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Game changers

Fuel economy is the new mantra for new and upcoming full-size pickup trucks.


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May 1, 2014 by BILL ROEBUCK

This year, there are newly redesigned or refreshed work trucks from every manufacturer. Whether it is full-size pickups or full-size cargo vans, new 2014 versions have already arrived and more are just around the corner carrying a 2015 nameplate. In fact, the number of new and refreshed vehicles this year is unprecedented.

The major focus of all the updates has been fuel efficiency. After all, with work trucks, function leads form. Practical designs generally can’t compete with cars in areas of weight,  aerodynamics, or fresh style on the exterior, but that has not kept the manufacturers from trying.

On the inside, most are becoming more car-like, with quieter interiors and additional comfort and convenience features. Proof of that is seen in the 2014 Ram 1500 pickup. It garnered a Ward’s 10 Best Interior Award, which is pretty impressive for any pickup truck. The Ram is the only full-size truck ever to get that award.

There is at least something new from every work truck maker this year. Some of the changes are major game changers such as Ford’s 2015 F-150 body made almost entirely of aluminum, and Ram’s push for fuel economy with its eight-speed automatic transmission.

Other noteworthy innovations you will see in the latest pickups are dampened tailgates that do not crash down when you open them; step-assists to make it easier to climb into the cargo bed; and safety features including backup cameras, and forward collision and lane departure warning technology. In addition, you will find the latest Bluetooth audio, as well as advanced radio and navigation systems.

Our focus is on half-ton versions (usually designated as 150 or 1500 models), which make up 70 per cent of the full-size pickup truck market in Canada. The heavy-duty three-quarter-ton and one-ton models (250/350 or 2500/3500) make up the remaining 30 per cent. Heavy-duties come into play when you need to regularly tow more than 10 000 lb.

GENERAL MOTORS

General Motors has all-new designs in its near-twin 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 half-ton models. The redesign will be applied to the heavy-duty 2500 three-quarter-ton models next year. General Motors has made many improvements to its 2014 pickups. Among them are: a trio of all-new EcoTec3 engines, a V6 and two V8s; a stronger, quieter and more comfortable cab; a new interior with features and connectivity tailored to truck customers; revised steering, suspension and brakes; and enhanced solutions for managing cargo in the bed.

The trucks also offer optional safety features such as Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning with an Active Safety Seat, and Front and Rear Park Assist. StabiliTrak with Trailer Sway Control and Hill Start Assist are standard.Models include a crew cab, regular cab model and double cab, in seven trim levels. The crew cabs are available with a 6’6″ box, in addition to a 5’8″ box, enabling crews to carry more cargo while still being able to park in many garages.Focussing on function, GM added step-in assist depressions in the corners of the rear bumper to make it easier to climb into the bed. The tailgate is damped too, so it can be lowered and raised using just one hand.

Improving fuel economy was another focus of GM’s 2014 redesign. Although GM does not offer diesel or turbo engines in its current lineup, the existing EcoTec3 V8 gasoline engines can use cylinder deactivation to switch to a four-cylinder mode under light loads to boost fuel economy.

High-strength steel is used in the frames for strength with less weight. Aluminum alloys also have been used to reduce the weight of engines, front suspension components, hoods and other parts. GM is reported to be developing aluminum-body pickups for its next-generation 2019 models. 

FORD

Ford’s F-150 has been Canada’s best-selling pickup for 48 years, a status the company certainly does not want to mess with. So to keep its vehicles fresh, it is introducing an all-new design for the 2015 model year. This one will tackle the weight issue of pickups directly as it will have a mostly aluminum body instead of steel.

While Ford and other manufacturers have used aluminum components in the past – such as for hoods – this will be the first comprehensive use of the metal in a pickup body. By combining the use of aluminum in the body structure and high-strength steel in the frame, Ford has reduced the weight of the F-150 by about 320 kg. It is not just the body Ford is changing, as the F-150 has undergone a full redesign for 2015. Updates to the heavy duty F-250 and F-350 will follow.

Ford has even done a minor refresh on its current model. The 2014 F-150 has added an optional fold-out tailgate step and side bed steps so it is easy to climb into the bed. Optional running boards are available too, handy for any height-challenged work crew members. 

NISSAN

For 2014, Nissan’s Titan full-size half-ton pickup is available in King Cab and Crew Cab body styles with a choice of 4×4 and 4×2 drive configurations, along with two wheelbases and three bed lengths. The long-wheelbase model features a range-topping 7’ bed with the Crew Cab body configuration.

New for 2014 is an updated tailgate design with an aerodynamic rear spoiler and integrated rear view camera that is standard on all but the base S model. The Titan has wide-opening rear doors in the King Cab that open nearly 180 degrees, and an optional high-utility bed that includes a factory-applied spray-on bedliner, a Utili-track tie-down system and an integrated, lockable double-sealed bedside storage compartment. The truck bed also features a 120-V outlet, standard on SV, PRO-4X and SL models.

The pickup continues with an all-aluminum 5.6-litre V8 engine that has been in use since 2007. The company says its five-speed automatic transmission was designed with an emphasis on serious towing. Nissan has reported plans to introduce an updated Titan, including an optional engine from a new partnership with Cummins diesel, which you should see for the 2015 model year.

RAM TRUCK

Chrysler’s Ram pickup was redesigned for the 2013 model year, with a highlight being its eight-speed automatic transmission (compared to five- or six-speed versions on the competitors). Ram is the only model in Canada that offers a diesel engine in a half-ton pickup. The EcoDiesel V6 produces 420 lb.-ft of torque, yet Chrysler claims it can achieve a highway fuel economy rating of 7.1 l/100 km (40 mpg) and a city rating of 10.7 l/100 km (28 mpg) when equipped rear-wheel drive and the eight-speed tranny.

The Ram was named Motor Trend Truck of the Year for 2014 for the second year in a row, and received the Ward’s Automotive 10 Best Engines for 2014 for the EcoDiesel.

It is also the only full-size pickup that offers an eight-speed automatic transmission, and an optional Active-Level Four-Corner Air Suspension.

TOYOTA

Although the Toyota Tundra full-size pickup was refreshed for 2014, you won’t see a major redesign of it until the 2016 model year. This year’s all-new front design integrates the hood and grille for a chiselled, modern image. The grille is taller, visually connecting the upper intake to the lower bumper. The front lower bumpers are now a three-piece design, allowing for lower replacement costs. In addition, the fenders and wheel wells have been squared-off.

There is a new bed and tailgate with an integrated spoiler that helps with fuel efficiency. The rear bumper also changes from one piece to three. Suspension enhancements were made to improve ride quality over harsh surfaces.

Several interior upgrades were also done that improve seating and storage, and reduce cabin noise. Safety upgrades give the 2014 Tundra a standard backup camera on all grades, and an optional Blind Spot
Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

Bill Roebuck is a voting member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), which produces the annual Canadian Car of the Year and Utility Vehicle of the Year awards.




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