'05 Dakota: New Look, More Performance, Better Handling
The new engine is way more refined than the previous offering, and the interior is noticeably quieter. Steering is lighter but more sensitive and responsive; overall handling balance is light years better than the old Dakota. Seating is also much improved in the new Dakota. Forward visibility (A-pillar width and placement) is about the same, though the peripheral and rear-quarter visibility is better with the new model. The new Dakota's towing manners are at the top of its class. We'll give you the full report in our Sport Truck of the Year Competition in the Feb. '05 issue.

'04 Ford F-250 Harley-Davidson
The 6.0L Ford Power Stroke diesel in the nose of the F-250 makes it one heck of a formidable sport truck. It's a torque monster, with 570 lb-ft of torque running through a five-speed automatic that flat moves this 5,000-pound beast musclecar-quick. And we have to admit, the Ford's custom version of a commercial vehicle delivers good handing for an office building on wheels, with a ride that, while not luxury by any means, is very comfortable. It's also a great-looking truck that's further enhanced by subtle custom Harley-Davidson touches such as signature badges, pedal treatments, and HD-colors paint scheme with Harley-Davidson script. If you're in the market for a truck that'll pull a house off its foundation, accelerate like a musclecar, and handle better than you think a truck of this stature should, now is a good time to check with your local Ford dealer to see if it has any left on the lot. Maybe you can negotiate a good deal.

All-New '05 Frontier: It's A 265hp, 284-Lb-Ft Road Rocket
Nissan North America Inc. says its all-new Nissan Frontier pickup will go on sale at Nissan dealerships nationwide in December 2004. The '05 Frontier is completely redesigned and is available with a 4.0L DOHC 24-valve V-6 engine that is rated at 265 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque. Nissan is claiming that the above specs make the new midsize hauler the power-master of V-6-equipped pickups, midsize or fullsize. We'll have to fact-check that assertion thoroughly later in the year when we'll put the new sport truck in a head-to-head competition.

What we can say now is the new piece is as impressive as the Titan. The truck has the Titan styling cues and backs it up with a strong performance. Our annual Sport Truck of the Year Competition is going to be a tough battle between some powerful midsize performers.

The New '05 Hummer SUT
First Drive:

You can't mistake the H2's extremely boxy body and rectangular windshield and windows for any other vehicle, save an H1. The squared box of a body offers a significant amount of interior room given the size of the rig, and we can always use more room in our trucks. But equally important is the hard-edged industrial, almost handtool, design of the H2 SUT, which gives it a unique, masculine street presence. We're big fans of using the functional aspects of the design, such as the exposed components (hood lift handles, hood latches, and fasteners) to enhance the visual impact of the machine.

Obviously, the newness of the H2 SUT is the cargo bed. It's a 4x6-foot pickup bed that you can create after you drop the rear window into the midgate, which then folds easily forward, displacing the rear seat area Avalanche-style, only much easier.

In addition to the great styling and much smoother midgate design, we found the SUT to be full of the coolest conveniences and gadgets. One of the coolest was being able to, with the push of a single button, lower all four side windows and the rear window. The standard sunroof opens with a separate switch when you want a truly open-air feeling. We also like the OE application of a front receiver hitch in addition to a rear hitch. Both receivers accommodate a regular Class 3 trailer hitch, so you can hook up on either and yank your boat out of the water or put a trailer into a tight spot.

GM says the H2 SUT is powered by a standard Vortec 6000 6.0L V-8 with 325 hp at 5,200 rpm and 365 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm that is backed up with a heavy-duty Hydra-Matic 4L65-E four-speed automatic overdrive transmission. It also comes standard with a "powertrain-integrated" Borg-Warner two-speed electrically controlled full-time 4WD system that is capable of reducing H2's gear ratios by 2.64:1.

The H2 SUT's advance powertrain system is augmented with an equally advanced braking system. It uses a Bosch four-channel antilock braking/traction control system that's especially adept at providing control on slippery surfaces as well as detecting and adjusting braking forces to rough off-road surfaces such as potholed, gravelled trails. The traction control system also has the ability to gain traction through a single wheel, if necessary, and more wheel slip in the traction control mode for sand and other extremely low-friction conditions.

The H2 SUT is built on a fully welded ladder-type frame that features a modular three-piece design using a number of hydroformed components. According to GM, this design yields a frame with outstanding strength, stiffness, and dimensional accuracy. The rugged frame links to H2's standard independent front torsion bar and five-link coil-spring rear suspension and helps provide high quality on-road ride comfort and control, as well as exceptional off-road capability. And you can get an optional self-leveling rear air spring suspension system for severe off-road and towing duty.

Driving It
With the first braking input at speed, we notice the SUT has a very compliant chassis. It's got a lot of brake dive but not enough power compared to its weight to get much acceleration squat, and not surprisingly, the SUT has more lean than a street-only suspension. In other words, the on-road handling is compromised slightly in favor of off-road capability and on-road ride quality.

Driving the SUT in traffic and maneuvering around obstacles is, well, interesting for the first couple of days. Because the truck is tall and square with a relatively high hood line, it takes a while to get to know where the rig's edges are. After you get used to it, it's plenty agile to move in a suburban environment of parking in malls and shopping centers as well as in more open off-road terrain. We didn't drive it in snow or rain, but we did drive it off-road in a dry river bed with reasonable deep sand peppered with obstacles. The traction control and AWD system made driving over and through this terrain nearly effortless.

About the only nit we could find to pick on this truck is its fairly large blind spot in the lower portion of the right-hand-side mirror. The mirror's height and the high windowsill make it difficult to see a compact car riding right off your rear-quarter panel. Other than that, this is a fun truck with machine-age styling that gets you noticed and gets you to wherever you want to go.

'05 SSR Gets 390hp Gen. IV 6.0L
All-Aluminum LS2 V-8
Now this is a sport truck. The new SSR with nearly 400 ponies at the business end of an optional Tremec M10 six-speed manual and a host of styling and convenience refinements is the Corvette of trucks. We had a chance to spend about 20 minutes in one at GM's full-line preview and were blown away. Finally, the planets aligned and we have truck with classic American styling and classic American horsepower. We'll tell you more after we've had one on the test track.

SRT-8 Grand Cherokee Packing New 6.1L Hemi
Street Performance tires and wheels, a performance exhaust, a street performance stance - this isn't what most people would expect from a Grand Cherokee. But then this Grand Cherokee is powered by the new 6.1L V-8 Hemi and is rumored to produce between 380-420 hp. Our sources tell us that the launch of Chrysler 300 SRT-8 is imminent, but the rollout of the SRT versions of the Grand Cherokee and Magnum is timed for later in the year. A factory Jeep with street heat - who'd a thunk?

Study Recommends Closing California Air Resources Board
A study looking for ways to improve the efficiency of California's state government recommends closing down the California Air Resources Board, folding the board's scientific and regulatory functions into a new department of environmental protection. This thought has a lot of environmental activists and state and federal regulators worried. The reason they're worried is that they rely on the efforts of this board to basically make the rules that other states can follow regarding their emissions policies.

Automobile Club Of Southern California Signs Multi-Year Sponsorship Of Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum
The Automobile Club of Southern California has signed an agreement to be the presenting sponsor of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, California, according to museum officials. The Auto Club sponsorship includes a specially designated Automobile Club of Southern California area inside the museum that will feature a permanent display of historic racing memorabilia. As part of the deal, the Auto Club will also remain presenting sponsor of the annual NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield. The museum is available for private parties, meetings, corporate events, weddings, and special group tours. The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, is located at Fairplex Gate 1, 1101 W. McKinley Ave. in Pomona. For further information on special exhibits, museum events, or directions, contact: (909) 622-2133, http://museum.nhra.com.

Gale Banks Engineering Gearhead Bash
Every other year, Gale and Vicki Banks host a few hundred of their closest friends at what they call the Gearhead Bash. All the industry movers show up, and most bring their latest and greatest toys to share. The Banks' ranch has a beautiful park area, where they display a quality and range of cars and trucks you're not likely to see anywhere else. They had areas for hot rods, street rods, Corvettes, Rat rods, classic trucks, off-road trucks, and some odd marques that only television personalities can afford. By the way, if you missed the Gearhead Bash, be sure to fall by the Gale Banks Engineering booth at SEMA. The company hasn't displayed at SEMA in nearly 10 years, so we bet it'll take the spirit of the Gearhead Bash to Las Vegas.

Durango Sema Sport Truck
Here's a preview of a sport truck version of the new Dodge Durango. It's a project underway with a band of renegade stylists at DaimlerChrysler working in tandem with the purveyors of turbocharged power at Gale Banks Engineering. The Banks team is building a twin-turbo version of the 5.7 Hemi that'll spool up quick and make gobs of power. We're lobbying hard to put this sport truck to the test. The Hemi Durango is a great-handling piece with the factory Hemi, and we're itching to find out if it can be tuned to handling the power of a turbocharged Hemi.

Sema Project Preview
California Custom Sport Trucks of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and General Motors have partnered to create the Beverly Hills Touring Package GMC Yukon Denali XL to be featured at the 2004 SEMA show in Las Vegas, November 2-5. The vehicle will be displayed in Ground Force's booth inside the convention center.

The truck will feature a carbon-metallic paint with red and orange graphics and Steve Stanford paint design, applied by Teresa Crane. Body modifications will include a custom front bumper, hood, and Sir Michaels steel roll pan. Traffic Jams will install the mobile entertainment package, consisting of a flip-out head unit with DVD, XM radio, and navigation; JL Audio speakers and amplifiers; a KVH Trac Vision A5 antenna for mobile DIRECTV satellite television reception; and VizuaLogic headrest monitors and 15-inch flip-down. The truck will have a 2/3 Ground Force lowering kit installed as well as Hotchkis antisway bars. Its Brembo eight-piston calipers with 15-inch rotors put the stop to 24-inch Gianelle Milos-6 wheels shod with BFG's 24-inch tires. Performance will be accomplished by installing a MagnaCharger supercharger on top of the 6.0L V-8 with B&B stainless after-cat exhaust system and JET Performance module.

If you're headed to SEMA, it'll be in the Ground Force booth. If you want the shop to build you one, call (954) 981-7223.

FOX Racing, SMA Limited-Production H2
FOX Racing and SMA have partnered to build 500 limited H2s. You can find more information on this vehicle and where it can be seen at www.smahummer.com.

DaimlerChrysler Launches www.hemi.com
For more than 50 years, the Hemi engine has stood for unparalleled automotive power and performance. In response to the overwhelming interest and popularity of the Hemi engine, DaimlerChrysler has launched the official Hemi Web site (www.hemi.com), dedicated to Hemi owners and enthusiasts worldwide.

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