In September, we crunched the numbers in an attempt to predict the fuel economy ratings for the aluminum-bodied 2015 Ford F-150 pickup. Turns out, we were pretty darn close.
Today, Ford finally released those long-awaited official EPA numbers for its lightweight aluminum truck.
Some of the gains are impressive. Some are not, and those are the ones that Ford would prefer you didn’t dwell on.
So let’s cut to the chase: In round one of aluminum vs. diesel, diesel wins. Ford’s new F-150 failed to knock off the pickup fuel economy champ, the 2015 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel.
At 26 mpg highway, Ford’s most fuel efficient 2015 pickup is at least 2 mpg behind the Ram on paper. But in real-world fuel economy, it probably won’t even be that close.
Read consumers’ real-world fuel economy reports at fueleconomy.gov and elsewhere, and you will see Ram EcoDiesel drivers routinely report higher than window label numbers, while many Ford EcoBoost drivers realize mpg results slightly lower than the EPA window label number.
Bottom line: Use turbochargers in a gasoline truck and you pay the price in fuel economy. Also, in road testing the 2.7-liter F-150, most automotive journalists reported fuel economy in the high teens to low 20s. I got 20.1 mpg this month.
Ford offers the 2015 F-150 with four engines, but only two offer a direct apples-to-apples fuel economy comparison. Those two engines -- the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 and the 5.0-liter V-8 -- carry over from last year and are bolted to the same six-speed automatic transmission.
This is the best yardstick we have on the direct effect of reducing the F-150’s weight by as much as 700 pounds.
The 2014 F-150 with the 3.5-liter turbo V-6 sported an EPA rating of 16 mpg city/22 highway/18 combined. The 2015 3.5-liter turbo F-150 carries an EPA rating of 17 mpg city/24 highway/20 combined. That’s up 1 mpg in the city and 2 mpg on the highway and in combined driving.
The 2014 F-150 with the 5.0-liter V-8 showed almost no fuel economy gain. The 2014 model had an EPA rating at 15 mpg city/21 highway/17 combined. The 2015 5.0-liter F-150 gets 1 mpg better on the highway and in combined driving, and has the same 15 mpg city rating.
The new 2.7-liter engine’s EPA ratings look good on paper, but it has the greatest potential to disappoint buyers.
It is rated at 19 mpg city/26 highway/22 combined. But using the turbos -- as you must do to accelerate normally -- erodes fuel economy. The most fuel efficient use of this engine is to cruise at a steady speed with no load in the bed or in a trailer. The EPA needs a better test for turbocharged gasoline engines.
Finally, there is the 3.5-liter, nonturbo V-6 engine. This is a smaller version of last year’s 3.7-liter V-6, which at 17 mpg city/23 highway/19 combined was the most fuel efficient engine Ford offered in the F-150. This year, the 3.5-liter nonturbo engine has an EPA rating of 18 mpg city/25 highway/20 combined. Again, not much of an improvement.
Ford has not touted the F-150’s fuel economy. Instead, Ford has talked about how much more the truck can tow and haul. And all models of the F-150 can indeed tow more and haul more than last year’s trucks. Consumers will decide if that is more important than saving money at the fuel pump.
On the surface, the 2015 F-150’s fuel economy numbers are disappointing. Ford spent billions of dollars re-engineering the truck and retooling plants, and didn’t move the fuel economy needle much.
But keep this in mind: The 2015 F-150 is only the first of three big changes that may eventually give Ford fuel economy leadership in the segment -- assuming everyone else stands still or makes incremental gains.
First, Ford did the heavy lifting and took out the weight. Next, in about a year, a new 10-speed automatic transmission should be available for the F-150 that likely will add another 2 or 3 mpg. And finally, Ford will most certainly add a smaller PowerStroke diesel engine for even better fuel economy.
The diesel-powered Ram 1500 -- for now -- is the segment buster and game-changer, not the 2015 F-150.
Ram spokesman Nick Cappa says the diesel engine now accounts for 20 percent of Ram 1500 sales and that figure is growing. And General Motors showed the diesel version of the Chevy Colorado at this week’s Los Angeles Auto Show.