amount of power and force to move the extra weight with the least lost energy. The gearbox downshifted quickly and upshifted when sensing downhill spots coming ahead. And in perhaps the least surprising discovery, the most expensive truck of the test also had the quietest interior, empty or loaded.

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Still, with all the advantages and higher trim package, the F-150 is a good value proposition. At $4,000 more than the GMC and $6,000 more than the Ram, the added pricing would be justified if just considering the powertrain gains alone -- more power, more fuel economy and more gears are hard to argue with. Throw in the rest of the interior upgrades, and the F-150 was our clear winner here.

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Comments

It's really too bad Ford didn't give you an XL to test. It would have been interesting to see how the basic F-150 interior, ride, and NVH compared to the Sierra and Ram. Yes, the STX is a marginal step up from the XL, but a step-up nonetheless.

isn't the 6r80 the same transmission as in the new diesel trucks? In what ways is the transmission different in this v6 truck?

i know some one is going to say my v8 on the highway gets 25mpg and i am just going to LMAO. but this is real world driving the only problem is how fast you accelerate the vehicle will tell you your MPG i get 14-15 on average but can get up to 17 if i am very good and on the highway.
the ford is fast in acceleration so it burning fuel faster that one thing they cant take in to account for so the ford should be better at hyper MPG then the rest
the ford used a 3.73 gear that will only help with drag racing and pulling larger loads if it had a 3.55 we would have seen better MPG and you only loss 500 lbs. of towing fro the 6,000lbs.

I had a GM van with 4.3 V6. I never got anything better than 20 highway and 15 around town. I had a 4x4 Ranger with 4L V6. I got around 24 highway (60 mph - faster MPG would drop) and around 16 city.
I can see why guys go for the V8's. My 2010 Supercrew 4x4 5.4 is getting 13 - 14 around town. That is behaving myself and using the mpg display to temper my right foot.
It is good to see mpg getting some attention. Too bad the Tundra scheduled for this test never made it. It would of been nice to see how it fared.

And as far as fuel economy goes, remember that the test pointed out the superior acceleration of the Ford. While this is a very realistic test, it'd be interesting to check the mileage of all of them when following the Ram in a convoy (not drafting, just moving at the same speed). You'd see a mileage boost simply because you'd be using less throttle - a very mild form of hypermiling.

I am amazed at the mileage the Dodge has! (Yes Dodge not Ram.)

I had a Dakota 4x4 V-6 that got only 14 mpg at 55. (4:10 gears) This is a big change.

Still not enough though to make me sell my 02 Silverado though.

im pretty sure the f-150 didnt offer a V6 for the redesign in 09. does it now? they did away with the V6 and did two versions of the 4.6 V8 a 2 valve and a 3 valve which is found in the nicer trim levels. So how did we compare these trucks with a V8 in one? and it did the best. this confirms my belief that V6s dont belong in full size trucks.

@Carlos Vallecillo - re-read the test. Ford won this test with a new 3.7 L V6.
The old 4.6 2V, 4.6 3V, and 5.4 3V are gone for 2011.
They have been replaced by a 3.7L V6, 5.0 V8, 3.5 EB V6, and 6.2 V8.

Lets see here, $4,000 more than the GMC huh? If I had my way here I would get a GMC with the SLE package that come with the small V-8 (4.8) and then run the same tests, you know apples to apples, or maybee spen a few hundred more and get the 5.3/6spd. I know you would get better mpg, and the performance would be better!! But I would concead that you would have a V-8 Against a V-6.

I drive a Honda Odyssey, and my mileage is 21 MPG + or - .5 MPG. 75%t of the driving is at highway speeds. On a trip I average 24 MPG at 78 MPH.

Problem is I can't tow a pontoon boat without blowing the trans. The 4-door Ford 150 V-6 seems like it would get the same mileage, and tow the pontoon on occasion (12 times per year max.). I could expect similar MPG, and get rid of a third vehicle and the related expenses. I have been driving V-6'ds for 14 years now and they have all the power I need most of the time, and it looks like Ford has done an end run on the competition. 85% of the time I am driving by myself or with my wife, but want 4-doors for grand kids, and convenience.

Too bad Ford does not offer the up scale Lariat with the V-6 for folks that want an up scale ride,k and don't need to tow 10,000 lbs?



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