China's living large, India's the new call-center capital of the world, and Venezuela's dictator is bosom buddies with Fidel Castro. You're probably wondering why this story is opening with a summary of current geopolitics. The bottom line is that all these seemingly unrelated trends have a direct impact on the price you pay at the pump for gas. While the price of unleaded might be a little below $3 a gallon again (- or not, Ed.), chances are it's going to hover around $2-plus for the foreseeable future. While these prices may seem like highway robbery to us, the fact is most of Europe pays upward of $6 a gallon, so be glad you're a resident of the good ol' U.S. of A.
High gas or not, you wouldn't be caught dead in a Prius or Hyundai Accent. You want a respectable truck but don't want to take a bath every time you pull up to the pump. So, what are your options? In our quest to find some fuel-friendly options for truck enthusiasts, we rounded up the most fuel-efficient versions of the new popular trucks we could find. If you're looking for tire-shredding, neck-snapping power, you might as well skip this story altogether. But, if you're down for a practical commuter that'll get you to work and back without breaking the wallet, read on.
And rather than lecturing you about driving techniques, proper tire pressures, and freeway speeds, we're going to report it straight-up. We're enthusiasts, and we're going to drive these trucks in real-world conditions, driving like we always do, giving you as accurate a sample as we can of what kind of mileage you can expect. The results might surprise you.
Toyota Tacoma PreRunner 4x2EPA Ratings: 20 city/27 highway
Observed Mileage: 21.43 mpg
Engine Size/type: 2.7L DOHC 16-valve inline-four
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Horsepower/torque: 159 hp at 5,200 rpm / 180 lb-ft at 3,800 rpm
Base MSRP/As Tested: $17,980/$21,680
We originally wanted a bare-bones regular-cab two-wheel-drive Taco for this test. Toyota said the only four-cylinder Tacoma in the press fleet was an Access Cab PreRunner. Though initially disappointed, we figured it would be a good representative sample of what a truck enthusiast might actually want to drive on a regular basis. Although introduced as an all-new model as of last year, there are several uniquely Toyota quirks that will make devotees of the Tacoma and Hilux feel right at home. Like previous Toyota trucks, the new Tacoma has a high floor, resulting in a "legs out" seating position and somewhat tight clearance between the steering wheel and seat cushion. It's comfortably familiar if you're used to it, and it's kind of a weird feeling if you're not. Several editors commented on the variety of contrasting colors and textures in the interior, saying it gave somewhat of a disjointed style to the interior. Finally, whereas most other manufacturers have gone to either a pedal or console-mounted handle for the emergency brake, the new Tacoma continues the decades-old tradition of the twist and pull plunger brake in the dash. Even the new 2.7L 16-valve four-cylinder engine sounds a lot like that trusty 22R under the hood of the beater you had in high school.
After logging more than 500 miles in the four-banger Taco, we came away impressed with an overall observed mileage rating of 21.43 mpg. The first tank average was somewhat disappointing at 19.24 mpg, but considering most of the driving was high-speed commuting on the Orange County Toll Roads, and some assorted around-town driving, it's not unreasonable. Likewise, with only a little more than 500 miles on the odometer, the truck was brand-new, and the engine was likely still a little tight. The second tank consisted primarily of following a friend's trailer out to Ocotillo Wells, effectively limiting our top speed to 60 mph. Under these conditions, and loping along at about 2,000 rpm, the truck delivered a thriftier 23.62 mpg.
In terms of seat-of-the pants feel, the four-cylinder PreRunner certainly couldn't be considered fast by enthusiast standards but doesn't exactly fall into the gutless category either. Not helping matters was the truckish long-throw shift lever. But, driven in half-decaf mode, the surprisingly torquey big four-banger pushed the truck along with admirable aplomb. If you're expecting Honda S2000-type zinginess from the engine, forget it. This is a big, low-revving, long-stroke four. Redline is a "don't hurry me" 5,500 rpm. Power delivery is almost diesel-like, in that revving the engine past 4,500 rpm doesn't result in much more than added noise. Between 2,000 and 4,000 is the engine's sweet spot, and shifts made in this range provided the most enjoyable driving experience. Let's not kid ourselves, if you want tire-smoking, smile-inducing acceleration, pop for the 4.0L V-6 that has been covered extensively in Sport Truck. But, if you want something that makes a reasonably economical commuter but still has enough power to keep from falling on its face from every stoplight, the four-banger Taco is worth a look.
Driving the four-cylinder Taco made us wish for a turbodiesel option, combining the fuel economy of the four with the torque of the six. There are rumors that an oil-burner Tacoma is in the works, and if and when we can get our hands on one, you can bet we're going to give it a thorough flogging, too.