2015 Light-Duty V-8 Challenge: Fuel Economy

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We know fuel economy is just one of several factors many buyers use when purchasing a new pickup truck, but as fuel prices fluctuate and we get closer to higher federally mandated mpg targets, fuel efficiency will become even more important for the pickup truck segment.


Interestingly, in the half-ton segment, Ford is using a twin-turbo gas-engine strategy to get more power and mpgs with a pair of EcoBoost engines, while GM has gone to a pair of new midsize pickups, and Ram is doing everything it can to sell its EcoDiesel V-6 (which has the highest highway fuel economy of any half-ton sold).


To let you see how each truck did during a variety of driving situations when empty and while pulling a fully loaded Logan double-axle horse trailer (which totaled 6,700 pounds), we spent a full day on a 200-mile Arizona drive route. We did one trip empty and one with the trailer in tow to see how each engine compared.

Surprisingly, the biggest engines of our group (the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500) gave us the best empty fuel mileage at 19.8 and 19.6 mpg, respectively, thanks in large part to their all-new 8L90 transmissions. Of course, their high (numerically low) axle gears didn't hurt; those were 3.23:1 and 3.42:1, respectively.

The Ford F-150's 5.0-liter V-8 (the smallest engine of the group) and newly modified six-speed transmission came in third place with 17.3 mpg, with the Ram and Toyota finishing at 16.4, and 14.4, respectively.

When towing our trailer, the Ford had the best mpg number at 11.0, the Silverado 1500 averaged 10.2 mpg, the Sierra 1500 got 10.0 and the Ram and Tundra recorded 9.7 and 9.1 mpg, respectively.

How We Conducted the Testing

We made sure our route had a good mix of city driving, freeway sections, winding mountain hill climbs and gentle two-lane highway cruises. We started and ended each route run near the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park at the same gas station, using the same pump for each of our fill-ups. For those trucks that recommended premium fuel (Chevy, GMC and Ram), we obliged.

MPG Drive BS

Our drive route was composed of six legs with six trucks (three with trailers, three without — the sixth truck was not included in this test) so each driver could rotate into the next truck at each stop; this mitigated weight and driving-style differences. We used a sixth truck in this test because we originally planned to compare six trucks. One dropped out after we ordered the trailers, so rather than change the mileage drive route we used one of the extra pickups we had and put it into the rotation for this test. This allowed each of our drivers to drive all the trucks in a variety of terrains with and without a trailer.

We ran from Chandler, through Gilbert, up into Apache Junction and then made our turnaround at Canyon Lake at the Acacia Picnic Site at Canyon Lake (near the start of the Apache Trail). Once we made it back to our starting point, ending our first loop, we swapped the trailers and headed out to finish another identical loop.

The total drive time for our two-loop day was supposed to take eight hours, but due to some electrical issues in the F-150's trailer hitch wiring we had to troubleshoot we finished our day well into the evening.

Cars.com photos by Evan Sears and Bruce Smith

Misc 11


Misc 10


Misc 8

Overview | Acceleration | Quarter-Mile | Braking | Fuel Economy | Davis Dam | Results


They should of noted how much time the GM siblings were running on 4 cylinders. Same can be said for the Ram.
I am surprised that the F150 had the best loaded mpg.

They need to elaborate on the trailer wiring issue, and yes, it's surprising how well the F-150 did loaded.

I am surprised that the F150 had the best loaded mpg.

Posted by: Lou_BC | Jan 5, 2015 10:50:08 AM

I'm not, it had a full 1.2 liters less space than the GM twins to fill with 14:1 Air:Fuel mix. To put that into perspective that's nearly the size of the the engine in a modern economy car. Even if the Ford was working harder (bear in mind too that it makes very respectable torque numbers for its size), it is still filling nearly 20% less volume with properly mixed air and fuel.

Unloaded the GM's probably spent more time in 4cyl mode as you pointed out, so the converse is true, as in 4cyl mode they are now 40% less volume than the Ford, and the pushrod direct injection is probably way more efficient even in V8 mode. You cant come back from the extra volume though. It will burn more fuel per revolution than the Ford, period. The only way around that is gear it tall which they can do because it makes so much power so that it turns lower RPM. It simple physics.

"For those trucks that recommended premium fuel (Chevy, GMC and Ram), we obliged." - PUTC

GM didn't really win unloaded fuel economy because it was filled with premium fuel and no calculations were made for the added costfxtrvr.

You need to calculate for cost per mile.

I agree, cost per mile is an important factor, really more important than just MPG. I might get 50 MPG towing, but if I have to buy jet fuel...

Doesn't the Ram burn mid grade or regular? My 2011 does. By the way, just drove round trip 2,000 miles. on my truck there was no mpg difference between grades of gas.

Using a fuel cost comparison calc and the national average price of regular fuel and premium fuel, it costs less to drive the F-150 even though it got less fuel economy.

I think the Ford Enthusiasts need to admit defeat to the GM Twins, despite the proclaimed weight reduction of 700 lbs with this new F150. The truth is nobody can match GM's Powertrain, and I can't wait to see them produce the 10 Speed.

Ford needs to admit nothing. GM twins needed to run a 5.3 in this test or used a ford with the ecoboost (3.5l) to this to make any sense. Plus a premium ford with all the tow upgrades and gears.
Interesting test but it's extreme apples to oranges. If anything this just shows you can go with a cheaper ford get comparable performance and better gas mileage at a cheaper price (no premium needed with the 5-oh). Ford and ram continue to grow and improve, GM is easy third in the half ton range and that's without question!!!

Based on today's gas price (regular: $1.91, premium : $2.27) miles per dollar: ford: 9.05 miles per dollar, Chevrolet: 8.72 miles per dollar.

Ford makes it clear in all of their literature that the 3.5 Ecoboost is their premium engine for power. Not choosing it just because "V8" sounds impressive makes no sense for this test. All the same, I was surprised with how well the 5 liter did.

Better get the opt. gas tank on the Ford. Std. tank has gone from 26 to 23 gal. The Ram and Ford offer larger gas tanks, but your stuck with 26 gal. on GM and Toyota trucks. Not good when towing and getting 9 or 10 mpg.


It doesn't work that way, the engines are throttled. Unless these engines were operated at peak torque their cylinders were not filling completely with air, and if they were operating at peak torque then the GMC and Chevy trucks should have gotten wherever they were going substantially faster. Something is off with the test, could be they hit less wind or a tailwind when the ford was towing, but there's no way the F150 goes from being down 10%+ on fuel economy to being up by 10%.

Figure the 6.2 has slightly more piston ring friction, substantially less valvetrain friction, and a more efficient combustion due to higher compression ratio. It has fewer throttline lossing when AFM is active and perhaps slightly more if operating all 8 cylinders in a heavily throttled state, and even then for equal power production you would have to hit a sweet spot to really see an increase in pumping losses for the GM trucks. There is definitely something off with this test, I very much doubt the above results would be reproducible.

The question I only have is some places when you get premium there is no ethanol. If happens to be the case that could really skew the numbers here.

Note that the load on the tail of the F-150, much like a tow truck does with most fords, pushed it down the sloping road giving it better mpg.

Look at the drop in fuel economy compared from empty to towing.

Chevrolet loss 9.6 mpg's
GMC loss 9.6 mpg's
Ram loss 6.7 mpg's
Ford loss 6.3 mpg's
Toyota loss 5.3 mpg's

The GM twin would benefit the consumers the most since a big majority of these lux'd out trucks don't see any towing anyways.

@uh huh - One thing that gets overlooked when debating towing numbers is the truck's rated cargo capacity. I suspect that most of the trucks in this test are rated in the 9-12 k trailer towing range. The problem lies in gross combined weight ratings. A Ram with a 9K rating and a 1K cargo rating even with a distribution hitch would be over its GCWR with just 1 passenger.
The F150 and Sierra would be good for a family of 4 with a bit of gear in the truck. The Chevy would be good with just passengers and no gear in the truck. The Tundra would be borderline.

the article says 2015 chevy has a new six speed trans 8L90 , is it the same trans that's in the 2014

@Lou BC
Very true, These tested halftons with monstrous towing capabilities doesn't have the payload to properly tow with a generous 10% tongue weight if the truck is properly loaded with 4 adults and their gear. The sierra and F150 may barely squeak by with their 1800-1900 payload but the others will be overloaded according to their GVW ratings. I think there should be a required standard on matching payload with towing. But that is far from happening when the average Joe buys a truck more for style than work.

Don't forget that the GM twins are the only engines with direct injection. Could make a difference.

@uh huh - this past summer I made it a point to pay attention to the 1/2 ton pickups i saw towing. Many were pulling 10K trailers with a crewcab full of people and a box full of gear. I did not see one max tow/max cargo F150 or even Chevy. It was obvious that they were all over their GCWR.
I looked at the truck sites and the Ford site was the only one that listed GCWR.
I saw a lot of 1 ton diesel trucks towing similar 10k trailers but because the truck had massive power people drove like they were empty.

Makes me want to go out and buy an armoured personnel carrier to feel safe around these people.

Poor F-150. Fell short of even the Ram... That's rough.

Ford F150 continues to provide superior "overall" performance while providing cutting edge advances. I really would have liked to see a more "even" match up of these trucks with a closer sized motor...does Dodg....errr, I mean RAM still offer the 4.7L V8 any more? and what about Toyota? Didn't they have a 4.7L V8 as well?? GM should have sent one truck with the 5.3L V8 and the other with the 6.2L V8 to highlight the differences between the powertrains....would have made for a more interesting comparison. Going to be more interesting when Nissan revamps the line

"I did not see one max tow/max cargo F150 or even Chevy."

Curious on how you can tell just by looking. I owned a max tow and now have a non-max tow F150, and visually there is no difference. Not one thing sets it apart from the other. I can tell from the inside when pulling the camper as the leading edge of the hood sits an inch or two higher in your line of sight than the max tow truck did.
As an offside: Makes me question the sanity of getting a leveling kit; add a trailer and now you can't see that Prius a 1/4 mile ahead of you as you've destroyed the line of sight even more.

"Poor F-150. Fell short of even the Ram... That's rough."

How? Down nearly a liter, a bunch of horsies, and 3.55's vs 3.92....hmm, the Dodge should've tromped on the Ford, but it didn't. Dodge is pretty, but it's still a Dodge.

"Don't forget that the GM twins are the only engines with direct injection. Could make a difference."

I believe the 5.oh had DI as well. Thought the Toy did too...anyone confirm?

"Better get the opt. gas tank on the Ford. Std. tank has gone from 26 to 23 gal. The Ram and Ford offer larger gas tanks, but your stuck with 26 gal. on GM and Toyota trucks. Not good when towing and getting 9 or 10 mpg."

Sound advise that. Had the 26 gallon on our first EB F150 - that sucked! 36 wasn't available in 2011. Got the 2013 because now it was standard (at least in Canada, which still holds true with the '15's) and now my range is better. That was a dumb one on Ford's part thinking the EB needed a smaller tank back in '11.

If you are worried about towing stuff buy a 1 ton diesel and be done with it

For starters 17.3 is low as I own a 2015 f150 3.5l supercrew 4x4 I just depends on how you drive really. I get 18.5MPG commuting to work with mixed driving and passing people. Last tank of gas I got 17.5 with about 100 miles of towing 2500Lbs included. It is not perfectly flat where I live in NC I have some rolling hills on my commute. I have reset fuel economy while cruise was on 60 and get 27 Mpg over 15 miles of rolling country roads. Also performance comes at a price. The ecoboost engines out perform the 5.3l GM any day of the week. They don't even compare really. So what if you had to give up a little mpg based on this article. The ecoboost is a better tow option than the 5.3l Period! GM really does need a larger fuel tank. Love my 36 gallon in my Ford on the highway it has told me 700 Miles until empty when full. Bigger tank really matters when towing. I got 13.5 MPG towing 2500Lbs for 320 Miles at probably an average of 70-75 MPH in tow-haul mode and again not completely flat terrain. Not to shabby really and could easily forget there was something behind me. Not that I was towing a ridiculous amount of weight.

Toyota announced a 39 Gal. tank for tundra to come.

The chevy must have came a long way in a short time. My buddy has a 3/4 ton 6.2 that averages 11.9MPG over its life. That truck is a 2011.

He would be thrilled to get 19MPG.

As far as the cost per mile for the premium trucks, that is fairly staightforward. For instance the Chev vs Ford unloaded was a 13% gain in mpg for the chevy. If premium is more than 13% on average higher than regular then Ford is the way to go. If not, then go Chevy. Funny thing is, I just checked some local gas stations online and the difference is 12.5%!
Looks like at today's local price it's a push.

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