Words by Mike Levine and Mark Williams, Photos by Ian Merritt and Joe Bruzek
Like Rodney Dangerfield, V-6 two-door trucks get no respect: Over the past decade, almost all of the significant power, fuel economy and technical advances have been made to fancier trucks, with eight-cylinder engines and four-door extended and crew cabs. These changes have left regular cab, six-cylinder haulers in the dust. That is, until now.
For our comparison, which we did with our partners at USA Today, we’re testing the base engines that propel the anonymous two-door, short-bed fleet and work trucks you pass by every day but never seem to notice. With vinyl floors and cloth seats, V-6 half-tons are some of the hardest-working pickups used daily to haul tools and machinery to job sites around the country, next to diesel-powered heavy-duty pickups. Six-cylinder work trucks are hardly used as commuter or recreational vehicles.
According to RL Polk’s vehicle registration data, during the last five years there have been two significant trends in regular cab full-size pickups that both coincide with the introduction of the 2009 Ford F-150, which dropped a six-cylinder engine from its lineup all together.
First, from 2005-2008, the mix of regular cab V-6 to V-8 trucks was split almost evenly in half. After 2009, the split shifted to one-third V-6 and two-thirds V-8. Second, from 2005-2008, regular cabs made up about 12 percent of all half-ton sales. After 2009, regular cab share dropped dramatically. In 2010, year-to-date, regular cab trucks now make up just 7.6 percent of all truck sales.
Ford has introduced two all-new six-cylinder engines for the 2011 F-150 that promise to have many half-ton truck buyers reconsidering what it means to have a V-6 beating under the hood of their half-ton.
The V-6 getting most of the spotlight is 3.5-liter EcoBoost. The twin-turbo gasoline direct-injection engine is the top-of-the-line choice for the 2011 F-150. With power ratings of 365 hp and 420 pounds-feet of torque and a maximum towing rating of up to 11,300 pounds, the EcoBoost 3.5 can do the work of a V-8 engine with two fewer cylinders. But the EcoBoost V-6 won't be available until the first quarter of 2011.
We gathered three 2011 V-6 entry-level pickups from Ford, GMC and Ram for our first Work Truck Shootout. Each truck has a naturally aspirated engine in a regular cab, two-wheel-drive, short-bed configuration.
Ford and GMC stepped up quickly with trucks. Ford provided an early build 2011 F-150 while GMC built a truck (and allowed us to watch) for this competition because V-6 work trucks aren’t exactly in high demand with other automotive media.
Ram declined to provide a truck, so we acquired a brand-new 2011 Ram 1500 that met our test specs from a Chrysler dealer.
For the most part, the trucks we tested are identical except for rear axle ratios because of configuration, production and availability constraints. They are all two-wheel drive because that’s the only driveline available from Ram and Toyota. The 2011 Ford F-150 regular cab V-6 and 2011 GMC Sierra 1500 V-6 are optionally available with four-wheel drive.
For our competitions, each pickup was matched with an appropriate load, either 1,200 pounds of ballast in the cargo box or a 2,300-pound trailer pulling a cement spreader.
Toyota also provided a truck, but unfortunately it was badly damaged while being transported across the country to our test site.
Toyota Tundra light-duty pickup trucks equipped with six-cylinder engines will see an increase in power for the 2011 model year. The 4.0-liter V-6 is now rated at 270 horsepower and 278 pounds-feet of torque, up 34 hp and 12 pounds-feet from the 2006-2010 Tundra.
We'll have a comprehensive test of the 2011 Tundra 4.0-liter V-6 in the near future.
All of our testing took place in Michigan in the Detroit metro area.
Ford let us spend a day at its Michigan Proving Grounds in Romeo, where we used a 1,400-foot, 7-percent grade for hill climb testing and a multi-acre skid pad for ride, handling and brake testing.
Why test at Ford’s proving grounds? First, we wanted controlled conditions to run select standardized performance tests to compare the results of each truck. Second, comparative testing on public highways is a crapshoot. You'll likely get stuck behind slower-moving traffic, and finding an exit to turn around and repeat a test can require scores of extra miles and lots of extra time, which we didn't have.
Our second closed venue was at Milan Dragway, about 20 miles south of Ann Arbor, to run our quarter-mile level-ground tests down the International Hot Rod Association-sanctioned asphalt. We spent a full day racing the trucks with and without a 2,300-pound utility trailer carrying a cement spreader.
Finally, we ran our fuel economy and long-distance ride and handling tests on a public road loop around Detroit that included highway, rural roads and urban roads.
We partnered again with engineering firm Ricardo to measure each truck’s performance. In pictures and on video, you’ll see the vehicles running side-by-side in drag contests for subjective comparison, but Ricardo collected data only one truck at a time with the same driver behind the wheel for each test.
Ricardo’s engineers brought an RT3102 computer from Oxford Technical Solutions to capture and process data. It contains three accelerometers and three angular rate sensors, as well as GPS and a Pentium processor. From this, Ricardo engineers collected three types of acceleration (lateral, longitudinal and vertical), three body movement rates (roll, yaw and pitch) as well as position, velocity, orientation and slip. Time was recorded, too. The RT3102 outputs a host of other data, including pitch and roll angles, and the three acceleration figures in either body or frame orientation.