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February 2008 4x4 News - Drivelines

Posted in Features on February 1, 2008
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Using the '07 Wrangler Unlimited as a starting point, Jeep has developed the J8, a "multipurpose vehicle" intended for military and civilian government use. Photos released by Jeep show the J8 in its four-door configuration; it's also being built as a two-door model with an extended pickup bed. In order to accommodate payloads of up to nearly 3,000 pounds, Jeep has reinforced the Unlimited's frame, swapped the rear coil springs for leaves, and mounted a Dana 60 axle out back and a Dana 44 up front. Under the hood is a 2.8L turbodiesel producing 158 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque mated to a five-speed automatic transmission and Jeep's Command-Trac part-time 4WD system. The steel wheels you see in the photo are unique to the J8, as are the air intake in the hood and the steel bumpers with tie-down loops (used when transporting the Jeep via air or sea). Since the J8 will be produced in a Chrysler LLC joint-venture facility in Cairo (that's Egypt, not Missouri), we don't expect to see them in any local Jeep showrooms. Too bad.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently crash tested a half-dozen SUVs to check their level of passenger protection in frontal and side crashes. Five of the six-Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder and Xterra, and Toyota 4Runner-earned the IIHS' top "good" rating in the 40-mph offset frontal crash, while the Chevrolet TrailBlazer earned an "acceptable" rating in that test.

The SUVs didn't fare as well in the side-impact tests, which replicate a 31-mph T-boning by another pickup or SUV. Only the Pathfinder, Xterra, and 4Runner (all equipped with side-curtain airbags) earned the "good" rating, while Explorer earned an "acceptable." The Grand Cherokee and TrailBlazer, both equipped with front, side, and rear airbags, as well as models of the Pathfinder and Xterra without bags (they're optional on the Nissans), earned only a "marginal" rating.

IIHS attributed the poor Jeep and Chevy results to the fact that their airbags are designed to protect an occupant's head, not the torso. "Nearly every car with side airbags has both head and torso airbags, but the Grand Cherokee and TrailBlazer have head protection only," said David Zuby, IIHS senior vice president. "Head protection is rated good in both vehicles, but the lack of chest protection and weak side structures that allowed a lot of intrusion contributed to high forces on the driver dummies' chests and abdomens." The IIHS was encouraged that the Grand Cherokee, Pathfinder, Xterra, and TrailBlazer did better in the latest round of frontal crashes than previous versions of those vehicles.

In 2005, a computer-controlled VW Touareg won the U.S. Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) competition for autonomous (as in self-guided with no human input) vehicles. Back then, the 130-mile course wound through the Mojave Desert. This year, DARPA has upped the stakes by moving its competition to an urban environment, where the robot vehicles will have to cope with 60 miles of busy intersections, merging traffic, and stop signs, among other tricky traffic conditions.

Chevrolet and Carnegie Mellon University are among those participating in the DARPA Urban Challenge with this autonomous Tahoe, nicknamed "Boss" after GM Research founder Charles F. Kettering. It's fitted with lasers, radars, and cameras to assess driving situations, and carries a computer program that allows it to drive itself. Not that we'd want some robot driving us around on the trail, but an army of these things would certainly save lives on the battlefield.

Tundra will get 13 new model variations for '08, bringing the total number of Tundra choices up to 44. There will be greater availability of Double Cab and CrewMax Tundras and a new, lower-cost trim level, called Tundra Grade, that will slot just below the intermediate SR5 trim level.

FJ Cruiser adds a new Off-Road package to its options list with 16-inch alloy wheels and 265/75R16 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires, Bilstein shock absorbers, a cyclone pre-air cleaner, and a rear differential lock that works in conjunction with the FJ Cruiser's A-TRAC traction control system. Both the FJ and the '08 4Runner get side airbags for the new model year.

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We can usually count on there being some fresh, cool, and/or downright wacky concept vehicles coming out of the Tokyo Motor Show, and this year looks like it'll be no exception. As of this writing the show is still a few weeks away, but Suzuki leaked this drawing of its X-Head concept truck to us. The illustration makes the truck look huge, but the press release statement that its "DNA reflects the rough-road performance and toughness of the Grand Vitara" makes us think it's not quite to International CXT scale. So does the 235/80R16 size marked on the side of the custom Dunlop tire. If Suzuki could add some Samurai DNA to a concept like this, then it'd be really cool.

As part of a six-year, 72-vehicle commitment, Hummer has donated 12 more H2 and H3 SUVs to the American Red Cross for use in California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Washington, D.C. The 19 Hummers currently in the Red Cross fleet have already been used in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, flooding in New York state, and California's wildfires.


Apress release came into our e-mail box recently with the news that SPAL's Rocket Ranger pickup, powered by a 6.0L Power Stroke engine wearing Hypermax series turbochargers, set a C/Diesel truck class speed record of 215.091 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats this summer. According to SPAL, this feat, recognized by the Southern California Timing Association/Bonneville Nationals Inc. (SCTA/BNI), earned the Rocket Ranger the title of World's Fastest Diesel Pickup.

The SPAL Rocket Ranger went 215.091 mph last August, setting national and SCTA/BNI speed records. The Banks Sidewinder went 217.301 mph in October 2002, setting international and FIA speed records.

Not long after we got another press release, this time from Gale Banks, disputing SPAL's "fastest diesel pickup" claim. "They have the national record at 215.091," said Banks, "but the SCI-SCTA International and FIA (Federation International d'Automobile, the acknowledged world-record sanctioning body for motorsports) world's record are still held by our 'Banks Sidewinder Dakota' at 217.301." Banks' team set that mark in October 2002, after Banks drove the Sidewinder Dakota onto the salt flats towing its own support trailer.

"The SPAL guys have made it interesting, and it sounds like I might need to dust off the Sidewinder and get salty," Banks added. "The bragging rights over 'fastest' might sometimes be a blur at 200-plus miles per hour, but the truth is not. That's why FIA world records are so important, and that's why they're so important to keep straight."

Dodge used the State Fair of Texas to announce a new Resistol edition of the Ram 3500 Laramie Mega Cab dualie. Available early in 2008, the truck will be available in 4x2 or 4x4 configurations and equipped with a 6.7L Cummins turbodiesel, 17-inch chrome wheels, a unique two-tone paint job, fender flares, tubular side steps, and-you could see this coming, right?-a Resistol Black Gold 20X felt cowboy hat. Prices will begin at $48,310.

There's no official word of this in GMC's press material, but buried deep within the brand's consumer Web site is a notice that the Canyon's powertrain choices will include a V-8 engine in "early 2008." It makes sense; GM has already put a 5.3L V-8 in the Hummer H3 Alpha, which shares its platform with the midsize pickups. But does this mean the V-8 will be a GMC-only option, or that Chevy's online writers were less forthcoming?

While on our honeymoon safari in South Africa and Zimbabwe, we went off-roading on a game drive safari. The vehicle is an elephant named Jack. We thought a quick break waiting for the water hole was the perfect time to read your latest issue. From the looks of the photo, so did our driver.
Nicole Girkey
Granbury, TX

* Consumer Reports has published a new reliability survey that finds Toyota slipping from First overall to Third place, behind Honda and Subaru. CR subscribers (whose input forms the basis of the survey) reported problems with the 4WD system in new Tundras equipped with a V-8, as well as issues with the Camry and a Lexus sedan. Even so, there are still six Toyota pickups and SUVs on CR's "Most Reliable" list, a record many other automakers would envy.

* BFGoodrich has extended its "official tire" agreement with SCORE to stretch until 2018. BFG has been a big supporter of SCORE's Baja races; the tiremaker will dedicate 10 full-service tractor-trailer pit vehicles and nearly 250 volunteers and active personnel to support those racers in the upcoming Baja 1000 who compete on BFGs.

* American Expedition Vehicles, which builds custom Jeeps and supplies aftermarket Jeep parts, will be adding suspension lift inventory from the recently closed Nth Degree Mobility to its offerings. "Nth Degree has been a major innovator in the suspension industry and has developed a near cult following with good reason," said Dave Harriton, president of AEV. "It is our goal to have most of the existing suspension line back on the market along with several new products in the near future.

* The Whipsaw Trail in British Columbia is the latest addition to the Outstanding Trails Program, sponsored by BFGoodrich in conjunction with Tread Lightly! and the United Four Wheel Drive Associations. Tucked into the Cascade Mountains, the Whipsaw Trail "offers something for every skill level and combines off-road adventure with unbelievable views," said Joe Mazur, BFG's light-truck brand category manager.

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