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2019 Mid-Size Truck Challenge: When Less (Displacement) Is More (MPG)

2019 Ford Ranger

Take a peek under the hood of our 2019 Mid-Size Truck Challenge participants and it’s clear one of these trucks is not like the other. The GMC Canyon, Jeep Gladiator and Honda Ridgeline have traditional V-6 engines, the longtime standard for this class, while the outlier comes with a different powertrain: the Ford Ranger and its turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine.

2019 Mid-Size Truck Challenge
Results | Winner | How We Tested | Bed Test | Mileage Drive

This gave the Ranger a leg up headed into our mileage test with the highest EPA-estimated combined fuel-economy rating (22 mpg, 20/24 mpg city/highway) of the group. We drove the trucks on a 210-mile jaunt around the greater Chicago area through a mix of highway, city and country driving.

The MPG Winner: 2019 Ford Ranger, 23.7 MPG, 30 Points (Out of a Possible 30)

Predictably, our winner was the Ranger with its turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, and it was also the only vehicle in our test to have a 10-speed automatic transmission (the others made do with eight- or six-speeds). The truck recorded an average speed of 31 mph, and that feels like a sweet spot for fuel economy seeing as the Ranger beat its estimated combined mpg rating handily, as did the rest of the trucks in the test.

Perhaps less predictable is that the Ranger not only had the best fuel economy, but also the most robust powertrain of the bunch. It won both our measured acceleration testing and our subjective powertrain scores. Having one truck win both of these categories is a massive coup and means that those opting for the Ranger won’t have to compromise on acceleration or fuel economy. As our fuel-economy winner, the Ranger received 30 points for this category, with the other trucks scaling down from there based on their own mileage results.

Disclaimer: The Ranger is the only truck in this test that sees maximum performance when running on 91-octane-or-higher premium fuel. According to the owner’s manual, this is “most noticeable in hot weather as well as other conditions, for example when towing a trailer.” The Ranger ran our mileage drive route on premium gasoline, though running regular shouldn’t affect fuel economy for better or worse. For the rest of our testing, including the acceleration tests, we switched to regular gas. That’s what we expect most owners to use most of the time, and we found it still offers very good performance without the added cost.

How the Rest Fared

2. 2019 Honda Ridgeline: 23.3 mpg, 29 points

The Ridgeline had a few factors working against it, including a transmission with the fewest gears (a six-speed automatic) and not having the ability to switch off its all-wheel-drive system like the others that all ran in 4×2 mode. It does, however, have the second-highest EPA ratings at 21 mpg combined (18/25 mpg city/highway). For the Ridgeline to still come out on top of the other two trucks — and nearly match the four-cylinder Ranger over the course of the test — is impressive. Being only 0.4 mpg behind the Ranger, the Ridgeline received 29 points.

3. 2020 Jeep Gladiator: 22.8 mpg, 29 points

For a Wrangler-shaped pickup that was also the heaviest truck in the test, the Gladiator‘s mileage result was better than expected. It actually had the largest gap of our competitors between its observed mpg (22.8) and its EPA-estimated 19 mpg combined (17/22 mpg city/highway).

4. 2019 GMC Canyon: 21.7 mpg, 27 points

Bringing up the rear is the GMC Canyon powered by a 3.6-liter V-6; its 19 mpg combined EPA rating (17/24 mpg city/highway) matched the Gladiator. The GMC’s engine may have offered the most horsepower in our test (308), but it also ended up with the worst observed fuel economy. We were also a bit flummoxed by the Canyon’s transmission that seemed to get a bit confused coming out of 1st and 2nd gear all day. Even so, a 2-mpg gap between our winner and last place isn’t that large, so the Canyon didn’t miss out on many points in this category.

How We Tested

The route encompassed city, highway and rural highway driving for a mix of environments. Temperatures were in the 80s, so there was no extreme heat to skew our results. To start and end the drive route, each truck was filled at the same pump for consistency. Our mileage scores are an average of the trip computer’s reported fuel economy and the observed mileage using the trip computer mileage and the pump’s reported gallons. Our drivers for this test rotated through each truck for a different leg to balance out driving style differences. Each truck ran the entire test with the windows up, air conditioning on, without cruise control and in the drive mode the truck started up in — no Eco modes were engaged.

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