This is a big year-no, a huge year-in terms of new 4x4s coming to market. Just how huge smacked us square in the face when we realized that our annual 4x4 of the Year competition (which we'll bring you next month) could be the biggest ever, with close to 20 vehicles in contention.
And we're not talking just about revisions to existing trucks, though there's plenty of that going on. For 2003, manufacturers are introducing a wide range of all-new vehicles too, from GM's brawny Hummer H2 to Kia's new Sorento. For the first time, Volkswagen and Porsche are entering the SUV market. And some familiar nameplates, like Range Rover and 4Runner, are coming out with from-the-wheels-up revisions.
So, if you're in the market for a new truck, how do you keep track of what's hot and what's not? That's where we come in. On these pages you'll find a brief description of most of the new 4x4s for the coming model year, organized by vehicle type. Note that these vehicles are what we consider "true" 4x4s, with low ranges in their transfer cases. If your heart's desire is an AWD station wagon or one of those "crossover" utilities, you'll need to look elsewhere.
The big news for 2003 is in big trucks. Dodge has introduced 31/44- and 1-ton versions of its restyled Ram pickups, bringing all of last year's 11/42-ton styling changes to the heavy-duty side of the line. Don't worry, though-there's plenty of steak to back up the sizzle. For one thing, unlike the light-duty Rams, these trucks retain their solid-axle coil-spring front suspensions. And two new engines provide power for any work that needs doing. Chrysler's legendary Hemi name is back, on a new 5.7L V-8 that produces 345 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque. Diesel fans will welcome the new High Output version of the Cummins 5.9L inline turbodiesel that produces 305 hp and 555 lb-ft of torque. One interesting tidbit: It's now possible to order a Ram 3500 with single rear wheels, provided you want it as a Quad Cab.
The new-for-2002 11/42-ton Rams weren't totally ignored for 2003. A new Off-Road package loads the truck with LT275/70R17 tires, heavy-duty shocks, skidplates, 3.92 gears in the pumpkins, and a limited slip rear differential; and a Work Special option de-contents the truck somewhat with a steel rear bumper, steel wheels, and a gray front fascia.
Word is the Dakota will be revamped in 2004, so changes for this year are limited to a few appearance items and a new automatic transmission for the 4.7L V-8.
In the Ford camp there's also new diesel engine news in the form of a 6.0L Power Stroke for Super Duties that's smaller, yet more powerful, than its 7.3L predecessor. It uses four-valves-per-cylinder valvetrain technology, direct injection, and a variable boost turbocharger, among other engineering features, to produce 325 horses and 550 lb-ft of torque.
An all-new five-speed TorqShift automatic transmission has been designed to back the new Power Stroke, though the standard tranny aboard the Super Duty is still the ZF six-speed manual. Order the stick-shift and you'll get a standard left-side PTO. The PTO will also be an option on trucks with four-speed auto trannies.
In other Super Duty news, the heavy-duty trucks will be available with option packages that were only offered on F-150s before. The FX4 off-road equipment group, with its Rancho shocks and skidplates, will become a Super Duty item, as will the King Ranch package, with saddle-leather upholstery and unique exterior colors.
Few changes were made to the '03 F-150, but the Ranger will be getting a new off-road package, the FX4/Level II option. This equipment group includes 31x10.50 BFG All-Terrain T/A KO tires on 15-inch Alcoa forged aluminum rims, Bilstein shocks, a Torsen limited slip, 4.10 gears, tow hooks, skidplates, sport bucket seats, and special exterior treatments.