Fuel-Efficient Pickups for Frugal Families

Think you can't save money on gas and drive a pickup truck? You might be surprised. Thanks to the new federal fuel-efficiency standards, pickups get better gas mileage than ever and, for frugal families, that means spending less at the gas pump. What's more, the pickup truck segment has changed in the last few years. Supersmall pickups without much passenger space are being replaced by larger, family-friendly, fuel-efficient pickups that don't compromise on performance.

These five pickups get good gas mileage, according to FuelEconomy.gov. Their mpg figures are in line with many older, midsize passenger cars. So, if you've been worried you can't get the flexibility of a pickup without taking a hit to your wallet, fear no more.

All mpg figures cited are estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency for two-wheel-drive models. Individual fuel economy will vary depending on driving style and will decline when the truck is used to haul or tow heavy items.

2014 Toyota Tacoma

Starting price: $17,875 Fuel economy: City - 21 mpg Highway - 25 mpg

The midsize 2014 Toyota Tacoma pickup offers the best fuel economy of all trucks currently on the market, with 21 mpg city and 25 mpg highway when two-wheel-drive models are powered by the 159-horsepower 2.7-liter four-cylinder equipped with the five-speed manual transmission. Tacoma gets an EPA-estimated 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway for the same models equipped with the four-speed automatic transmission. For a starting price of $17,875, buyers can get the Toyota Tacoma regular cab, which seats three in one bench seat.

The Tacoma access cab, which starts at $20,515, is the more likely candidate for frugal families, as it seats four. Double cab models, which seat five, have the most passenger space and start at $22,625.

The regular and access cabs are available with a 73.5-inch bed and a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds. The double cab has a 60.3-inch bed and a towing capacity of 3,400 pounds.

All models come with a deck rail system with four adjustable tie-downs for securing cargo. Other standard features on all models of Tacoma include air conditioning, fabric-trimmed front bucket seats, illuminated gauges, tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, dual 12-volt power outlets, an audio system with CD, MP3/USB/iPod and hands-free phone capability, and six air bags as well as stability and traction control.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500

Starting price: $31,715 Fuel economy: City - 16 mpg Highway - 23 mpg

Who says you can't get good fuel economy out of a full-size pickup? The 2014 Chevrolet Silverado two-wheel-drive model and its sister truck the GMC Sierra get a very respectable 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway when powered by the 355-horsepower 5.3-liter V-8 and a six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is even better since this fall, Chevrolet introduced its new 285-horsepower, 4.3-liter V-6, which uses Active Fuel Management to shut down two of its cylinders when not needed to save on gas.

Currently, the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado is available in crew, regular and double cab models. Silverado buyers have the choice of a 69.33-inch "short" or a 78.87-inch "long" pickup bed. Silverado models with the 5.3-liter engine have a towing capacity ranging from 6,700 pounds to 11,400 pounds depending on the model and tow package, while the 4.3-liter engine will have a towing range from 5,800 to 6,400 pounds. All Chevrolet Silverado models come standard with a six-speaker audio system with two USB ports, an SD card slot, six air bags, StabiliTrack traction, electronic sway control and hill start assist.

2013 Nissan Frontier

Starting price: $17,990 Fuel economy: City - 19 mpg Highway - 23 mpg

The most fuel-efficient version of the midsize 2013 Nissan Frontier, which gets 19 mpg city and 23 mpg highway, is the two-wheel-drive king cab model. It is powered by the 152-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and either a five-speed manual or automatic transmission. Nissan Frontier is available as a four-seater (king cab) or a five-seater (crew cab).

A 261-horsepower 4-liter V-6 engine that gets 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway for two-wheel-drive versions is available on king cab models and standard on crew cab models. Maximum towing capacity is 6,500 pounds when equipped with the V-6 engine and the special tow package.

The standard pickup bed on king cab models is 73.3 inches, while crew cab models have a 59.5-inch bed standard and the 73.3-inch bed as an option.

Standard features on all Frontier models include cloth seats, with fold-flat front passenger seat, forward-facing flip-up rear seats with underseat storage, variable intermittent wipers, two 12-volt power outlets, AM/FM audio system with CD and MP3/Windows Media audio capability, six air bags and vehicle dynamic control. The Frontier SV, which starts at $21,400, also adds standard air conditioning, power door locks and windows, remote keyless entry and Bluetooth hands-free phone capability.

2013 Ram 1500

Starting price: $23,400 Fuel economy: City - 18 mpg Highway - 25 mpg

The 2013 Ram 1500 offers the best fuel economy in the full-size pickup segment with its 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 that gets 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway in two-wheel-drive configurations.

It is the only engine in the full-size pickup segment to use an eight-speed transmission, which improves fuel economy and provides best-in-class standard V-6 towing of 6,500 pounds. For those who want more power, there is a 395-horsepower 5.7-liter V-8 featuring fuel-saver technology that gets 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway for two-wheel-drive models -- the best V-8 fuel economy for a full-size pickup.

Among the V-8's fuel-saver technology are an eight-speed transmission, a thermal management system and active aerodynamics, including an adjustable air suspension and shutters on the front grille that close to improve aerodynamics when additional airflow isn't needed.

The 2013 Ram 1500 is available in three cab sizes -- regular, quad and crew; three different pickup bed sizes -- 5-foot-7-inch, 6-foot-4-inch and 8-foot; and in two-wheel- and four-wheel-drive configurations. There are nine different models, starting at $23,400. All Ram 1500 models come standard with air conditioning, automatic headlights and a locking tailgate as well as six air bags, traction control, trailer sway control, hill start assist and anti-lock brakes.

2013 Ford F-150

Starting price: $23,955 Fuel economy: City - 17 mpg Highway - 23 mpg

The most gas-friendly version of the full-size 2013 Ford F-150 is powered by the 302-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6, which gets 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway in the two-wheel-drive configuration.

Three other engines are offered, all of which are fuel-efficient for their size. There is a 365-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 with EcoBoost fuel-saving technology with two-wheel drive for 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway mileage; a 360-horsepower, 5-liter V-8 with two-wheel drive for 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway; and a 411-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 with two-wheel drive for 13 mpg city and 18 mpg highway.

The Ford F-150 also offers the heaviest towing capacity of any full-size pickup currently on the market, 11,300 pounds, and the largest cargo-carrying capacity, 3,120 pounds.

Thanks to the various engine, cab and pickup bed configurations, there are 10 models available, with the least expensive model starting at $23,955. The regular cab seats three, while the medium-size super cab and large-size SuperCrew seat six and are the likelier choice for families. Three pickup boxes are available -- 5-foot-6-inch, 6-foot-6-inch and 8-foot. Standard features on every 2013 Ford F-150 include air conditioning, fade-to-off interior lighting, a 12-volt outlet, six air bags, traction control, stability control and trailer sway control.