In an effort to bake an ever-bigger sales pie out of the old full-size pickup truck formula, automakers have been tweaking the recipe of late. The Ford F-150 rocks a weight-saving aluminum body and a new PowerStroke turbo-diesel engine. The new Ram 1500 has its own oil-burning engine, this one attached to an innovative mild-hybrid system to boost efficiency. Now the next generation of the Chevrolet Silverado is showing off its own party trick as the first full-size truck available with an economical four-cylinder engine—that is, if you ignore the so-so 21 miles per gallon combined EPA rating as GM politely suggested to Automotive News.
The 2.7-liter four-cylinder mill was developed specifically for the new Silverado (it’s not found in the GMC Sierra just yet), and its 310 horsepower and 348 pound-feet of torque (both improvements over the old base V-6) are certainly enough to get most lighter jobs done. But when it comes to the engine’s stated purpose—to save fuel—it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow at the 20 mpg city/23 mpg highway figures.
Sure, the city mileage is much better than GM’s 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter V-8s. But its highway number falls short of both the workaday V-6s found in the Ram 1500 and Ford F-150 (around 25 mpg), and the combined 21 mpg is just a single tick better than the V-6 it was designed to replace. Considering the new four-cylinder is supposed to be the volume seller for fleets, small changes in fuel economy can have far-reaching implications. What gives?
“I don’t think we’re done with the fuel economy piece yet. We learn more and more every day,” GM’s full-size trucks chief engineer Tim Herrick told Automotive News at the four-cylinder media launch last week. “Don’t look at the label. We’re as good or better than them in every step.”
Just don’t look isn’t the strongest defense on the surface, but GM believes the engine will outperform its EPA numbers and best the V-6-powered competition in the real world. There’s some precedent to that: when we tested the PowerStroke diesel-equipped Ford F-150 back in June, we calculated close to 33 miles per gallon on the highway, well above the official rating of 25 mpg.
Of course, that test was conducted without any encumbrances, as was the EPA’s. You can bet that 23 mpg highway figure from the four-cylinder will plummet the closer it gets to its 7,200-pound towing capacity. It’s arguable that anyone who wants to tow regularly would be better off with a V-8 anyway—but just as arguable that GM’s four-banger is still a work in progress.