2015 Midsize Challenge: Mileage Drive

V-6 Group on road 2 II

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.

V-6 Fuel 2 II

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

Overview | Acceleration | Braking | Mileage Drive | Off-Road | Judges | Results


V-6 Group Fuel 2 II



This test wasn't even kind of close.

again this test the Tacoma has an Achilles heel with the heavy BFG's. it wouldn't have been as good as the GM twins but it would have been much closer

I am curious as to why the GMC Canyon got 2mpg less than the Colorado given the same specifications

@jt canyon, Looking at the horsepower and torque numbers the G.M.C. has more of both than the Chivy.

The GM is kicking Chevy's butt in most of the comparisons. Not even sure why the Chevy exists even though I like the design better. Not enough to justify buying a second place/rate truck compared to the GM though.

would be interesting to see how a chevy silverado with 5.3 would have compared in this test to the colorado and canyon. Probably would have close to the same mpg.

You can see how the newer engine - drivetrains in the new GM twins is designed to suit empty pickups to meet CAFE.

The older pickups didn't lose out too much in FE like the Colorado Canyon did when expected to work.

The benefit of a midsizer vs a full size is mass. In an urban environment the constant acceleration of the full size pickups will take it's toll on FE.

A comparable pickup, the Ram fitted with the Pentastar averages around 16-17mpg, empty, even though the artificial CAFE/EPA FE figures are much higher.

So the Ram with the Pentastar fitted even with a lowly 1 000lbs will drop easily a couple mpg.

The diesel in the GM midsizer twins will again provide even better FE under load.

Diesel seem to meet advertised EPA FE figures more regularly than gasoline powered vehciles.

The lesson of all this, kiddies, is that you will be very disappointed if you buy a mid size truck expecting big improvements in FE compared to full size half ton models equipped with a six cylinder engine/six speed trans. There ain't no there, there.

And there is another lesson--if you don't really need the full capabilities of a half ton truck, the midsize trucks from Nissan, and GM, will give you the performance you need at a slightly lower cost in vehicle price and FE.

that is all.

So the very best pretend truck gets 3ish MPG better than a full size? This is the HARD lesson I learned about pretend trucks. There was no 5 to 10 MPG better than a non big block full size driven by a maniac. Where is the advantage? O that's right they are cheaper... at 35ish+K? So its like 3K cheaper? for like less of everything? Less power, less space, less payload, less bed, less cab, less towing... Why am I wanting a little truck again? O that's right im a single guy with money to burn that needs to sit up high and doesn't have any work to do... These little trucks male LOTS of sense if you cant park, have lots of U turns to make, have money to burn or live to kayak...

The GM twins get better mileage because of VVT on the exhaust camshaft & direct injection.
5 speed automatics are obsolete.
6 speed autos are aging.

@PapaJim - 1400 plus cargo rating and 7k tow for the GM siblings put them on par with many full sized trucks. The only real reason now to pick between a 1/2 ton and a small truck is preference for external dimensions and interior space. Capacity comes into play only if you are towing heavy or carrying heavy.

There will always be those that want 350-400 hp V8's and big trucks but GM has finally given the buyer better choices.

@Lou I think we agree.

If I owned one of each (1/2 ton and midsize) I'd probably use the midsize for a lot of my local driving because it's easier to park. The half ton would be my road-tripper.

What is not yet assured is how well these interiors will hold up.

My old Nissan looked pretty ratty after just a couple of years of basic duty because the interior plastics and seatware were lame.

It was my only complaint because the car was aces otherwise.

The Tacoma has a sporty throttle response. The difference in fuel economy is not worth the throttle lag in the GM's. Like wrestling with an old mare that needs to be whipped to get it to move where it needs to be whereas the Tacoma just moves instantaneously in comparison.

Truck buyers don't care about fuel mileage to that degree. The resale value of the Tacoma will pay you back ten fold and you stay out of the shop. So the Tacoma could get better fuel mileage if it had throttle lag, NO THANKS

@HemiV8, the Colorado and the Canyon have the exact same engine and EPA estimates (according to the first page of the article). The only difference between the two is the exterior and interior styling thats what makes me wonder why the tested mpg is so much higher for colorado while empty

Ok, I haven't said anything on this as yet because I wanted to see more commentary first. However...

The first thing I noticed was the excellent empty mileage of the Chevy, which is honestly how the majority of drivers will be using their trucks--Empty. On the other hand, it's loaded mileage takes a significant drop by more than 4mpg. Granted, the loaded mileage is still better than Nissan and Toyota's, they don't show near the drop at loaded weight. On the other hand, the GMC performed more similarly to the import brands in that loaded and empty economy slightly over 1mpg while the imports themselves vary by less than a half mpg. This makes the Chevy's numbers very visible and raises the question about its capability as a working truck. It comes across almost more as a toy truck rather than one with real capability. But then, if you're running empty most of the time and its loaded mileage is still reasonably good (only 1mpg below the GMC's), that 4mpg span may be worth the difference in part-time load conditions.

Between the four tested models, I prefer the Chevy for its looks, though the Toyota and Nissan are almost enough smaller to be a better choice for me as a true mid-sized truck (a difference set to disappear with the next version of each). Of course, everyone here already know my opinion of truck sizes in general and that opinion is supported by a lot of people who don't read auto and truck blogs the way I do.

I know the Tacoma is a pig (I've owned two, a 4cyl 5spd, and a V6, auto), but what has been said here is true: It's hard to compare mileage where some trucks are wearing P-metric tires, and some LT rated.

From experience, and meticulous fuel economy tracking over 200 thousand miles, I know that going from a 4 ply to a 10 ply, you will take a roughly 20% hit on FE, of similar to going from Summer to Winter seasons (in Canada, where we go 8 feet of snow last year).

Saying the Toyota was hampered here wits heavy tires is a stretch to say the least. The gm twins still got 3 mpg better in the loaded test even though carrying 400 pounds more than the taco. Excuses excuses

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