Given how important fuel economy seems to be nowadays to both buyers and the government, we know our real-world fuel-economy numbers are significant in a test like this. We took all four pickups on two driving loops with each truck driven empty and loaded.
The winner of our empty loop was the Chevrolet Colorado, recording 23.76 mpg, while the similarly weighted GMC Canyon got 2 mpg less with 21.56 mpg. The Nissan came in third, and Toyota pulled up the rear.
It's not difficult to understand how the two new GM pickups did so well given that they both have mileage-stretching 3.42:1 ring and pinions as well as a dual-overdrive six-speed transmission. Interestingly, the Frontier has a higher ring and pinion (lower numerically) at 3.36:1 but offers a close-ratio five-speed transmission. The TRD Pro Tacoma has the most aggressive ring-and-pinion gear ratio at 3.73:1, and it has an aging five-speed transmission.
When driven with a full load in the bed, we opted for loads similar to the amounts of weight we used for track testing, meaning the Chevy and GMC made their loop with 1,440 pounds of rock-salt bags, while the Nissan and Toyota did their loaded loop with 1,040 pounds.
In the full-payload test, the GMC Canyon achieved 20.69 mpg, while the Chevy recorded 19.01 mpg. And just as it did in the empty and loaded brake testing (138.7 feet empty/138.6 feet loaded), the Frontier recorded similar numbers when empty and loaded on our mileage drive: 18.84 mpg empty, 18.44 mpg loaded. Likewise, the Toyota's fuel economy suffered just slightly when loaded, recording 17.12 mpg.
How We Conducted the Testing
We used the same fueling station and pump in Chandler, Ariz., to do all the vehicle fill-ups at the beginning, middle and end of our mileage test day during our two loops: one empty and one loaded. We used the double-click method to make sure we filled each tank to similar levels, in similar ways and recorded the pump information separately for each truck.
The total drive time of our two-loop route took a little less than eight hours, with a lunch break in between. All vehicles had their tire pressures at or very near the factory ratings posted on the door labels.
We selected a route that gave us a good mix of densely populated city driving (stoplights, tourist traffic and residential congestion), some two-lane canyon roads and high-speed freeway stretches where we could cruise and relax.
During each loop we kept the air conditioning on and the windows rolled up. We drove at a comfortable pace and obeyed all posted speed limits. Temperatures were almost 80 degrees in Chandler but cooled a bit as we climbed in elevation.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears