Ask Nathan: A Future For Plug-In Hybrid Pickup Trucks, Nissan Frontier vs Toyota Tacoma, and My 1965 Ford Mustang?

Aledan Images by: Brian Hernan Isabella

In this week’s Ask Nathan:

  • Is there a future for plug-in hybrid pickup trucks?
  • Base models: Toyota Tacoma 4×4 vs Nissan Frontier 4×4
  • Did you have a 1965 Ford Mustang?
Imagine this: this little truck, (which looks like it could be 3D printed) with power going to the front wheels, and a tiny gas engine powering the batteries. Well, they already built a car like that, sort of: The BMW i3. Images: Brian Hernan Isabella

The first question comes from a fan who finds it odd that there doesn’t appear to be a future for plug-in hybrid pickup trucks.

Q: (via Hi Nathan, so cool that you answer these as the other guys say,

Is it me or does it seem that auto makers are skipping the chance to build plug-in hybrid pickup trucks and jumping right to EV pickup trucks? I have not seen one announcement that they will build anything with a pickup bed that will have a plug-in hybrid option. I know Ford has the F-150 and Maverick hybrid. But they’re not plug-in hybrids.

Why is that happening?

  • W. Wilson

A: You have a point, but I think there may be changes that will bring us more plug-in pickup hybrid trucks.

For everyone that says plug-in hybrid (PHEV) pickup trucks are more logical than pure EV pickup trucks – I totally agree. Having the ability to have the best (and worst) of both worlds is something to consider. I mean, forget the EPA numbers for a moment, just consider the range you could get, along with the extra torque. The potential for small pickup trucks using a range extender gas, or diesel engine, is pretty compelling.

I caught these renderings (above) the other day and I thought to myself, this could be powered by something as revolutionary (and overlooked) as the BMW i3 powertrain with range extender. Rather than use a bulky engine to power the vehicle, with an electric motor backing it up, why not use an electric motor exclusively as the motivator? Then, have a small generator power up the batteries.

Well, they’ve been doing that for years and years.

I think we have to look at the gains and losses one would face building a PHEV pickup truck: they would be heavy, expensive and might take sales away from the new batch of EV pickups, along with sales-leading normal pickups.

While it isn’t exactly a “pickup truck,” I selected the Jeep Wrangler 4xe as an example. I think that the few upcoming PHEV pickups we will see, should have a similar architecture.

The price for a bare bones Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is about $48,000. That’s equipped with a gas V6 and a manual transmission. If you opt to upgrade to the diesel, you’ll pay about $52,000. A bare-bones Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe runs over $60,000. Sure, you can drop that number a bit on the Sahara, but I wanted an apples-to-apples comparison.

Jeep® Wrangler 4xe powertrain components. Highlighted components are unique to the Wrangler 4xe.

Part of the reason for the price hike is the sheer amount of technology bolted to the Wrangler. This isn’t something as ineffective as their eTorque system, this is a full-on hybrid system that can run on all electricity. It’s very heavy, and some people scoff at the 20-ish-mile all electric range. Personally, I think it’s pretty damn cool. For several days, I took my kid to school and did a few errands on all EV power. When I needed to commute from Denver to Boulder, CO – I still got awesome fuel mileage… for a Wrangler.

I got sidetracked.

As I mentioned in (this) article, we expect to see plug-in hybrid pickup trucks entering the fray soon. I suspect it will be either Ford or Stellantis that will be the first. My money is on a PHEV Jeep Gladiator as the tech is already there. Rumor has it that either the Ford Ranger or Ford Maverick will have some sort of PHEV option as well.

We’ll see soon!

  • N

The next question asks about comparing the base model Toyota Tacoma 4×4 vs Nissan Frontier 4×4.

Q: (Via: NathanAdlen@Twitter) Absolute base 4×4 comparison!

Tacoma vs Frontier 4×4 base model. Which is the better truck for the money?

  • Alice Cooper is Alright

TACOMA Access Cab SR 4×4 vs Frontier King Cab S 4×4

A: In terms of “bang-for-the-buck” the Nissan wins, but…

if you want the absolute least expensive 4×4 between the two of these, the Toyota Tacoma SR 4×4 has an on-line price of $31,440. That version comes with a 159 horsepower 2.7 I4. It makes 180 lb-ft of torque and it comes with a 6-spped automatic transmission. To get the burly V6, the base price jumps to $34,090.

The 2022 Nissan Frontier S 4×4 King Cab starts at $33,185. For that price, you get the 310 hp V6 and 9-speed automatic transmission standard, along with a 4×4 system. The EPA rates it at 20 mpg combined. That’s about the same rating as both the Tacoma 2.7 and 4.0 4x4s.

Yes, I know… these prices will be damn-near impossible to find. Still, I’ve seen both trucks selling for near MSRP.

I would definitely choose the Nissan Frontier as it has the most modern design, an excellent interior and that powertrain is outstanding. Many people (including TFLtruck) have out-performed the EPA’s fuel estimates. It’s quiet, comfortable and has excellent handling. Honestly, it’s just a damn good little truck.

While the Tacoma is still an excellent choice, I think the value, and overall win, goes to the Nissan Frontier.

The last question comes from a young fan who found out about my 1965 Ford Mustang.

My 1965 Ford Mustang. The photo was taken in 1987. (Image: TFLcar)

Q: Hi Nathan. Q: Hi Nathan. My name is Vajasani and I am 13 years old. I love TFL and I once heard that you had a 1965 Ford Mustang.

Can you answer some questions? I have never seen any of the older Ford Mustangs in India, but I am a huge fan. I have a model kit of a 1966 fastback with the 289 V8. It is one of my favorite models. I was wondering if you had a photo of your Mustang and what was different about it. One of the guys at AUTOCAR India said you never leave your cars alone. He talked about your Suzuki Samurai. That’s how my father and I began watching your videos. We have a Maruti Suzuki Gypsy which you don’t get in America. It is a longer version of the Samurai with newer parts.

My dad and I laugh at your discomfort when you bounce around. And we were pleased at seeing what your did with yours after buying it. When you had your 1965 Ford Mustang, did you make it fast? I am curious about how it felt to drive such an iconic car. Please let me know what you thought about it and maybe a photo if you can. Vajasani

  • Vajasani in Kolkata

A: Wow! Thank you Vajasani for taking me down memory lane!

Yes, I had a 1965 Ford Mustang. My pop and I got it at an auction for about $1,200. Yea, that’s cheap – but this was back in 1987. At the time, it had a straight 6-cylinder engine hooked up to a three-speed manual transmission. It wasn’t a rocket, but it was a fun car to drive as is. It was one of the few cars that got me a few dates, but that’s another story.

I wanted it to be a lot more powerful. Without my pop’s knowledge, I grabbed a 427 after blowing up a salvaged 406 from a wrecking yard. The 427 was pulled out of a crashed racing boat, and (after slicing up the poor mustang) it was shoehorned in. After some fiddling with a solid axle rear end, and replacing the three-speed with a four-speed, I took it out to “play.”

Unfortunately, my father found out what I did and said, “If you race it, I will get rid of it.” It was his house and his rules, but I thought I could get away with a little fun.

Less than a week later – he made me sell the Mustang, because I was an idiot.

Not only did I get caught driving foolishly, I ruined the little Mustang. It was nearly undriveable after I modified it, and it set off car alarms all over town. I think the carbon monoxide nearly wiped out my passengers, along with the ungodly heat.

I learned a lot from those bad choices, and my father made me buy a horrible replacement car after that.

Worst Car Wednesday: Chevy Citation-This Success Became A Mess
1980s Chevy Citation. It was horrid. (Image: Chevrolet)

I ended up with an anemic, unreliable 1981 Chevrolet Citation coupe. Quite a departure from the sweet Mustang.

To answer your other question: other than a few bits of trim, the 1965 and 1966 Ford Mustang were very similar.

Thanks for your great question!


Speaking of Ford…