Thursday, September 1, 2011

Feature: Powertrain Dilema

It was only three short years ago, when the last big fuel price inflation made the full-size truck the most feared vehicle on the market. Well the summer of 2011 is here, and with it comes sky-rocketing fuel prices once again. So, those of you who rushed out and purchased a full-size truck once the prices stabilized last year, did you think ahead? Are you currently in need of a full-size pickup, but don’t want to take a shellacking when regular pops up over $1.50/Litre?

In an ever-increasing battle to produce the most fuel-efficient trucks on the market, there has been a rash of new powertrain options out there to make the most of the fuel you put into them, all in different ways. Certain power options help those who may not drive their trucks much at all, some help those who have to deal with urban environments, and some get those who need to cover great distances with heavy loads the best bang for their gas station buck.

So what works best for you? It all depends what you plan to do with your truck. Here is a rundown of the advances the manufactures have made in the fuel efficiency of their full-size trucks, and how they best serve potential owners.

Efficient Gasoline
Ford has been making the most of the most popular fuel on the planet for well over one hundred years now, and guess what? They are still finding ways to get even better efficiency out of the same old 87-octane that’s been sold at the corner gas station for nearly as long. A jump in fuel efficiency technology in the last few years has rewarded most manufacturers with incredibly thrifty fuel sippers. The implementation of direct fuel injection, variable valve timing, new lighter materials and turbo technology has allowed some truck makers to get the same power from a six-cylinder that was previously only found in V-8’s only a few short years ago, while increasing efficiency by as much as a third in some cases.

Chryslers new six-piston darling, the 3.5L Pentastar V-6 has replaced the old 3.0L CRD diesel engine in the Jeep Grand Cherokee because it gets better fuel mileage. Likewise, Fords equally touted EcoBoost 3.5L V-6 Turbo has given F-150 owners V-8 power in the form of a V6, while also increasing fuel efficiency by 20%. These numbers are impressive, however where these vehicles excel is in the cost of these upgrades. In terms of the Jeep, the Pentastar powered Grand Cherokee is the base spec vehicle, so you literally pay nothing for the increase in efficiency. Ford on the other hand have not released the cost of their new EcoBoost at the time of writing, but word has it the turbo 3.5L will be an option fetching somewhere around the order of $2,000. So, if you are buying a large truck and you may not be using it as a daily driver, but still want to save at the pump, a high efficiency gasoline powered unit will likely be the most economical choice.

Now this is a bit of an odd one. In terms of the timeline of light trucks, the hybrid is still in its primordial ooze stage of life. As of right now, there is only one company offering a hybrid pickup on the market, and that’s the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Hybrid along with its GMC twin, the Sierra 1500 Hybrid. Sporting a full-size chassis and a 6.0L FlexFuel V8, one would legitimately question the use of a Hybrid drivetrain on such a vehicle. The fact is, it works, and works quite well, as this full-size truck gets mid-sized car fuel efficiency. GM rates the Silverado Hybrid at 10.1L/100km in the city and 8.4L/100km on the highway. In testing I confirmed these numbers, which made my Volvo look more like a Hummer.

The beauty of a Hybrid is that its delivery of electrical power means this vehicle is at its best in the urban environment, and if you happen to live near one of two FlexFuel stations in Canada, the extra low Co2 emissions of this vehicle will also kick up your environmental karma. The downfall of this powertrain option is undoubtedly the cost of the technology. Hybrid technology is complicated and still in its pioneering form of R&D. As such, cost of fuel savings in the Silverado is huge, requiring an investment of nearly $20,000 over the base Silverado’s MSRP. At that cost, you will want to be sure that you keep it for a good long time to make up those extra costs.

As mentioned, the only hybrid pickup available in the North American market at present is the Silverado Hybrid. However, Ram are currently field testing their own hybrid product that will likely hit showrooms in a little over a years time.

Finally we come to diesel, my favourite fuel, at least when it comes to trucks. For the most part, here in Canada, diesel is cheaper than gasoline when you get to the pump, and once you have it in your tank, it does a hell of a lot more for you. Diesel not only stretches out your range and fuel efficiency numbers, but it also gives you added torque for hauling large loads. Unfortunately, the only trucks currently offering diesel engines are domestic Heavy Duty trucks. Elsewhere in the world, it’s the compact turbo diesel pickup that reigns king, however, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Ford have chosen to keep the efficient little four bangers out of the mid-sized truck market here in Canada. However, there is hope, as Cummins is working on a highly-efficient four-cylinder that is likely to be inserted into both the Ram and Nissan Titan 1500’s.

However, here and now, it’s the 6.6L Duramax, the 6.7L Power  Stroke and 6.7L Cummins that are the only available units, found in the Silverado/Sierra, F-250/350 and Ram Heavy Duties respectably. Due to the sheer size and weight of these vehicles, you would think any benefits of diesel power have long since been offset. However, with new regulations governing these vehicles and demand to create more efficient Heavy Duties for small businesses, these big guzzlers have seen quite a bit of headway in this department. Unfortunately, these same regulations say that any vehicle with a GVW higher than 8,000 lbs does not legally have to post the vehicles fuel-efficiency numbers, however, in a recent test of Chevrolet’s contender, the 6.6L equipped Silverado, I saw efficiency numbers of 12.2L/100km on the highway, and 15.3L/100km in the city, and that’s with a load in the back.

Where the diesels fall down a bit is the cost to equip each truck with the diesel option is still quite large. Expect to dish out $9,670 extra for the GM, $9,950 extra for the Ford and $7,975 for the Ram; not hybrid money, but still a good chunk of cash to make your full tank last a little longer.  As such, you’ll want to make sure that you are getting good use out of the vehicle to make up for the added expense. So, if you need a truck to haul large loads for long distances, the diesel will likely be you best choice.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun.