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December 2005 4x4 News - RPM

Posted in Project Vehicles on December 1, 2005
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A few issues ago, we brought you a picture of the 2007 two-door Wrangler out testing and told you about a possible four-door variant. Rumor no more-our spies snapped the best pictures yet of the upcoming JK (or TK, depending on who you ask) four-door Wrangler. Looking more like a Mega Cab with its extra-long wheelbase, the Mega Wrangler is expected to trump the outgoing model in ride quality, but some purists wonder if the Wrangler hasn't gotten just a little too big. The base model will get the 2.4L I-4, and the 3.7L V-6 out of the Liberty will be an option. One would also expect a V-8 option, considering this plus-sized addition to the lineup.

With the diesel wars in full effect, it seems like the Big Three are revising their offerings on a yearly basis, and the Duramax/Allison combination found in GM's '06-model HD trucks is no exception. Thanks to many key changes, such as a stronger block, lower compression (16.8:1 from 17.5:1), revised turbo design, higher fuel-injection pressure, and a 32-bit E35 controller, the 6.6L Duramax (LBZ) now makes 360 hp at 3,200 rpm and 650 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm. These changes also help the Duramax LBZ to run smoother, quieter, and cleaner than the engine it replaces. The Allison 1000 automatic transmission wasn't forgotten in the overhaul and has added a second overdrive for a total of six cogs, instead of five, which lowers engine rpm at 60 mph by 250 rpm, giving both better range and fuel economy. This new transmission also offers tap-shift, allowing the driver greater control over gear selection.

Here is an artist's look at two upcoming Jeeps. We recently brought you spy shots of the soon-to-be-released Jeep Compass soft-roader (upper right). With front-wheel drive (AWD is an option) and a CVT transmission, the Compass will be the first Jeep in a series of street-biased vehicles to carry the legendary seven-bar grille. Accompanying the Compass will be the five-passenger Patriot, which we think pulls off modern XJ better than the Commander, and will slot below the Liberty and compete with the Ford Escapes and Honda CR-Vs of the world. Rumor has it that the Patriot will have some sort of unspecified technology that will make it much more capable in the dirt than the competition. With that being said, perhaps there is hope yet that Jeep won't trade its integrity for a few more vehicle sales.

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Ford has chosen Pioneer as the exclusive supplier of its next generation in-vehicle navigation and entertainment system that will bow in seven select 2006 models, including the Explorer and Explorer Sport Trac. The new components will use DVD-based software, a 6.5-inch TFT touch screen display, turn-by-turn guidance, AM/FM tuner, Sirius capability, integrated six-disc changer with MP3 capability and audiophile-grade sound.

The Baja 1000 has long been a rite of passage for truck makers looking to prove that their products have what it takes to survive even the harshest conditions. The latest manufacturer to step up to the challenge is Honda, which hopes to show its Ridgeline pickup is a "real" truck by entering-and finishing-the grueling endurance race.

A team of desert-racing experts, led by Gavin Skilton (son of JeepSpeed founder Clive Skilton) is prepping a Ridgeline for this year's 1000. Don't expect a Honda Trophy Truck; that would defeat the purpose of the exercise. Instead, the Ridgeline will run in the restrictive Stock Mini class, proving that it has the goods right out of the box.

Modifications to the truck will be relatively minor, at least in desert racing terms. The 3.5L, 255hp V-6 and the rest of the Ridgeline's driveline remain virtually stock, as does the truck's sheetmetal, though the wheelwells will be radiused to clear 32-inch BFGs. The stripped cockpit gets a chromoly rollcage and racing seats, while the chassis and suspension will be beefed to withstand the Mexican desert's punishment.

Skilton's California Race & Rally team has enlisted major sponsors BFGoodrich, American Racing Wheels, and Valvoline for the Honda project. Other parts and expertise are coming from ATL, Lowrance, Baja Designs, Optima, Crow Safety Equipment, King Shock Technology, PWR Race Radiators, Howe Performance Steering, Power Tank, and Advanced Flow Engineering. As of this writing in late summer, Jason LaFortune and the fabricators at his Temper-Mental Racing shop had blown the truck apart and started on the upgrades. We'll follow the buildup and the truck's trip to Baja for a future Four Wheeler feature. Stay tuned.
-Drew Hardin

Survey Shows Nearly 1 in 4 Americans Participate in OHV Recreation
As the U.S. population has grown, so has the demand for and popularity of off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation. This was the conclusion of a recent report released by the U.S. Forest Service. The report is in conjunction with the agency's ongoing review of OHV use on U.S. Forest Service land.

The information in the report was collected through 80,000 telephone surveys of individuals 16 years and older between 1999 and 2004. Based on the results of the surveys, estimated OHV ridership has increased from 36 million in 1999-2000 to 51 million users in 2003-2004. According to the latest figures, 23.8 percent of Americans age 16 and older had participated one or more times in OHV recreation in 2004.

The survey questions and subsequent report included broad classifications of off-highway vehicles, including: four-wheel-drive Jeeps, SUVs, motorcycles designed for off-highway use, and ATVs. Recognizing that OHVs are frequently used for work-related activities, the survey questions focused primarily on recreational use of OHVs. A copy of the report can be downloaded at:

The report is timely since the Forest Service is in the process of finalizing plans to manage OHV use on Forest Service land. The rule would establish a system of roads, trails and areas designated for OHVs, and prohibit such use outside of the designated system. SEMA has recommended that the Forest Service recognize and designate uninventoried routes or "user-created" trails that came into existence during "open" management of these areas. SEMA noted that these routes serve a legitimate need and do not pose an environmental threat. In some cases, these uninventoried routes may even be more environmentally friendly and provide a better overall access solution than their inventoried counterparts. SEMA also urged strong public involvement and flexible timetables in the process of designating these routes. SEMA has requested similar policies by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, which are also in the process of reviewing their OHV regulations.

* Honda's Ridgeline has earned the highest rollover rating for any pickup ever tested by NHTSA.

* Chrysler Group says it has passed the one million production mark with the modern Hemi engine, which was first introduced in 2003.

* Jeep has announced that the Commander SUV will start at $27,985. Four-wheel-drive models will start at $29,985.

* Employee pricing helped Ford F-Series sales climb 58 percent last July to 126,905-the highest monthly sales for any vehicle in modern-day U.S. automotive history.

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