The 2002 Chicago Auto Show may have lacked the carnival atmosphere of the Los Angeles and Detroit auto shows, but what it lacked in flash it made up for in substance. For us truck guys, the show was an eye-opening look at what the immediate, near, and possible future has in store for us in the world of four-wheel-drive vehicles. Highlights? DaimlerChrysler introduced the new Liberty Renegade, the Dodge Ram Heavy Duty 2500/3500 pickups, and displayed the awesome soon-to-be-produced Wrangler Rubicon. General Motors rolled out the freshened Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups and a wild-looking concept called the Terra4; Kia stunned everyone with a refined SUV called the Sorento; and Toyota unveiled a racy street truck version of the Tundra.
After the show, as we sat in gridlock traffic on Lake Shore Drive outside McCormick Place, where the show was held, we mulled over what we had seen during the course of the two-day media intro, and we couldn't help but come to the conclusion that aside from some bizarre styling and cardiac arrest-inspiring sticker prices on a few of the vehicles, this is a great time in the history of the 4x4, and a great time to be a truck or SUV buyer. After all, real lockers and quality limited-slips are finding their way onto many truck applications, horsepower numbers continue to climb, fuel mileage is increasing, quality is impeccable, and a significant amount of design time is being dedicated to sweating stuff like creating four-wheel-drive vehicles that can actually handle going off-highway.
Following are a few of the most notable vehicles from the Chicago Auto Show. Our guess is that you'll be seeing these vehicles a lot, very soon. Who knows, eventually you may even own one of them.
Dodge Ram 2500/3500
Try not to drool on this page as you read the specs for the 2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty 2500/3500 pickups. Both will be available with either the all-new, high-pressure, common-rail injection, TRL High Output Cummins 5.9L turbodiesel engine (305 hp at 2,900 rpm and 555 lb-ft of torque at 1,400 rpm) or the new 5.7L (or about 350ci) Hemi V-8 (345 hp at 5,600 rpm and 365 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm). You will also be able to choose from the 305hp V-10 or standard-output Cummins. The standard transmission for the Hemi and V-10 will be the NV4500, the standard tranny for the standard-output Cummins will be the NV4500 HD, and the standard tranny for the new high-output Cummins will be the NV5600. There are three optional automatic transmissions, depending on the application. Two transfer case options will be offered, the NV271 (manual shift) on all models except for the SLT Plus, which gets the electric-shift NV273. The low-range ratio is the same on both models-2.72:1. Up front, the solid axle is suspended by a five-link coil-spring suspension and the rear solid axle is suspended by a leaf-spring suspension. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard on both models. There is a variety of options and combinations for the Dodge Ram Heavy Duty, depending on your needs.
The 2003 GMC Sierra has undergone a series of changes, including a slightly redesigned exterior. It also features a passenger-sensing airbag system, advanced electrical architecture, modified instrument panel (including a new driver information panel), new center console, a Bose audio system, new rear seat DVD entertainment system, manual and fully automatic dual-zone climate control system, new redundant steering wheel controls that include nine control buttons for calculating trip and fuel data and for programming vehicle functions, audio controls and controls for initiating the voice-recognition system for vehicles equipped with OnStar, and availability of the Quadrasteer.
Kia, the Korean automaker that brought us the Sportage, unveiled its newest player in the SUV market, the 2003 Sorento. It's a five-passenger vehicle that sports a 192hp 3.5L V-6 engine and electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission with Overdrive. Two four-wheel-drive systems will be offered-one part-time, the other full-time automatic. Both will feature low-range capability. Additionally, an Eaton carbon limited-slip differential will be offered for the rear axle, and it will deliver up to 50 percent torque between the wheels. The vehicle sports a ladder-frame body construction with nine crossmembers, double wishbone front suspension, and a multi-link rear suspension. Kia says the Sorento features short front and rear body overhangs that allow it to navigate "steep, challenging terrain." Four-wheel disc brakes with 16-inch Michelin tires will be standard, it'll come prewired for trailer lights, and boast a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds.
Jeep Liberty Renegade
The Jeep Liberty is an extremely capable SUV-we proved that on our '01 Four Wheeler of the Year test. The one thing it lacks, however, is an aggressive look, but Jeep is addressing that with the new 2002 Jeep Liberty Renegade. The new package includes an "integrated activity light bar" (four halogen lamps rated at 150,000 candlepower), "bolted on" wheel flares (with machined stainless-steel bolt heads), easily removable side steps (great idea), and special 16-inch wheels with outlined white-letter all-terrain tires. Other Renegade upgrades include two-tone front fascia, seatback map pockets, and brushed aluminum highlights on the instrument panel.
General Motors is testing the waters with this four-door Terra4 concept vehicle, which features body-on-frame construction, a 5.3L V-8 engine, automatic transmission, two-speed transfer case, IFS, Hotchkiss solid rear axle with Quadrasteer, four-wheel disc brakes, and P285/60R20 tires. Interesting features include a 4.8-kilowatt motor/generator integrated into the drivetrain between the engine and transmission. It replaces the starter and alternator, and provides starting power and the ability to generate electricity during deceleration. Think this sounds wacky? This system increases fuel savings by a claimed 15 percent, doesn't reduce the truck's towing capacity, and will be a powertrain option on GM's fullsized pickups beginning in 2004. As a bonus of the vehicle's robust electrical system, the Terra4 features a pair of 110-volt, 20-amp electrical outlets for powering anything with a three-prong household plug.