Light-duty trucks for 1999

While many light-duty models will be carried over from 1998 with few-if any-changes, both Ford and General Motors are releasing major new redesigns in their full-size pickup lines. At Ford, the news centers around a new commercial F-Series model line that brings heavier components and other work-related features to its popular F-Series design. Meanwhile, General Motors has redesigned its GMC and Chevrolet full-size pickups with new sheet metal and chassis components. Other news of note includes a natural-gas V-8 for Dodge's big van and a rush of four-door cabs from domestic and import truck makers for both full-size and compact pickups.

After a busy 1998, Dodge has few changes planned for its 1999 light trucks. Chief among those changes is a natural-gas V-8 option for its Ram Van and full availability of the new ISC Cummins Turbo Diesel for the full-size Ram pickup and cab chassis. The 1999 mid-size Dakota pickup will feature 4-, 6- and 8-cylinder engine options.

Having introduced the Ram Quad Cab in mid-1998, Dodge says the popular option remains the only four-door extended cab offered throughout a full-size pickup-model lineup. The Quad Cab design features two aft-hinged rear doors that offer better passenger and cargo access to the extended cab's rear seat.

Also introduced late in the 1998 model year, the new 6-cylinder Cummins Turbo diesel provides more power and better fuel efficiency with a 24-valve head and a new electronically controlled high-pressure fuel-injection system. Power is up from 215 hp/440 pound-feet to 235 hp/460 pound-feet with a 5-speed manual transmission, and from 180 hp to 215 hp with a peak torque of 420 pound-feet with a 4-speed automatic. Fuel efficiency is said to be 5 percent better than the previous Cummins B diesel option, while the manufacturer has lengthened maintenance intervals by 25 percent.

The Dodge Ram Van saw its first major model overhaul in nearly 20 years in 1998 and will remain essentially unchanged for the new model year. Last year's makeover included new chassis, brake, suspension and interior designs, as well as three engine options: the Magnum 3.9-liter V6, 5.2-liter V8 and 5.9-liter V8. For 1999, Dodge also will offer the full-size work van with a natural-gas-engine system that features a new fuel tank capable of storing up to 46 percent more natural gas than previous designs.

The compact Dodge Dakota-completely redesigned in 1997-will be a carry-over for the new model year. The only compact pickup with a V8, Dodge will offer it with both the 230-hp 5.2-liter and 250-hp 5.9-liter Magnums, as well as the 175-hp 3.9-liter Magnum V6 and the 120-hp 2.5-liter Magnum I-4.

The new model year marks a split for Ford's light-duty F-Series as it introduces a separate line of commercial 1999 Super Duty models greater than 8,500 pounds gross vehicle weight (GVW). Although most of the 1999 Super Duty F-Series will be in Classes 3 through 5, the Super Duty F-250 pickup is rated at 8,800 pounds GVW, and the F-350 pickup and chassis cab carries a 9,900-pound-GVW rating. Ford offers both commercial models with regular, super and crew cabs, as well as with short or long boxes or a box-delete option. You also can get them in 4x2 and 4x4 configurations.

Powertrain choices for the two Super Duty models include the 5.4-liter Triton V8 (275 hp), 6.8-liter Triton V10 (275 hp) and the 7.3-liter Powerstroke Diesel V8 (235 hp). You can order the two gasoline engines with a redesigned 4-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission or a 5-speed manual. The standard transmission with the diesel is a 6-speed manual. Other commercial-truck features for the Super Duty F-250 and F-350 include a twin I-beam front suspension for 4x2 models as well as power disc brakes on all 4-wheel ends and an optional 4-wheel anti-lock brake system (ABS).

Less than 8,500 pounds GVW, Ford's F-150 and F-250 full-size pickups will see some cosmetic changes with a new front bumper and grill. On a more practical note, the 1999 models get a standard fourth door for SuperCab versions, and Ford will offer them with an optional 5.4-liter Triton V8 producing 260 hp and peak torque of 345 pound-feet. Other minor but noteworthy changes include turned rotors for the F-150/F-250 disc brakes and a dual-diaphragm vacuum booster.

Ford redesigned its compact Ford Ranger pickup halfway through the '98-model year, and it will remain unchanged for '99. Main features include a four-door SuperCab and optional 3-liter V6, plus a longer wheelbase and beefed up chassis and suspension components.

Ford's full-size Econoline van will receive minor mechanical changes for 1999. A 4.2-liter V6 powers the E-150 (6,050 pounds GVW) and E-250 (8,600 pounds GVW), and Ford revised the cylinder heads and gave it new intake and exhaust manifolds this year. The 5.4-liter V8 is the base engine for the heavier E-350 (9,400 pounds GVW), which will get 4-wheel ABS and disc brakes as standard equipment in the new model year.

Squeaking into the light-truck category with a GVW rating of 9,998 pounds, the MT-35 walk-in van chassis from the Freightliner Custom Chassis division saw significant modifications in 1998 and will remain unchanged for the new model year. A Cummins' 130-hp, 4-cylinder B 3.9-liter diesel mated to an Eaton Fuller FS4205A 5-speed direct manual transmission powers the chassis. An Allison automatic is optional. The front axle is a Rockwell FC with a flatleaf suspension. The rear axle is a Spicer HD-70, also with a flatleaf suspension. Three wheelbases of 138, 158.5 and 178 inches are available.

The big news for General Motors is a major redesign for its GMC Truck and Chevrolet full-size pickup. The 1999 GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado carry restyled front ends with slightly different looks for each nameplate. Initially, they will be available as the half-ton 1500 Series and three-quarter-ton 2500 Series, with a 1-ton version available later in the year. GM offers both the 1500 and 2500 models with regular and extended cabs and redesigned cargo boxes that offer more cubic capacity. The heavier 2500 Series also has a chassis-cab model rated 8,600 pounds GVW.

Functional changes include a three-piece modular frame said to provide both better structural rigidity and improved ride with fewer body squeaks and rattles. Power options include three reworked Vortec V8s, the 4.8-liter 4800 (255 hp/285 pound-feet), the 5.3-liter 5300 (270 hp/315 pound-feet) and the 6.0-liter 6000 (300 hp/355 pound-feet). GM's 6.5-liter Turbo-Diesel (215 hp/440 pound-feet) also will be available. The Sierra's/Silverado's standard transmission is a 5-speed manual, while an optional electronically controlled 4-speed automatic comes with a tow/haul mode to improve performance when the truck is heavily loaded or pulling a trailer.

GM's older pickup design also will continue as 1999 models as the GMC Sierra Classic and Chevrolet C/K. They will be available in half-ton, three-quarter-ton and 1-ton versions.

GM has given no official word on any 1999 changes for the compact Chevrolet S-Series and GMC Sonoma pickup. However, it is likely that the small truck will receive a third door for its extended Space Cab sometime later in the model year.

Chevy and GMC full-size G Vans also will remain essentially unchanged in 1999.

Although American Isuzu Motors has hinted that it might soon add a Class-2 truck to its line of commercial cabover models, currently its one light-truck offering suitable for fleet applications is the Hombre. The compact pickup is built on the same U.S. assembly line as its GM cousin, the Chevy S-Series/GMC Sonoma but wears unique sheet metal supplied by GM do Brasil. While Isuzu has offered no official word yet, one change for 1999 may be a three-door version of the Hombre's extended Space Cab. GM's 2.2-liter 4 cylinder will continue as the truck's base engine mated to a 5-speed manual overdrive transmission. Both 2- and 4-wheel-drive models will be available.

The major change for Mazda's B-Series compact pickup was the introduction of a four-door cab as the 19981/2 Cab Plus 4 model. Built by Ford on its Ranger platform, the Mazda B-Series also received a thorough styling update earlier in the 1998 model year, so don't expect other changes of note for 1999. The B2500 is powered by a 119-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, the B3000 by a 3-liter V6 producing 150 hp and the B4000 by a 160-hp 4-liter V6. The standard transmission for all three models is a 5-speed manual overdrive, and a 4-speed automatic with a lockup torque converter is optional. The V6 models are available with either 2- or 4-wheel drive.

Introduced in 1998, Nissan's compact Frontier pickup will have no significant exterior changes for 1999. However, it will see some noteworthy powertrain modifications, including availability of a 3.3-liter V6 engine and automatic transmission for 4-wheel-drive models. The V6, which was introduced for 2-wheel-drive models halfway through the 1998 model year, produces 170 hp and peak torque of 200 pound-feet. This year, Nissan also will offer all V6 models with an optional limited-slip differential. The Frontier's base engine is a dual-overhead-cam 2.4-liter 4-cylinder. Nissan will continue to offer both Standard and King Cab versions in the new model year, in addition to an optional electronically controlled 4-speed automatic transmission.

No official word was available at presstime on Toyota's plans for its 1999 light-truck models. It's expected, however, that the compact Tacoma pickup will receive few, if any, changes. It is currently available in regular and extended-cab models with either an in-line 4-cylinder or V6 engine. Notable options include a full-locking rear differential that you can engage with a dash-mounted button.

The larger T100, which fits somewhere in between a domestic mid- and full-size pickup, will be unchanged for 1999. You can expect Toyota to replace the T100 before the end of the model year with the T150, an even larger model that will compete with full-size trucks such as the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado and Dodge Ram. Built at a new plant in Indiana, the T150 will be available with Toyota's 3.4-liter V6 and the company's 4.7-liter V8. Toyota will offerit with standard and four-door extended cabs in both 4x2 and 4x4 configurations.

Jim Mele is editorial director for Fleet Owner magazine, PRIMEDIA Intertec, a division of PRIMEDIA (Overland Park, Kan.).

Copyright 1998 PRIMEDIA Intertec. Excerpted and edited from July 1998 Fleet Owner. Used with permission.

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