All-New 4Runner Debuts
With five distinct SUV models in its lineup (seven if you count those wearing Lexus badges), Toyota offers an SUV for just about every taste, from the cute/ute RAV4 to the mammoth Sequoia.
Smack in the middle is the all-new, fourth-generation 4Runner. It is still Toyota's rugged, sporty, go-anywhere vehicle-Land Cruiser Lite, if you will. This newest version, though, is bigger, more powerful, and laden with more technological features than any 4Runner that came before it.
Much of this is good news. Anyone who felt cramped in the old 4Runner will appreciate the new cabin layout, which is 411/42 inches longer overall and offers 4 more inches of interior width (though the truck's overall width grows by only 3 inches, thanks to thinner interior door panels). The 4Runner's floor is also lower in relation to the seat cushions, giving occupants more of an upright seating position. Despite the lower load floor, ground clearance is still a healthy 9.1 inches, thanks to standard 30.5-inch-tall tires (265/70R16s or 265/65R17s).
Two engine options are available for the '03 4Runner. The 4.7L i-Force V-8 comes over from Toyota's fullsize trucks, producing 235 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. Before you automatically choose the V-8, though, be sure to check out the 4Runner's new 4.0L V-6. This brand-new engine from Toyota, code named 1GR-FE, is the maker's first all-aluminum truck engine and the first truck engine with variable valvetrain technology. It's rated at 245 hp-higher than the V-8-and 283 lb-ft of torque, and it will make the 4Runner get up and scoot. Plus it gets better fuel economy than the V-8. About the only reason to choose the bigger motor is if you plan to tow. Both engines are mated to automatic transmissions only (boooo!), though the V-8 is backed by an all-new five-speed slush box.
Another reason to pick the V-6: more choices of drive modes. New transfer cases in both V-6 and V-8 models feature center differentials with Torsen limited-slip units, but only the V-6 can be operated in 2-Hi as well as full-time and part-time 4-Hi. The center diff is designed to bias front-and-rear power distribution depending on road conditions and wheel slippage, though it can be locked via a dash-mounted switch for a true 50-50 torque split.
Now, this is where our enthusiasm for the new 4Runner starts to dim. Had Toyota combined the new transfer cases with electric front and rear diff locks (as we used to find aboard the Land Cruiser), we'd be happy campers. Instead, the 4Runner goes high-tech, with electronic traction control and vehicle stability control, plus two new computerized traction aids. One is Downhill Assist Control, which uses wheel speed sensors and electronic brake and throttle controls to slow the truck when going downhill in low range. The other is Hill-start Assist Control, which, again using electronic brake controls, holds the 4Runner from sliding backwards between the time you step off the brake and step on the gas. Don't know about you, but we'd rather do our own downhill speed control using First gear, low range, and a judiciously light foot on the brake. (Luckily this system can be shut off.) Likewise, a two-foot driving style would seem to render the Hill Control needless.
Not only do the new computer systems take too much control away from the driver, they also add to the 4Runner's price. Though official MSRPs haven't been announced yet, expect the truck to have a broad price range, from the mid $20,000s (for a low-content 2WD SR5) to the low $40,000s (for a fully loaded 4x4 Limited). We would gladly trade some of the whiz-bang for a simpler driveline and a lower price of admission.
New Engines For '04 GM Midsize PickupsWhen GM unveiled the powerful 4.2L I-6 engine that's now used in its midsize SUVs (Chevy TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy, and Olds Bravada), the maker dropped a lot of hints about how the motor's basic architecture could provide the basis for a number of inline variants. Now the General is hinting no more.
Just days after making public illustrations of the upcoming Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize pickups, GM provided reams of information about two new engines destined for the new trucks-a Vortec 3500 inline-five and Vortec 2800 inline-four-designed to "provide the power of a V-6 and the efficiency of an I-4," according to GM.
Both engines are scaled-down versions of the Vortec 4200, using its all-aluminum construction, dual overhead camshafts, and four-valve cylinder heads. Like the 4200, the new engines have a 10:1 compression ratio, electronic throttle control, coil-on-plug ignition, and exhaust-cam phasing (which allows variable valve timing on the exhaust side of the motor). According to GM, the new engines share 75 percent of their components with the 4200 and 89 percent of their components with each other, making it possible to produce them more efficiently.
Output targets are 215 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque for the 3500, and 170 hp and 175 lb-ft for the 2800. By comparison, the 4.3L V-6 currently in the S-10/Sonoma pickup trucks produces 190 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque; the 2.2L I-4 pumps out 120 hp and 140 lb-ft.
Both engines will be backed by either the 4L60-E four-speed automatic transmission or an all-new five-speed manual transmission.
This Just In...
*The NHTSA is looking to revamp its federal tire testing standards, but the Rubber Manufacturers Association is concerned that "more than 40 percent of passenger car tires and more than 50 percent of light truck tires would not withstand" the strict new standards. The RMA calls the NHTSA proposal "unwarranted and extreme, given the high level of performance and safety of today's tires." If that rings a little hollow following the Firestone debacle, the RMA says the "NHTSA's own data show that the percentage of tires cited in accident statistics compared to the population of tires is 0.0013 percent." The RMA proposes "a reasonable, science-based approach to tire testing standards...designed to subject tires to rational, real-world conditions."
*Last month we told you about the efforts Ford was making to reduce the costs of manufacturing its vehicles. Here are some examples of what the Blue Oval is doing. The walnut burl used in the interior of Lincoln Navigators will be replaced with a "wood looking plastic film" in '04 models, saving an estimated $18 per unit. And a fiberglass nylon offset crash reinforcement in the Explorer's frame will be replaced with good old-fashioned steel, saving the company an estimated $40 million annually.
*Looks like Firestone's parent Bridgestone is bouncing back financially from the whole tread-separation mess. Reuters reported that Bridgestone's stock price in Tokyo is more than double that of its low point in 2001. The company believes it will put its U.S. operations back in black ink by the end of 2002.
*Land Rover reports that there are already waiting lists in several cities for the all-new Range Rover. First-month sales of the luxe-ute beat LR's previous one-month sales record, set in 1989.
Ford To Drop Excursion?
Reports in the New York Times and from a Detroit area television station have indicated that Ford will stop producing the Super Duty-based Excursion SUV after the '04 model year. Ford officials won't confirm the report, which is based on information from sources that are close to Ford's product planning departments.
Sales of the jumbo SUV have dropped this year, which could be a reason for its demise. But we don't think it's coincidental that this news came just after California signed a so-called "anti-SUV" bill that will push for tougher carbon dioxide emissions regulations starting in 2006. Maybe it was easier (and cheaper) for Ford to just throw in the towel on Excursion rather than try to re-engineer it to meet the upcoming laws.
If you own one of the following vehicles and haven't been notified by the maker that your vehicle is under recall, get yourself down to your local dealer to find out if the recall affects your 4x4.
*'02 Dodge Ram: On certain 4x4 pickups, the rear axle flange welded to the axletube could fatigue and allow the brake caliper assembly to rotate, which could cause the brake line to separate from the caliper, resulting in a brake fluid loss. Dealers will install rear brake caliper reinforcements on the rear axle assemblies.
*'97-'98 Dodge Ram: On diesel pickups, the throttle linkage joints can corrode and cause the throttle to bind or stick, increasing the risk of a crash. Dealers will replace the rod ends and ball studs.
*'01-'02 Toyota Highlander: A fuel-vapor nozzle could leak during a front-end collision. Dealers will rotate clamps on the nozzle so they don't hit the underside of the vehicle body during a crash.
Chrysler's Engine MAGIC
Chrysler's engineers have been tweaking and tuning the standard 4.7L V-8, making little changes to make what they call "a giant leap in fuel efficiency." All tuning was done with no penalty to the engine's power, weight, or lifespan.
MAGIC stands for Multiple Approaches to Great Internal Combustion. The improvements cost $200 per engine and improved fuel economy 14 percent. When the engineers were done tweaking the engine by itself, they planted it in a Durango, made a few more changes, and bumped up the savings to 25 percent.
Among the tuning tricks: a 4-percent increase in compression ratio; swirl control valves to enhance flame spread during warm-up and partial-load driving; design changes to the crankshaft offset, oil-ring tension, and coolant jacket to reduce friction; and a reduction in parasitic loss through the oil pump.
Additional refinements to the Durango (code-named Apollo) include the installation of a 12-volt alternator/starter to allow the truck to shut down and restart in stop-and-go conditions, improved cooling technologies, improved chassis aerodynamics, and electrohydraulic power steering.
Department Of Corrections
We rarely make mistakes, right? We inadvertently screwed-up the phone number for Off Road Unlimited in the source box for the Super Duty Buildup in the October and November issues. The correct number is 800/947-7007, just like their full page ad shows in the November issue.
Calendar Of Events
Dec. 6-8 Las Vegas 200, Las Vegas, NV. Information: Best in the Desert, 702/457-5775, www.bitd.com
Dec. 7 Whiplash Point-to-Point race, Sonoyta, Mexico. Information: Whiplash Motorsports, 602/971-3730, www.desertracing.com
Dec. 14-15 SNORE Baja 240, Las Vegas, NV. Information: Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts, 702/452-4522, www.desertracing.com
Dec. 21 Sport/Utility and 4x4 Driver's Education and Training, Hungry Valley SRVA, Gorman, CA. Information: Harry A. Baker, 818/705-3930, www.4x4quest.com
Note to Event Organizers: We need your 2003 listings! If you are planning any sort of four-wheeling event, from trail rides and club runs to races and rockcrawls, send us the scoop so we can run it in our calendar. Please submit the event name, date, location, and contact information (phone number, Web site) to Calendar of Events, 4-Wheel & Off-Road, 6420 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048. Remember, our print deadlines are at least three months ahead of publication date, so send the entries in as soon as you can!
We'll bring you a comprehensive guide to 2003 4x4s next month, but we didn't want to wait to share this news. Chevy listened to all of us who griped about how ugly the body cladding was on the Avalanche and will offer a version of the SUV/truck hybrid "without body hardware," as GM so euphemistically put it. The cladding isn't going away completely; you can still buy a clad Avalanche, though the composite body panels will be darker than the previous versions.
Results Of Our Online Reader Poll
Which crate engine would you buy if money were no object?
|Ram Jet 502||24%|
Environmental & Political Watch
*Scant hours after California Governor Gray Davis signed a sweeping (yet incredibly vague) bill aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the Golden State, automakers vowed to stop the bill before it could take effect. AB1493 charges the California Air Resources Board with finding ways to reduce vehicular carbon dioxide emissions (which are believed to contribute to global warming) and impose these new standards by 2009. Automakers, however, viewed the bill's passage as a backdoor means to increase corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards-an increase that had been shot down at the Federal level by President Bush earlier in the year-since the only current technology available to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to produce engines that burn less fuel. Some groups took a harsher view of the bill, claiming it would eventually lead to the end of big trucks and SUVs in California. In the wake of the bill's signing, strategies ranging from federal lawsuits to local voter referendums are being devised to derail the pending regulations.
*In other CAFE-related news, SEMA reports that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is considering making changes to the CAFE minimums (currently 27.5 mpg for cars, 20.7 mpg for light trucks), which would include reclassifying certain trucks and SUVs to reflect their use as passenger, rather than cargo, haulers. This, too, could put fullsize SUVs on the endangered species list.