• |
  • |
  • Truck Power and Fuel Economy Through the Years

Truck Power and Fuel Economy Through the Years

"They Don’t Make 'em Like They Used To" Is a Good Thing

Feb 17, 2016
There’s a certain breed of enthusiast that looks back on the past wistfully, continually laments the technological progress that has taken place in the automotive world, and drops hackneyed nostalgic quips like “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” and “I remember when you could fix a car with a crescent wrench and screwdriver.” That may be the case for those that get their gearhead therapy from bloody knuckles, grease under the fingernails, and the lingering aroma of stale gasoline. For the rest of us, we can thank technological progress for bringing us much more efficient and powerful engines in nearly every market segment. Nowhere is this more apparent than with pickup trucks. We take a look over the last several decades to see how far both power and fuel economy have come.
All configurations are 2WD, automatic, and for years when there was a significant change in powertrains and for which fuel economy data was available.
Chevrolet C10/Silverado
1988: 5.7L OHV V-8 – 210 hp, 300 lb-ft; 14 mpg city, 18 mpg highway
2000: 5.3L OHV V-8 – 285 hp, 325 lb-ft; 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway
2015: 5.3L OHV V-8 – 355 hp, 383 lb-ft; 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway
Over the last 27 years, the C10/Silverado has gained 145 hp and 5 mpg highway. The 1988 model, which saw the debut of the sleek GMT400 bodystyle, also saw the addition of throttle-body fuel injection on the 5.7L “350” V-8, which brought horsepower and torque up to 210 hp and 300 lb-ft, highly respectable figures for the time. The predecessor’s carbureted V-8 produced a comparably anemic 165 hp and 275 lb-ft. The debut of the next-generation GMT800 truck saw the venerable 350 replaced with the next-generation Vortec 5.3L V-8, once decried by old-timers as the “death of the small-block” now has hundreds of aftermarket parts and accessories for it and remains as popular for swaps as the 350 ever was. The latest K2XX trucks saw the debut of the fifth-generation small-block V-8, which retained the displacement of its predecessor but employed an essentially clean-sheet design with a focus on fuel efficiency. It also happened to be the most powerful regular-production 1/2-ton V-8 in GM’s history, producing a robust 355 hp and 383 lb-ft, all while delivering a highly respectable 23 mpg highway. Yes, the 6.2L is even more powerful, and only slight less efficient, but is only available in limited configurations. The 5.3L can be had in anything from a bare-bones shortbed, regular cab, to a cushy LTZ or High Country.
Ford F-150
1985: 5.0L OHV V-8 – 185 hp, 270 lb-ft; 14 mpg city/17 mpg highway
1997: 4.6L SOHC V-8 – 220 hp, 290 lb-ft; 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway
2015: 5.0L DOHC V-8 – 385 hp, 387 lb-ft; 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway
Ford led the way among the Detroit Three with early adoption of port fuel injection, while most of its competitors were just discovering throttle body. This helped give the mid-to-late ’80s F-150 a surprisingly strong output of 185 hp and 270 lb-ft for the bread-and-butter 5.0L (or 4.9, if you’re a stickler for cubic centimeter accuracy) V-8. Fuel economy of 14 mpg city and 17 mpg highway was competitive for the time but not groundbreaking. 1997 saw the debut of the new overhead-cam “Modular” family of V-8 engines in the F-150. With the design reportedly benchmarked from the Mercedes-Benz V-8s of the time, the “Mod” was a model of sophistication and refinement for the time. Highway fuel economy improved 3 mpg to 20 mpg highway. Horsepower improved 35 and torque went up 20 lb-ft from the decade prior. Although the current 5.0L DOHC V-8 didn’t debut with the F-150’s all-aluminum body in 2015, it did receive a significant power bump up to 385 hp and 387 lb-ft of torque. To put that in perspective, that’s 5 hp more than the hot-rod supercharged Lightning from 2004. Over 30 years, the bread-and-butter Ford 1/2-ton V-8 has gained 200 hp and 5 mpg highway. Not a bad trade-off in our book.
Dodge/Ram 1500
1988: 5.2L OHV V-8 – 170 hp, 260 lb-ft; 12 mpg city/17 mpg highway
2001: 4.7L SOHC V-8 – 235 hp, 295 lb-ft; 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway
2015: 5.7L OHV V-8 – 395 hp, 410 lb-ft; 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway
The Dodge/Ram 1/2-ton has seen some of the most interesting V-8 engine changes over the years. In 1988, the Ram was still soldering on with a body that had been around since the Nixon Administration. In 1988, the 5.2L “318” V-8 was upgraded with throttle-body fuel injection, which bumped horsepower up to 170 and torque to 260, from 140 hp and 245 lb-ft. Toward the end of its life, the venerable “LA” 318 V-8 finally got port fuel injection and was rebranded the “Magnum” with 235 hp and 285 lb-ft. However, the end of the long-running Mopar small-block was on the horizon with the arrival of the new 4.7L overhead-cam “Power Tech” V-8. However, the lifespan of the Power Tech did not last long, being dropped from the Ram lineup by 2013 and rapidly falling out of favor following the release of the revived Hemi V-8 in 2003. In the latest Ram 1500, the 5.7L Hemi cranks out a robust 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque, while returning a respectable 15 mpg city and 22 mpg highway with the eight-speed automatic transmission. Over the last three decades, that’s a gain of 225 hp, 150 lb-ft of torque, and 5 mpg highway. Works for us.
Toyota Pickup/Tacoma
1991: 3.0L SOHC V-6 – 150 hp, 180 lb-ft; 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway
2005: 4.0L DOHC V-6 – 236 hp, 266 lb-ft; 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway
2016: 3.5L DOHC V-6 – 278 hp, 265 lb-ft; 19 mpg city/24 mpg highway
We couldn’t compile this list without a nod to the imports. While the power and economy gains are a little more incremental on these engines, they’re still noteworthy nonetheless. In the late ’80s and early ‘90s, Toyota offered the 3.0L V-6 in its smaller pickup and larger T-100 truck. The 150 hp and 180 lb-ft scooted the lightweight truck around well enough, with decent fuel conomy of 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Between the 3.0L and the 4.0L was the 3.4L V-6 with 190 hp and 220 lb-ft in the first-generation Tacoma. The 2005 Tacoma brought the muscle with 236 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy suffered by 1 mpg on the highway, but the added power made it a tradeoff most buyers were willing to accept. The 2016 Tacoma brought the new dual-injection (port/direct) 3.5L V-6, adding 42 more hp and just 1 lb-ft less torque. However, the change brought a significant improvement in city and highway fuel economy of 3 mpg.
Nissan Hardbody/Frontier
1990: 3.0L SOHC V-6 – 153 hp, 180 lb-ft; 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway
2000: 3.3L SOHC V-6 – 170 hp, 200 lb-ft; 14 mpg city/18 mpg highway
2015: 4.0L DOHC V-6 – 261 hp, 281 lb-ft; 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway
The history of Nissan truck V-6 engines shows an interesting evolution. Fuel economy between the early ’90s 3.0L SOHC V-6 and the present 4.0L DOHC are identical. In the first-generation Frontier in-between the Hardbody and current Frontier, the 3.3L V-6 saw a small increase in power for a not-so-favorable tradeoff of -2 mpg city and -4 mpg highway. While reasonably reliable, the 3.3L has few friends for its combination of mediocre output and unusual thirst. However, we’re big fans of the current 4.0L V-6. Not because it’s the most refined or efficient V-6 on the market, but for its punchy, enthusiastic power delivery and reasonable economy.

POPULAR TRUCKS

MOST POPULAR

Subscribe Today and Save up to 83%!

Subscribe Truck Trend Magazine

Subscribe to:

Truck Trend
Magazine

PRINT DIGITAL
Subscribe Diesel Power Magazine

Subscribe to:

Diesel Power
Magazine

PRINT DIGITAL
Subscribe Truckin Magazine

Subscribe to:

Truckin
Magazine

PRINT DIGITAL
SUBSCRIBE TO A MAGAZINE
CLOSE X
BUYER'S GUIDE
SEE THE ALL NEW
NEWS, REVIEWS & SPECS