If you've been holding off buying your next pickup, you look pretty smart right now. The 2004 model year is shaping up to be an important one for the truck makers and buyers, with a number of all-new vehicles rolling out alongside some major retooling efforts on existing vehicles.
For starters, Nissan steps up with its first full-size pickup, the Titan, while General Motors creates a new category with two midsize trucks, the GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado. Dodge brings back its fabled Hemi engine to power its full-size Ram, while Toyota rolls out a four-door Double Cab on its big Tundra. Last but not least, Ford debuts its much-awaited, totally remodeled F-150.
Here's how the 2004 pickup truck model year introductions shake out:
FORD F-150 FACELIFT
Tire-kickers will notice the great new exterior and interior look to the 2004 F-150s, but more important are the technological drive-train and suspension improvements and work-related items like a bed that is 2 inches deeper and stretched cab lengths for improved interior comfort and storage. Ford now offers the most configurations--three cab sizes, three bed lengths, two box styles, and five models in two-wheel or four-wheel drive. Only General Motors has a greater variety of models, if you count both GMC and Chevy pickups.
Ford also has two hot new engines: an improved gasser for the F-150 and an all-new 6-liter turbo-diesel in the Super Duty F-250 line. The 5.4-liter Triton V8 gas engine has three valves per cylinder, variable cam timing, and electronic throttle control for improved performance, mileage, and towing/hauling capability. The throttle control is fly-by-wire, a technology that replaces mechanical linkages with electronic sensors to more precisely regulate what happens on the road. The second F-150 engine option, the 4.6-liter V8, shares this linkage-free setup.
No less amazing is Ford's new turbocharged 6-liter diesel, which is matched to a transmission that electronically varies wheel torque and power to match the load, all the while allowing for driver input through the brake pedal. Nondiesel lovers should check out this new mill--it's so quiet that it's hard to tell it's running, even with the windows down. And despite its relatively compact size, the 6.0 claims bragging rights as the most powerful pickup engine of all, with 325 hp and a thundering 560 maximum pounds-feet of torque.
ENTER THE TITANS
Nissan elbows into the big truck market with its full-size Titan in Crew Cab and King Cab models. Although die-hard Detroit traditionalists still have a hard time accepting that the "import" brands can build a truly full-size truck (actually, Nissan trucks are built in Canton, Miss.), the Titan is one large, serious American-style pickup. Titan enters with a brawny 5.6-liter Endurance V8 engine as standard equipment, with specs to rival not only the big Toyota Tundra but also the Detroit franchise pickups.
The 2004 Titan engine (also built here) produces more than 300 hp with 375 pounds-feet of torque--almost 90 percent of which is available at below 2,500 rpm, where it's needed most for towing, hauling, and off-road use. Maximum towing capacity is 9,500 pounds, with a 1,780-pound payload rating. A five-speed automatic transmission with tow/haul mode (first introduced by General Motors in the early Silverado/Sierras) optimizes the shift pattern for extra pulling power.
The Titan Crew Cabs, with four full-size doors and 126 cubic feet of interior volume, offer comfortable seating for up to six passengers. Contractors and project managers will like the center-console interior configuration with storage for hanging file folders along with a fold-flat passenger seatback that can serve as a desk. The King Cab models give up some interior space but have longer beds (79 inches) than the Crew Cabs (67 inches), but they share virtually all of the Crew Cab's drivetrain and interior features. King Cabs have smaller, front-opening rear doors, but they swing open nearly 180 degrees for improved access.
Nissan also is providing a sprayed-on, high-durability resin bedliner, the first offered by a manufacturer and backed by the vehicle's warranty. In addition, five C-channel rails for movable and removable tie-down cleats are factory-installed in the bed floor and sides.
GM IN THE MIDDLE
Here's more big news: General Motors rolls out two all-new midsize pickups--the GM Canyon and the Chevy Colorado. Until now only Dodge produced anything close to a midsize pickup with its Dakota.
Although GMC and Chevy have built in subtle differences, these twins are hard to tell apart once you get past the sheet metal. Both share major body and suspension components, drive-train options, and engines. Three body styles are available in Crew, Extended, and Regular Cab models, all with a choice of two-wheel or four-wheel drive. GMC also offers a High Stance model for off-road enthusiasts. Wheelbases for Crew and Extended Cabs are 125.9 inches, and 111.2 inches for the Regular Cab. Maximum payload for both pickups is 1,733 pounds with a max towing weight of 4,000 pounds. The Crew Cab has a 5-foot 1-inch bed length, while the others all have 6-foot 1-inch beds.
Two all-new, all-aluminum engines are available in both the Canyon and Colorado: an inline five-cylinder Vortec 3500 (3.5-liter) and a four-cylinder Vortec 2800 (2.8-liter), both derivatives of the GM six-cylinder Vortec 4200 used in the midsize Envoy SUV. The optional 3500 has four valves per cylinder and delivers 220 hp with 225 pounds-feet of torque at 2,800 rpm. The base engine produces 175 hp and 185 pounds-feet of torque at 2,800 rpm.
Like a blast from the past, Dodge produced an all-new version of its legendary Hemi engines for 2004 Ram 1500 pickups. The 5.7-liter Hemi Magnum, named for its high-output hemispherical combustion chambers, not only outhauls its 5.9-liter Magnum predecessor--boosting total payload to 1,850 pounds and trailer weight ratings to 9,200 pounds--it actually improves fuel efficiency by 10 percent while reducing overall engine weight by 60 pounds. The Hemi Magnum cranks out 345 hp and 375 pounds-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. And this big baby has rubber-burning acceleration just like its granddaddy, the classic Dodge Charger Hemi.
Dodge also has a new automatic transmission for its high-output Cummins Turbo Diesel-equipped Ram Heavy Duty 2500 and 3500 pickups. With specs aimed at commercial truck buyers, including 305 hp and a ground-shaking 555 pounds-feet of torque at 1,400 rpm, this engine pushes the truck's GVWR up to 23,000 pounds, with a major-overhaul interval of 350,000 miles. Also in the lineup is a second Cummins diesel engine, a 5.9-liter inline six-cylinder version. A 235-hp, 4.7-liter V8 with 295 pounds-feet of torque continues to be available, along with the base 3.7-liter V6.
Another introduction guaranteed to turn heads is the 2004 Dodge Ram SRT-10, a limited-edition pickup packing a genuine V10 Viper engine. At 500 hp with 525 pounds-feet of torque, this performance pickup can more than carry its weight. Like Ford's SVT Lightning and the Chevy Silverado SS, the Ram SRT-10 is a tricked-out pickup, offering a tuned suspension, hot wheels and tires, and what Dodge describes as an "ear-melting" 500-watt sound system.
In addition to raw power, Dodge 2004 pickups have a new torque-sharing full-time four-wheel drive system and electric-shifting transfer case with "high" and "low" speeds, as well as a tow/haul option for heavy loads and hill climbing. Dodge full-size and compact Dakota pickups are available in '04 with Quad or Regular cabs. The Dakota also adds a 210-hp V6 to its existing power lineup.
Toyota maxes out its big Tundra with a full-size Double Cab model. Unlike the four-door Tundra Access Cab, the new Double Cab offers two real doors and big-guy comfort in back. Toyota didn't pull any punches in stretching out the Double Cab. With an overall length of 230.1 inches and a 140.5-inch wheelbase, it's longer than Ford's full-size F-150 Super Crew. It also offers a longer bed--74.3 inches with a 20.7-inch depth--than both the F-150 and Nissan Titan. In addition to the Double Cab, Toyota produces Access and Regular Cab pickups, which share a 128.3-inch wheelbase, and the compact Tacoma pickups in Standard, Xtracab, and Double Cab models.
The new Tundra comes in two-wheel and four-wheel drivetrains, with a choice of a 3.4-liter V6 or 4.7-liter V8, in five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. The double overhead cam, 32-valve V8 produces 240 hp and 315 pounds-feet of peak torque. The total payload for the Tundra Double Cab is rated at 1,835 pounds with a maximum tow weight of 6,800 pounds.
Finally, any pickup owner who's ever dislocated a shoulder trying to close up from the driver's seat will appreciate the Double Cab's powered horizontal-sliding rear window that offers an opening area four times larger than that of the other Tundra models.