Manufacturers are pulling out all the stops to increase half-ton pickup trucks' fuel economy without sacrificing performance.
They've introduced new engine platforms with fuel-saving technology innovations; more-aerodynamic chassis with passive and active aerodynamic devices; multi-speed transmissions; weight-saving materials; and electric accessories such as power-steering pumps to reduce parasitic engine loads.
Pick your power
New engine offerings in the half-ton pickup-truck market are a radical departure from previous generations. Turbocharging, cylinder deactivation, variable valve timing and direct injection are all becoming commonplace as pickup manufacturers strive to boost fuel economy. There is more than one way to squeeze extra efficiency out of the engine.
Ford offers a 3.7-liter V6 and a 5.0-liter V8 that both offer twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT). Precise, variable timing of both intake and exhaust camshafts optimizes power, performance and fuel economy. Raw power buyers can also choose a 6.2-liter V8.
But the engine choice leading the charge for Ford's half-ton pickups is the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. Its 365 hp and and 420 lb.-ft. of torque is comparable to a naturally aspirated V8's power, but it manages fuel economy of 16 city/22 highway miles per gallon.
EcoBoost is a cornerstone of Ford's strategy to provide high-output, smaller-displacement powertrains that optimize both performance and fuel economy. Direct fuel injection and turbocharging are used to increase power form the smaller engine displacement while extending fuel economy up to 20 percent and reducing CO2 emissions up to 15 percent compared to larger engines of comparable power. It also uses independently variable camshaft timing. The EcoBoost engine in the F-150 supplies up to 90 percent of peak torque in the speed range from 1,700 to 5,000 rpm.
Ram Trucks and General Motors also use variable valve timing, but Ford's competitors have chosen cylinder deactivation to reduce working displacement when operating conditions allow improved fuel economy.
Ram's 1500-Series pickups are available with the either a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, or a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 with Fuel Saver Technology (cylinder deactivation).
General Motors calls its cylinder-shut-off technology Active Fuel Management. It is standard on all available engine platforms for the 1500 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, allowing the V8 and V6 engines to switch to V4 operation.
General Motors' first hood-to-hitch rework of its 1500 Series pickup trucks in several years delivers an all new set of EcoTec3 engines based on the proven small-block design — the standard 4.3-liter V6 and optional 5.3-liter V8 and 6.2-liter V8.
"The EcoTech3 denotes the three technologies that we worked to integrate in order to optimize our efficiency and performance," says Sheryl Balsley, assistant chief engineer, small block truck engines, GM Powertrain. "This family of engines has a direct-injection fuel system, active fuel management and variable valve timing."
Active Fuel Management allows the pickups to seamlessly switch to run on four cylinders during light-load driving to save fuel. The technology is torque based.
"When you put your foot in the pedal, you are demanding a certain level of torque," says Balsley. "If the engine is in a range where we have enough torque, we will maintain four-cylinder mode; if you need additional torque, we will go to the V6 or V8 mode."
These technologies will be standard on every Silverado and Sierra and work together to precisely control the burning of fuel in the cylinders.