2014 and BEYOND: Refinement Defines the Next Generation of Full-Size Trucks and SUVs
Over the years, we’ve seen the horsepower and tow rating wars come and go. It’s a cyclical phenomenon fueled by competition; since no one wants to be in last place, one-upmanship is the predictable result. But as fuel prices continue to climb, and mechanical components are pushed to their limits, truck manufacturers are finding new ways to compete for your hard-earned cash — namely, features, content and enhanced refinement.
Indeed, it’s become increasingly difficult to find a pickup the way most of us think of them. Stick shifts are gone, and manual transfer case levers soon will be. But in place of such rugged truck hardware are better ride quality, increased fuel economy and interior accouterments that rival some luxury cars. Today’s buyers aren’t willing to compromise; they want cargo, capability and a cabin that’s quieter than a librarian’s whisper.
The 2014 model year will likely be remembered as one of the high-water marks in the annals of truck history. GM has introduced 1500 series pickups that, in its words, “are new from hood to hitch.” Dodge has introduced a new V-6 diesel for its 1500 series trucks that is quiet and fuel efficient (see the sidebar on page 54 from contributor Alan Rider). The Toyota Tundra sports all-new sheetmetal as well as a completely redesigned interior, while Ford continues to refine the already buttery-smooth F-150 with a host of improvements.
But it doesn’t end there. Even as 2014 bows, GM has introduced the 2015 line of 2500-3500 series heavy-duty trucks and full-size SUVs that promise new levels of comfort and drivability. With that all said, let’s take a look at these trucks in greater detail.
The best-selling F-150 gets a bolder front end with high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights on XLT and higher-level trims, while both the XLT and STX levels benefit from standard machined aluminum wheels with painted accents. Of particular interest to RVers are available power-telescoping and power folding trailer-tow sideview mirrors. Ford’s SYNC system with MyFord Touch now features steering wheel controls with specialized buttons that can be operated while wearing gloves, plus a large screen for improved readability. A conductive cellphone charging station is a standalone dealer-installed accessory available on FX, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum and Limited grades. The Super Duty lineup carries on largely unchanged, save for improvements to the brake system that enables higher payload figures for 2014.
“All new” is a phrase that is bandied about with increasing frequency these days, but in the case of GM’s Silverado and Sierra light-duty trucks, it’s true. A new 4.3-liter V-6 engine and two new V-8s (5.3 and 6.2 liters) feature direct fuel injection, cylinder deactivation and continuously variable valve timing for improvements in power and fuel economy. All are backed by GM’s 6L80 six-speed automatic transmission. Revised front/rear suspension and wider wheels provide a more comfortable ride and better handling, while electric power steering improves steering feel and reduces fuel consumption, according to GM. New four-wheel disc brakes with Duralife rotors improve brake feel, and promise up to twice the service life of standard rotors. In addition to its rugged looks, Silverado/Sierra have undergone some configuration changes as well. The popular extended cab has been replaced with a Double Cab (featuring small, front-hinged rear doors for easier access), and for the first time, 1500 Crew Cab models will be available with a longer 6-foot 6-inch box, in addition to the previous 5-foot 8-inch box. The bad news for some RVers is that the 8-foot box is now only available with the regular cab configuration. Inside, Silverado/Sierra features an upright, six-gauge instrument cluster, and most models feature the MyLink infotainment system with a 4.2- or 8-inch color screen and features like Bluetooth connectivity, USB ports and voice recognition. Chevy Silverado LT and LTZ models offer additional features, such as an 8-inch color touch radio and trailering package on the LT, and a standard 5.3-liter EcoTec3 V-8, leather seating, and dual-zone climate control on the LTZ. Z71 models with enhanced off-road capability are available in LT and LTZ trim levels. StabiliTrak with Trailer Sway Control and Hill Start Assist are standard on all models, while electronic safety systems such as Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning and Front/Rear Park Assist are optional.
Also on offer are some special models, notably the Chevy Silverado High Country and GMC Sierra All Terrain. The Crew Cab High Country represents the division’s first premium truck, with unique features such as a chrome grille with horizontal chrome bars, body-color front and rear bumpers and special 20-inch chrome wheels with P275/55R20 all-season tires. An exclusive saddle brown interior features heated/cooled seats, MyLink with 8-inch touch screen, Bose audio and front/rear park assist; options include a rear seat entertainment system, heated steering wheel, driver alert package, adjustable pedals and integrated trailer brake controller. The Sierra All Terrain, meanwhile, is available in Double Cab and Crew Cab configurations, and offers a unique exterior appearance with its own wheels/tires, painted grille and fewer chrome tidbits. Functionally, the All Terrain comes standard with mono tube Rancho shocks, hill descent control, front recovery hooks, transfer case shield and automatic locking rear differential. It’s available exclusively with an ebony interior with front buckets.
While many consumers purchase a half-ton truck for family run-around duties, almost no one buys a 2500-3500 truck unless they’ve got some serious hauling in mind. So for 2015, GM has upped the meat-and-potatoes quotient on its Silverado/Sierra HD trucks. Tough exterior styling is backed up by enhanced cooling airflow to the standard 6.0-liter V-8 gas and 6.6-liter Duramax diesel V-8 for better performance under heavy loads and high ambient temperatures. Integrated cruise control, Auto Grade Braking and Diesel Exhaust Braking (on Duramax) yield better control when towing, as does StabiliTrak with Trailer Sway Control, which is now standard on all Silverado/Sierra HD models. All new cabs and interiors provide increased space and comfort, as well as extensive storage space. In all, Silverado/Sierra HD is available in more than 150 combinations of cabs, bed lengths, powertrains and axle ratios.
GM’s full-size SUVs, namely the Tahoe/Yukon, Suburban/Yukon XL, are also all-new for the 2015 model year. The Chevy/GMC utes benefit from the same 5.3-liter engine and six-speed automatic transmission used in the 2014 GM half-ton pickups. Since big SUVs are typically used by large families, GM put a lot of its focus on the interior, which offers fold-flat second and third row seats, roughly two inches of extra legroom for second row passengers, up to six USB ports and six power outlets (including a 120-volt AC outlet), and an available rear seat entertainment system with a Blu-ray/DVD player. The Suburban/Yukon XL, meanwhile, share the same architecture and powertrains as Tahoe/Yukon, but have a 14-inch longer wheelbase and are 20 inches longer overall. These extra inches yield more legroom for third-row passengers, and nearly twice the cargo room behind the third row seat, according to GM.
The luxurious Yukon Denali/Yukon Denali XL and Cadillac Escalade/Escalade ESV are also all-new for 2015, and benefit from the same updates as their lower-priced siblings. However, these higher-end models get a more powerful standard engine, namely the new 6.2-liter V-8 that produces 403 horsepower in the Denali models, and 420 in the top-dog Escalade.
As you would expect, there are also big differences in content; while details were still a bit sketchy on Denali at press time, we do know that standard equipment includes exclusive 20-inch wheels, power liftgate, power release second-row fold-and-tumble bucket seats, head curtain side air bags, power-adjustable pedals, electrochromic (auto-dimming) inside mirror, remote start system, rearview camera system and ultrasonic rear parking assist. Creature comforts include standard Nuance perforated leather seating with heated and cooled first-row seats and heated second-row captain’s seats. A leather-wrapped, heated steering wheel with power tilt adjustment is standard on all Denali models, along with a color touch screen radio with navigation. Optional features include a power sunroof, power-retractable assist steps and a rear-seat, DVD-based entertainment system.
The new Escalade seems to be as much about function as it is form. The most striking difference to the Escalade’s familiar shape is a new LED lighting system that incorporates the industry’s first Total Internal Reflection high-beam function, which consists of four vertically stacked crystal lenses and LEDs, according to GM. Less noticeable but perhaps even more significant is the standard Magnetic Ride Control (MRC), which Cadillac claims is the world’s fastest-reacting suspension system. MRC replaces conventional mechanical valve shocks with electronically controlled shocks filled with a magnetorheological fluid containing tiny iron particles. By introducing a magnetic field, the iron particles align to provide damping resistance almost instantly. According to GM, the system can go from full force to lowest force in a few milliseconds, or within 3 inches of road travel.
The Escalade’s new interior features what the division calls “cut and sewn and wrapped materials” with real wood trim options. CUE, Cadillac’s infotainment system, is standard equipment, and includes voice recognition and touch controls common with the world’s most popular tablets and mobile devices. In keeping with the modern aesthetic, a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster is also standard, and can be reconfigured with four themes. A head-up display and rear seat Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system are optional. As you would expect, the Escalade is also loaded with the latest safety equipment, including the segment’s only Front Seat Center-Mounted air bag, and available Driver Awareness and Driver Assist packages that include features such as Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control, Front/Rear Automatic Braking and more. Additionally, Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Lane Change Alert are standard on Luxury and Premium models.
Representing the first major change since the 2007 model year, the 2014 Tundra has been redesigned inside and out. Offered in two-door Regular Cab and four-door Double Cab (standard or longbed) as well as the super-sized CrewMax (shortbed only), the 2014 Tundra offers a new grade strategy consisting of the work-focused SR, the popular SR5, the upscale Limited and two premium grades: Platinum, and the all-new 1794 Edition, a tribute to the ranch on which the Tundra is built, established in San Antonio, Texas, in 1794. In addition to fresh sheetmetal that incorporates a more chiseled look, Toyota placed a great deal of focus on the interior, which had been criticized for being too Spartan in the previous model. The new interior philosophy focuses on styling differentiation between model grades; for example, the SR5 features a “professional gear” theme, with unique driver and passenger zones, metallic accents and contrasting fabric, while the Limited has an “active premium” theme with leather seating surfaces, matching soft-touch door and console surfaces and wood-style interior trim. The Platinum grade has been redesigned, and now features perforated, diamond-pleated premium leather seats, door and instrument panel inserts. Finally, the 1794 Edition reflects a Western lifestyle theme and includes exclusive saddle brown premium leather-trimmed seating with embossed leather and Ultrasuede accents.
Across the board, a new instrument panel features gauges with 3-D metallic rings and individual gauges grouped logically and complemented by a center-mounted, multi-information display. The console design holds multiple storage areas for personal items and electronics plus additional padded surfaces and accent stitching in premium grades. Both Double Cab and CrewMax are available with a bench or bucket seats for the front row.
The Tundra’s three engine choices (4.0-liter V-6, 4.6-liter V-8 and 5.7-liter V-8) and six-speed automatic transmission are carryover, but the suspension has been updated slightly for improved ride and greater stability.
RATING THE RAMSarticle by Alan Rider
One of the most interesting new models we drove at a recent press event north of Los Angeles, California, was, in fact, a fairly ordinary-looking Ram 1500 pickup. Not that its unremarkable appearance fooled us, mind you, because we knew the big news was hidden under this handsome half-ton’s hood.
Beneath that bonnet was the only small-displacement turbodiesel engine offered in a half-ton pickup, a 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 that produces 240 horsepower and a robust 420 lb-ft of torque. In addition to the inherent fuel economy advantages of diesels compared to gasoline engines, this engine employs a long list of mileage-boosting technologies including an eight-speed automatic transmission and an auto-start/stop system that undetectably shuts down the engine in fuel-wasting situations like sitting at traffic lights, and instantly restarts it when it’s time to pull away. For even greater fuel savings, the truck is equipped with so-called “active” aerodynamic features, including grille shutters that automatically open and close and an optional air suspension that lowers the truck’s ride height at highway speeds, both of which serve to reduce aerodynamic drag.
While official EPA fuel economy estimates have yet to be announced, the team that developed it is expecting this small turbodiesel will be rated at 25 mpg or better on the highway. Figure in the powertrain’s $2,850 price tag, and company execs we talked to predicted the potential fuel savings could offset that price premium in less than two years. Add a very healthy towing capacity of 9,200 pounds, and you have a fuel-efficient half-ton pickup that might just become the truck of choice for many RVers who tow light- to medium-weight trailers and fifth-wheels.
As with their smaller sibling, the Ram 2500 and 3500 models don’t look particularly revolutionary from the outside. There are a number of noteworthy changes here just the same, starting with a new 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 engine option with 410 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque on tap. With more brawn than the existing 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, this new 6.4-liter engine will no doubt be an attractive alternative for buyers looking for added capability without having to spring for the powerful-but-pricey 6.7-liter Cummins
Other upgrades to Ram’s Heavy Duty truck lineup include a new coil spring rear suspension on 2500 models, a change that results in a noticeable improvement in ride comfort. Both 2500 and 3500 models are also now offered with optional rear air suspensions with automatic load-leveling capability. With new fifth-wheel hitches and a fifth-wheel prep package now offered on 2500 models, Ram dealers can provide RVers with one-stop shopping that enables a new pickup to tow a fifth-wheel the moment it is driven off the lot.
We also spent some time behind the wheel of the 2014 Dodge Durango, a seven-passenger SUV that combines surprisingly stylish design with enough brawn to pull its own weight and then some. Buyers have a choice of two engines, including a 290-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 and a 390-horsepower, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. Both come mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and rear- or all-wheel drive. The Hemi benefits from cylinder-deactivation technology that transforms the big engine into a less-thirsty four-cylinder in situations like highway cruising where full power is often not required. In addition, a new Eco mode, which changes throttle response and transmission shift points to maximize fuel efficiency, is standard with both engines.
All those mechanical details aside, what really impressed us about all three of these new models was their remarkable levels of refinement. Compared to pickups and SUVs sold even five years ago, the Ram and Durango models we drove offered significantly improved ride and handling characteristics. The trio also boasted high-quality interiors that are quieter, more attractive and done up in high-quality materials, and significantly more feature-rich.
In the final measure, our experiences driving the 2014 Ram pickups and Dodge Durango left us convinced these big trucks are better than ever.