2013 Light-Duty Challenge: Mileage Drive

Mileage group 2 II

Some of the most significant improvements for all pickup trucks have come in fuel economy during the past several years, starting with Ford's EcoBoost engine. Now others are making serious noise about their accomplishments.

Our fuel economy drive loops were designed to give us a chance to see how well this current crop of competitors could do in head-to-head driving comparisons. And we mean head-to-head. All vehicles were driven with air conditioning on, in Drive or "D," and following the lead truck as a caravan. The only difference in our driving when trailering would be that each towing pickup engaged the Tow/Haul settings. Additionally, to calibrate the test for any differences in driver weight or driving styles, all drivers rotated into each truck at each of the six stops on the loop.

The easiest way we've found to accomplish this type of "variable-less" empty and trailered mileage driving is to have half the test trucks (three) run with the trailers on the first 180-mile loop, then swap the trailers once we got back to our start/finish loop (a Shell gas station in Ann Arbor, Mich.), and then we did the same loop with the same drivers. This made for a long day, but it also allowed our judges to get real-world feedback from each truck in real-world towing and empty cruising in around-town and highway conditions.

At the beginning of each loop we topped off each of the gas tanks at the same pump, using the same "two-click" method.

Our full drive loop had us visiting a slew of Michigan towns, starting in Ann Arbor, then heading into Garden City, Auburn Hills, Flint, Perry and Stockbridge, then back to Ann Arbor. We should note that more than two-thirds of our driving loop was done on two-lane highways and freeways, where our average speed was right around 50 mph, with the rest of the mileage through small towns and on major city streets (with plenty of stoplights). No, this wasn't an attempt to duplicate the EPA test routes, so you shouldn't be surprised to see numbers that are quite different from the government ratings. And that's exactly what happened.

Mileage group II

The winner of our "empty" drive loop, with an observed fuel economy of 23.1 mpg, was the GMC Sierra 1500. The F-150 was in second place with 22.3 and the Ram 1500 was not far behind with 21.7. The Silverado recorded 21.4, the Toyota 18.2 and the oldest engine of the segment, the Nissan Titan, a 16.6.

When trailering at or near maximum towing capacity, the results were a little different. Winning the trailering section of our fuel economy testing was the Chevy Silverado with an impressive 12.6 mpg, and its sibling Sierra was right behind with 12.5. In third and fourth place were the Tundra with 11.8 and the Titan with 11.4. Maybe the biggest surprise here was finding out the fastest trucks in our performance testing were the worst in our trailering mileage drive. At the bottom of the group was the Ram with a dismal 10.4 while towing; the F-150 wasn't much better at 10.9.

Mileage fillup II


Overview | Judges' Impressions | 0-60 Acceleration | 60-0 Braking | Mileage Drive | Hill Climb | Autocross | Payload and Towing | Results


Interesting that two identical GM trucks would vary so much.

the more hp you have the faster you can accelerate and the faster you can burn through the fuel. its real hard to determine mpg that's why the EPA use computers. the only way to better find out mpg is to have all the trucks in a row not a line in order to accelerate at the same rate. the more hp means the faster you can get up to highway speed and that also means the more fuel burned. the ecoboost engines are making the trucks lighter giving them better mpg and the 8-speed better gearing. if you tune the engines to less hp under 300hp and give them as much lbs.tq. mpg will go up 2-4mpg in towing. E=MC2 if you under stand that you will understand

So no mid-grade for the Ram?
So no premium for the F-150?

By the looks of the picture at the top, the Ram is at the head of the line while pulling the trailer. I wonder how much this affected the towing mpg's with it taking all off the drag and the rest of the crew is drafting behind it.

@Mark Williams: what speed was this the trailer tow mileage test done at when on the highway?

Can't say I have been up by Ann Arbor but if it's anything flat, that Ram coulda been taken out of tow haul. The Ram is about the only one that puts the trans in a lower gear and holds it there for tow haul. While the others run in 6th (5th for the Titan) final gear. When it's just towing at 70 mph on a flat highway, and considering your trailer had very low aero drag compared to a travel/car trailer, the fact that if the GMs could pull in top gear gear with 3.42s and less torque, the Ram sure can pull it in 8th gear with 3.55s with more torque at a lower rpm. Ram final gear with tow haul: .84 x 3.55-2.98, GMs: .667 x 3.42- 2.28. There's your mileage. Tundra in top gear?
2.53, Ford? 2.50
You don't really need tow haul on a flat ground highway @65 mph or so.

But I would want it at 55 mph in a hilly envirement!

As for the Ford: work a turbo and it she's got to eat!

Crazy how the two GMs had the big differance, maybe the lack aero in the Silvy unloaded held it back? I know if you add the two empty GM mileages up, and divide by 2, it only comes out to .5 mile better with a truck that was slow with a trailer. No thanks.

As for the Tundra folks, ussually they say the other brands mileages are all EPA rated and don't matter, or aren't realistic. Yet another unloaded test (and the tow haul gear ratio when towing) covers that.

Wow, 16 mpg from the Nissan. You can't buy enough gas with the money you would save if you bought one.

for the unloaded comparison the guy in the Chevy has a lead foot and the GMC a light one mpg is very subjective.

pull out the base chevy ford and dodge V6 then pulling 8500 i bet you the get the best mpg of 13-14mpg why bec no matter how hard you push the engine it can only give you 300hp.
yes i know the base v6 trucks are rated to tow about 6,000 lbs. but keep in mind 1/2 tons only had 200-300 hp about 10 years ago and the were rated for more then 9,000 lbs

What exactly is different about the GMC and Chevy trucks? Should each of these mpg ratings be +/- 2 mpg? If so there is no statistical difference between the top 4 finishers in this test.

Impressive MPG from GM. Remember this was the V8/4x4 combo. Hoping for big numbers from the V6/4x2.

dsklfjja; has it right. When you limit potential power, mpg improves. That's why the most fuel efficient compact cars have trouble making it all the way to 60mph.

This also means that it will probably not be to difficult to get some big power gains with the new 5.3 at the cost of some BIG losses in mpg.

The unloaded fuel economy is really no surprise- the 3 (or 4) newest trucks close together and up front, with the older trucks lagging behind. Very surprised by the trailer towing numbers. The 2.2mpg spread for the field doesn't seem like much, but on a big towing weekend (1000 miles, toys on trailer) it makes for about an $80 difference. That's a cheap hotel room or a decent family dinner (out)

Look no further than the front ends of the trucks. Mileage at speed is almost entirely about drag. The new models with the best mileage have highly swept windshields and huge, low plastic air dams. The Tundra and Titan don't.

300 vs 400 hp makes no difference at all unless you're actually standing on it at 5500 rpm.

@Dan I bet the differance in torque that comes with that extra horsepower makes alot of differance, and not at 5500, but as low as 3000/3500 rpm.

The air dam is how Tundra mis leads people into thinking they have alot of ground clearance. Yes, they don't have a low air dam, but the rest of the truck sits low. Spend some time crawling under them with a tape measure.

After re reading this, I realize, they didn't go fast enough most of the time for the air suspension to lower the Ram, which happens around 55-60.

Explains alot of why the GM bricks got mileage. Run them at 65-70 mph and it'll be a differant story.

50 mph? What kinda test is that?


@trx-4 completely agree with what kind of test is that where the avg speed is 50mph??? we drive that fast on surface streets here in phx if not you get run over. Cmon at least drive 65 - 70 on highways which is NORMAL. these tests are aways partially Rigged and not REAL WORLD. I have noticed in these new vehicles that its hard to even reach the epa avg on sticker these days, between the lying by mfg, the not real world evaluation if any by epa and our garbage quality gas, you have to avg 50mph like putc did to reach the epa avg mpg on sticker.
in the 90s i aways would get the high #x on epa window sticker, not anymore. my guess is REAL WORLD MPG would be about 2-3mpg less that what putc claims at moped speeds. my dbl cab tundra avg 15-17. Also you put your foot in a turbo in the real world and the mpgs do DOWN fast. And when you merge in traffic, fwy, passing you put your foot in it. Cmon putc, dont cave to the mpg and give us real world scenarios. hope you guys get paid good cause im not impressed with these controlled tests in nice cool weather vary controlled environment. Not Real World at all imho. Real world here in phx i wouldnt trust the ford turbo towing in this heat or daily driving. WOuld let it idle at least a few minutes before shutting off engine here in phx. AC in fords is substandard compared to all the competition, where is that in a real world test ??? dont believe me, take a thermometer to test drive in summer. Not bashing just telling you my experience and i drove 5 trucks at different dealerships to see the consistent pattern. Cause i really wanted a ford back in 2010 and their ac system hasn't changed, i test drive new ones every year. but when your testing and its only 50 degrees out who needs ac. but its summer, where is it 50 degrees now??? Certain parts of this test stinks. Also the prices are crazy. but anyone should be able to easily get 10k off most trucks in this test. still puts one close to $40K out the door. Not for me. Im waiting for diesels in the half tons that usually get better mileage than stated and can easily be chipped and or cai and better flowing exhaust that really lets em breathe, perform much better and get even better mileage. Im done with gas guzzlers in half tons.

cmon - depends on where you live. 65-70 is fine if you have those kind of speed limits or have plenty of freeways.
EPA mpg testing was changed a long time ago, their current test results are more accurate than the older EPA tests.
Anyone can excede EPA ratings by adjusting their driving habits. I've said this before, I routinely excede highway EPA ratings with my 5.4 F150. It is rated 18 highway and I've gone on several long trips, one was 600 miles (one way) and averaged 20.5 mpg. That was in the mountains and intermontane plateaus of British Columbia Canada with a speed limit of 60 mph.

@TRX-Tom - why don't you admit that the 5.7 Ram 8 speed air ride isn't the end all be all of the trucking world.
All of the excuses and complaints age getting to be a bit much. Funny to see a Toyota guy agreeing with you on the lack of reality in real world mpg testing.

One point I might inquire about here is whether or not the same truck led every stage. Whichever truck led would buck the most air resistance while those following would receive some benefit from drafting--even at a low 50 mph--at the distances shown in the top photo. If the Ram had not led the loaded loop it might have seen slightly better, though probably not enough to make a significant difference.

On the other hand, as a light truck and not an HD, exactly how often is it likely to pull maximum weight? The average travel trailer runs between 6,000-7,000 pounds while a 25-foot fifth-wheel trailer would probably run about 7,500 pounds. If you're going to pull 30 foot or more you'll probably want an HD anyway. This means that the average user will likely run empty or with a modest bed load which wouldn't affect the mileage nearly as much. While the GM twins obviously came out near the top across the board, with the exception of the Toyota and Nissan the others were well within 10% of the top mileage running light.

@Vulpine - I doubt that there would be much of a mpg gain being behind the lead truck. Myth Busters did a test with a car and a semi and they were extremely close to the semi to gain any benefits in mpg.

Can you link me to that episode? I've done the same with my Jeep and realized a quite different result. A car is already super-streamlined compared to a pickup truck, so it could have had a noticeable effect here.

The only way drafting would improve mpg is if one gets within the "safety envelope" that one needs to prevent rear ending if the lead vehicle makes a panic stop.


@cmon- Ford AC substandard? That's news to me. Had an 86 1/2 ton that I couldn't run the AC on max as it got too damn cold in the truck. My 04 Ranger is the same way.

@Lou: With my Jeep I can feel the turbulence of a big rig when I'm still 200 feet behind him at highway speeds; that's about 10 car lengths at 70mph giving me a 3-car-length added cushion based on the old rules. 2 car lengths closer and the lessened drag becomes very noticeable.

@Vulpine - "drafting" or punching a hole through the air might be more noticeable in a boxy vehicle like your Jeep. I really noticed the difference in aerodynamics when transport trucks went from the traditional square nose to the "ant-eater" snout. On a motorcycle, I used to have to prepare for the side blast when ever I met a transport truck. It became a non-issue with the newer trucks. Rear turbulence never seemed to bother me as much.
I've never liked having vehicles in front of me so I've tended to either pass them or linger back.

Something about the "open road" has always been soothing to my soul.

@Lou: I know what you mean about the lure of the "open road". Unfortunately, those roads seem to be getting scarce as no matter what road you drive, it seems there's far more traffic than there used to be. Where once I used to drive old 2-lane highways for pleasure, now I have to get off the roads entirely, which is a significant change for me.

I can tell you this. Ask any owner that has a eco-boost around Tn. and they will tell you 16mpg, that's it. Real world gas mileage is a lot different than these stupid test. I know a guy who is the service mng at a big Ford Dealer Ship in NC and he said the gas mileage on the eco-boost is a joke. Looking at the inside of the trucks Ford was a loser in every category but it still wins? If the ford was so great then why did the Ram beat it out in Motor Trends Truck of the year award?

The inside of the F-150 is still modern and the extra space you get in the F-150 4 door VS the dodge or Chevy is also class leading. Plus when you fold the seats up of the Ford you can literally put a sleeping bag back there and camp out overnight b/c the Ford doesn't have as pronounced of a conventional drive 'hump". On a personal note, I drive 45K miles a year (highway) and I have owned a 2010 FX2(v8) a 2011 GMC Sierra (5.3 V8) and now I have a 2013 FX4 with ecoboost. In my 2010 FX2, I was getting 19mpg (hwy speed 75mph). In my 2011 GMC Sierra with the 5.3, I averaged 16.9 (again hwy speed 75mph) and with my 2013 Ecoboost I'm getting 15.1 MPG (avg hwy speed 75mph in Texas). Granted the other 2 trucks were 2 wheel drive, but I'm really not that impressed with the Eco Boost engine fuel economy but otherwise the F-150 is still head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to interior refinement and functionality. the 2013 Ram looks great on the inside, but the 2nd row space in the crew cab with it's VERY LARGE conventional hump was terribly disappointing. Why Ram and GM have not copied Ford's 2nd row design is beyond me. and on the GM and Ram trucks the middle seat in the 2nd row is TINY compared with Ford which maintains a uniform size throughout the entire 2nd row. If you have kids like I do, that REALLY matters.

It all depends on how you drive them.
I've talked to one guy with a F150 Platinum 4x4 Crew EB with a canopy on it and he says he can get 9.4 litres per 100 km or 25 mpg (USA) highway. I talked to another guy with the exact same truck but with a tonneau cover. He says he never gets the rated mpg with it. He says maybe 18 mpg at best.
Both say the same thing - they love the power and both say loaded/towing mpg is no different than any gasser they've owned.
I can cite myself as an example. I've gotten 20.4 - 20.5 (USA) highway mpg with my 5.4 SuperCrew 4x4 on several long trips. My brother-in-law also has a 5.4 SuperCrew and he says he is lucky to get 16-17 (USA) mpg out of his. He is a lead foot.

I'm talking about British Columbia mountains, hills, and intermountain plateaus. The highway speed limit is 60 mph and an automatic vehicle impound if one goes 25mph over the posted speeds. Most people travel at 108 - 110 kph or 65-68 mph. If I run at 65mph, my mileage drops to 18-19 mpg (USA).
I like to stick to the speed limit as it improves mpg and I'm not worried about tickets.

@Mark - Your another hatter that can't stand the truth. The EB 3.5 is just a Gift from FORD. Unloaded it posted nearly the highest MPG. Loaded wasn't much worse than anyone Midpack which is pretty impressive considering the feedback it gives towing. You don't own one and know nothing about it! The RAM win for 2013 is a rigged Comparo, 75% loaded of gross weight capabilities...in other words the FORD Carried over 900# more than anyone in the field...thats a fixed test. This test, I have no clue how they couln't at least get the FX4, much better suited package easily under 45Gs !!!

That ford is a pig on fuel as soon as you load it up a little.

Should be noted that GM and Ford run 245 pizza cutter tires, while Ram Tundra and the Titan run 275, 285 series tires. If GM and ford ran the wider rubber the MPG would be about 2mpgs worse.

@Ryan - incorrect.

These are the tires used in the test:
Chevy/Sierra - Wrangler SR/A 265/65R18
Ford - Wrangler SR/A 275/65R18
Nissan - BFG Rugged Trail 275/70R18
Ram - Wrangler SR/A 275/60R20
Tundra - Michelin 275/65R18

There are only 10 mm difference between the GMC tires and the rest. Far from pizza cutters.

@Lou: Incorrect, there is about 1.5 inches differance in height between the Ram and GMs. A 31.5" 65 series tire and a 33" 60 series tire are quit a bit differant. Less capacity, less ground clearance, less rotaing weight, less restance.

That being said, Ram needs more tire size choices!

Do you know what axles were in these trucks.
The difference between the chev and gmc may have been 4.8 and 5.3 in the gmc.
I am looking for a light duty pick up and trying to make up my mind on which one to buy.
Last year I bought a used 2011 sierra 1500 4x4 Z71 package and it has 3.73 axles in it and does that cost at the pumps,
I need a truck but can't afford to keep this one
cheers Darrell

I pulled my 7x16x7 foot high enclosed trailer with a 2-up AC quad and a whole lot of tools with my sqeekoboost at 90mph and there was lots of pedal left.I had to back of because of the trailer fish-tailing otherwise I would have done 110mph.@11 mph

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