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June 2002 4x4 Truck & Auto News - RPM

Posted in Project Vehicles on June 1, 2002
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Contributors: Brenda Priddy & Company
Caught testing on a frozen Swedish lake: the next-generation Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

New M-Class Testing Underway
The Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV may be built here in the U.S., but its next generation is being tested in some of the most challenging cold-weather environments available. A heavily disguised version of the next-gen M was caught undergoing cold-weather testing in the northern part of Sweden in the dead of winter. Folks, that's right up there near the Arctic Circle where it does indeed get cold. German engineers were driving the new M after dark and on a frozen lake, but were caught in the act by our team of photo spies.

The M-Class will continue to be built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, together with the new GST (See "Car Show Fever," Four Wheeler, May 2002). Both new vehicles are due in the U.S. in 2004. Both will feature unibody construction. Computer-controlled air-suspension will be standard for the GST, while it will be an option for the M-class. The new SL's sophisticated brake-by-wire system, though, is expected to be seen onboard both cars.

While the M will continue as a five-seater, the GST will feature three rows of seats. Powerplant choices are expected to start with 3.0L and 3.6L V-6 engines. A 5.0L V-8 will be offered for both vehicles later. The additional GST-class production in Alabama will bring production capacity from today's 80,000 units per year to nearly 200,000.

You Can Win the Four Wheeler Sweepstakes Truck
As part of Four Wheeler's celebration of its 40th anniversary, we're building a truck. And we plan to give it away at the 2002 Specialty Equipment Market Association show (SEMA) in Las Vegas in November. The lucky winner will drive from Las Vegas straight to Baja California to join the Groff Motorsports Racing Team as it takes on the Baja 1000. Check it out: This isn't just any truck. It's a Toyota Tacoma Double Cab, very like the one that won Four Wheeler's Ultimate 4x4 Comparison, beating out the likes of the Hummer H1, Jeep Wrangler, and Land Rover Discovery for the title. But this truck is going to be better than that one. Why? Because we're going to add a few special Four Wheeler touches, conceived and installed in conjunction with Groff Motorsports, that will make this truck the ultimate Tacoma. For details, look for our build-up stories in the August, September, October, and November issues of Four Wheeler. Details of how you can win this truck will appear in those same issues, so stay tuned.

Recall Order Issued for '93-'98 Jeep Grand Cherokees
If you're the owner of a '93-'98 Jeep Grand Cherokee, you should know that it is the subject of a recall order from parent company DaimlerChrysler. The recall is the result of what the company euphemistically calls "inadvertent movement in these vehicles," and comes as the result of a number of complaints that Grand Cherokee transmissions could slip into gear after their transmission shift levers had been placed in Park. The purpose of the recall is to install a secondary detent system on the shifter mechanism to help ensure that drivers fully engage their vehicles in Park.

"The investigation did not identify any defect in the vehicle," said Matt Reynolds, Jeep's Director of Safety Compliance. "Although there are several ways for Jeep Grand Cherokee owners to assure their vehicle is in Park, this improvement will provide one more way to assist customers by making it more difficult for a driver to fail to put the gear shifter fully in Park."

Current generation Jeep Grand Cherokees are not affected by this recall since the Grand Cherokee had an all-new design when it was introduced for the 1999 model year.

For the Record
Keen observers will recall that the March, 2002 edition of Four Wheeler carried a story titled, "The New Products of the SEMA Show." In that story, we presented information on the Eaton ELocker and provided a telephone number for the use of anyone seeking additional information. That number wasn't exactly the wrong number, in that it was Eaton's general customer courtesy number, but it wasn't exactly the right number, either. For specific information about the ELocker, it will be more efficient to call 616/789-3341. You'll be happy, Eaton will be happy.

Two-Second News
* ORV Registrations on the Rise
At a time when land-use issues are hotter than ever, with more and more areas being closed, the California Department of Parks and Recreation recently released a report that shows an enormous increase in registrations and use of off-highway vehicles of all kinds. The report details a 74-percent increase in street-licensed four-wheel-drive vehicles in the state since '94. The report also noted that since 1980, there has been a 48-percent decrease in acreage available for ORV recreation in the California desert. California currently operates six State Vehicle Recreation Areas that encompass about 90,000 acres of public land.

* Explorers Off the Hook
Federal officials have decided to not investigate Ford Explorer SUVs built before the '02 model year for handling defects. The decision came in the wake of claims that the vehicles in question handled in a dangerous fashion after a tire failure. An investigation by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration concluded that the handling of the Explorer after a blowout isn't significantly worse then the handling of other similar vehicles under the same conditions.

* Ford Ranger FX4s Recalled
Sale of 2002 Ford Ranger FX4s recently were halted, and already-sold FX4s recalled, to allow dealers time in which to deal with problems in the truck's rear axle's differential casting. The sales halt/recall, which affected 804 Ranger FX4s on dealer lots and another 374 of the trucks already in customer hands, was put in place so that the entire rear axles of the trucks involved could be replaced.

* Jeep Liberty Diesel?
Jeep is considering a version of its Liberty SUV that would be powered by a diesel engine. The decision, scheduled to be taken before the end of the year, probably would involve use of the same 2.4L turbocharged diesel now being used in European-market Libertys.

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