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2008 Full-Size Pickup Trucks
What's new in pickup trucks? Fuel economy, believe it or not!

By Bill Roebuck

2008 Toyota Tundra Crewmax.With gas ranging around a buck and a quarter a litre these days, almost every driver must cringe every time they have to pull up to the gas pumps, but especially those driving pickup trucks, which are not known to have great fuel economy. However, some of the newest models are more fuel efficient, including diesels and new-to-the-market hybrids.

Here, we'll look at what's new in current and upcoming full-size pickups, including the 2008, 2009 and 2010 models of the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, Dodge Ram, Ford F-Series, Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra.

FUEL ECONOMY OVERVIEW

The most fuel-efficient light trucks on the market, according to the Natural Resources Canada ecoEnergy program, which presents awards for the most fuel-efficient vehicles in various categories, are as follows: For 2008, the Pickup Truck award went to the Ford Ranger and Mazda B2300 twins, while the Large Van category winners are the Chevrolet Express Cargo/GMC Savana Cargo twins. For details, visit www.ecoaction.gc.ca/vehicles.

Keep in mind that the Canadian government's ecoAuto rebate program, cancelled in the latest federal budget, is still valid for qualifying vehicles purchased until end of December 2008. That means you can get a tax rebate -- commonly called the federal 'feebate' -- on several alternative-fuel vehicles, including pickup trucks.

Vehicle manufacturers continue to make strides to improve fuel economy. For example, the 2008 GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickups both feature active fuel management and variable valve timing. A FlexFuel engine is available, allowing choices that use E85 ethanol, gasoline or a combination of both fuels.

Also, GM of Canada has announced that its Oshawa Truck Assembly Plant will be the first plant in Canada to produce hybrid vehicles, with the new 2009 Two-Mode Hybrid Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra scheduled for sale in the late fall of 2008 (just in time to still take advantage of the government ecoAuto rebates).

GM's Two-Mode Hybrid System provides improved fuel consumption and power, while maintaining the capabilities of a full-size truck. When combined with Active Fuel Management, the two-mode hybrid system is expected to offer a 25% reduction fuel consumption. The system uses two electrically continuously variable transmission (ECVT) modes of operation that optimize power and torque for various conditions. The addition of the second mode to the drive system improves efficiency and reduces the need for large electric motors, which are used in single-mode systems.

There's fuel economy news from the Chrysler Canada camp too. Not only are its Dodge Sprinter van and Dodge Ram pickups available with diesel engines, a two-mode hybrid system is scheduled for the 2010 Dodge Ram pickup.

Chrysler, separated since last year from DaimlerChrysler AG, also added to its list of fuel-efficient powertrain offerings for its all-new 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup. The Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups are being offered with a Cummins 6.7-litre turbodiesel engine, which will be available in the Ram 1500 light-duty pickups after 2009.

These clean diesel engines provide a dramatic increase in low-end torque, an average of 30% better fuel efficiency and a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide (C02) emissions when compared to an equivalent gasoline engine. Under loads such as towing, diesel engines can provide improvements in fuel economy up to 40%.

The Dodge hybrid and diesel offerings are in addition to three gasoline powertrain options. As well, new for 2008 is a flex-fuel V8 engine for the Ram 1500, providing the option of using E85 fuel.

Not to be overshadowed by these developments, Ford of Canada will have three V8 engines available for its newly redesigned 2009 F-150 pickup truck, including a Triton V8 that is capable of running on E85 or any ethanol-to-gasoline mixture below that.

Both the 5.4-litre and 4.6-litre 3-valve V8's use open valve injection. This unique feature improves the flow of fuel into the combustion chamber, which results in an increase in horsepower during towing and reduces emissions. A 4.6-litre, 2-valve V8, a third V8 choice in the line-up, delivers more horsepower with the same fuel economy performance as the outgoing truck's V6.

This all-V8 engine line-up delivers a fleet-average 1.2 L/100 km (1 mpg) improvement in fuel economy versus the outgoing F-Series. As well, diesel and EcoBoost gas turbo direct injection engines are planned for 2010 models.

In addition, pickup trucks are also benefiting from lower prices. According to DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc., Richmond Hill, Ont., in 2007 average truck prices dropped by 4.0% to $38,582.

WHAT'S NEW IN FULL-SIZE PICKUPS

2008 Chevy Silverado. Photo courtesy GM Canada.Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra

The Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra carry on into the 2008 model year with minor revisions. The line-up is built on a platform that was introduced in 2007. The pickups deliver a towing capacity for the higher-volume crew and extended cab models of 4,763 kg (10,500 lb), with a maximum payload capacity of 980 kg (2,160 lb).

Changes to the 1500, 2500HD and 3500HD models for this year include standard XM Satellite Radio on all models, availability of a power-adjustable driver's seat on regular cab models with a bench seat, brighter instrument pointers in the gauge cluster and two new exterior colours: Dark Cherry Metallic and Deep Ruby Metallic.

The Sierra is available in several trim packages, including Work Truck, SL (crew cab only), SLE and SLT, along with 2WD and 4WD configurations. Three cab styles -- regular, extended and crew cab -- and three cargo box lengths -- 1.7 m, 2 m, and 2.4 m (5 ft. 8 in., 6 ft. 6 in. and 8 ft.) -- are offered.

As with most pickups, due to this complexity of configurations available, you'll want to make sure you're talking to a savvy salesperson at the dealership.

The interior features large controls and door handles that are easy to use while wearing work gloves. A lockable in-seat storage bin is built into the 40/20/40-split bench. Entry to the rear seat/storage area of extended cab models is eased with rear access doors that open 170 degrees.

The trucks also have Five-Star crash test NHTSA ratings and feature dual-stage front airbags, optional head curtain airbags and StabiliTrak on all crew cabs.

2008 Dodge Ram Laramie.Dodge Ram

Chrysler's Dodge Ram pickup has 35 features that are new or improved for 2009. One of these is the use of a coil spring rear suspension rather than a traditional leaf spring, giving it a more comfortable ride without sacrificing load capacity.

The new Ram also features the Ram Box; two lockable compartments in the walls of the cargo bed, providing 8.6 cu. ft. of lockable storage space.

The current Dodge Ram line-up includes 1500, 2500 and 3500 models in three cab configurations: Regular, Quad Cab and Mega Cab. There's also a new trim line for 2009, the SXT, as well as minor exterior and interior enhancements to various 2500 and 3500 series models.

The GVWR of the 3500 4x4 models with the 6.7-litre diesel and a six-speed automatic transmission has been increased by 1,000 lb to 24,000 lb. In addition, a Tire Pressure Monitoring system is now standard on Mega Cab and 2500/3500 models with less than 10,000 lb. GVWR.

In addition, the 1500 model can be equipped with an optional Electronic Stability Program (ESP), remote start, standard electronic transfer case and front-axle-disconnect system on four-wheel-drive models, power-sliding rear window, bucket seats, full-screen navigation radio and a DVD entertainment system.

2009 Ford F-150.Ford F-Series

The redesigned 2009 Ford F-150 pickup has a new exterior look and a more spacious, flexible and refined interior. There's also a bewildering array of cab styles and trim levels.

The new model delivers more horsepower, better fuel economy and safety, and additional towing and payload capacity than its predecessor. Ford says that in all, more than 1,000 of its engineers, designers, researchers and others worked together to develop the new pickup. The 2009 model goes on sale in the fall of 2008.

“Before we started working on the new truck, we continued the conversation with people who use these trucks every day for work and play,” said Matt O'Leary, chief engineer of the 2009 F-150.

"The new, improved chassis helps deliver additional payload and towing capacity as well as improved fuel economy,” O'Leary said. The new model includes standard AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control and Trailer Sway Control, available Rearview Camera Assist as well as an Integrated Trailer Brake Controller.

The interior of the 2009 F-150 SuperCrew offers more usable space for moving more people and gear, thanks to a 6-in. stretch that improves rear seat legroom and cargo capacity. A mechanically articulated second-row seat flips up and out of the way. The rear load floor is flat. The 1,631 litres (57.6 cu. ft.) of space behind the front seats can accommodate items up to 122 cm (47.9 in.) tall.

With three cab styles, four box options and seven unique trim levels, the F-150 comes in 35 different configurations.

The interior features a console that's been lengthened by approximately 5 cm (2 in.) and is large enough to stow two or more laptop computers. Special ridges are moulded into the edges of the bin to accommodate file folders. The console also has a multi-tiered, removable tray and locks to protect valuables.

More than 30 storage areas are built into the interior, ranging from a bin on the top of the instrument panel to a number of small spaces.

The pickup now features tailgate and cargo box side steps, a Stowable Bed Extender and a cargo management system. “For the customer who uses their pickup box five, six or seven times a day, these innovations together make a huge difference,” O'Leary said.

Ford also has improved its existing 2008 Super Duty line, which now has a stronger chassis and a coated frame for improved corrosion protection. A new rear leaf spring suspension design for the F-250, F-350 and F-450 pickups improves ride and handling.

Reinforcements have been added to several areas for increased cargo and towing capacity. Massive 27-mm enclosed tow hooks are designed to support one-and-a-half times the trucks gross vehicle weight -- up to 33,000 lb.

The Super Duty is the only vehicle in its class to use a sophisticated type of engine torque traction control on its diesel models. While most competitors use brakes to manage torque, this diesel uses engine torque to manage wheel spin.

2008 Nissan Titan King Cab. Photo courtesy Nissan Canada.Nissan Titan

The 2008 Nissan Titan full-size pickup has a new long-wheelbase version and a new Titan PRO-4X model. The 2008 Titan is offered in four models -- XE, SE, PRO-4X and LE; in two body styles -- King Cab and Crew Cab; in 4x2 and 4x4 drive configurations; and four bed sizes -- 5'5'', 6'5'', 7' and 8'; and with Flexible Fuel Vehicle (FFV) capability (E85 Ethanol).

The new Titan also has a freshened styling, with a revised front end and all-new wheel styles. Inside, there's a new seat design and refined instrument clusters. Other enhancements include an optional Bluetooth Hands-Free Phone System and a revised centre stack.

The Titan uses a 5.6-litre DOHC V8 rated at 317 hp and 385 lb-ft torque with a five-speed automatic transmission. Maximum towing capacity is up to 9,500 lb for the King Cab and up to 9,400 lb for the Crew Cab.

As in the previous model, features include Wide-Open rear doors in the King Cab that open 168 degrees for easy interior access; a high-utility bed that includes a factory-applied spray-on bed liner, a Utili-track tie-down system and a lockable bedside storage compartment.

2008 Toyota Tundra with Sport Appearance Package. Photo courtesy Toyota Canada.Toyota Tundra

The 2008 Tundra features a practical centre console, deep enough to hold a laptop computer, and is designed to hold a half dozen or so file dividers in the centre.

The Tundra was redesigned for the 2007 model year, making it larger in every dimension than the model it replaced. It's available in 31 model configurations, with a choice of 4x2 and 4x4 drivetrains. It offers three cab styles, three wheelbases, three bed lengths, three engines and three trim levels. Also available are three cab styles: Regular Cab, four-door Double Cab, and the super-sized four-door CrewMax.

In Regular and Double Cab models, a standard 4.0-litre V6 produces 236 hp. The mid-grade option for these models -- and standard for the CrewMax models -- is a 4.7-litre V8 producing 271 hp. There's also a 381-hp 5.7-litre V8 engine available for yet more power.

Bill Roebuck, a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, is the Editor-in-Chief of CarTest!.

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