Ram’s new 1500 packed full of upgrades
Review and photos by Budd Stanley
The rate of advancement within the automotive industry is likely no more fierce than it is in the full-size truck segment. In an era where the cost of operating a truck is skyrocketing, manufacturers are rapidly improving their products at a phenomenal rate, not only improving performance and efficiency, but also offering levels of comfort and luxury never before seen. With Ford recently unleashing an impressive and capable F-150, Ram knew it needed to come up aces with its upcoming mid-cycle refresh of the 1500. And that’s just what it did, rolling out some pre-production examples for me to play with.
For a truck that essentially looks the same as the 2012 model, Ram really has put a lot of time and energy into this refresh. As fuel efficiency is a major concern in today’s truck segment, it seems no detail was missed to maximize the Ram's efficiency. In some models, weight has been cut by 59 kilograms with a new lightweight frame, hood, bumpers and other body components, without sacrificing strength. Electric steering, stop/start technology and fine-tuned electrical and fuel management free up wasted ancillary power. The Ram's already ideal aerodynamics get improved even further with grille shutters that direct air flow over the body rather than through the radiator when the temperatures are normal.
The biggest contributor comes in the form of the ZF 8-speed automatic transmission that has been developed to work within the Ram's drivetrain, but more on that later. All told, Ram says that with all these developments put together with the Pentastar V6, a regular cab 4x2 is capable of 7.8L/100km on the highway. Big claims, but does the new Ram put its money where Ram's mouth is? Unfortunately, the trucks I tested were pre-production models and the fuel efficiency computers still needed some fine tuning before the truck goes to production in October. However, as soon as we get our hands on the final product, we’ll be sure to fill you in on the increasing race for the most fuel-efficient pickup, as GM will likely have something to say with its new full-size truck, due out soon as well.
The new 3.6-litre Pentastar again does a great job of providing adequate power, while the 5.7L HEMI provides grunt and glorious V8 music to those looking for more. However, the story is really the gearbox. The 6-speed automatic makes both engines feel lethargic and inefficient, whereas the 8-speed really does bring both power plants to life, offering much better acceleration and nearly unnoticed gear changes. I was skeptical of an 8-speed in a truck platform, but the Ram has proved that this is actually one of the best places for such a transmission. Can it hold up to the work life of a truck? That is a question yet to be answered, but Ram is confident it will. The Pentastar earns a 2,554-kg (5,630-lb) tow capacity and payload up to 884 kg (1,948 lb) when properly equipped. The HEMI is capable of towing and payload of up to 4,740 kg (10,450 lb) and 787 kg (1,735 lb) respectively. However, disappointingly, these are not the latest J2807 measurements, so who knows what the real numbers are and how they compare to the competition.
Inside, the Ram has always been a beaut, but this new 2013 model really does treat its occupants. The seats are so comfortable that I would never second guess a non-stop cross-Canada tour, and that goes for the rears as well, with a massive amount of space dedicated to the Crew Cab body. Steering has tilt but not telescopic adjustments, but this is made up for by adjustable pedals. Those who tow trailers will be delighted to know that the trailer brake modulation has been moved to the centre stack, positioned with the mass of other driver aids. Another cool feature is the Jaguar-like e-shift rotary dial shifter. All 8-speed-equipped Rams will feature this very nice-to-use shifter mounted to the centre stack, freeing up room and better helping the driver to know what gear they are in.
I only have two small disappointments with the interior, one being the feel of certain panels that flex when operating controls. This has been an area that Chrysler has worked hard on with great improvements, but I’d like the centre stack and some door panels to feel a little more solidly built. Also, as popular as the crew cab has now become as a single-family vehicle, there is a lack of power and connectivity outlets for the rear seats. Only the Sport Crew I tested had a single 12v connection.
Ram says that the Uconnect and air suspension-equipped models offer “Best in Class” technology. Yes, the air suspension is a great feature, but the Uconnect is very similar to Ford's SYNC system and is nearly as complicated. Let’s face it, best in class doesn’t mean a whole lot here as only tech-savvy children will get the full benefits of all the system's capabilities. It is nice to have full functional control over all the truck's systems through voice commands, allowing drivers to keep both hands on the wheel at all times, while an intuitive seven-inch display on the gauge cluster posts usable vehicle information with all sorts of customizable layouts.
Getting back to that air suspension, it really is a great option added to the pickup line, the system already proving itself in Jeep models. With four inches of adjustable travel, the Ram lowers to a ground clearance of 194 mm to provide a better step-in height, and increases aerodynamics and fuel efficiency at highway speeds. Additionally, the suspension can be raised nearly 51 mm above “Normal Ride Height” giving a 4x4-equipped vehicle near Power Wagon-like off-road abilities. As an option, the system is extremely useful and does away with the need for aftermarket load leveling systems. It does take away some of the feel you get with standard springs, but the pros heavily outweigh the cons.
It seems every year, I find less and less to complain about the Ram. Heavy investments into new technology and efficiency beautifully complement the dedication to design and comfort of this big truck. The Ram was once a distant third in the rankings of the big three; however, the 2013 1500 has not only answered the challenge put forth by the F-150, but has also set a high mark for GM’s upcoming redesign. There is a reason this segment has seen such success despite the modern challenges thrown at the full-size truck. The competition that sees these rivalries grow only helps the customer reap greater rewards.
Price as tested: TBA
Engine: 3.6L V6, 5.7L V8
Transmission: 6-speed and 8-speed automatic
Power: V6 305 hp, 269 lb-ft; V8 395 hp, 407 lb-ft
Layout: Front Engine, RWD or 4WD
Fuel Efficiency: TBA for both V6 and V8]]>
Story and photos by Gerry Frechette
Replacing what has been the Number One-selling compact crossover for eight years running with an entirely new vehicle is no small event in the Canadian auto marketplace, but that is what Ford is doing this year with the all-new Escape.
Gone is the traditional, boxy shape, V6 engine and dull handling, and in is a rakish new body style (sold around the world, by the way, as the Kuga) that looks like a tall Focus compact car, with four-cylinder power only, and dynamic handling to go with a raft of new tech features.
The small crossover accounts for some 15 percent of vehicle sales in Canada each year, across 22 nameplates at this writing, so this is a rather important vehicle for Ford. Customers in this segment are, according to Ford, looking for practicality, capability, and fuel economy, so those aspects have been addressed with the new model, but of course, there is so much more to the Escape.
With EcoBoost engines showing up in nearly every Ford model now, it is no surprise to see two four-cylinder versions on the option list. Standard is a non-turbo 2.5-litre four that will suit many folks looking for basic (and front-wheel drive only) propulsion, but available are 1.6- and 2.0-litre versions of the EcoBoost turbo four. In our one-day drive of the Escape, we sampled the latter, and we must say that it is a hot performer, with 240 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque powering through a new Intelligent 4WD System that can send up to 100 percent of power to either the front or rear axles, depending on conditions.
Additionally, the system includes Torque Vectoring Control (to help accelerate through a turn) and Curve Control (to automatically slow the vehicle when it’s cornering too fast,) which essentially assign power to the wheels where it is most needed to control the vehicle in emergency or low-traction situations. The added cost of the 4WD system is $2,200, and one has to wonder why anyone would have an Escape without it, given its capabilities and our road conditions.
The only transmission available across the board is a six-speed automatic, and it functioned smoothly and seamlessly, with a new torque converter design. On our tester, manual shifting was possible via a small rocker on the side of the shift knob, not as effective a design as steering wheel paddles. There is only a small price to pay in fuel consumption for the 2.0/AWD combo over the base 2.5/FWD, as, according to Ford's figures, both powertrains deliver consumption figures in the 9-litre range in the city, and in the 6-litre range on the highway, which, considering there are no electric motors on board, is impressive.
As one would expect, there is no shortage of high-tech or eco-friendly features either standard or available on Escape, and the one that will get the most attention in showrooms, and be the most useful in shopping centre parking lots, is the segment-first hands-free power liftgate. A gentle kicking motion under the centre of the rear bumper activates, unlocks, raises and lowers the liftgate when the driver has the key fob. Obviously very handy when one's arms are full of grocery bags.
A feature we have seen on previous Ford products makes its debut on Escape - Active Park Assist. For those who haven't mastered the science of parallel parking, with the press of a button, the system detects an available parking space and automatically steers the vehicle into the space. Drivers control only the gas and brake pedals.
Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with cross-traffic alert helps drivers change lanes or back out of a parking space with more confidence. BLIS alerts when a vehicle is detected entering a blind spot out on the road, and cross-traffic alert warns of traffic detected approaching from the sides, such as backing out of a parking space.
And then, of course, there is SYNC with MyFordTouch, which have gone through some growing pains in their first few years of existence, but which were both present on our top-of-the-line Titanium model in their latest versions. There is way more to these systems than can be described in this space, but in a nutshell, they enable connectivity of any device and full voice control of it, up to the system reading out an incoming text. My copilot for the day, one of Vancouver's noted social media and technology experts, seemed to be having fun getting everything connected, and the system allows complete hands-free voice operation. It would take some time for the less-than-tech savvy to get used to this sort of technology, and even reading about its capabilities inspires a degree of wonderment. I certainly didn't have the time needed to explore all its capabilities, but any infotainment technology that facilitates keeping eyes on the road and hands on the wheel is a good thing.
On the eco side, you'd be surprised at the materials used in the Escape. The carpeting is made from recycled plastic bottles. The seats have soybeans in them. The firewall insulation has recycled tires in it. Scrap cotton from jeans and t-shirts are used in the sound-absorption material.
Our Titanium model was obviously fully equipped, and very comfortable to drive and ride in, to say nothing about being a very capable performer, both out on the road, and in the performance tests to which we were able to put it. Not that the last generation of Escape was not a capable vehicle, but the new one is such a quantum leap over it, and an instant front-runner in the small crossover class. Ford has put a lot of effort into the Escape, and it shows.]]>
The Honda CR-V quietly does its job, well
Story by Budd Stanley, photos courtesy of Honda Canada
If I had five cents for every person that comes up to me and asks, “Budd, I want a Crossover that can hold five people comfortably, has AWD for winter conditions and gets awesome fuel efficiency,” I'd be able to buy one. My usual response is, “You can’t have everything. You can have a comfortable spacious Crossover with AWD, or you can get a compact hatch or wagon with good fuel efficiency. You can’t have both.”
If there is one thing that is for certain, it is that a Crossover just won’t get good fuel efficiency due to its size and weight, and tack on an AWD system and you're laughing if you’re able to get anywhere near 10L/100 km. Well, there are a couple of manufacturers out there that are hell-bent on proving me wrong, and for good reason, as the customer that is looking for this specific set of qualities is quite likely the largest market looking for new vehicles today. One such car maker is Honda and its refreshed CR-V.
Now, I wasn’t able to get Honda’s posted 6.6L/100km highway ratings, but I really wasn’t trying all that hard and still managed a figure in the mid 7s, still an impressive number, and motivated driving will likely get much closer. The 185-horsepower 2.4-litre four-cylinder and AWD system is recycled out of the outgoing CR-V and like everything else with the vehicle, it isn’t anything special, but goes about doing its job efficiently. You’re not going to win any races off the line, but the little four-banger mated to a lightweight body gets the job done. Likewise, in the handling department, I was quite impressed with the CR-V’s feel for the road despite large tires. The steering wheel feels good in the hand and the front end reacts well to inputs.
The fact that the 2012 CR-V was just awarded the top prize in JD Power & Associates Initial Quality Study for Compact Crossover/SUV should say enough about the worth of the CR-V. It's winning awards for how rarely people are reporting problems, yet I still find that Honda uses very cheap plastics in the interior that don’t come together all that well in the fit-and-finish department. Likewise, the feel of door handles and other actuations are a little unrefined, an easy sacrifice for a well-priced Crossover.
For the archaic systems that some of the older Acuras are sporting, the CR-V’s refreshed dash and navigation systems and layouts have been modernized nicely and are simple to operate. The display systems don’t offer as much information as, say, Fords do, but it’s all you really need and the average person will be able to figure it all out in hours rather than weeks.
The seats proved comfortable over long-haul trips and a high seating position gives good vision of the road in front. Out the back is another story, as a pitifully small rear window makes rearward vision painful at best. That small window is attached to a rather large door that provides a large opening to an equally impressive rear storage area. Headroom and ingress/egress are all well thought-out and perfected, making the CR-V a great child taxi.
As with most of Honda’s lineup, the CR-V is not going to be turning any heads with its charming good looks or state-of-the-art features. It doesn’t have the unique personality of, say, a Nissan Juke or Mini Countryman, but then it doesn’t have the same hindrances either. Hands down, the CR-V is one of the most practical and useful people movers available in the market. For the young family, it really can be all things.
Price as tested: $36,730
Layout: Front Engine, AWD
Engine: 2.4L DOHC I4
Power: 185 hp
Torque: 163 lb-ft
Transmission: 5-Speed auto
Curb weight:1,608 kg
Fuel Efficiency (city, hwy, com.): 9.2L/100km, 6.6L/100km, 8.1L/100km]]>
Story by Howard J Elmer
In the auto world, some years are bigger than others. In the truck world, for 2013, it’s a small year with the only real story being the mid-cycle refresh of the Ram 1500. However, for crossovers, there is a bumper crop of 2013 models, mainly because some traditional SUVs seem to be morphing into softer more crossover-style vehicles, pushing into that segment. This shift is led by a move away from full-frame construction and boxy truck-like designs. The New Ford Escape is a prime example, followed by the Nissan Pathfinder, both old-school SUVs that have (for want of a better description) gone soft this year.
2013 Ram 1500
The Ram 1500 has relied heavily on its 5.7-litre Hemi engine over the past several years to do business. However, sensing the turning tide, Ram has added the Pentastar V6 to the lineup for 2013. But what makes this more than just a routine engine addition is the TorqueFlite 8. This new eight-speed transmission is a first for any pickup truck and turns the 3.6-litre V6 (with 305 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque) into a powerful, fuel-saving wonder. Also new is air suspension (another first in a half-ton) that supports the truck and has load-leveling capability. With the air suspension, there are also two Off-Road modes, each raising the height of the truck when engaged. A third, Aero-Mode, drops ride height at highway speeds, adding one per cent to fuel economy, and a keyfob-activated fourth, Park-Mode, dumps all the air for easy in and out of the vehicle. Overall, the air bags can raise and lower the truck a total of 10 cm.
Inside there is a new customizable, full-colour seven-inch vehicle information centre in the dashboard, improved steering wheel controls and a centre stack-located 8.4-inch touch screen. Chrysler’s Uconnect access debuts on this new Ram with Wi-Fi hotspot capability. This feature will let you do work on the internet, right in the truck, wherever service is available, as well as having Uconnect receive email and “reading” the message to the driver.
A nice upgrade to the popular Ram Boxes and the tailgate is a new auto-lock feature using the keyfob. Also new, buried in the fine print but of key significance to those who work and tow, is the addition of the 6’4” cargo bed to the Crew Cab model, a shortcoming on previous trucks.
2013 Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra and Heavy Duty
2014 is the upcoming next generational change for GM's 1500-series twins. And in the meantime, there isn’t a peep out of the General as to what to expect. So with all its attention focused on next year, the 2013 models will remain very much the same for both the half-ton truck and the HD segment.
2013 Ford F150 and SuperDuty
For 2013, the F-150 will get a mild design change and all-new driver control technology, specifically the MyFord Touch voice-activated driver controls. Up front, the fascia is lightly massaged and the truck also gets high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps. A few other tweaks and that’s about it. Frankly, the only area that Ford doesn’t seem to have exhausted is the luxury segment. For 2013, it has added a Limited trim package, that brings the total to eight now. That’s up from seven in ’09 and just five in ’04. However, Ford has fixed what I considered a flaw on the half-ton. For ’13, it has added new trailer tow mirrors. While still an option, these power folding and telescoping tow mirrors are something the F-150 definitely had a need for. SuperDuty trucks remain virtually the same next year.
2013 Ford Escape
Yes, for 2013, we are getting an all-new Escape; and when I say new I mean from the rubber-up new. In fact, if you love your old Escape, hang on to it, because there won’t be another like it.
That’s it. No remnant of the old three-box body style is left at all. Interestingly, this sleeker new look actually hides the fact that this Escape is slightly longer than the old model. It is a space difference put to good use in upping the cargo space inside. So, while space for stuff is up, the seats have slimmed down, shedding 1.4 kg each, yet they’ve added functions. Two-way lumbar support and two-way power recline joins the familiar six-way adjustable norm for greater position variety. Front seat head restraints are now also four-way adjustable too.
Powering this new Escape is either a 1.6 or 2.0-litre four-cylinder (both of which are EcoBoost engines) and a non-EcoBoost 2.5-litre four as base.
In fact, the 1.6-litre motor has, so far, only been available in Europe, so Escape will be its first North American pairing. Making 178 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, the 1.6 EcoBoost pushes power through a six-speed automatic to drive an all-new intelligent four-wheel drive system very much meant for on-road traction control.
Also new this year is an automatic hatch opener, one that is activated by making a kicking motion under the centre of the rear bumper. This activates a censor that unlocks and raises the liftgate. Incidentally the cargo deck height has been lowered in next year’s model. As for other electronic features, the 2013 Escape will have Ford’s park assist available, as well as a new Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) that searches for vehicles in the Escape’s blind spots and sounds a warning; nothing really new there. However, it also detects cross-traffic, like when backing out of a parking space.
The 2013 Pathfinder is another SUV that has crossed over, leaving its truck-like image behind. It will weigh less than its predecessor, offer a 26-percent improvement in fuel economy and morph to a shape that is anything but old-school SUV-like. Nissan says the new design pays homage to the previous three generations of Pathfinder, but it is now built on a unibody platform and has great concerns about being aerodynamic. With this body change, though, comes some new features like a panoramic dual-panel moonroof. Its front panel opens, while the fixed portion extends over the second and third rows.
All new Pathfinders will be powered by an advanced 3.5-litre V6 engine that makes 260 horsepower and is driven by Nissan’s CVT transmission. One concession to the Pathfinder of old is the continued tradition of selectable 2WD, 4WD and an available intuitive all-mode 4x4 system.
Inside new materials and design features are built around the concept of comfortable seating for up to seven. All-new electronics for 2013 include a touch-screen monitor, Bluetooth, hands-free phone, 13-speaker Bose audio system, dual–zone climate control, rear-view monitor, remote engine start, tri-zone entertainment system, heated steering wheel, and heated and cooled seats in front and in the second row.
Hyundai Santa Fe
Probably the best news about the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe is that its price will not increase despite the redesign and adding of content. This five-passenger SUV has now been designed with Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture” styling, an effort that has seen a revamp of Hyundai’s signature elements across its models. Engine-wise, next year sees a new 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder GDI engine being added (making 264 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque). The base engine is a 2.4-litre four-cylinder that makes 190 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque. The V6 option has been dropped.
This four-cylinder-only lineup has increased fuel economy by an average of 12 percent. Each engine is coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual mode.
Other available options are AWD system with Active Cornering Control (ACC), sliding second-row seating, heated steering wheel, heated seats front and back, rear-view camera with park assist sensors, and a full range of safety equipment in addition to the seven airbags.
Porsche Cayenne GTS
After two generations of Cayenne, this high-powered sports-car-like SUV from Porsche is no longer an anomaly. Now for 2013, it’s been refreshed and a GTS model has been added, sliding in between the 400-horsepwoer V8 version and the V8 Turbo top-of-the-line.
The first generation GTS sold 15,766 units or 17 percent of total Cayenne sales, certainly a good enough reason to follow it up with a second generation GTS. However, this time the SUV’s character does take a darker turn. The body is lowered by 24 mm and the rear track is widened by 17 mm, while the front axle grows by 13 mm. Special side skirts and wider wheel arches (all in the body colour) shape the side view, while the window frames are painted high-gloss black. But what grabs your attention is at the rear of the SUV. A roof spoiler with a twin-wing profile is prominent, yet functional, increasing real downforce on the rear axle. High-gloss black trim is also found on the tailgate, around the tinted LED tail lights, and finishes with two black twin tailpipes.
Brakes, too, get a unique GTS look with bright red-painted calipers against the black background. Other design cues (some optional) include contrasting stitching in Carmine Red or Peridot on the dashboard, door elements, seats and centre console armrest, and embroidered “GTS” lettering can be put on the headrests, the safety belts and the stitching on the foot mats in various colours.
This current update is applied to the third generation of the XC70, one of the first “crossovers.” For 2013, a new focal point has been added, a redesigned upper instrument panel that houses the new standard Volvo Sensus system. This unit lets the driver run the audio unit, navigation system (if equipped) and other functions from one spot, all displayed on a seven-inch high-def colour monitor.
Also new is a Climate Package that includes heated windshield washer nozzles, headlight washers, rain-sensor windshield wipers and an interior air quality system (IAQS). Beyond this, Volvo is showing an obvious desire to take this vehicle up-market by packing it with luxurious appointments.
Body-wise, nothing has really changed for the XC70. It will continue to offer its 3.2 and T6 AWD versions, but with all-new trim levels. For example, the new 3.2 Premier trim level has leather seating surfaces, a power glass moonroof, power passenger seat, walnut inlays, and dark-tint rear windows. Building on the Premier package is the “Plus” adding a power tailgate, front and rear park assist, 12V power outlet in the cargo area, grocery bag holder, Homelink remote garage door opener, keyless drive with Personal Car Communicator (PCC), compass integrated into the inside rear view mirror, private locking, power folding rear head restraints and a cargo cover. But the new boss will be the Platinum. This has Premium Sound System, Navigation System with Voice Control, and rear park assist camera.
Subaru XV Crosstrek
For 2013 Subaru, is debuting an all-new vehicle in the XV Crosstrek. The name, by itself, leaves no doubt as to where it should fit in automotive descriptions. This all-wheel drive crossover utility offers a five-door design with fuel efficiency delivered in a capable go (almost) anywhere AWD package.
Available with a five-speed manual or CVT automatic transmission, the Crosstrek is powered by Subaru’s 2.0-litre Boxer engine, which makes 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. This five-passenger vehicle comes with standard roof rails for carrying items like bicycles and kayaks, while the cargo area is protected with a standard floor cover and has tie-downs and grocery bag hooks. Crosstrek will also tow up to 680 kg.
Inside, it has a three-spoke steering wheel and a 4.3-inch colour multi-function display in the centre of the dashboard. Three trim levels offer progressively more comfortable interiors and additional conveniences like leather-trimmed upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control system, chrome door handles, body-coloured door mirrors with LED-integrated turn signals, in-dash navigation and back-up camera.
Subaru, known for its concern for safety, projects that the 2013 XV Crosstrek will be granted five-star safety ratings in the coming NHTSA front and side crash tests.
For 2013, Infiniti has moved to fill a gap in its lineup with this large crossover, fitting in between the huge QX56 and the smaller sporty FX.
And while it is a crossover, I also see it as a closet minivan. Here are some of the highlights. The second-row seat slides and tilts with one lever to allow easy third-row access, even with a car seat fixed in that second-row seat. That’s unique. The second and third row also get individual HVAC vents, while the second row can also be equipped with twin video screens in the front seat head restraints as well as split seating, armrests, storage and audio/video controls. Doors open wide, locks stay on even in park and overhead, the moonroof gives everyone a view. See? Minivan.
In a family values vehicle, safety always comes up, so the JX carries all the electronic helpers that are normal (as well as standard AWD) yet Infiniti has also managed to add an all-new one, a world first. Backup Collision Intervention (BCI) does what its name implies, but the reality of how it might save a darting child or prevent a blindsided accident is significant.
Among the other available technology found on the new JX are Drive Zone/Speed Alert; Around View Monitor (AVM)(shows a 360 degree view); Moving Object Detection (MOD); Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Lane Departure Prevention (LDP); Blind Spot Intervention (BSI) system; Intelligent Cruise Control (Full-Speed Range); Distance Control Assist (DCA); Intelligent Brake Assist (IBA) with Forward Collision Warning (FCW); Active Trace Control and Front Pre-Crash Seat Belts.]]>
Story by Howard J Elmer
North America is the undisputed land of the pickup truck. It was born here, matured here, and its history mimics our code of self reliance. It’s part of our culture. In fact, if you head down to the Detroit area (among the various manufacturers’ automobile collections) you’ll find a number of pickup trucks that are considered icons. Models like the Ford F100, the Dodge Power Wagon and the Chevy Cheyenne to name just a few. But, among these domestic trucks there is an interesting foreign-built one that can be found in the GM Heritage Centre, in Sterling Heights, Michigan. It’s a 1960 Chevrolet Brasil pickup. And while it is a GM vehicle, it was built outside North America and its design was one that never left the native country it was named after.
This foreign Chevy half-ton was built and sold in Brazil from 1958 to 1964, and in 2005 it was the first South American vehicle to be inducted into the GM Heritage collection. But unlike many of the ground-up restorations that were trailered to the Detroit-area exhibit, this truck arrived in Michigan on its own wheels after having been driven 16,000 km from its birthplace deep in the heart of the Amazon.
When it arrived, Brent Dewar, GM marketing chief at the time, said “this group crossed two continents, ten countries and the Amazon River in just over five weeks, as well as surviving torrid heat, intermittent storms, treacherous roads and even a mild earthquake along the way – all without air conditioning or power steering.”
At the induction, asked why they would choose to drive to Michigan, Mr. Luiz Cezar Thomas Fanfa, expedition leader and retired PR director for GM in Brazil, explained that the Chevy Brasil (produced for almost 20 years in three generations) is such a loved truck in his country that it is credited with driving Brazil’s push to industrialize itself.
Launched as model 3100 (a.k.a. the Chevrolet Brasil) in 1958, this light-load pickup was used extensively throughout the country. But the key to its cultural significance came in 1960 when the new capital of Brasilia was established. Brazil, with its major urban centres found only on its Atlantic coastline, decided to locate Brasilia in the heart of the Amazon jungle to encourage development of the interior. Attracted by the potential of prosperity, millions of Brazilians moved to centrally located São Paulo, and especially to Brasilia – a migration made in vehicles like the Chevy Brasil.
At about the same time as these pioneers were moving into the interior, new nationalist policies governing their automobile industry decreed that models like the Chevy Brasil had to built in their country, with local domestic labour and with up to 80 percent of all parts being produced in Brazil.
Now General Motors, which launched its operations in Brazil in 1925, was already building cars and trucks for the domestic Brazilian market, but it then had to increase its presence by shipping stamping dies to new factories in Brazil to obey the new content rules. This is why the Brasil in Sterling Heights strikes you as such an unusual design, one not found anywhere else. That’s because the body of this truck used tooling from at least two different generations of '50s Chevrolet pickup trucks.
As GM Detroit changed truck bodies, they sent the old tooling to Brazil, where the engineers mixed the sheet metal from different North American designs, coming up with a unique Brazilian pickup. It’s this odd 1960 model that made the trip to Michigan to take its place amongst its North American cousins.
Over the 37 days of this journey, the Brazilian drivers experienced a few minor problems, including having their gasoline stolen from the vehicles prior to the start, and later running out of gas when Venezuelan police only allowed partial fill-ups at official gas stations. Some experiences, though, were a bit more exciting, such as the 110-km police-escorted crossing of an aboriginal reserve in the Amazonian rain forest: because of the risk of attack by native tribes.
The vehicles themselves proved reliable (one broken electrical generator and some leaky brake lines being the only problems), while the tires proved remarkably immune to the extremely rough and potholed roads over most of the route.
The drivers said that it is these attributes of the Brasil (many of which are still working today) that has made them a cultural icon in the past 50 years of Amazon settlement.
Driving a Vintage Truck Across America
Story by Howard J Elmer
The emotions that evoke love are born in the chemicals of the brain, yet paradoxically, love has no brains. Instead we feel the effects in our hearts. The ache invades our chests and tears soon follow, happy or sad. The cause? Take your pick – sappy songs, happy memories, sad lost opportunities, beautiful sights, or evocative smells.
It’s this last one that caused a lump to leap into my throat as I first sat in the 1971 Chevy Cheyenne pickup I’d just bought. The smell instantly transported me back to the days when as a 13-year-old, I taught myself how to drive my Dad’s truck behind our Toronto machine shop. Frankly, having travelled all the way to Colorado to get this truck, it’s exactly what I wanted to feel; it was glorious to bathe in that nostalgia. But, then the drive started and the warm and fuzzy gave way to the nasty and annoying.
I’d forgotten how small the cabs were on these trucks and frankly, I just fit. There is also no storage; the seat doesn’t fold forward (because the gas tank is right there) and what little space is available under the seat is consumed by the jack.
And that block foam bench seat? Well, the first hundred kilometres were okay but then I started to fidget. Why? The seat has no recline, no tilt, no lumbar support, it doesn’t raise or lower and has no bolsters – it just does not adjust. Now, I’d remembered these seats fondly because they were great for dates, but I had forgotten that when making a sharp turn, you risked sliding across the truck. Speaking of tilt, the steering is fixed, too. No up or down, no forward or back – I found I was constantly twisting in the seat and changing my grip because my hands, arms and shoulders got sore.
Then there is the HVAC on the truck. One defrost position, one heat position, no air conditioning and three weak fan speeds. Done, finished. A/C was available in 1971 but it was a $500 option. I say again, 500 bucks on a truck that was already expensive at $3,150. Thankfully, that’s changed today; every econobox has A/C.
Then I considered my power options. Power windows and door locks, power steering and brakes. All standard today; of these I have two. For which I was thankful, as the steering and brakes were options too (however they are nothing like what we have today). I do have front disc brakes (just introduced on the truck that year) but no ABS, or EBD, or traction control, or limited slip, or stability control, or backup sensors or lane departure warning, or blind spot indicators. For safety, I have a single lap belt; no shoulder belt, no pretensioners, no airbags, no rollover sensors or side-curtain protection, no crumple zones, no radar/sonar, impact preparation or collapsing steering column. No, in my ’71 Cheyenne, I am the only real safety system.
As for the windows, well, that’s also the A/C. It’s what we used to laughingly call 260-A/C back then. (That’s two windows down, drive 60 mph and get a breeze). My windows also have cute cranks, which are annoying opening and closing dozens of times a day (made me wish for winter).
Then there are the locks! I had completely forgotten what a pain manual locks were. Need to open the passenger side? Well, just lay flat on the seat and stretch with your finger-tips while your wife makes faces through the window because you’re slow. Want to lock the door once you’re in? Smack the button with your elbow. Want to get out? Well you can’t just reef on the handle; you have to pull the button up first. But that’s not all; want to lock the truck? It has to be done from outside with the key. So you first lock the driver door, then walk around and lock the passenger door. Come out of the store after two minutes and repeat the circle to unlock. That’s why no one used to lock their cars! Today, it all happens with a flick of a remote, or do nothing at all if your car recognizes the keyfob in your pocket.
Now, I love the look of my truck, however after a day battling headwinds in Iowa, I realized that the GM engineers who designed it didn’t spend much time testing in the wind tunnel. The study of aerodynamics, which plays a huge part in all modern vehicle design, is virtually absent from my truck. Driving the ’71 at 120 km/h is akin to pushing a sheet of plywood through peanut butter. And drag? When I’d pass a transport truck the Cheyenne would leap forward as it was sucked into the trailer's vacuum. Once past the truck, the speed was hammered and it was peanut butter time again.
What else? How about two-speed wipers (no intermittent). No cupholders – unless you hold your own. A five-push-button AM radio with one tinny speaker in the dash that traps flies. This is also the entertainment system – watching the little mummified bodies bouncing on the speaker, that is. No seek, no recall, no stereo. Want music? Start tuning manually, repeating every 15 minutes as you lose the station; of course, at 120 km/h, with the windows wide open, its best just to turn it off. But what I probably miss most is cruise control. I’d forgotten how sore your foot and calf can get holding that accelerator hour after hour.
Oh well, all these things would come and it’s obvious why they did. The comforts and conveniences (not to mention safety) on my truck suck! In fact there isn’t a single thing on my ‘71 that I’d say is better than what’s available today. So, if you have a habit of saying things like “they don’t build’em like they used to!” - I say, thank goodness.
The Invis-A-Rack by Dee Zee cargo management system is unlike any traditional “ladder rack” on the market. Invis-A-Rack’s collapsible design makes it virtually disappear when folded down when not in use. But don’t be fooled by its sleek design. Invis-A-Rack is a full featured system that holds up to 500 lbs for either work or play. Invis-A-Rack will be formally introduced at the 2012 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. Creator Donny McCall will be giving daily seminars on the features and benefits in the Dee Zee booth #31037.
For more information please go to www.deezee.com]]>
For more information please go to www.westinautomotive.com]]>
The new OR-Fab rock doors for the 2007-2012 Jeep JK Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited will provide a safe, reliable way to enjoy your trail ride. The doors are made from 1-1/4 inch, .095-thick steel tubing with full loop construction to ensure superior strength and durability. The doors feature an OR Fab Geko nylon safety pad that includes a zippered carrying pouch, and adjustable hinges and latches to ensure a perfect fit. The rock doors are available in either a gloss or wrinkled black powder coat finish.
For more information please go to www.orfab.com]]>
Zone Offroad is now offering brand new four- and six-inch suspension lift kits for the 2005-2012 Toyota Tacoma 4x4. This new lift will give Tacoma owners the option of fitting up to 35-inch tires. The systems are built from ¼-inch-thick front and rear crossmembers and incorporate all of the front differential mounting points in order to utilize the OE mounting brackets. The kits include all of the necessary parts like bump stop extensions, sway bar relocation, and strut extensions, plus you get your choice of either Zone Hydro or Nitro rear shocks.
For more information please go to www.zoneoffroad.com]]>