2009: What's New In Trucks

By Zach Bowman
Chevrolet Silverado
Chevrolet Silverado

The recipe for what constitutes a truck really hasn’t changed all that much since Henry Ford first dropped a bed on the back of the Model T. There’s an engine, a transmission that puts power to the rear wheels, a cab and a cargo area supported by heavy leaf springs. That engine usually sports plenty of power and lots of torque to handle towing a boat, tractor or whatever else owners needed to haul around, but pretty dismal fuel economy is also part of the package. In a world where 14 mpg is considered respectable, truck owners had been willing to sacrifice mpgs for brute capability.

Ford F-150 SFE
Ford F-150 SFE

Dodge Ram
Dodge Ram

Then gas pounced on $4.00/gallon. Suddenly short trips between the farm and the Farmer’s Co-Op cost as much as the feed on the trailer. With cars boasting ever-better fuel economy, owners began to ask why their trucks were getting what they were in 1970. To compound matters, manufacturers across the board were suddenly staring down the barrel of ever-tightening fuel economy and emissions standards.

To cope, truck builders everywhere have responded with some of the most powerful and fuel efficient trucks ever created. If you’ve been thinking about jumping into a new pickup, now’s a good time.

Ford’s leading the charge this year with its F-150 SFE. In this case, SFE stands for “superior fuel economy." Designed as a package that can be applied to the F-150 Supercrew XL and XLT 4x2 models, the SFE trucks should be able to offer 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway without the use of a bed cover. The increase in fuel economy comes from low-rolling resistance tires, better aerodynamics, a thrifty six-speed transmission and a 3.15:1 rear axle ratio. Unfortunately, the SFE package can only be had with two-wheel drive models.

That may be bad news for those living in snowy climates, but for the rest of the working world, the F-150 SFE should do just fine. The truck is available with a locking differential in the rear, which should help to provide enough traction in slippery conditions. What’s more, Ford was actually able to up the horsepower out of the truck’s 4.6-liter V-8 engine – up to 292 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque out of the three-valve version. Base 2009 Ford F-150s can be had for $21,595.

While you can’t have the SFE package on every F-150 available, Ford has incorporated a number of fuel-saving techniques in each of its trucks. The biggest saver has to be the six-speed transmission, which allows the engine to breathe easier at higher rpms. In the past, the F-150 could only be had with a four-speed automatic.

Of course, Ford’s competition hasn’t exactly been resting on its laurels. Chevrolet’s Silverado is ready to dish up 21 mpg highway, too. The XFE two-wheel drive model is powered by a more robust 5.3-liter V-8 with 320 horsepower and 340 lb-ft of torque bolted to GM’s fuel-saving six-speed transmission. The (small) bump in fuel economy is thanks largely to better aerodynamics, including a toneau cover for the rear cargo area. Like the Ford, the Silverado XFE can only be had in two-wheel drive and is priced starting at $20,350.

Another General Motors brand is proudly introducing its first pickup. Hummer’s bringing the all-new H3T to the game in 2009. While the globe-trotting brand hasn’t exactly been able to boast about its capabilities at the pump in the past, it looks like that’s about to change. The H3T can be had with the same gas-chugging V-8s as before, but for the first time this short-bed pickup will also be available with a fuel-thrifty 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder engine. With 239 horsepower and 241 lb-ft of torque, this mill has the guts to get you down the trail while returning 14 mpg city and 18 mpg highway. It’s a few mpgs behind the competition, but for Hummer, that’s big progress. You can get your hands on a base H3T for $31,495.

Suzuki has decided to join the 2009 pickup fray with its Equator. Though this truck lacks the brute force of the domestics’ V-8 engines, the Equator rocks the fuel economy department. This truck manages 19 mpg city and 23 mpg highway in four-cylinder garb. A V-6 is also available, and it gets 16 mpg city and 20 mpg highway while returning 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque. No word on pricing just yet.

Dodge debuted a new Ram 1500 for 2009, and its fuel economy numbers don’t fall too far behind its other Big-Three rivals. Powered by a 4.7-liter V-8 engine, the Dodge Ram delivers a healthy 310 horsepower at 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. While there may not be anything Earth-shattering under this truck’s hood, it’s what’s out back that’s an eye-opener. Dodge worked hard to improve the Ram’s on-road feel, and they’ve done an amazing job thanks to a completely reworked suspension.

The automaker took the bold step of ditching the tried-and-true leaf-spring suspension for heavy-duty coil springs – just like the ones you’d find on smooth-riding sedans. The result is a rig that can still handle the abuse of towing heavy loads without punishing your back, and that’s a welcome change for a full-sized truck. The alterations underneath also allow for a rear anti-sway bar, which makes the Ram more controllable under emergency maneuvering.

It’s clear Dodge intends to change the game with the new Ram, and it looks like they’ve succeeded to us. With sharp new styling and clever, lockable in-bed storage options, the new Ram has plenty to offer, including serious cash-back incentives. Dodge’s pickup starts at $22,170.

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