Ask most folks for their definition of "heaven on earth," and you'll get answers like Springtime in Paris, Autumn in New York, and even Easter in Moab (wherever the heck that is). For oddballs like us, though, a chilly week in January in downtown Detroit just can't be beat-at least, if you're jonesing for the latest in cutting-edge truck and 4x4 tech from the major manufacturers.
The North American International Auto Show, held each year in the dead of winter, at Cobo Hall on the frozen banks of Lake St. Clair, is the biggest and baddest factory automotive expo in the U.S. It's the one place where even plebes like us can walk the aisles with bigwigs like Bob Lutz and Bill Ford, and tell them why they should build their vehicles with Muncie transmissions and 205 transfer cases. (Not that they'll listen, but they're always polite.) And it's the one show that gives you the best indication of what the hottest trends in truck and SUV design are likely to be for the coming year. Pull on your thermals, and check out what we found at this year's show.
Why It Was Built: With Chevy, Toyota, and Nissan all aggressively marketing its newest fullsizes to "tough truck" buyers, Ford product planners must've figured that their meal-ticket pickup needed a bit of machofying to stay competitive. So, with some broad-shouldered styling cues and a slew of cool work-truck add-ons grafted from the current Super Duty, the new F-Series looks poised to retain its stake as the top-selling light-duty truck in America.
What's Inside It: Under the hood, the 2V 4.6L V-8 remains the base engine, while the 3V 4.6L V-8 is the optional. The top dog 5.4L V-8 gets a boost in power and can now be had with a six-speed automatic. Suspension is coilover/double wishbone in front, 6-inch-longer leaf springs in the rear, and yes, you can get a manual-shift transfer case and a rear locker for it, too. Other cool stuff? Well, there's an integrated trailer-brake controller, under-bed lockboxes, retractable bed sidesteps, tailgate step and handle, stowable bed extender, Trailer Sway Control ... are you getting the "work truck" idea yet?
What's in Store: For 2010, a new 340hp 3.5L V-6 and a 4.4L diesel V-8.
When Can You Get One: Later this year, in one of seven trim levels and 35 total configurations.
Our Take: Combine the best work-truck features of the Super Duty with the F-150's class-leading creature comforts, give it a rear locker and an off-road suspension package, and what do you get? From our perspective, it looks like the best of both worlds. We'll be testdriving one in a few months, and we'll let you know how she runs.
(and 120 head of longhorn cattle)
Why It Was Built: Facing stiff competition from the other truckmakers, Dodge knew a refreshening was in order for the Ram, and the new truck aims to capitalize on the sudden upsurge in consumer demand for Crew Cab models. (The hoofers ... well, 2,000 journalists have gotta eat sometime.)
What's Inside It: Powertrains carry over from the previous year, with the 3.7L V-6, 4.7L V-8, or 380hp 5.7L Hemi mated to either the Getrag 238 six-speed manual, 42RLE four-speed, or 545RE five-speed automatics. The Ram's suspension is the big news this year, with coilover shocks and A-arms in front, and a coil-spring/five-link setup in the rear-yeah, you read right, and it's the first link rear suspension ever offered in a light-duty truck. Other cool stuff: Hill Assist, Trailer Sway Control, integrated bedside cargo bins with built-in drains and lights, triple-seal weatherstripping, an all-new interior, and, uh, yeah, that rear suspension.
What's in Store: A Hemi hybrid and a 5.0L Cummins V-8 diesel for model year 2010.
When Can You Get One: Late summer, for the 2009 model year.
Our Take: Leave it to the jokesters at Chrysler to turn downtown Detroit into a rerun of Rawhide to launch the new Ram, which would seem to be a significant improvement over the previous model in ride, utility, ergonomics, and interior quality. We'll tell you more as soon as we can testdrive one.
Why It Was Built: Based on the 2005 Mesa concept, to round out Kia's burgeoning vehicle line with a fullsize SUV.
What's Inside It: The first V-8 ever offered on a Korean sport-ute-in this case, the 375hp 4.6L V-8 sourced from the Genesis sedan, backed by a six-speed automatic (a 3.3L V-6/five-speed is also available). Suspension is independent at both ends, and the Borrego uses the same Torque-on-Demand four-wheel-drive system (with low-range) found on the Sorento midsize SUV. There's seating capacity for seven inside, and maximum tow rating (with the V-8) is 7,500 pounds.
What's in Store: Tough sledding, we imagine-what surely must have looked good to Kia's product planners five years ago figures to be a hard sell in an era of $3.50 gas. The good news? A diesel six-cylinder is coming next year.
When Can You Get One: Late summer 2008, starting around $25,000.
Our Take: It's dull, it looks dated, and it's horribly timed, but if you gotta have a brand-new fullsize SUV next year, this one should deliver the best utility-per-dollar value around-and she won't be down on power, either.