This is a tale of two trucks, kinda-sorta. Both not really being trucks in that while they have beds, like trucks do, neither were built on truck-type (rear-drive) layouts or have or offer four-wheel-drive and a two-speed transfer case as trucks – properly defined – always do.
Both are basically cars made to look like trucks – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Not everyone needs a four-wheel-drive rig – but many people like having a bed, attached to a car.
The first being the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz I recently test drove and reviewed; the other is one I drove a long time ago, before I test drove cars for a living. It is the VW Rabbit pickup, made back in the early ‘80s.
In spite of their similarities, there is one hug difference between these two takes on the same basic idea:
The old VW went about twice as far on a gallon of diesel as the new Hyundai can on a gallon of gas. In part because a gallon of diesel would take you farther – especially back in the ‘80s, when diesel engines were more efficient because they weren’t required to meet the emissions standards that modern diesel engines must and so didn’t have to come saddled with equipment such as particulate traps and DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) injection.
But even so, modern diesels can be very fuel efficient, even with such emissions equipment. Some will recall the modern VW diesel engines that were available until the 2016 model year in just about every vehicle VW sold at the time. These were still capable of propelling a small car 50 miles or more on a single gallon of the stuff.
You cannot get a diesel engine in the new Hyundai car/truck for the same reason you cannot get one in any new VW – or any other new car, period. The government has de facto banned them by imposing exhaust emissions standards so severe that even gas-burning engines can barely comply with them. It simply costs too much to offer what used to be a less expensive alternative to a gas-burning engine – and for that reason very few car companies bother offering one.
However, it’s not just the engine that accounts for the high mileage of the old diesel-powered VW pickup and the low mileage of the current gas-powered Hyundai. There is another factor that’s hidden from view.
The old VW weighed just over 2,000 pounds (2,174 lbs.) while the new Hyundai weighs almost two tons (3,704 lbs.) To put the weight of the latter into perspective – to convey to you just how heavy this small car/truck is – I make reference to the old muscle car I keep in my garage, a 1976 Pontiac Trans-Am. It weighs about the same as the new Santa Cruz.
This is astounding – given the Trans-Am has a massive cast-iron V8 engine cradled – along with the entire front suspension – in a steel-girder frame very similar to what you’d find under a truck. It has a massive cast iron rear axle and steel leaf springs. The hood and other body panels are made of thick-gauge stamped steel, too. The only aluminum used is the facing for the engine-turned dashboard trim plate.
Yet it hardly weighs more than a brand-new compact-sized car/truck that has an aluminum four cylinder engine a third the size (2.5 vs. 7.5 liters) and paper-thin (almost) body panels – those still made of metal. The entire front and rear end is covered in plastic, as is true of almost all modern cars. Aluminum is used extensively for suspension and other parts. And yet it weighs nearly the same as my ancient cast-iron/steel muscle car – and 1,530 pounds more than its ’80s-era analog, the VW car-truck.
And that is chiefly why the old VW went nearly twice as far on a gallon of fuel than the new Hyundai is capable of going.
Weight is the enemy of efficiency. It is why – speaking of that – modern electric cars are so inefficient. A Tesla 3 – which is a compact-sized car – weighs almost twice as much as the old VW Rabbit truck. Which explains why it doesn’t go as far as the old VW Rabbit truck, which could go about 500 miles on 16 gallons of diesel vs. 272 miles on a full charge (maybe).
But why are non-electric cars such as the new Santa Cruz so heavy? Especially given they are so light – in terms of their aluminum engines and paper-thin steel/plastic exterior panels? It’s for the same reason a fat guy isn’t heavy because of the T shirt he’s wearing.
It’s what under the shirt that tips the scales.
To comply with the “safety” regulations imposed by the government – described in air fingers quotes to highlight the fact that they mostly have to do with how a vehicle crumples up if it crashes, not whether it is likely to crash – there is a lot of steel underneath that plastic and wafer-thin exterior.
This is fine, if you crash. But it does come at a cost. One you will pay – at the pump – every time you drive the thing. Even if you never crash.
One wonders how far this new Hyundai might travel on a gallon of gas if it weighed what the old VW weighed. And how far could it travel on a gallon of diesel?
It’s a shame we’ll never know – even though it’s certain we’ll be paying.
. . .
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