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2003 Ford F350 Super Duty - Insider Report

Posted in News on August 1, 2003
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Because this magazine is authoritative, privy to the highest level of gossip, and awesomely clairvoyant, this column informed readers last year that Toyota was developing a crew cab Tundra "Double Cab" pickup.

So here's the new Tundra Double Cab Toyota that showed at February's Chicago Auto Show and will be selling this fall as an '04 model. But this is no mere new cab plopped atop the existing frame with a shriveled bed. Instead, it's a new cab built over a much longer frame with a fullsize bed. How much bigger? Well, how about almost 13 inches longer than the current extended Tundra Access Cab in overall length, on a wheelbase stretched nearly as much. That means this truck is more than 230 inches long - which is more than 6 inches longer than Ford's upcoming '04 F-150 SuperCrew. However, that's still a good chunk of length less than the Chevrolet Silverado Crew Cab shortbed pickup's 237.2 inches. Beyond that, the Double Cab has an additional 3 inches of rear track for increased stability, and the cab is 3 inches taller than other Tundra cabs. The bed is not only as long as that on the Tundra Access Cab, but also about 4 inches deeper.

In response to (fully justified) criticism that the Tundra Access Cab's rear seat is too upright and provides too little leg room, the Double Cab gets a 60/40 folding rear seat that's raked back a comfortable 24 degrees, with a relatively long, lower cushion for better thigh support. Toyota will also offer SUV-like options for the Double Cab, such as a DVD system with a roof-mounted drop-down LED screen for rear-seat viewing. The one unique offering is a full-width power sliding rear window that totally retracts for an open-air feeling, or stays closed for a no-air feeling.

Toyota hasn't said anything about the truck's drivetrain choices, leading us to assume that the current 4.7L DOHC V-8 will likely be the only engine offered with the Double Cab. However, we hear rumors that the five-speed automatic used in the Land Cruiser and 4Runner could show up in the Tundra and the Sequoia SUV offshoot next year.

One More H2
At the National Automotive Dealers Association conference in February, General Motors announced that it will add a Sport Utility Truck (SUT) version of the Hummer H2 to its lineup for 2004. Similair to the Chevy Avalanche, the H2 SUT will have a folding bulkhead that can be dropped down in order to accommodate longer loads. It's scheduled to go on sale in the second quarter of 2004. The H2 SUT was shown in concept form back at the '01 New York Auto Show (the photo is of that concept).

In the new SUT configuration, the oversize egos of Hummer owners can now be accommodated without the confinement of a roof stretching all the way back to the tailgate.

2003 Ford F-350 Super Duty Power Stroke
It used to be that diesel pickups were marginal products sold only to hard-core towing fanatics. Today, diesels are mainstream. The development of turbocharger systems, high-pressure fuel rails, and instant cold-start combustion schemes have made diesels attractive enough to most buyers who do any serious towing at all. It seems every three or four months brings another leap forward in the art of pickup diesel. And this month, it's Ford's turn to respond to GM's Duramax (all-new in 2001) and Dodge's heavily revised Cummins (almost all-new this year) in the form of a new version of the Navistar-built Power Stroke turbodiesel V-8.

The two most apparent changes to this new Power Stroke is that it drops in displacement from a big 7.3 liters down to just 6.0 liters, and it now sports four-valve heads. Everything about the engine is new, from the cast-iron block and heads to the variable vane turbo. Maybe there are some bolts that are common with the old Power Stroke, but power doesn't come from bolts. Power comes from solid design and the efficacious use of advanced technology, and the Power Stroke has both of those in abundance.

Using the excellent respiration of the four-valve heads (controlled via pushrods by a single in-block cam), the precise fuel metering of direct injection, and the flexibility of the variable vane turbo, the new 6.0L Power Stroke pumps out an impressive 325 hp at a screaming (for a diesel) 3,300 rpm, and a vast 560 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm. And the power is delivered with a lively, sweet-revving friendliness unique in the world of truck diesels.

Both those output figures are new records for light-truck diesels, overwhelming the 305 hp and 555 lb-ft of the new High Output Cummins available in the Dodge Ram Heavy Duty that about a moment ago surpassed the standard set by the GM Duramax. However, the Cummins does make its power and torque peaks lower than the Power Stroke, maxing out its horsepower at 2,900 rpm and knocking out its peak torque at just 1,400 rpm. Depending on the types of loads being carried and the driving style of the driver, some may prefer the Dodge. However, the High Output Cummins isn't available with an automatic transmission, and the Power Stroke comes with a new five-speed automatic that is simply astounding.

Called Torqshift, this is Ford's first five-speed automatic transmission for fullsize trucks, and it takes the electronic control of shifting to a new level. Dispensing with shift valves, this transmission is completely controlled electronically - there's no shifting until the drivetrain computers say there should be shifts. That means instead of just hydraulic pressure, the transmission takes into consideration input from sensors throughout the truck, including engine speed, vehicle speed, vehicle load, throttle position, whether the truck is headed up or down a hill, and radio station presets. Well, not the presets, but they could program them in, along with the driver's astrological sign, and the position of the power window switches, if Ford wanted.

Just because there's a computer doing the shifting doesn't mean the driver completely gives up positive control of the transmission. The Torqshift includes a tow/haul mode that swaps in a new algorithm to hold gears longer going uphill and adds in appropriate downshifts when the brakes are tapped going downhill. It all works well doing tricks like downshifting from Fifth to Third when passing on the freeway, seamlessly skipping Fourth altogether. The shift quality itself is the best yet on such a high-capacity automatic, and Ford has equipped the transmission with oil-to-air and in-tank coolers to help ensure longevity.

Clearly, the new Power Stroke sets new standards in its class, but otherwise the Super Duty is super familiar. This remains a solidly built truck that is more narrowly focused on its heavy duty than the GM or Dodge competitors. It shares virtually nothing with its brother, the F-150, and wears its ruggedness in both its styling and somewhat leaden solid-axle front suspension. The new King Ranch edition puts enough leather in the cab that it feels like the occupants are in the well-oiled heel of Benito Santiago's catcher's mitt.

As good as the new Power Stroke is, it's bound to only inspire GM and Dodge to respond with something even better in the near future. And diesel drivetrains are getting so civilized that it's only a matter of time before 1/2-ton pickup buyers will be demanding they be offered in those trucks as well.

The Pickup of Oz
Alongside its revived One Tonner, Holden has also introduced a new version of its Rodeo pickup in Australia. Built and engineered by Isuzu, the Holden Rodeo is available with a 2.4L four-cylinder, 3.5L V-6 or 3.0L turbodiesel down in Oz. This is a version of the same Isuzu pickup whose development was undertaken in cooperation with GM's development of the trucks that would become the '04 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.

'04 GMC Canyon Midsize Pickup
Speaking of the Canyon, GMC's version of the new midsize pickup platform offers a distinctive front end with a strong family resemblance to its fullsize brothers. There's a red GMC logo prominently displayed on the grille with chromed surround and dark smoke-gray crossbars.

As does the Chevy Colorado, the Canyon offers two new inline engines based on the award-winning Vortec 4.2L inline six-cylinder engine introduced in the '02 GMC Envoy sport utility vehicle. The standard engine is a 2.8L Vortec inline four-cylinder with 175 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. The optional 3.5L Vortec inline five-cylinder produces 220 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque. Both engines boast state-of-the-art features such as electronic throttle control, variable valve timing, and coil-on-plug ignition.

Other powertrain features on the Canyon include an available all-new five-speed manual transmission, a new transfer case for four-wheel-drive models, and the proven four-speed Hydra-Matic 4L60-E automatic transmission. Originally engineered to handle the stresses of GM fullsize pickups, the application of this trans to the midsize bodes well for its durability.

The Canyon is constructed with a reinforced safety cage and side guard door beams to help enhance the safety of the driver and passengers. It also features high-intensity halogen headlamps and available foglamps for forward visibility. Other safety features include a highly deformable all-steel body, standard four-wheel ABS brakes, rack-and-pinion steering, a new driver information center, three-point lap shoulder belts in all three rear seating positions, and the LATCH system. Canyon production will begin at the General Motors Shreveport truck plant in Shreveport, Louisiana, in the fourth quarter of 2003.c

Nissan Heads to Dakar
Just a couple years ago, it was an open question whether Nissan would survive. Now that the company is healthy again, it's returning to truck racing and will compete in the grueling 2003 Dakar rally.

Race vehicles for Dakar will be based on the Nissan Pick Up (that's it in the photo), which is basically the international version of the Frontier pickup that's built and sold in the United States. A Nissan Pick Up, entered during the 2002 Dakar by the independent Dessoude Competition team, led the first four days of that rally and won 30 percent of the stages. Nissan will also prepare three Pick Ups for the race and support at least two prepared by Dessoude Competition.

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