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February 2006 Drivelines - 4x4 News

Posted in Features on February 1, 2006
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The '07 Chevy Tahoe will be available in LS, LT, and LTZ trim levels. An off-road-ready Z71 package will come later in the year.

Here's your first look at the next generation of fullsize SUVs from General Motors. The new Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon are the beginning of a wave of trucks based on GM's new GMT900 platform, which will also provide the foundation for the Avalanche, Cadillac's various Escalade models, the Suburban/Yukon XL, and, eventually, all-new Chevy and GMC fullsize pickups.

The SUV's aerodynamic styling, reportedly among the slipperiest of all fullsize SUVs, is just the start of the changes GM made to its big utes. They now sit on fully boxed frames with hydroformed front and rear sections, have wider front and rear tracks, and feature new coilover front suspensions and five-link rear ends. Wheel packages have grown: Tahoe and Yukon roll on 17s, the upscale Yukon Denali gets 18s, and all three list 20s as optional. A Z71 option, with unique front fascias and 18-inch wheel-and-tire packages, will be available later in the year.

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There will be six different V-8 engine choices for the SUVs, including two 5.3s (iron- and aluminum-block versions, both rated at 320 hp), two 6.0s (rated at 350 hp for the iron-block version, 355 for the alloy, which also features variable valve timing), and an aluminum-block 6.2L V-8 that produces 380 or 400 hp depending on the one you choose. Backing the 6.2 is a new 6L80 six-speed automatic transmission with close-ratio gears, two overdrives, and a "tap-up/tap-down" feature that allows the driver to change gears via a button on the column shifter.

The alloy 5.3 and 6.0 engines feature GM's Displacement on Demand technology to reduce fuel consumption. According to GM, preliminary testing of 5.3-equipped models resulted in combined fuel economy ratings of 20.1 mpg for 4WD models.

The Tahoe, Yukon, and Escalade will be available in the first quarter of 2006; extended-wheelbase models-Suburban and Avalanche, Yukon XL, and Cadillac Escalade ESV and EXT-should show up in the second quarter of 2006.

Arthur A. Martin IV of Chicago was the lucky grand-prize winner of the modified '04 Ford F-150 featured in Toyo Tires' summertime giveaway. Martin's winning entry was chosen from among thousands who entered via mail and the Internet to win the pickup, which was outfitted with a Fabtech Dirt Logic 2.5 coilover suspension, KMC XD-series wheels, and-what else?-35-inch Toyo Open Country M/T tires. Shown in the photo are, from left: Tom Ahern of Cassidy Tire; Arthur Martin; Floyd Gripman, Toyo Tires' director of sales, Eastern Division; and Betsy Currie, Toyo's regional sales manager.

You read that right. A fully autonomous-as in self-navigating with no human intervention-VW Touareg crossed 131 miles of the Mojave Desert in southern Nevada in 6 hours, 53 minutes, 8 seconds to win the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge. Stanley, entered by Stanford University, was one of five robotic vehicles that completed the course. Stanley's win earned the team a $2 million purse.

DARPA's goal with the Grand Challenge is to "accelerate research and development in autonomous ground vehicles to help save American lives on the battlefield," according to the agency. Technologies invented for the Challenge will be developed for military use, to achieve Congress' request to have a fleet of robotic ground vehicles by 2015.

The Stanford team built Stanley from a stock, diesel-powered Volkswagen Touareg R5 modified with full-body skidplates and a reinforced front bumper. It is actuated by a drive-by-wire system, developed by VW's Electronics Research Laboratory, which uses readings taken by GPS, an inertial measurement unit, wheel speed, lasers, a camera, and a radar system.

When auto theft loss is tracked not by region but by other means, the Cadillac Escalade EXT is the big winner, or loser, depending on how you look at it. According to, the Highway Loss Data Institute studied auto theft claims-not just vehicle losses, but items stolen from vehicles or anything else that would trigger an insurance claim-and found that the average theft claim payment per year for the Caddy SUV was $302, compared to the $15 average for all cars. The EXT's average loss claim payment of $14,939 was also way over the $5,928 average. Why are the Escalade's claims so much higher? Thieves often steal the entire truck and not just parts, say Institute experts. Or when parts are stolen, they're typically the very expensive bling-bling wheels and tires.

With desert racing legend Rod Hall at the wheel, Team Hummer's newest member-a race-prepped H3-got its competitive life off to a good start with a Second in Class finish in the 500-mile Best in the Desert "Vegas to Reno" race. Hall entered the truck in the Pure Stock-Mini SUV class, which allows only minor modifications to the truck-shock absorbers, tires, and safety equipment. "The game plan for this race was to shake down the vehicle, fix the bugs, and head to Baja ready for a win," Hall said.

After a year's hiatus, the Explorer Sport Trac is back, and the new model is significantly different from its predecessor. It still shares many of the Explorer's underpinnings, including the SUV's fully independent suspension, but the wheelbase has been stretched nearly 17 inches. The Sport Trac's 4 1/2-foot bed, made from sheet-molded composite inside and out, boasts three built-in storage bins, each with drain plugs should you want to use them to store cold beverages. Two engine choices will be available when the truck goes on sale later this year: a 210hp, 4.0L V-6 that puts out as few emissions as the Escape hybrid; and a 292hp, 4.6L V-8 that will be paired with a new six-speed manual transmission.

The sketch you see below is of the Equator concept SUV shown at the biennial Tokyo Motor Show. Developed by the Ford Asia Pacific & Africa Design Team, this Equator "is an evolutionary advancement to the combination of performance, design, and sports capabilities that characterize all Ford SUVs," says the press material. It's powered by a 3.0L Duratec V-6 and a computer-controlled 4WD system.

The Equator shown above is a design study dating back to the 2000 Detroit auto show. It "paved the way for the design of today's F-Series," says Ford, and features Kevlar bumpers, fenders, and lower body panels, billet aluminum wheels, and 32-inch coilover shocks. Ford auctioned the concept truck in Dallas late last year and donated the proceeds to the American Red Cross for hurricane relief in Texas.

If you don't have the megabucks for a Freightliner or Peterbilt, maybe this'll do: DynoMax has developed Truck Staxx, a kit that transforms your run-of-the-mill exhaust system into upright, 4-inch stacks that run up the back of your cab. Each kit includes everything you need for a complete, do-it-yourself installation, including a splitter tee for turning your wimpy single exhaust into booming duals. Visit for more details.

Toyota chose the Frankfurt International Motor Show in Germany to unveil the European-spec version of its all-new '06 RAV4 mini-SUV. The U.S. version should be here about the time you read this. The third-generation RAV is longer and wider than previous models and will be available with an optional third-row seat. While the standard powerplant will be a 166hp, 2.4L I-4, engine options will also include a 268hp, 3.5L V-6. That power rating, by the way, is higher than the output from the 4.7L V-8 Toyota uses in its 4Runner.

New for '06, the limited-edition "Pacific Blue" Hummer H2 SUV and SUT feature the special exterior color and an uplevel premium appearance package that includes body-color grille and fender moldings, brush and taillamp guards, a unique rocker molding with an integrated assist step, 17-inch forged aluminum wheels, carbon-fiber interior accents, and a lower-profile roof-mounted lightbar with integral lamps. Inside is a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with headrest-mounted screens and wireless headphones. Only 875 of these units will be produced, and they'll be priced just north of $65,000.

The Dodge Nitro concept SUV, which debuted at last year's Chicago Auto Show, has been given the green light as an '07 model. Dodge didn't release any details about the production version, but the concept truck was based on the Jeep Liberty platform and powered by the Liberty's 3.7L, 210hp V-6. It's expected the production Nitro will do the same, making it the first time a Jeep platform has been used for another nameplate.

My name is Sgt. Jack C. Keeler. I am a Marine currently serving on a unit deployment to Iraq. I have been a subscriber for many years. Until just recently I drove an '84 Blazer K-5. I loved that old piece of junk. It was all stock except for the 6-inch lift and 35-inch BFGoodrich MTs. Just before deploying to Iraq a friend and I went fishing and the truck didn't make it out. We decided to drive it around the Amphibious Assault Vehicle licensing course and found a hole that was bigger than the truck. There are some pretty big holes there. I am a crew leader with MWSS-372. My guys and I are Bulk Fuel Specialists, which means we refuel aircraft. In the Hot Pits we do that with the engines running and the rotors turning. Thanks for all of the support you guys are giving the troops over here. Seeing Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen on your pages really boosts morale. Thanks for always putting out a magazine that is worth reading.

Good SUV news: They say statistics can be interpreted to prove just about anything. Well, the folks at the SUV Owners of America want the NHTSA to take a second look at its 2004 motor vehicle fatality statistics. Initially the government agency said SUV occupant fatalities rose 5.6 percent in 2004. But, countered the SUVOA, since SUV registrations were up 11 percent, the fatality rate actually dropped. "Without the context of exposure, the sheer number of fatalities is nearly meaningless," said SUVOA President Barry McCahill. "It's like saying a football team scored 14 points, which would be potent, pedestrian, or pathetic depending on whether the 'exposure' period was a quarter, a game, or season."

And the bad: The end of "employee pricing" coupled with high gas prices and the catastrophic hurricane season put fullsize SUV sales right in the toilet. According to industry reports, sales of the big utility vehicles fell 48 percent in September when compared with the same month in 2004. Taking a year-to-date look improved the picture somewhat, with January-through-September sales off a more modest 15 percent.

One SUV not feeling the slump was Hummer's new H3, which is solidly on GM's sales target. The General hoped to sell 25,000 between its May launch and the end of the year and through September had moved a tick over 18,000.

Fullsize pickup truck sales also managed to grow slightly during the SUV slump, with sales up some 4 percent for the first nine months of the year.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that an audit in San Diego county turned up misuses of OHV fees by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Money collected from OHV parks in the Southern California desert was reportedly spent on projects that did not directly benefit the riding/driving areas, such as funding state parks that are not OHV recreation areas. The report also criticized the Department for failing to properly plan for more off-road vehicle parks, given the tremendous growth in OHV users over the last decade. In response, a spokesman from the Parks Department noted that the state is considering opening two new OHV parks, near Bakersfield and Riverside.

In better news from the Golden State, SEMA reports that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced new land management plans for four Southern California national forests that will open up more back-country trails to OHVs. The management plans for the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres, and San Bernardino national forests allocate an additional 87,000 acres of land that the agency will recommend for wilderness protection, which is less than the 96,000 acres originally proposed. If approved by Congress, that would increase the total wilderness area within the four forests to nearly 1.2 million acres, more than one-third of the parks' combined 3.5 million acres. The new plans provide OHVs with greater access to roadless areas, allowing motorized recreation on approximately 25 percent of these inventoried areas, but only on designated roads and trails. In its comments to USFS, SEMA noted that most of this acreage already had some form of OHV use. The new plans also address so-called "user-created" trails and will, where appropriate, add these routes to the system. USFS officials noted that details regarding specific trail systems will come at a later date.

SEMA is also very involved in an overhaul of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which could have an effect on the amount of back-country land available for OHV use. A key piece of the proposal would replace existing "critical habitat" requirements, one of the more contentious areas of the existing law and a frequent source of lawsuits, with "recovery habitats." These recovery habitats would have fewer legal restrictions and be linked into the species recovery planning process. The bill also calls for the use of the best available scientific data in determining species status. Other features of the bill include: increasing the role of state and local governments in decision making; providing incentives to and protecting the rights of private property owners; and increasing the openness and accountability of the agencies involved in the designation process. The ESA has been making its way through the House of Representatives, but a Senate version reportedly won't be introduced until some time in 2006.

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