FOCUS ON: 2006 Trucks

Rollouts of all-new truck models are scarce this year, but changes to existing models are plentiful, including lots of variants that fall just shy of being termed new models in their own right.

As OEMs keep up production to meet still feverish demand for commercial vehicles, it is very clear truck buyers should have little trouble finding all the standard and optional features they require to spec a truck for virtually any job at hand.

Thanks to strong demand for replacement vehicles, as well as at least some pre-buying to avoid 2007 engines for as long as possible, another record year for truck sales is unfolding.

But whatever the rationale for buying, every truck buyer will have plenty of innovative, technically advanced features and options from which to select.


Dodge is introducing several new options for its Dodge Ram pickups in 2006. First, the Dodge Ram 1500 light-duty will have a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 gasoline engine equipped with Chrysler's multi-displacement system (MDS) technology, which can turn engine cylinders on and off, depending on driving conditions. According to Dodge, this function can boost fuel economy by up to 20 percent.

Also new is the Mega Cab, available for the complete line of Dodge Ram pickups, including the 1500, 2500 and 3500. With 145.2 cubic feet of interior space, the crew cab package can accommodate six adult passengers and their gear. The OEM says reclining rear seats are an industry first for pickups. Rear seats also split 60/40, fold down and move forward, providing numerous configurations for maximum interior cargo capacity and flexibility.

A late addition to the 2005 Dodge Ram line will also get bigger play in 2006. The 3500 Box-Off 4 X 2 dual-rear-wheel model, available in both regular and Quad Cab configurations, offers commercial work-truck customers easy upfit capability thanks to 42-inch frame rail rear spacing. Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is 11,000 pounds, payload capacity is 5,550 pounds and gross combination weight rating (GCWR) is 23,000 pounds. The new 4 X 2 Dually package also features 17-inch wheels and tires, a 35-gallon fuel tank and cab-to-axle length of 57 inches. An adjustable fuel filler kit gives upfitters flexibility in locating the fuel fill to meet end users' needs.

Dodge is now also home to DaimlerChrysler's Sprinter van, which is available in three wheelbase packages: 118, 140, and 158 inches In addition to a standard roof, the OEM offers a high roof option that has up to 73 inches of interior height.

Cargo room for the 2500 and 3500 Sprinter runs up to 473 cubic feet of load area; maximum payload capacity is 4,824 pounds. A 2.7-liter inline, 5-cylinder diesel engine remains the standard powerplant for the Sprinter in 2006.

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For the 2006 model year, Ford Motor Co. plans to make some exterior styling changes to its Ranger line of pickups, while leaving the guts of the truck alone. The company's F-150 line will see a range of new options, such as those showcased during the rollout of the 2006 specialty Harley-Davidson F-150 earlier this year.

The Harley-Davidson F-150 for 2006 showcases a new 5.4-liter, 3-valve Triton V8 gasoline engine cranking out 300 hp at 5,000 rpm and 365 pounds per foot of torque at 3,750 rpm. Configuration choices are 4 × 2 or a new all-wheel-drive (AWD) system — a first for the F-150, according to Ford. The AWD system continuously monitors wheel speed and throttle position to determine the appropriate amount of power to send to the front of the truck to help prevent slip. Ford stresses, however, that customers also can choose to override AWD simply by selecting the locked mode.

As for heavy-duty pickups, the company rolled out a late addition to its 2005 lineup that should get even wider play in 2006. The new F-Series Ford Super Duty offers dual rear-wheel tires and Ford's exclusive TowCommand system, the only available factory-installed integrated trailer brake controller.

The Dually configuration offers maximum payload of 5,800 pounds and GVWR of 13,000 pounds, plus fifth wheel towing capacity of 19,200 pounds. Ford's TorqShift 5-spoke automatic transmission, standard on the new Super Duty, is designed to complement the torque generated by the optional PowerStroke Turbo Diesel engine built by International Truck & Engine Corp. exclusively for Ford.

On the cargo van side, Ford is making some changes to its E-Series lineup, which includes the E-150, E-250 and E-350. Standard spec is a V8 gasoline engine; the 6.0-liter Power Stroke V8 Turbo Diesel engine — mated to a TorqShift electronic 5-spoke automatic transmission with overdrive, producing 440 pounds per foot of torque — is optional. E-250 and E-350 vans will be available in extended-length body styles; a Slimline engine cover console is standard for all models.

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Although product details of General Motors' light-duty pickups for 2006 were embargoed until August 1, we can tell you that the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra have a new Allison automatic transmission package married to a diesel engine for better driving performance and capability.

GM is also going to widen the availability of its Duramax 6600 6.6-liter turbodiesel engine for light trucks in 2006, starting with its Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana full-size vans. The Duramax diesel engine delivers 250 hp and 460 pounds per foot of torque and offers a revised variable-geometry turbocharger that is aerodynamically more efficient.

Jack Blanchard, assistant chief engineer for the Duramax line, says that the diesel engines in these vans sport the first application of a new 32-bit E35 controller, which adjusts and compensates for the fuel flow to improve efficiency and reduce emissions.

The Duramax 6600 is mated to the GM Hydra-Matic 4L85-E automatic transmission in the vans, giving them improved towing and grade capability and helping boost composite fuel economy of 20.2 miles per gallon (mpg).

Displacement on demand (DOD) technology for V8 gasoline engines is going to make a wider appearance in light trucks in 2006. Brian McVeigh, general manager for GM's Fleet & Commercial division, believes DOD offers the biggest boost to light-truck fuel economy because it turns engine cylinders “on” and “off,” depending on how much power the vehicle needs at any given time, enabling the V-8s to sip gasoline like a V4 in light inner city and steady highway driving conditions, says McVeigh.

Finally, GM is going to offer both its StabiliTrak vehicle stability system and its OnStar satellite communication product as options on light-duty trucks in 2006. McVeigh says the OEM plans to make StabiliTrak a standard feature on GM vehicles by 2010, with OnStar a standard feature by 2008.

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The 2006 Honda Ridgeline is drawing a lot of attention in the industry. It's Honda's first entry into the light-truck market and its high regard comes at least partly from the five-star safety rating it received from NHTSA for both frontal and side impact crash test performance. In fact, the Ridgeline is the first four-door pickup to earn the government's highest crash-test safety rating, American Honda Motor Co. reported.

A key feature of the truck is its integrated full-frame body structure, which Honda said is designed to help protect occupants, while also minimizing the effect of crash energy on smaller vehicles. In addition, the new pickup is equipped with an energy-absorbing hood structure and hinges. The unibody frame also allows for greater interior space for enhanced driver and passenger comfort.

Other safety features, such as Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) with traction control, airbags all around, antilock brakes and electronic brake assist, are offered in every Ridgeline truck. Standard specs include a 255-hp VTEC V6 engine, 5-spoke electronically controlled automatic transmission and an advanced Variable Torque Management 4-wheel drive system. Both the standard RT model and the luxury RTL come equipped ready to tow, with standard transmission and oil coolers, heavy-duty brakes, dual radiator fans and pre-wiring for 4- and 7-pin trailer hook-up. Three trim levels are available.

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For the 2006 model year, Nissan Titan and Frontier trucks will see some minor changes, aimed mostly at enhanced driver comfort and convenience, according to the OEM.

The Titan, which is built on the F-Alpha truck platform, features a 5.6-liter DOHC V8 engine producing 305 hp, a 5-spoke automatic transmission and a towing capacity of up to 9,500 pounds. Enhancements for '06 include a tow package available on XE models, a sunroof available on Crew Cab SE models and power mirrors standard on SE trucks. New power folding mirrors with heat, power-adjust, auto dim and integrated turn signal are standard on LE models. Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) is also available with locking differential on '06 trucks.

The Nissan Frontier, which was totally revamped in 2005, now closely resembles the Titan full-size pickup. The third-generation Frontier is offered in King Cab and Crew Cab versions and has a 4.0-liters DOHC V6 engine rated 265-hp and 284 pounds per foot of torque, and a choice of 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive, including (on 4 × 4 models) 4-wheel limited-slip ABS.

Nissan has added several enhanced features for '06 including new 16-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels with 265/ 70R16 tires, which is standard for King Cab SE trucks. A full power package has been added to the King Cab XE model. Satin chrome ring accent treatment for meter gauges and chrome vent trim is standard on the NISMO and LE models, and a new shift knob design can be found on NISMO manual-transmission models. Other new standard items include a tire pressure monitoring system and standard glove box lock, lamp and damper.

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Toyota Motors Corp. is continuing its line of pickups going into 2006, although details were not provided as of press time.

The Tacoma mid-size, which was revamped in 2005, will remain basically unchanged next year, according to an article in Ward's AutoWorld; the full-size Tundra is scheduled for major revisions in 2007. Jim Press, executive vice president and COO of Toyota Motor Sales USA, told Ward's that fleets can expect to see heavier pickups powered by bigger V8 engines with stump-pulling torque over the next several years.

The Tundra is currently available with either a 4.0-liter V6 engine rated 245-hp at 5,200 rpm and 282 pounds per foot of torque, or a 4.7-liter V8 rated 282-hp at 5,400 rpm with 325 pounds per foot of torque, according to the Ward's report. Both engines have electronic direct ignition systems. Tundra 4 × 2 trucks with V6 engines are offered with either a 6-spoke manual or 5-spoke automatic transmission and have a GVWR of 5,500 to 5,700 pounds; Tundra 4 × 2 and Touch Select 4 × 4 models are available with an electronically controlled 2-spoke transfer case and 5-spoke automatic transmission, Ward's reports. GVWR is 6,600 pounds and maximum towing capacity is 6,800 pounds for the 4 × 2 version.

Ward's also said that the Tacoma × Runner 4 × 4 received a revised 2.7-liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine last year that produces 168-hp and 184 pounds per foot of torque, along with a new 4.0-liter DOHC V6 that produces 240-hp and 282 pounds per foot of torque. The engines feature a new electronic throttle control system with intelligence (ETCS-I) to help optimize performance and fuel economy. V6 models are available with 6-spoke manual or 5-spoke automatic transmissions; 4-cylinder models come with 5-spoke manuals or 4-spoke automatics. V6 Tacoma models can tow up to 6,500 pounds.

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