A Case of the Heavies

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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. 

These two models are new – and old.

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: 

Fuel efficiency.

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.

Unless you roll these things onto a scale.

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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50 COMMENTS

  1. I was pretty devastated when, in Aug ’83, my then new wife stuffed my beloved VW pickup into a guardrail on I280 and totaled it.

    They should have sold a lot more of those pickups; the marketing folks did a lousy job.

  2. The modern cars are getting too big and heavy that is why I like the Super 7.

    The driving experience is getting more and more isolated.

    If you want the ultimate top down driving experience get a super 7, it is also the exact opposite of a nanny state car.

    A super 7 (a 1957 design by Lotus), is the ultimate driving experience, buy or test drive one, it is a completely different experience. The most direct, analog, raw, visceral, unfiltered driving experience, perfect for the hard core driver enthusiasts, this is how a car should be, small, light, agile, fast, no frills, mechanical art made to go fast only, no luxury, no doors or roof, some have no windshield, nothing extra, with a 4 cylinder engine about 1200 lb.

    A Super 7 weighs around 1200 lb. a modern nanny state vehicle could be 4100 lb.

    The Super 7 is built with a steel tube frame like the older race cars, it is very strong, stronger then the modern unibody design and very light (under 100 lb.), that is why the Super 7 handles so well, it is low, light and very stiff.

    A Donkervoort a Super 7 clone in 2003, 2004 had the world record lap time for any street legal car on the Nurburgring, (quite a bit faster then the plaid lap time).

    Dutton Super 7 clone with SBC V8 434ci, 1600 lb, steel tube frame, fibreglass body, it has run a best 8.90 sec 1/4 mile, it is quicker then all the hypercars and the tesla plaid.

    A Super 7 is the 2nd most copied car in history, 160 companies made copies, (Cobra was the most copied car), the Super 7 is a close copy of a 1913 Bugatti Type 22, the specs are close, one of the first small light cars (did Lotus copy it?).

    Super 7 clone the HKT RS Clubsport, only $80,000, quicker to 125 mph then a Porsche GT2 RS, which is one of the world’s quickest street legal cars.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBrzpayx-zw

    • The search engines are going crazy ….VW caddy diesel pick up truck for sale, now if I want one the prices went higher…….

      Another added benefit, depreciation is the biggest cost in a vehicle (unless it is collectible or quite old), these VW caddy diesel pick up trucks have a cult following, the VW crowd are crazy about these trucks, they are a collector vehicle going up in value, which makes them worth restoring/fixing, plus with great fuel economy, plus multiple fuel options, they look more and more appealing, the best vehicle for the current situation.

      (if you use 50% used engine oil, it is free, in tank instead of 50 mpg now you get 100 mpg of diesel). can also burn vegetable oil, etc., someone ran a diesel in milk. go and get fryer oil from restaurants and filter it. with a gas engine you are very limited for fuels you can use..

      They can be a pickup truck, commuter vehicle, a performance truck, or a sports truck with sports car handling, they have a manual steering rack so have great driver feedback.

      They came with 1.6 lt. diesels (bonus no computers anywhere), there is more power available by modifying the injector pump in these, some came with 1.6 lt turbo diesels, by turning up the boost people were getting crazy hp out of these, want more power swap in the later 1.9 lt. azz VW turbo diesel with mechanical injector pump but no computer, or the newer VW turbo alh 1.9 lt. computerized diesel, these make huge power, just with a software tune, 450 lb ft torque or more stage 3 or higher tune, the VW alh diesel is swapped into many trucks or off road vehicles.

  3. The problem with modern cars is they’re designed to be survivable in any accident, even one where the idiotic driver deserves to lose their life because of poor decision making.

    When I heard the Buttigieg moron talk about the goal was a highway with zero deaths, I realized that they were revealing their plans. How do you eliminate deaths? Eliminate the drivers and the cars!

    Reminds me of this rant from the prophetic 90s movie “Demolition Man.”
    Edgar Friendly:
    You see, according to Cocteau’s plan I’m the enemy, ’cause I like to think; I like to read. I’m into freedom of speech and freedom of choice. I’m the kind of guy likes to sit in a greasy spoon and wonder – “Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the jumbo rack of barbecued ribs with the side order of gravy fries?” I WANT high cholesterol. I wanna eat bacon and butter and BUCKETS of cheese, okay? I want to smoke Cuban cigar the size of Cincinnati in the non-smoking section. I want to run through the streets naked with green jello all over my body reading playboy magazine. Why? Because I suddenly might feel the need to, okay, pal? I’ve SEEN the future. Do you know what it is? It’s a 47-year-old virgin sitting around in his beige pajamas, drinking a banana-broccoli shake, singing “I’m an Oscar Meyer Wiener.”

    The world our betters have planned isn’t a utopia, but a prison. I really don’t want to be a part of that at all.

  4. The 1980 VW Rabbit diesel pickup truck also called the caddy was $6000 new ($20,000) in 2022 dollars. It could get over 50 mpg on the highway, 600 mile range. The mechanical injection diesel engine (no computer) would go 400,000 miles before a rebuild.

    That diesel will run on multiple fuels, some used 50% used engine oil (it is free), filtered first, french frier oil, vegetable oil, etc.,

    With a later azz VW diesel swap you could get more power or with a VW alh diesel a more computerized diesel you get even more power plus economy, with an alh swap 0 to 60 in 6 sec. and over 50 mpg. These trucks also handled like a sports car.

    With a 1.8 20vt VW gas engine swap with stage 2 tune = 240 hp they are very fast, 0 to 60 4.6 sec. they only weigh 2100 lb. Lots of these have engine swaps to make them a performance truck.

    These VW caddy’s were the best all round truck/sports car/performance cars ever made, with a amall camper on the back you can live in it.

    These trucks were so good they are a cult collector truck that are going up in value. the biggest cost in a car is depreciation, these go up like an air cooled 911.

    The Ford Maverick is 3600 lb. The Santa Cruz is 4100 lb. The VW caddy is 2100 lb. All the extra weight is because of government regulations.

    Get a used VW caddy do the alh swap then 0 to 60 is the same as the Santa Cruz but with over 50 mpg fuel economy.

    Get a used VW caddy do the 1.8 20vt VW engine swap with stage 2 tune = 240 hp, now 0 to 60 is 4.6 sec. a rocket, plus over 40 mpg highway and you can haul stuff.

    A VW caddy with the engine swap is cheaper then a new Maverick or Santa Cruz.

    An engine swapped 10 sec. 1/4 mile caddy.

    https://car-from-uk.com/sale.php?id=116256

    • Wow, wow, wow. I can’t believe the Santa Cruz is 4100lbs !!!!
      my huge ram 1500 CC long bed is 5200lbs, call me crazy.
      We have reached the point of crazy town.

      I just looked up the Roxor 4×4 diesel (off-road only, non DOT utility vehicle), cause I am enamored with them. They are a non nonsense diesel 4×4 jeep-like thing, 3000lbs.

      • I’ve had to remind a few people saying ‘if it weren’t for republicans/big oil/whatever we would have more fuel efficient vehicles’ that the crash safety has made vehicles very heavy and that a 1980s light weight, illegal to manufacture new today, would get 50mpg+ with a modern drive train.

      • My 2018 4Runner TRD ORP is
        Base Curb Weight
        4,750 lbs
        Gross Vehicle Weight Rating
        6,300 lbs

        And the sheet metal is thin as paper it seems. Was nailed by a deer last week and rough estimate is over 5k. I will not get rid of it no matter how high gas goes, it’s just soo much more capable than the average SUV. However, If I could find an old VW bug or a Rabbit I would use that as a daily driver.

    • I suspect it’s going to be like it is with guns. The collectivist blue states/highly urbanized consumption zones will do everything they can to get rid of private transportation. The really expensive remainder will be allowed to the important people.

      The rural states/most of the country will be rolling their own- some of us will set up boutique manufacturing which will make affordable 80-200mpg diesel transporters, small useful pickups, etc which will pay minor lip service to or just flat ignore federal mandates.

      The collectivists will try to force the issue, of course. But God/chaos has a better plan than the central planners.

      • I think you’re likely accurate, Ernie. I think they’ve gotten along with boiling the frog for quite some time, but now, they’ve just cranked the burner, and all the frogs are jumping out of the pot.

  5. It seems to me the big problem is everything that is being forced on us by the big brother government we now have is for our “SAFETY” as if life can be lived without risk. It is hard to argue with that mindset because we will all be better off if bureaucrats decide everything for us to keep us safe. NOT! The real question is how to defeat such over reach, or is self determination too far gone never to be seen again. I sometimes wonder what kind of cars we could be driving if automobile engineers and designers were free to design what they, and we the purchasing public, want.

    • “I sometimes wonder…”

      I do too, AMNTRAT, especially when reading Eric’s page. What a different, more exciting and wonderful world it would be.

    • VW made a lightweight diesel hybrid that got almost 300 mpg, that was a better solution then EV’s.

      A Mk4 VW Jetta diesel could get over 50 mpg on the Highway, with a huge range.

      A Mk 1 VW 1800 lb., was fitted with a Mk 4 turbo diesel, it was fast, 0 to 60 in about 6 seconds and got 65 mpg highway. That is better then an EV in lots of ways.
      The VW 4 cyl 1.9 lt. diesel was so good it was swapped into lots of small trucks, etc., more then 450 lb ft torque possible, great fuel economy, can last 500,000 miles.

      Gasoline engines produce around 40 percent more carbon dioxide (CO2) than diesel engines, catalytic converters cannot reduce the CO2 produced by the engine.

      Diesel engines emit more N2O and CH4 then gas engines but there are measures that can be taken to reduce diesel emissions. Diesel fuel catalysts, catalytic converters, and particle filters can reduce emissions greatly.
      The air coming out of the tailpipe on a modern diesel is cleaner then the air in a big city.

      The GAIA religion/green/globalist/ one world government killed the diesel over N2O and the gas engine soon over CO2, they say zero emissions is the law soon, the exhaust coming out of an ICE engine is something like .00001% pollutants but that is higher then 0%, so they will be banned, this is insanity.

      .0000001% emissions and they are worried about it, that isn’t science, it is political now.

      EV’s aren’t zero emissions either, they are remote emissions and have a dozen other far bigger issues, including pollution (production and recyling), safety, cost, charging time, weight, battery life, not enough chargers, grid can’t supply the electricity = insanity, etc. .

      The odds are over 0% that there is a huge agenda that has nothing to do with global warming.
      You will own nothing, gates will still drive his 959 Porsche.

      https://peakoil.com/consumption/volkswagens-new-300-mpg-car-not-allowed-in-america-because-it-is-too-efficient

      • .0000001% emissions and they are worried about it, that isn’t science, it is political now.

        that is the same as a flu with 99.7% survival rate but the government says even one death is too much, so for the greater good they can do anything they want to you…..
        to fight it lock everyone down, force inject billions with a lethal bioweapon injection (how the fu….k…kk does that help?), force masking, separate people by 6 feet, destroy/bankrupt all the small business,

        none of this was based on science, just fake science so it wasn’t medical it was political, same as the CO2/emissions bs/lies.

        • The universities are funded by the govt and are thus beholden to finding the science that leads to or points to the outcome desired then heralded as what the science is. They can’t give up the free money so cow tow to hidden or not so hidden agendas. Alas…now they have just taken to lying to us, outright or by omission.

    • Yes, but some deep blue states are now actively going after deleter’s.
      I know of many deleter’s. They report 20-30% better mpg and much better drivability. Also saved them buku bucks on fixing said emission crap repair costs.
      BUT, the Gov is now actively going after them. If caught, you must re-install all the crap ($3-5K?) or destroy the vehicle (with proof).
      I’m not making this up.

      • Hmmm, and what means this “deletion”? Are they just removing emissions “controls” and reconfiguring to function without?

        • In the UK they do that – they do a DPF delete – where they cut open the DPF, take the insides out, and then seal it back to look like the thing is still there (they used to just remove it but then the cars started failing the annual inspections and were harder to sell). They then fiddle with the back pressure sensor to make it look like the thing is still there (and stop the check engine light from coming on). And just like that – you have a DPF free car ! Having said that – im not quite sure how they will do it with these new cars which require ad-blue as they are much more complicated. But im sure someone will figure it out !

          • Nasir,

            It is interesting, and lo-and-behold, when I sought out some of this, I found there is plenty of market interest and aftermarket “solutions” for this deletion.

  6. Interesting article Eric,

    Would have never guessed these new plastic pieces of crap weigh the same or more as older cars. Just another example of .Govs reverse Midas touch. Would love to have one of those VW rabbit pickups. I looked at an 80s rabbit for my daughter last year. Unfortunately the underside was a rust bucket. I think those VW diesels can be made to easily run off of recycled oil/French fry grease if I’m not mistaken.

    I just filled my truck at 125$ for the first time ever. I have a sinking feeling it only goes down hill from here.

    • Thanks, Norman!

      I think those old diesels – not just VWs – are going to increase in value even faster than the price of diesel. And not just because of that. Also because of the reason you mentioned – they can burn almost any oil. You can make/barter/get your fuel independently of the system. And these things are incredibly simple to keep/maintain, too.

      So long as you know how to weld…!

      • When/how will Gov make something up to get rid of these older engines/vehicles?
        I’m amazed at your weight comparisons, didn’t know it was that extreme. Wow.

        BTW, I just learned something important. I need a new tractor, and the cutoff for Tier4 is 25HP. So what a lot of Manuf. have done is take their normal engines and just derate them somehow. Becomes a 25HP, or should I say under 25HP which are not regulated under Tier 4. I am theorizing that at 25HP there’s not enough power to make the emissions system clean itself?

          • Don’t know. If I get one, it will be the 25hp non-tier4 unit. The one I’m looking at is the JD 3025E (25HP), and it’s cousins are the 3032E and 3038E. The later 2 have tier4 stuff on them.
            All share the same 1.6L diesel engines.
            I don’t know if they have different fuel systems or they are just ECU limited. I really don’t think it will matter to me as the 25HP should be enough for me.
            I currently own a 20 year old JD 32HP and it’s been wonderful and never had me wanting/needing more power for what I do with it.

            • Soon if Uncle doesn’t knock it off we will all be taking blueprints to the machine shops. and building our own vehicles from parts, with no consideration for emissions rules whatsoever.

      • Another alternative to welding:
        por 15 and fiberglass cloth

        por 15 sticks to metal better then fiberglass resin, it stops rust, just remove any loose rust, paint it on, anywhere there is rust clean off loose stuff, paint on por 15, if there is a hole, lay on fiberglass fabric, then paint over por 15, use multiple layers if you want, it is water proof, stops rusting, great for battery boxes, floors. welding is better, but then paint with por 15 = no rust.

        • My most successful no special tools required rust repair was in the rear strut tower of a 1986 Mazda 626. I cut out all the weak metal. Then I painted with Eastwood’s corroless (sp?). It was their rust stop paint of the time. Might have been POR15. This was at the time where I used both. Then I made new steel pieces securing them with pop rivets and sheet metal screws. Ugly. But it’s covered with trim panels. Who cares? Then I fiberglassed over the outside and painted over that, put undercoating on top to blend it to the rest of the inside of the wheel well. Ten+ years later and that many more winters when the car was at EOL the reapir looked like the day I completed it.

          Now yes that’s cheesy for a strut tower repair, but I noticed the rust before it got too bad. It was sizeable hole but the tower wasn’t yet structurally unsound, I simply had to stop the rust and add back enough structure so it would not initiate cracking etc. The fiberglass created a good stable bond between the new and old steel to make it like one piece rather than load passing through the fasteners. Today of course I would weld it all together.

          POR15 etc has it’s limits. I’ve found them here in the land of corrosion and corruption, but does well. Today I prefer eastwood’s current rust encapsulator. It’s easier to work with and cheaper.

          • POR 15 is better on heavy rust not good on smooth metal surfaces, it sticks better then anything else. Rust Bullet is supposed to be OK. Eastwood has good products too.

          • My father had an old Chevette, the driver’s floor had small holes in one area where you could see the ground, he just got a piece of sheet of metal cut to cover the area and secured it with sheet metal screws, good enough for an old beater, it stops the water coming in and a foot going through.

            I like the POR 15 and fiberglass solution for battery boxes, a simple easy fix, welding is better but has problems, it depends on what is under the battery box (fire or damage), or overheating the metal, it has to be tack welded only because of the heat, then seam filler is applied, seam filler doesn’t stop rust, it doesn’t waterproof and isn’t as strong as POR 15 with fiberglass cloth, doesn’t stick like POR15,

      • The welding is still on my to do list. Along with reloading press. So many cool skills to learn, so little time.

    • Look under the plastic and thin body panels. The steel structure in modern cars is massive compared to an old unibody car.

  7. Their goal seems to be to make any crash survivable while at the same time most people are now riddled with sickness psychosis, over weight, addicted to chemicals and psychologically brittle. A friend took his mom to the hospital a few weeks ago and the emergency department was packed, when he asked why he was told people were stressed out over mask mandates ending (scared?). Good Lord what has happened to the descendants of a people that built a country from wilderness?

    For that matter remember when cars were roomy and cars had good visibility? I’ve always loved those bubble top Impalas, man did those things have style. Now of course we back up a car whilst earnestly looking at a screen like a sonar operator searching for an enemy sub while a beeping sound is heard from the collision avoidance system.

    On the upside it won’t be long before the toys come out.

  8. ” imposing exhaust emissions standards so severe that even gas-burning engines can barely comply with them”
    How long before a walking breathing human being can’t comply? They are already going after cows. Will we have fart recorders attached to us so we can be fined for farts? Or will breathing be “carbon” taxed? For the sanctity of “controlling” a climate that has been constantly changing for billions of years. They can’t possibly believe they can control a climate that went from half or more of the world covered in ice to what we have now, all on its own. Which leaves only one motive. Control itself, over everything and everybody.

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