Gas, Diesel, Hybrid, Electric: Future Factory 4x4s Will Be Powerful, Efficient & CapablePosted in Features on November 15, 2017
If you have been paying attention to the development of autonomous cars, you may think that the future of driving—any kind of driving where you’re in control of the vehicle—looks bleak. Well, our crystal ball is no clearer than anyone else’s, but we can tell you that four-wheeling is not only alive and well but some of the best, most capable products ever to roll off an assembly line are in the pipeline right now, some ready for introduction in as little as a few months.
It is common for wheelers to look down their noses on modern technology. Anything we cannot fix or tune on the trail is suspect, if not downright useless, right? Maybe not. Thanks to years of technological advances, we have trucks that are more powerful than ever, while at the same time returning better fuel economy than ever. Factories are building trucks with equipment that was aftermarket-only not long ago, like locking differentials at both ends. And it’s thanks to modern technology that we have the Ford F-150 Raptor, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, and Chevy Colorado ZR2, all dedicated, hardcore, four-wheeling rigs with warranties and factory financing options.
Tomorrow’s Engines Today
We have written (and read) so much about the Raptor that sometimes we don’t think about how advanced that truck truly is. Ford’s powertrain engineers managed to squeeze 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque from 3.5L, or just over 200 ci—and return 16 mpg (combined) fuel economy. Twin turbos help that little motor make max power, but so do the engine’s direct and port fuel injection and the old-school trick of plumbing it with a true dual-exhaust system.
What Ford has done with its high output EcoBoost is indicative of a major tech trend in the industry: maximizing the efficiency—and therefore power production—of the internal combustion (IC) engine. Land Rover has a new line of aluminum four-cylinder gasoline engines called Ingenium that are going into the 2018 Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque. Like the EcoBoost, these are small engines, displacing 2.0L, but can put out as much as 286 hp depending on tune. They are fitted with twin-scroll turbochargers; high-psi direct injection via centrally mounted injectors; and electrohydraulic intake valve control, which reduces pumping losses to improve power, torque, and economy.
Jeep, too, may be headed down the less-engine-is-more approach with the upcoming JL Wrangler. Rumors are circulating that one of the JL engine options will be a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder that could make more than 300 hp. A similar engine is being used in FCA’s Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan, where it produces 280 hp and 306 lb-ft of torque. Even if the Jeep four-banger doesn’t exceed the Alfa’s output, that would be almost as much horsepower and more torque than the current Pentastar 3.6L V-6, at almost half the displacement, which should translate into much better fuel economy.
One engine development we are keeping an eye on is Mazda’s compression-ignition engine, named Skyactiv-X. Essentially this is an IC gasoline engine that delivers the “power and efficiency of a diesel,” says Mazda, as it makes use of compression to ignite the fuel. There are still conventional spark plugs in the engine that are used to begin the combustion process, but then the pressure rise from the resulting flame sets off compression ignition in the rest of the cylinder. This allows the engine to operate on air-fuel ratios of 30:1 or higher, rather than the conventional 14.7:1, which Mazda claims will result in 20 to 30 percent better fuel economy while still delivering “excellent” power and throttle response. Mazda has yet to announce which vehicles will use the Skyactiv-X engine or when, but it would not be surprising to see this kind of technology appear in a number of vehicle applications if it turns out as successful as Mazda thinks it will be.
As much as we love flying across the desert in the Raptor, living with such a big, burly truck in a crowded city is, frankly, a pain. That is one of the reasons we welcomed Chevy’s ZR2 version of the midsize Colorado pickup. It takes some of the Raptor thinking—the ZR2 has a wider track and sits taller than the conventional Colorado, has an upgraded suspension, and features lockers front and rear (take that, Raptor!)—but applies it to a smaller overall package that’s much easier to park and garage.
True, the ZR2’s 3.6L V-6 makes less power than the Raptor (308 hp compared to 450, and 275 lb-ft instead of 510), but that power has to move less truck. Plus, Chevrolet offers a diesel engine option in the ZR2, a 2.8L turbodiesel making 186 hp and 369 lb-ft. We haven’t heard whether the Power Stroke diesel coming to the F-150 later in the year will be available in the Raptor.
Don’t think that Ford is just going to roll over and hand this growing market segment to its Bowtie rival. For years Ford has sold a midsize Ranger pickup in markets outside the U.S., and it is planning to bring the nameplate back to America for 2019. A year later the Bronco name returns on an SUV that will use the body-on-frame T-6 midsize truck platform that underpins the Ranger.
Details about these two new trucks are sketchy but juicy enough to spark rampant online speculation. Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, said at the 2017 Detroit auto show that the Ranger “is for truck buyers who want an affordable, functional, rugged, and maneuverable pickup that’s ‘built Ford tough.’ Bronco will be a no-compromise midsize 4x4 utility for thrill seekers who want to venture way beyond the city.”
Bill Ford, the company’s executive chairman, said, “It will be a true, tough Bronco, a real off-road vehicle.”
Sounds like a Rubicon fighter to us.
Where’s Toyota in this midsize-friendly future? Surprisingly quiet. The maker’s large display at the SEMA Show didn’t have a single truck, nor were any new trucks on display at the State Fair of Texas despite the fact that the Texas event has become a launch pad for special models from almost every other truck maker in the U.S. When asked about the dearth of product, Ed Laukes, Toyota’s group vice president of marketing, told Automotive News that the company is “not resting on our laurels” and will “continue to work on all the improvements that are going to be necessary to keep Tacoma at the top of the class.”
Among the options Toyota is exploring is a gas/electric hybrid powertrain for the Tacoma pickup which, rumor has it, is also on the drawing board for the JL Wrangler.
Sorry, natural gas. Move over, hydrogen. Diesel? You’re so last year. We have seen the future of transportation, and it is electric.
Already, Britain and France have announced a ban on IC engines, gas or diesel, by 2040. China, whose giant car market continues to grow, also announced it will cease selling cars with IC engines at some point to be determined. California, always on the cutting edge when it comes to emissions reductions, is looking into some sort of anti-IC regulation. While the state cannot “ban” their sale exactly, it could prohibit registering them in the state, which would essentially freeze them out.
The electrification of trucks has been ramping up for a while. Remember the mild hybrid pickups GM sold back in the early 2000s? Did you know that GM has been offering what it calls eAssist in its Silverado and Sierra pickups since 2016? Until now it has been a California-only option, but plans call for a national rollout for 2018. The eAssist package adds an electric motor and a 0.45-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery for to the powertrain to boost output by as much as 13 hp and 44 lb-ft of torque and increase fuel economy by 13 percent in the city compared to the conventional 5.3L V-8.
Land Rover’s new wave of engine tech doesn’t stop with Ingenium. Starting in 2020, all Jaguar Land Rover products will be electrified in some way, whether it’s a regular hybrid, a plug-in hybrid, or a fully electric vehicle. Autoweek reports there will be plug-in hybrid versions of the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport for 2019. The Range Rover P400e uses an Ingenium gas engine and an 85-kWh electric motor to produce a combined 398 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque.
Fully electric 4x4s are on the way, too. One is here already. The Electric Adventure Vehicle (e-AV), a Wrangler with a retrofitted electric motor, debuted at the 2016 SEMA Show.
At the last SEMA Show we got to see the prototype of the Bollinger Motors B1, a two-door AWD SUV similar to the Land Rover with front and rear electric motors driving all four wheels, good for 360 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque. Initial battery capacity of 60 kWh will provide 120 miles of range, while a planned 100-kWh battery will increase the range to 200 miles.
The B1’s completely flat undercarriage provides more than 15 inches of ground clearance, and travel at each wheel moves through 10 inches. The prototype is undergoing testing around the country, including stints at Moab, with launch expected in 2019. A four-door model is in the prototype stage, and a pickup version is in the works, too.
Fully electric 4x4s are a great idea, provided that battery technology continues to advance and range increases. If you have ever driven an electric car, you know how wonderful the torque response is: instant grunt, like turning on a switch (which, now that we think about it, is a pretty apt comparison).