Based on your application, there are several points to consider when choosing the best powertrain for your pickup. According to Dennis Slevin, F-150 vehicle engineering manager, Ford, they include:
- base cost of the powertrain (engine/transmission combination);
- duty cycle (light payloads or towing vs. heavier payloads or towing);
- operating environmental conditions (on-road vs. off-road or construction sites);
- and desired options (some options offered only on specific powertrain combinations).
Sizing up gas engine alternatives
Picking the right engine for your 1/2-ton pickup involves balancing capability against fuel economy and price, says Joel Fukumoto, Toyota Truck product manager. "The first priority should be capability. [There is no point] in choosing a lower-priced engine that saves on fuel, but can't do what you need it to do," he says. "That's why large V8s still make up nearly 70% of the 1/2-ton market and V6 engines make up just over 10%."
It's also vital to understand exactly how much your truck and its engine can tow.
"Even if you have a big trailer, choosing the biggest engine isn't necessarily what you need to do," says Carl Hillenbrand, Silverado product manager, General Motors. "The towing ratings vary by models, by engines and by 2WD and 4WD. On some models between the 5.3-liter and a 6-liter, you basically aren't getting any extra if you don't have an extra towing package on it. You have already basically maxed out the chassis and cooling."
First, you need to determine what you actually tow. "Sometimes people guess what their trailer weighs," says Hillenbrand. He advises taking it to a scale to weigh it. "From there, we have our towing charts. Try to figure out what combination fits best. [You] are probably better off with an engine that is as small as possible but can still get the job done well."
Don't assume small displacement engines are always more fuel efficient than their larger counterparts. "For example, GM's 5.3-liter V8 engine actually gets better fuel economy than the company's smaller V6," says Hillenbrand. This is because the 5.3-liter V8 has more advanced technology. "It has active fuel management. It has a lot of enhancements, including six-speed transmissions that are rolling out this year."
In the Dodge lineup, there is no difference in fuel economy between the smaller V8 and the larger HEMI V8. This is made possible by new technology implemented in the HEMI motor.
"We added variable valve timing [and] an active intake manifold. We increased the compression ratios...That allows us extended time that we can run in cylinder deactivation, because there is more power in four-cylinder mode," explains Veltri. "All of this technology resulted in the engine alone delivering about a 5% improvement in fuel economy." But it does come with a price - the HEMI is a $1,300 option.
You need to weigh the cost of technology vs. the savings. "If you look at initial costs vs. actual cost of usage of the vehicle, you have to balance how many miles you drive and when it will pay off," says Hillenbrand.
For lower miles, the value equation may be a V6. "[The vehicle] may not get the same fuel economy, especially loaded, as it could with a 5.3-liter engine. But if you don't drive very many miles, it may be a good selection," Hillenbrand states. "If you are driving enough to pay back the difference, then you need to pay for an increased size engine that has all of the extra technology on it."
Flex-fuel engines are another alternative. Flex-fuel trucks operate on both fuel types and often don't cost anymore than a conventional gas truck. "We don't charge any extra for the Flex Fuel engines," says Hillenbrand.