Could’ve Had a V-6: Today’s 6-cylinder pickup engines offer great fuel economy as they close the gap on V-8 performance

|  December 20, 2013 |

The 3.6L Pentastar V-6 is the base engine for the 2014 Ram 1500.

The 3.6L Pentastar V-6 is the base engine for the 2014 Ram 1500. It delivers 305 hp while achieving 25 mpg highway.

Ten years ago about the only people buying full-size pickups with V-6s were big fleets that had drivers constantly on the road with very little towing involved, or smaller contractors who just wanted a cheap truck for basic work transportation.

Of course, a decade ago pickup V-6s were anemic in power and not much better in fuel economy than their V-8 counterparts. So there wasn’t much incentive to stay with the base engines at the time.

That’s all changed: Today’s V-6s are stout performers.

They incorporate high-tech designs such as direct-injection, cylinder deactivation and variable-valve timing, making as much horsepower and torque as smaller V-8s of just a couple years ago – and without the added purchase and maintenance costs.

Today’s pickup V-6s are are a good buy for anyone who wants ½-ton pickup capability with excellent fuel economy.

V-6s join the “300 club”

For example, the 2014 Ram 1500’s base engine is a high-revving 3.6L Pentastar V-6 that debuted last year.

It makes 305 horsepower at 6,400rpm while developing 269 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,175rpm—all the while delivering 25mpg on the highway and 18mpg in town.

The 3.6L, which is available in the Tradesman and mid-trim-level models, comes with the new 8-speed automatic and gives the Ram 1500s up to 7,450 pounds of towing capacity. Driving it feels better than the Dodge 290hp 4.7L V-8 it replaced.

Ford’s base F-150 engine is a 302-hp 3.7L V-6.

Ford’s base F-150 engine is a 302-hp, 3.7L V-6 that delivers 17 mpg in the city.

The other pickup manufacturers also have strong V-6s in their powertrain line-up. GM’s 302hp 3.6L V-6 coming out in the 2015 Colorado/Canyon is a rock-solid, high-revving power maker.

Ford’s base F-150 engine is another high-revver – the 302hp 3.7L V-6 with 278 lb.-ft. in the torque department. It has EPA numbers of 17 city/23 highway.

Of course, everyone knows about the optional 365hp EcoBoost V-6 with it’s V-8 torque of 420 lb.-ft. and 16/22mpg numbers.

Strong MPG numbers

GM’s 285hp 4.3L V-6 gets 24mpg on the open road.

GM’s 285hp 4.3L V-6 gets 24mpg on the open road.

Then there’s GM’s new EcoTec3 V-6s that lay claim to the most torque and highest towing rating of any standard V-6.

The 4.3L cranks out 285 horsepower and 305 lb.-ft. of torque. The 4.3L’s 18/24mpg EPA numbers in 2014 Silverado/Sierra 1500s is strong. So is the towing capacity of 7,600 pounds.

Toyota’s V-6 is nothing to sneeze at, although it’s now taking up the backseat in the performance category. The 4.0L makes 270hp and 278 lb-ft torque with an EPA rating of 16 city/ 20 highway for 2WD Tundra models.

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