Light Truck Roundup
The bottom line for 2000 is a good news/bad news scenario. The good news, albeit somewhere over the horizon, is that waning consumer demand for pickups will lead to more reasonable pricing in the work-truck market. On the bad news side, large-scale manufacturer consolidation may minimize the ability to provide specialized products for niche markets such as the construction industry. Here's a look at the major changes in features and specifications for the 2000 model year.
- Toyota Tundra. After teasing potential buyers with prototype shots and Auto Show appearances for
nearly a year, Toyota recently unveiled its all-new, full-size pickup, the Tundra. The company's previous
attempt at breaking into the U.S. commercial pickup market, the T100, was defeated by the lack of an
available V8 engine and some not-quite-full-size specs. The new Tundra, however, has corrected these
and other shortcomings, to provide a truly work-ready product.
At its heart, the Tundra is powered by an optional "I-Force" 4.7L DOHC V8 engine, producing 245 HP and 315 lbs./ft. of torque. When equipped with the V8, the Tundra can carry a payload of more than 2,000 lbs. or tow up to 7,200 lbs., depending on the model and level of equipment. The standard 3.4L DOHC V6 engine produces 190 HP and 220 lbs./ft. of torque, making it a serious contender in its own right. Both the V6 and the V8 are matched to a four-speed automatic transmission. The V6 engine is also available with a five-speed manual transmission.
The Tundra will be available with either two-wheel or four-wheel-drive in a two-door regular cab with an 8-foot bed or in a four-door "Access Cab" model with a 6.5-foot bed. The Access Cab uses the popular extended cab format offered in the domestic-nameplate pickups, complete with rearward opening half-doors on both sides of the cab.
Unlike its domestic counterparts, the Tundra provides door handles on the outside of the rear doors, although for safety reasons, the front doors must still be opened to operate the rear doors.
In other Toyota pickup news, its compact Tacoma pickup is substantially unchanged for 2000, with the exception of improved gear ratios on 4 x 4 four-cylinder models, upgraded alternator ratings, trim/paint changes and the addition of daytime running lamps to ABS-equipped models.
- Nissan Frontier Crew Cab. Although the initial announcement of Nissan's Frontier Crew Cab was made
just before press time for last year's truck roundup, the final details had not been worked out until the
truck went on sale just a few months ago.
Although pickup buyers in the rest of the world have been able to purchase compact crew cab pickups
for decades, a North American marketing myth prevented their sale here until Nissan took the first bold
step and introduced its crew cab model to the public at the North American International Auto Show
earlier this year.
All Frontier Crew Cab models will be built on the heavier 4WD chassis for improved durability. The ride height and ground clearance of the 4WD model will be carried over to the 2WD models as well. Unlike the extended cab versions of other compact pickups, the Frontier has four full-size, forward-opening, conventional doors that allow easy access to both rows of seats for full-size adults, or more likely in the construction field, rear-seat storage of valuable tools and equipment. At present, there is no provision for folding the rear seat out of the way for inside cargo storage. However, as the marketplace begins to provide feedback for this new truck format, this will be a likely option.
- Ford F150 Crew Cab. This latest round of model derivative deployments from Ford helps to freshen up
the company's light-duty F150 pickup line, originally introduced in early 1996 as 1997 models.
Christened the F150 SuperCrew, the new truck will actually be sold as a 2001 model, arriving at dealers
during the first quarter of 2000.
Realizing that the back seat may sometimes be used for cargo, Ford has employed a 60/40 fold-flat rear seat to allow ample, secured storage space for high value cargo. The SuperCrew's 5.5-foot pickup bed keeps the overall length of the truck consistent with current SuperCab models for easy maneuverability.
Other Ford pickup highlights include added features to its heaviest pickups. The Super Duty line will get four-wheel ABS as a standard feature on XLT and Lariat trim levels, while the base XL trim group will now be available with bucket seats to accommodate business users who require extra space for custom storage and equipment installation inside the cab. Telescoping trailer-tow mirrors will also be standard on all F250-F550 models.
In the lighter duty models, the under-8,500-lb. GVW F250 (non-Super Duty) model designation has been dropped to eliminate confusion between the two product lines. A 7,700-lb. GVW F150 will be offered with all of the attributes of the previous F250 model, including the heavier frame, larger brakes and 8,800-lb. towing capacity.
Extended cab models will benefit from a more comfortable 60/40 flip-up rear seat that allows both cargo and personnel to be carried in the extended cab area. Power-adjustable brake/gas pedals, introduced as an option on SUV models last year, are available in the F150 pickups for 2000. Natural gas, bi-fuel natural gas and bi-fuel propane models will continue to be available.
In the compact Ranger pickup line, a 3.0L "Flexible Fuel" V6 is offered on certain models that can run on unleaded gas, ethanol or any combination of the two. This expands the alternative powertrain offerings in the Ranger beyond the existing electric vehicle model. Beyond some styling revisions and the FFV engine, the only other change to the 2000 Ranger line is the availability of a torsion-bar suspension equipped 4 x 2 model that offers the same ground clearance as the 4 x 4 models.
- Dodge Dakota Quad Cab. Not wanting to be left out of the "crew cab parade," Daimler-Chrysler's Dodge
division unveiled a four-door version of its midsize Dakota pickup during the midwinter auto shows earlier
Although the Quad Cab Dakota is scheduled to go on sale in late 1999, the truck has yet to appear in quantities greater than one at any of the test drive events. As with the conventional Dakota, the Quad Cab version will be the only compact/midsize crew cab available with V8 power. The 4.7L V8 that debuted in the Grand Cherokee last year is the newest powertrain choice, backed up by the time-honored 5.9L Magnum V8 that traces its roots back to the 1960s.
Like the other crew cab offerings, the Dakota Quad Cab employs a less than 6-foot cargo bed along with four, forward-opening, full-size doors. Seating options allow for carrying five-six people. Most notable is the 1,450-lb. payload capacity and towing rating of up to 6,350 lbs., attributable mainly to the V8 engines that are seriously oversized for this class of trucks.
Other pickup news at Dodge are the significant changes to its other pickups. It includes dropping the availability of the 8-foot bed from all Dakota models, as well as the Club Cab (but not the Quad Cab) Ram full-size pickup. The Ram pickup line is extended with the addition of an "Off-Road" model that includes revised spring and shock rates, as well as a more aggressive wheel and tire combination, providing increased ground clearance and better off-pavement handling. Suspension and steering systems have been improved across the rest of the Ram line as well. A new braking system features dual-piston front disc brakes.
- Chevy/GMC Pickups. Having just rolled out the completely redesigned Silverado and Sierra pickups last
year, there is little that will change for 2000. After all, when you've got it right, why change? Most
notably, a fourth door has been added to the extended cab pickups (the three-door version will not be
discontinued) and some minor engine refinements have resulted in increased horsepower across the
Towing ratings for 2000 have been upgraded due to a change in the rating system, which is more reflective of the scale used by the Silverado and Sierra's competitors. GMC will continue to offer the previous version of the Sierra in the 2500 and 3500 Series, now referred to as the Sierra Classic, as will Chevrolet using the C/K designation. Body updates to the chassis-cab and over-8,500-lb. models are expected, but have yet to be announced.
On the compact side, the S10 and Sonoma pickups have received similar engine refinements and upgraded towing ratings. More important to commercial buyers, the popular extended cab models will now be available in base trim. Shock and spring rates on the standard suspension have been improved for better handling and trailering capabilities. A wide variety of special suspension options continue to be available to allow the trucks to be optimized for any application.
- Isuzu & Mazda. Isuzu's Hombre pickup, being a close relative of the S10 and Sonoma pickups from GM, echoes the changes in the horsepower and suspension departments, as well as the availability of a base-trimmed extended cab model. Meanwhile at Mazda, the B-Series pickups remain functionally unchanged with only minor upgrades to the standard feature packages being reported.
Discounting the engine relocation, the Ram Van is the oldest full-size van design among the "Big Three" producers of domestic light trucks. With this in mind, rumors are already circulating around Detroit regarding a complete overhaul of the full-size van platform. Since other major truck programs at DC are now well underway, it's a possibility that we may see a new model as soon as the 2002 model-year.
When these models were completely redesigned a few years ago, the front wheels were moved forward of the front door opening, making getting in and out far easier than in the competitive models. This feature, combined with the "swing-clear" rear cargo doors, makes the GM vans the top choice among users who actually drive and load/unload full-size vans on a daily basis.
Principal changes for the 2000 model year include horsepower improvements to the Vortec 4300 V6 engine and the availability of a rear defogger on all models.
Occupying a territory with no remaining competition are the midsize Astro and Safari vans from Chevy and GMC. The horsepower improvements to the Vortec 4300 V6 also carry over to these midsize models. The Tow/Haul mode on the 4L60-E automatic transmission that debuted on last year's Silverado and Sierra pickups has been added to the Astro and Safari vans for 2000. This feature insures that sufficient power is available for upshifts by delaying the shift points, and helps to improve durability by slightly speeding up the actual shift process. Trailer towing ratings have also been upgraded in the same regard as those of the GM pickups.