Light-duty trucks for 1998

More variety is planned for the light-duty truck domain next year. For starters, Dodge will offer a four-door pickup, the Quad Cab, which is based on an extended-cab Ram but has a set of reverse-hinged rear doors. OEMs have made increased cab space a priority for some '98 models. Ford accomplished this through a redesign of the Ranger that includes a longer wheelbase. Mazda's new B-Series, which is based on the Ranger platform, shows the same increase in cab space.

Also on the drawing boards for '98 is an increase in payload capacity. A new axle-capacity designation system will give fleets using Ford's over-8,500-pound-gross-vehicle-weight (GVW) pickups more payload capacity. Consequently, Ford will increase from 9 to 25 the number of discrete-weight categories offered in its F250 and F350 Super-Duties.

GMC and Chevy don't have any major product changes slated for '98. But they will offer new alternatives to traditional gasoline and diesel power: a bi-fuel Sierra pickup and an electric-powered S-Series pickup. The long-anticipated replacement for Nissan's XE pickup, the Frontier, will arrive this fall. Although Nissan had not released GVW and payload figures at press time, Nissan says its new compact will be available in Regular Cab and King Cab versions.

Dodge For '98, Dodge will offer a new variant of the Ram extended-cab pickup, with a set of rear doors in addition to fronts. Although the Quad Cab's front doors are hinged in the conventional manner, the rears are aft-hinged, which means greater passenger and cargo access when both front and rear doors are opened on one side. In the Quad Cab, designers have integrated the front passenger shoulder belt into the front seat, providing easier rear-seat access. For increased safety, the manufacturer made handles on the rear doors part of the interior face of these doors, providing a secondary locking mechanism when the fronts are locked.

Dodge focused its '98 van renewal efforts on body and chassis improvements that should prove beneficial to commercial drivers. Foremost among the body changes is better sealing/weather-stripping of the front doors for reduced wind noise. Chassis changes include an extension of the front rails that permits a 4.5-inch forward relocation of the V8 engine. This extension minimizes the length of the "doghouse" intrusion into the interior. A retuning of the front and rear suspensions on cargo vans means improved vehicle ride and handling, as well as a modest increase in GVW rating (GVWR). Front and rear disc brakes now have twin-piston calipers and larger pad area for reduced stopping distance.

Ford Elongation is the operative word in Ford's '98 Ranger pickup redesign. Ford stretched the wheelbase by 3.5 inches, allowing the truck maker to increase the depth of the Regular Cab's cabin by 3 inches for extra behind-the-seat storage or additional rearward seat travel for driver and passenger comfort. The new Ranger abandons its recirculating ball steering/twin I-beam front suspension for a short-and-long-arm-type suspension, which Ford says provides improved steering and handling. The forward two-thirds of the '98 Ranger's frame will be fully boxed, a stiffening that will improve ride, reduce noise levels and help increase front-tire life. A retailored 3-liter V6 engine option for the compact pickup offers 10 percent more torque. In addition, Ford will offer a battery-powered version of the Ranger, called the EV, in '98.

No substantive changes are on tap for full-size F150s and F250s next year. However, the truck maker will be giving users of its heavier GVW pickups opportunities for more payload capacity. Beginning next winter, 8,500 pound and heavier Fs ride on a redesigned frame, and buyers can select from a broader list of power options, including new V6s, the 7.3-liter diesel and a high-torque 10-cylinder gasoline engine.

Ford has dropped the F250 HD model and replaced it with the F250 Super Duty. It has initiated a series of axle-rating changes for F-Series trucks that are 8,500 pound GVW and heavier. These changes clear the way for an increase from 9 to 25 in the number of discrete-weight categories that will be available in the larger F trucks. Short-, long- and delete-box options, plus a wider variety of cabs, a stripped chassis and a soon-to-be-announced Crew Cab model will constitute Ford's F-Series mix.

Freightliner The lightest offering in Freightliner's MT-35 line, the 9,998-pound-rated walk-in van chassis, will see significant changes in '98. The chassis will sport Bosch brakes, replacing the previous Dayton-Walthers. For increased startability, the 130-hp Cummins-B engine will no longer be coupled to a 4-speed Borg-Warner T19A. The new box is a 5-speed direct-drive, Eaton Fuller's FS4205A, with the Allison automatic as an option. The new front axle for the '98 walk-in chassis is the 3,850-pound-rated Rockwell FC-921.

General Motors While the company has no major changes slated for GMC/Chevy pickup and van lines in '98, it will make a series of minor exterior and interior revisions. In the rear quarters, for example, GMC Sonoma and Chevy S-Series pickups get a new center-step cut-out. This change helps simplify access to the cargo area and raises towing capacity to 3,500 pounds. The front end will receive a slight styling update, including freshened bumper, fascia and grille, plus a new headlight and front-turn signal-light treatment. You'll also see changes inside the cab: a new instrument panel equipped with driver and passenger air bags and a passenger-side air bag suppression switch. Seats should be more comfortable thanks to new cloth fabrics, a driver lumbar support and an optional passenger recliner.

In a move that reflects a recent corporate name change, the tailgate of the full-size GMC Sierra gets rebadged--from the familiar GMC Truck to the new three-letter GMC. Sierras and Chevy C-Series vehicles (greater than 8,500 pound GVW) ordered with the 6.5-liter turbodiesel engine option will benefit from increased performance due to a power change that takes the powerplant up to 195 hp with 430 pound-foot of peak torque. In the 6.5-liter diesel, the undersides of the pistons will be jet-sprayed with oil for improved longevity.

The OEM is taking the alternative-fuel option a step further for the 5.7-liter V8 by making the 2500 Series Sierra and C-Series (8,600 pound GVWR) Regular Cab 4x2 available as a bi-fuel vehicle. When powered by the Vortec 5700 V8 engine, a bi-fuel operates on compressed natural gas as long as the cylinder contains 150 to 200 psi or more of gaseous fuel. If pressure drops beneath that level, a switch to gasoline occurs automatically.

Isuzu Isuzu plans to sell about 25,000 regular cab and "Spacecab" Hombres next year, about the same it'll sell this year. If precedent holds, a large percentage of these compact pickups will find their way into the hands of small commercial businesses. Though the Hombre is built on the same Shreveport-La. assembly line as its GM cousin, the S-Series, the sheet metal it wears is supplied by an overseas division of General Motors: GM do Brasil. The 2.2-liter 4 cylinder will continue as the truck's base engine. The only change for the '98 Hombre will be the availability of a 4-wheel-drive option.

Mazda Since Mazda's B-Series compact pickup is at heart a Ford Ranger, the new B-Series truck that's coming this fall will manifest the same features as its progenitor. This will include a more powerful 158-hp (estimated) 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder base engine. Mazda has extended the B-Series Regular Cab's interior by 3 inches, permitting additional seat travel. In addition, ABS brakes will be standard. The manufacturer also has boxed the front portion of the B-Serie's frame rails, which increases its frame stiffness by more than 350 percent for a better ride and improved handling. Finally, the manufacturer is offering its B-Series trucks with a dual air-bag supplemental restraint system, as well as a passenger-side air-bag deactivation switch.

Nissan A brand-new Nissan compact pickup, called the Frontier, will make its debut this fall. Nissan designed and engineered the vehicle to provide a car-like ride, plus the largest standard cargo bed in its class. You can obtain the replacement for the XE pickup in two forms: a Regular Cab (104.3-inch wheelbase) or King Cab (116.1-inch wheelbase). Initially, the sole power source will be Nissan's dual-overhead-cam 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, a refined powerplant that will supply greater torque output at low- and midrange rpms. Later in the model year, however, an optional 3.3-liter V6 engine will be available. The Frontier's optional automatic transmission will be an electronically controlled 4-speed box.

Toyota Toyota's 4x2 Tacoma received a slight facelift in '97 and will likely roll into '98 with no changes. However, Toyota will adorn the larger T100 with a different grille, as well as some minor front-end cosmetic changes. The T100 has a 209.1-inch overall length, making it 13.3 inches longer than a standard Dakota and some 15 inches shorter than the Ram). It will continue to be powered by the 2.7-liter 4 cylinder, with the 3.4-liter V6 as an option. The company is building a $700-million plant in Indiana for T100 production. Rumor is that when production begins this fall, the U.S.-built T100 will be available with an optional SOHC V8 engine.

Stewart Siegel is senior technical editor for Fleet Owner magazine, Intertec Publishing, a K-III Media Co. (Overland Park, Kan.).

Copyright 1997 Intertec Publishing Corp. Excerpted and edited from July 1997 Fleet Owner. Used with permission.

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