When the automatic shutoff clicked on the handle and the top row of numbers stopped spinning on the gas pump, my urge to buy a diesel pickup hit a new high—just like the gas prices. Shelling out $60 to fill the tank and never seeing 15 mpg around town or 18 mpg on the highway in the pickup I’m currently driving just isn’t cutting it, at least not at today’s nosebleed fuel prices.
I’m not alone. Look around hunting camps, gun stores, shooting ranges or the workplace and take note of the four-wheel-drive pickups. What you’ll see is the majority are Fords, Chevrolets, GMCs and Dodges. No surprises there. But when you listen carefully to their exhaust notes, it’s the burble of diesel power, not the purr of gas engines that fills the air.
Making the switch from gas to diesel makes perfect sense: The power and fuel economy offered by the new generation of diesels far overshadow anything a comparable gas V8 has to offer.
It’s no secret that a diesel engine is more efficient than a gasoline engine. Diesels have much higher compression and fewer working parts, so they do a better job of extracting more power-per-gallon of fuel than a gasoline engine of the same horsepower output.
“Today’s turbo-diesel pickup engines deliver up to 30 percent better fuel economy than the equivalent gas engine,” said Charlie Freese, executive director of GM Powertrain and hands-on expert of the “new” Duramax turbo-diesel found in the 2007 Chevrolet/
GMC Heavy Duty pickups.
Diesel also generates more than 10 percent better power-per-gallon than gasoline when it burns. Put that all together and it’s easy to see why someone who plans on keeping their truck around for a few years is eyeing a new diesel-powered model.
I know I’d love to have a pickup that gets 18 mpg around town and 25 mpg on the road, all the while being able to tow a load of ATVs or a travel trailer with ease. A diesel does just that—and they’re only going to get better in the next couple of years.
This past year alone has seen significant changes in diesel technology. Breakthroughs in emissions technology along with the use of Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) fuel has enabled The Big Three to build engines for their heavy-duty pickups that are so clean burning the exhaust is almost cleaner than the air they suck in.
Although the technology to make the new diesels greener is different, the end result is the same—reducing particulates (smoke) by 90 percent or more, and posting emission numbers on par with the cleanest gasoline engines.
The new Duramax, for instance, provides a 90 percent reduction in particulate matter and a 50 percent reduction in NOx (compared with current standards), placing the engine current for 2010 emissions requirements.
Such clean running comes as a direct result of computer-designed combustion chambers made to burn the fuel more efficiently—and the incorporation of an ungainly looking exhaust system that includes a catalytic converter, muffler and particulate filter system all funneled out a very weird-looking tailpipe.
Freese says the odd-shaped exhaust tip on the new GM Heavy Duty pickups greatly reduces the 800-degree exhaust that blows out the particulate filter when it burns off the soot, or “regenerates,” while you drive down the road.
Kings Of Power
The new diesel pickups are far more comfortable and powerful, too. The 6.6L Duramax V8 (365-hp/660 lb.-ft.), 6.7L Cummins I-6 (350-hp/650 lb.-ft.) and 6.4L Power Stroke V8 (350-hp/650 lb.-ft.) are the unequivocal power kings.
The 2007 Ford Super Duty Power Stroke diesels, for example, utilize Ford Clean Diesel Technology, which includes a high-pressure, common-rail fuel system with piezo-electric fuel injectors and series-sequential turbochargers to deliver green power. Ford went with twin turbos instead of the single found in the 6.0L because the high-tech, series-sequential turbochargers provide improved response throughout the entire power band with better low-end performance. (Ford tests have shown zero-to-60 mph times of more than a second faster than the outgoing 6.0L model.)
As for comfort, I really like how Ford has improved interior comfort and looks in the ’08 Super Duty series. They’re every bit as plush and comfortable as the F-150s. GM has done the same, updating the ’07 HDs with the same cab and interior refinements found in the Chevrolet/GMC half-tons.
The new diesel pickups are also as durable as they are powerful. In fact, the new 6.7L Cummins turbo-diesel found in the new Dodge Ram 2500/
3500 has life-to-major overhaul intervals of 350,000 miles, providing more than a 100,000-mile advantage over the competition. No doubt GM and Ford will extend their engine’s service life to match in years to come.
But what I’m waiting for is still a year or two away. When 2008 rolls around and the 2009 pickups—and SUVs—hit the dealers, a lot of us will be getting rid of gas-guzzling half-ton 4x4 pickups and driving diesels.
It’s no secret Dodge will be offering SUVs with the 4.2L V6 Cummins turbo-diesel (found in the ’07 Jeep Grand Cherokee) and a brand new 5.6L turbo-diesel V8 in the 1500 Rams. Both engines rival the vaunted Hemi in acceleration performance and flat out put it to shame in fuel economy.
In Cummins test vehicles last year, development versions of the 4.2L V6 in a Durango have delivered a combined fuel economy of 22.1 mpg, getting 20.3 mpg in city tests and 25 mpg on the highway. The development versions of the 5.6L V8 in a Ram 1500 delivered 19.8 mpg city and 24.6 mpg highway—outstanding numbers that will most likely be better by the time the first models hit the streets.
“Our all-new Cummins engine will offer future Dodge Ram 1500 customers the ultimate in terms of fuel economy, refinement, reliability and durability,” said Tom LaSorda, Chrysler Group president and CEO. “It’s another example of the Chrysler Group bringing new, clean, quiet diesel technology to the marketplace.”
Don’t worry, Ford and GM aren’t sitting on their collective diesel hands. Ford leaked it has a 3.6L, twin-turbocharged diesel V8 that should find its way under the hood of the 2008 F-150s. If it makes that time frame, it’ll be the first pickup in its class to offer a diesel V8 option.
The engine is already found in the ’07 Range Rover, and with 267-hp/472 lb.-ft. of pulling power and some 30 mpg on the highway, it’ll be well
received by many North American Hunter readers who favor Blue Ovals to Bow-Ties and Ram heads.
Speaking of Bow-Ties, GM is already well into development and final testing of a double-overhead cam 4.5L V8 turbo-diesel to be offered first in ’09-model high-end 1500 Series pickups and full-size SUVs. That means we could see it before next fall’s hunting season begins.
Word has it this ultra-clean diesel, which is the same physical size as the present 4.8L/5.3L small-blocks, is making well north of 300-hp and 500 lb.-ft. torque from an iron block that utilizes aluminum heads with integrated manifolds and the latest common-rail injection system. It’s also expected to be delivering highway fuel economy in the upper 20s—and low 20s around town.
Those are the kind of numbers that attract my attention these days. In fact, I can’t wait to get behind the wheel of these 2008-’09 trucks and SUVs with such an array of fuel-efficient, powerful, environmentally friendly “1 2-ton,” light-duty diesel engines.
When they do appear, you can rest assured I’ll be one of the very first to take a long test drive—and shortly thereafter, probably place a “For Sale” sign in the window of my “old” gasoline-powered Chevy 1 2-ton pickup. I’m tired of gas engines that drain my wallet at the pump.