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Category Archives: Trucks

What I think: 2015 Chevrolet Colorado

2015-chevrolet-colorado-chase-003

Chevrolet’s second-generation Colorado has kicked off a resurgence in the popularity of mid-size pickup trucks, and with good reason. It’s comfortable and spacious inside and has a great ride for a truck, and for what it’s worth, it’s a handsome machine. This is a great truck for drivers who drivers who need some utility but won’t make use of a full-size pickup. Read my review at Autofocus.ca.

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Posted by on February 27, 2015 in Autofocus, Chevrolet, Trucks

 

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Straight Eight: 2015 Toyota Tacoma

2015 Toyota Tacoma

1. That’s near Seattle, right?
Tacoma. Colorado. Canyon. Sierra. Silverado. Dakota. Is there a rule that pickups have to be named after American places and geological formations?

2015 Toyota Tacoma

2. Don’t call me small
The Tacoma is smaller than the brand’s full-size Tundra (see what we mean about names?), but they refer to it as “mid-sized.” This is the Double Cab version; the base Access Cab model also has four doors, but the back ones are smaller and the tiny rear seats useless.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

3. A step in the wrong direction
OK, let’s get in the truck – but watch out: the side steps are too high and just get in the way, and once you’ve climbed up, you have to duck down to avoid whacking your head on the door frame.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

4. It’s raining on my groceries
For stuff you don’t want exposed to the elements, the back seats fold to create a flat load surface. You have to remove the headrests first, though, and there’s nowhere to stow them.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

5. Get into bed
For less-perishable cargo, there’s the bed. Curiously, Double Cab trucks with a manual transmission get a five-foot bed, while the automatic version I drove has one that measures a little longer than six feet. The bed was just a bit shorter than the junk I had to haul to the dump. (Of course it was.)

2015 Toyota Tacoma

6. Rough, going
Many modern trucks ride surprisingly smoothly, thanks to sophisticated suspension designs, but Tacoma’s decade-old design barely qualifies as modern, and shows its age in the poor ride quality.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

7. Small(er) truck, big thirst
My tester’s V6 moves the Tacoma well, but average fuel consumption was higher than two V8-powered Chevrolet trucks I tested earlier this year.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

8. Priced to stay put
Pricewise, at $40,000, my top-of-the-line test truck lacked many creature comforts. I’m okay with a basic truck, but similar money will buy you a V8-powered, full-size truck that will tow and haul more weight. Oh, well. Maybe if they’d called it the Seattle.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2014 in Straight Eight, Toyota, Trucks

 

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What I think: 2015 Chevrolet Suburban

2015 chevrolet suburban CHASE 001

When I was a kid in the 1980s, my best friend’s parents had a Chevy Suburban that they used to tow an RV large enough to accommodate their family of five. Having grown up around the small Japanese cars my dad drove, I was amazed by this beast of a truck that, if I recall correctly, I was lucky enough to hitch a ride in just once.

No doubt many other kids and their families have spent time in Suburbans: it’s one of the oldest SUV names in the business, first seen in a showroom in the 1930s. About 80(!) years later, the Suburban carries on, having just enjoyed a redesign into its 12th(!!) generation for 2015.

No surprise, the Suburban’s still a big boy, stretching nearly 19 feet long. That, for the sake of perspective, is nearly a foot longer than my little townhouse is wide. All those jokes about piloting a Suburban being like driving around in your living room are suddenly much less funny.

2015 chevrolet suburban CHASE 002

For all its size, Chevrolet’s designers have done a good job masking the Suburban’s bulk. It isn’t until you’re in the driver’s seat and you see, through the rear view mirror, how much SUV there is behind you that you realize how large this truck really is.

My tester was done up in top-end LTZ trim, including GM’s magnetic ride control suspension, which the company says “reads” the road and adjusts its responses every five milliseconds. That’s a fancy way of saying it makes the Suburban drive like a vehicle two-thirds its size and weight. If you ignore how the heavy rear live axle clomps over rough pavement, the ride is more like that of a big sedan, not a nearly three-ton SUV.

2015 chevrolet suburban CHASE 003

Magnetic ride control does wonders in other ways, too: body roll feels nearly non-existent in aggressive cornering, and in a near-panic stop, there was none of the body-pitching-forward drama that normally accompanies that sort of maneuver. Having driven the previous-generation Chevy Tahoe (a shorter version of the same truck) both with and without this trick suspension, I can say that its effect is even more pronounced in a back-to-back comparison. The LTZ is a $71,000 vehicle before options (Suburban’s base price is around $52,500), but it’s nearly worth that for this suspension alone.

Other standard kit in LTZ trim includes heated and ventilated front seats, heated second row seats, power-folding second- and third-row seats, intelligent keyless entry, electric steering column adjustment, heated steering wheel, power-adjustable pedals (these come in mid-level LT trim, too), front and rear park assist (a backup camera is standard in all models), Xenon headlights, auto-dimming side and rear view mirrors, and a 10-speaker Bose stereo.

2015 chevrolet suburban CHASE 010

As good as the suspension is at suspending the laws of physics, the truck’s ample mass reveals itself in other ways. The sole engine available is a 5.3-litre V8, rated at 355 hp and 382 lb-ft of torque, and while it has no trouble moving the Suburban at a relaxed pace, it works hard at wider throttle openings. Three tons, remember?

Fuel consumption is estimated at 15.4 L/100 km (city) and 10.8 L/100 km (highway) (impressive numbers given Natural Resources Canada’s more stringent five-cycle test, which applies to all 2015 models). However, the reality of moving this much truck around is more like 17.0 L/100 km in the city, even with a light right foot. That said, the truck’s informative trip computer says that my tester had, at some point, done as well as 9.4 L/100 km, presumably in relaxed highway driving.

2015 chevrolet suburban CHASE 008

We tested the Suburban’s carrying capacity a couple of times: once with a flat-packed Ikea sofa (two large boxes fit handily, along with two passengers); and again, with a shipment of donations headed to the food bank (which started out piled five-and-a-half feet high on a skid) that also fit easily, though we suspect that load came close to maxing out the truck’s 782-kg (1,725 lb) payload.

I didn’t have an opportunity to test the Suburban’s towing capacity, but Chevrolet rates that at 3,765 kg (8,300 lb), or a little less with four-wheel drive.

There’s not much clearance under the open tailgate; even at five-foot-seven, I instinctively ducked every time I had to load or unload. Yes, that was with the power tailgate (standard in LT and LTZ models) set to open all the way; it can be toggled to open just three-quarters of the way for loading in confined spaces, like a low-ceilinged parkade.

2015 chevrolet suburban CHASE 005

For anyone accustomed to how “badly” large trucks traditionally go over the road, the Suburban will be a pleasant surprise. Certainly, much of that is owed to the engineers behind the magnetic ride control suspension, but it’s easy to see how, even without it, this truck would still be a manageable and, dare I say, pleasant vehicle to use, in spite of its size.

During the course of the week, many people asked me who buys such a “ridiculous” vehicle. Well, families like my old school friend’s, I told them. There are many vehicles that can tow large trailers, and many others that can move five people in comfort, but the Suburban is one of a rare few that can do both.

If I was amazed back then by the Suburban’s sheer size, I’m even more impressed with how easy it can be to live with one—even if I don’t have three kids and an RV to haul around.

This article previously appeared in the Montreal Gazette.

 

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Straight Eight: 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

1. Frugal fueler
This Ram pickup uses the same diesel V6 as the Jeep Grand Cherokee I wrote about a few weeks ago. This is a bigger, heavier vehicle, so it wasn’t quite as thrifty, but I averaged a tick below 11 L/100 km in a near 50/50 mix of city and highway driving.

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

2. Torque for the whole family
That’s like driving a family sedan that can tow 3,900 kg (8,500 pounds). Towing requires torque, and this engine makes 420 lb-ft of it. In simpler terms, this guy would dig it.

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel cargo bed

3. A huge truck that’s somehow still not big enough
If you order a Ram 1500 with the Crew Cab, you’re limited to a cargo bed measuring either five-foot-seven or six-foot-four. My test truck had the smaller, and less-useful, of the two. When you run out of room in the box for big stuff, fold the back seat up and the stowable cargo platform down to turn the back half of the cab into a large cargo area.

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Rambox

4. Boxed in
For smaller cargo, check out the optional Rambox compartments built into the side of the truck bed. Ostensibly, these were designed to carry tools and other work-related items, but after you’re done doing “manly” things, they’re also good for a decent load of groceries.

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel headliner

5. Dodgy
Fit and finish in my test truck wasn’t fantastic. Some of the dashboard panel fits were a bit dodgy, and the headliner looked unfinished where it ended above the rear window.

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel rotary dial shifter

6. Tune into gear
Why does the radio dial say P R N D above it? Just kidding: the Ram 1500 is the unlikely one of a few vehicles to ditch a conventional automatic transmission shift lever in favour of a rotary dial.

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

7. Riding on air
Ram is the only maker of full-size trucks to offer an adjustable air suspension. It’s neat for its smooth ride, and allows the truck to be lowered for easy entry and exit, or raised for extra ground clearance.

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel pricing

8. Price chopper
Chrysler, Ram’s parent company, is notorious for generous discounts and incentives, which, if you were buying one of these trucks, would take some of the sting out of an as-tested $65,000 price tag.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2014 in Diesel, Dodge, Ram, Trucks

 

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What I think: Buying a used Toyota Yaris

Toyota is in the midst of a cost-cutting campaign aimed at keeping this Japanese juggernaut competitive against aggressively-priced Korean cars, and the result is lower-quality vehicles in some cases. While the Internet suggests there are a few common flaws with the Yaris, organizations like Consumer Reports think Toyota’s smallest car is still a good choice for a budget-priced used vehicle, and I tend to agree. Read all about it in my latest used car review at Autos.ca.

 
 

What I think: 2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost

By Chris Chase

Torque is a work truck’s best friend. This measurement, which indicates the amount of twisting force an engine generates, tells the truest tale of how much power the motor possesses. It’s also the number you need to concern yourself with if you plan to regularly tow or haul heavy things with your truck. Big horsepower numbers ensure quick acceleration and high top speeds, but torque does the grunt work.

Typically, torque has been the domain of the V8, with six-cylinders being the base engine in most full-size trucks for many years. Ford is taking a new tack with the 2011 F-150, offering a turbocharged V6 as an alternative to (though not at the exclusion of) V8 power.

It’s part of the company’s EcoBoost engine program, which will see smaller-displacement turbocharged powerplants offered alongside more traditional engine options in a variety of vehicle types. Among the first Fords to get EcoBoost action were the Taurus SHO and Flex, and the Lincoln MKT, all of which use the same turbocharged, 3.5-litre V6 found in the F-150 pickup I tested a few weeks ago.

In the F-150, the EcoBoost motor makes 365 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque, more of both than the 5.0-litre V8 (360 hp/380 lb-ft) that’s also available produces. For drivers after as much power as they can get, but happy to gloat that their more-potent motor is also more efficient, maybe this motor should be called EgoBoost. Whatever the name, it’s presumably a boost to Ford’s bottom line, as the company’s strategy is to market its turbocharged engines as an upgrade from a similarly-potent non-turbo engine. Hence, this turbo six is a $1,000 option compared to the 5.0-litre.

On paper, $1,000 for five horsepower and 40 lb-ft of torque sounds like a raw deal, but in practice, at least from a performance perspective, it seems like money well-spent. The EcoBoost’s higher torque output comes at a lower engine speed – 2,500 rpm, versus 4,250 for the 5.0-litre’s 380 lb-ft – and the result is a truck that is very responsive from a stop. The available low-end grunt is such that, when using the transmission’s manual shift mode, the engine pulls strongly even without shifting down from top gear at near-highway speeds.

That transmission is a six-speed automatic, the only one offered in any F-150. It works well in normal driving, but the first-to-second upshift gets harsh when creeping along at gridlock speeds. My suspicion is that this transmission was designed for heavy hauling, not the 9-5 commute, and so silky-smooth performance in such conditions wasn’t a priority.

With power and torque figures not far off those of the 5.0-litre V8, Ford says the EcoBoost’s main benefit is in fuel consumption; the idea is that a smaller engine with a power-adder like a turbocharger should use less fuel than a V8 with similar power numbers. The F-150 EcoBoost’s government fuel consumption ratings are 13.9/9.4 L/100 km with four-wheel drive; by comparison, the less-powerful 5.0-litre 4×4 is rated 15.0/10.5.

My EcoBoost tester averaged 15.5 L/100 km in a mix of city and highway driving. I think that’s a good result for a truck like my massive SuperCrew tester, and while you could expect that the 5.0-litre would have been thirstier in the same circumstances, don’t get your hopes up that the EcoBoost mill will turn this truck into a Prius at the pumps.

The last F-150 I tested was a 2009 with the old 5.4-litre V8, a truck that averaged 21 L/100 km in winter driving. A 2011 F-350 Super Duty with the latest Powerstroke diesel V8 managed an average in the high 16s last summer.

The only flaw in this engine’s performance is a pretty superficial one: it lacks the auditory attitude of a V8, or even the snarkier-sounding 3.7-litre base V6. Aside from some turbo whistle at wider throttle openings, the turbocharged F-150 sounds more like a Taurus than a truck.

The F-150’s four-wheel drive system is an electronic setup controlled by a rotary dashboard knob; options are two-wheel drive, and low and high ranges in 4WD mode.

When optioned with the SuperCrew cab as my tester was, the cabin is huge, with the extra space going toward rear seat accommodations, which are as spacious as a full-size luxury sedan’s; think along the lines of a BMW 7 Series in terms of leg- and headroom. In Platinum trim, the interior is indeed luxurious, too, with brown leather on the seats, heated and cooled front seats and two-temp heaters for the rears. The brushed metal and black woodgrain trim on the dash and doors looks pretty slick, too. The cabin is wide, and so are the seats, making for easy comfort in the supportive front buckets. The rear seat should easily fit three average-sized adults.

When you have more cargo than couples to bring along, the bottom cushions of the rear seats fold up, creating a terrific amount of space for bulky cargo that needs keeping dry. In my tester, the only impracticality back here was the (700 watt!) sound system amplifier, under the right-side rear seat. At least the stereo sounded great.

This brings me to an opinion I share with friend and fellow automotive journalist Jil McIntosh. In her recent review of a 2011 Ram pickup she tested, her observation was that trucks have undergone a significant amount of bracket creep in the last 10 or 15 years. My F-150 tester is as large as a previous-generation F-350 Super Duty (I know this from parking beside one), while the current Super Duty is an order of magnitude larger than this one.

Bracket creep in the auto industry is normal, but trucks have grown in height to the point that my tester’s electric, retracting running boards are practically a necessity for getting in and out of the vehicle, unless you want to cart a stepladder around everywhere you go. Categorically, I’ve nothing against convenience features like this, but what I don’t see is a direct correlation between tallboy trucks and payload/towing capacity. The full-size truck segment is beginning to look too much like a game of mine’s-bigger-than-yours. EgoBoost, indeed.

For the record, those power running boards (standard only in Platinum trim) can be deactivated to prevent them from deploying when they might get damaged – when parked over rough terrain, for example.

With the EcoBoost engine, the F-150’s max payload is 943 kg (2,080 lbs), and towing capacity maxes out at 5,125 kg (11,300 lbs). Those figures are for the lighter, regular cab model; the extra weight of extended cabs and bigger boxes eats into those capacities, so my tester’s figures were closer to the minimums of 3,628 kg (8,000 lbs) for towing and 798 kg (1,760 lbs) of payload. My buddy Mark, who always has a home improvement project on the go, needed a bunch of concrete mix, so we took the truck to the hardware store and lugged a dozen bags (800 pounds/360 kg worth!) of the stuff into the bed, where it made a noticeable, but not dramatic, difference in straight-line performance, and a marked improvement over the empty truck’s ride quality.

The SuperCrew cab can be ordered with either a 5.5- or 6.5-foot box; my tester had the shorter of the two, plus a bed extender that stretched the box to seven feet when in place. Ford’s foldout tailgate step and its attendant grab handle eased access to the bed. Even with what I think is a pretty small box for a big truck, the SuperCrew cab’s long wheelbase makes it a handful in tight situations.

Mark noted a couple of things he’d change about this truck: he wanted kick-out steps at the side of the box, for easier access to the contents without having to climb into it. And he made a good point about Ford’s tailgate step: when it’s deployed, it gets in the way of someone on the ground passing heavy stuff up to a partner in the truck bed. His suggestion was to offset it to one side of the tailgate so that it doesn’t have to be stowed again before loading stuff into the bed.

The steering is light, but road feel is negligible and it gets vague on-centre, which leads to some lane wandering at highway speeds. Strong brakes are as important in a big, heavy truck as in a sports car capable of high speeds; the F-150’s binders haul things down to a stop with confidence, minimal fuss, and great pedal feel.

F-150 SuperCrew pricing starts $35,199, which includes the base, 3.7-litre V6 engine. My tester was a well-loaded Platinum model, at an MSRP of $60,499, plus $1,000 for the EcoBoost engine, $350 for the bed extender and $900 for a trailer tow package that adds a class IV hitch, seven-pin wiring harness, SelectShift (automatic with manual shift function) transmission and upgraded engine and transmission cooling; as tested, my truck was worth $64,399, including $1,450 for freight.

Outside of diesel and high-performance models, turbocharging is a rare tactic in the truck market. In this case, the EcoBoost six has big power to match the F-150’s imposing stance; all that’s missing is the gutsy V8 soundtrack that I think provides the biggest boost to many a truck owner’s ego.

This review was previously published at Autos.ca.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2011 in Ford, Trucks, What I Think