Drive out of DFW airport and one of the first signs to catch your eye is an overhead clearance warning sign of 17'8", nearly twice the height of some small camper shells or a wakeboarding boat speaker arch, and just one indication that things are indeed bigger in Texas. The state is so big, some car companies have a regional manager just for the city of Dallas.
Texas also is the largest pickup truck market in the U.S., and every year manufacturers are drawn to the State Fair of Texas to show off their new trucks at the fifth-largest auto show in the U.S. Combine a hotly contested vehicle segment, legions of loyal fans, and timing coincident with the next model year's products, and at least one chunk of truck news happens here.
Less formal events are held a day earlier in last-ditch efforts to keep brands planted in the public mindset. To counter Ram's debut of the redesigned HD pickup, Ford gave us the opportunity to drive 2013 F-150 and Super Duty pickups the day before, both featuring midlife refreshments.
A hotel parking lot hosted adjacent GMC and Ford events. At a media dinner arranged by the Texas Auto Writers Association, reps from every manufacturer occupied in the same room. There was nothing secretive here, with inter-brand barbs tossed across dinner tables with increasing abandon proportional to liquid consumption. Where did they get that tow rating? Why did they build that edition? What fraction of a percent will that model account for? And reps tossed out lots of percentages showing their trucks get used as trucks more than anyone else's.
The fairgrounds has two automotive buildings, and outside displays were littered with trucks, many of them exhibit specials. Toyota revealed a current-generation Tundra with more than 600,000 miles on it and no major repairs. Nissan had its fair share of pickups, but focused on the new Pathfinder. Also, the general consensus was the company will have a Cummins diesel available for the next Titan, and we're all wondering what the input torque capacity is on Nissan's seven-speed automatic. Hyundai showed the new Santa Fe indoors, and a few others offered automotive or regional news to share with the predominantly Texan press corps.
Ford (King Ranch), Ram (Longhorn), and GMC (Texas Edition) all showed a few local-inspired trucks inside the pavilions. Chevy was conspicuously absent when it came to trucks. Chevrolet had a lot of new cars, but I got the distinct impression the truck guys are targeting all their resources on the new one and couldn't be bothered.
The General offered up plenty of "no comment" on that new pickup, stating only they knew where it would debut but weren't telling us. Speculation includes an all-new 4.3-liter V-6 engine and a High Country nameplate to compete with King Ranch and Longhorn, and it will likely steal a few Denali sales. GMC offered brief drives in Denali versions of the Terrain and refreshed-for-2013 Acadia, and appeared to be pushing the Denali name more than GMC. Perhaps GM realized most people thought a GMC was merely a rebadged Chevrolet, but the Denali stands out more, and is a better name for the upscale, more luxurious direction planned for GMC.
Ford is selling luxury too, debuting both F-150 King Ranch and Super Duty Platinum trim levels. The latter is the topline in any Super Duty pickup, the former the penultimate F-150; the simplest spotting clue for superiority in either 150 or 250/350 is chrome lettering along the bed sides.
The new F-150s come with different wheel styles, grilles, and lights, upgraded infotainment, and a bumped tow value for the highest-rated 3.7-liter F-150. The F-150's higher rating, now up to 6700 pounds on a regular cab 2WD, is attributable to validation and reliability rather than a hardware change, which betters Ram's announced 6500 for the Ram 1500 V-6. The '13 Super Duty now boasts best-in-class towing and payload capacities.
Upper echelon F-150s have added HID headlamps, unique in the segment since the Escalade EXT is on its way out. However, these do not have any in-cab (think Infiniti JX) or automatic leveling function, so a load in the bed or undistributed tongue weight will have oncoming drivers seriously annoyed. How many $50,000-half-ton drivers you know are going to do that?
The 2013 King Ranch is offered dripping in chrome or in a mono-chrome treatment nearly devoid of the plating. It features a new grille and wheel choices, Chaparral leather in adobe or black schemes, MyFordTouch modified for truck use (bigger screen, more hard key choices), ambient lighting, 5.0-liter V-8 or 3.5 twin turbo, and optional hill descent control and PowerScope mirrors with power fold and extension functions.
In the F-150 hierarchy, the King Ranch is second to the Limited announced in mid-2012. The Limited has a more luxurious truck cabin and city-centric exterior, but the King Ranch seems to feel just as luxurious inside.
Proving wealthy buyers haven't been hit by the economy as has the working class, the new Platinum version of the Super Duty was accounting for a fifth of early dealer orders, even at $60,000 with a diesel and no options. Matte-finish mesh grille and tailgate trim complement bright chrome on most hardware, including the tow hooks, with polished, cast aluminum 20-inch wheels (dualies get forged 17s). Inside, there's a substantial list of standards, including softer leather in black or pecan with tuxedo stripes for the 10-way power front seats, armrests, and console; embroidered floormats and seats; MyFordTouch; navigation; rearview camera; adjustable pedals; remote start; power-telescoping mirrors; woodgrain trim; heated steering wheel with real wood section; and a dash-top storage bin with dual USB ports, audio-video connections, SD card slot, and 12VDC and 110VAC power ports. We wouldn't leave any sensitive hardware in there on a sunny day.
The center stack on all Super Duty pickups was revised to accommodate MyFordTouch on high line and SYNC with cloud-based services on lower trims. WiFi works off your smartphone, and Bluetooth and USB inputs allow audio streaming by voice control. Vehicle status and 911 Assist are free for life, and the 8-inch screen is higher resolution. Base price on a Platinum Super Duty is $52,755; for a diesel with some options, expect to pay $65,000 for SRW and $70,000 or more for a dualie.
The King Ranch
Begun in 1853, the King Ranch is a nearly 1300-square-mile ranch (about the size of Rhode Island, with a lot less water) spread across six counties in inhospitable southern Texas, and was home to the first quarter horse registered with the American Quarter Horse Association. A working ranch, it has 60,000 acres of cotton, 30,000 cattle, thoroughbreds, cutting and quarter horses, and does agricultural research with Texas A&M University. The Ranch counts about 260 trucks in its fleet, but fewer than 10 of them, used mostly for foremen and promotional activities, are King Ranch editions.
The biggest news was at the Ram camp. Sergio Marchionne told Texas native and Ram boss Fred Diaz to go big or go home, so Diaz did both, introducing the 2013 Ram HD and Chassis Cab on his home turf with "eye-popping" towing numbers and lots of best-in-class promises. He also said those numbers will be announced in January.
As with the 2013 half-ton, the 2013 HD Rams get the bulk of improvements underneath. The 50,000-psi steel frame has a new welded two-piece front suspension/engine cradle crossmember, fully boxed rear rail sections, factory provisions for fifth-wheel and gooseneck hitches, and a Class V 2.5-inch receiver rated for 17,000-pound trailer and 1800-pound tongue. Although the Chassis Cab trucks don't use the pickup frame, they get the same upgrades.
Atop the frame are a stronger box and tie-down points and new body hydromounts, joined by an isolated center bearing carrier, viscous vibration damper, and revised front axle gears, all aimed at lower NVH levels. Although Ram provided no numbers beyond a 7250-pound front GAWR for the 5500, its claims could indicate a best pickup payload north of 7200 pounds and towing more than 23,000; there is no indication the tow ratings will be to the J2807 standard.
The new Ram hd's claims could indicate a payload north of 7200 pounds and towing capacity of more than 23,000.
The instrument panel image in the intro presentation was for a truck with air suspension, but there isn't any. The leaf-spring rear suspension has been tweaked, but the front on 3500 is completely redone with one big stamped and welded radius rod on each side, track bar, and coil springs mounted further outboard for added roll stiffness. Brakes are 14-inch-plus vented disc with dual-piston calipers all around; electronic stability control is standard on every HD including Chassis Cab 5500.
With a Hemi now available on 3500 trucks (driven by the snowplowing community, according to Ram), the 383-hp, gasoline V-8 is standard on all HDs. It comes with a genuine six-speed automatic, a slightly lighter-duty version of the diesel's.
The Cummins 6.7 can run up to B20 and adds DEF for emissions, and, with other changes, is said to get 10 percent better fuel economy, and oil-change intervals are increased to 15,000 miles. With a six-speed manual, it's rated 350 hp at 2800 rpm and 660 lb-ft at 1500 rpm. Paired with the 68RFE six-speed automatic, those numbers are 370 at 2800 and 800 at 1600, and as the Cummins HO in 3500-series trucks backed by the Aisin AS69RC are 385 at 2800 and 850 at 1600 (top Chassis Cab torque is 750 lb-ft). The ring gear in back is nearly a foot in diameter.
With a six-speed manual, the Cummins 6.7 has 350 hp and 660 lb-ft. That can go up to 385 a
The electrically heated 8-gallon DEF tank fill is near the back of the cab, and the diesel tank fill is now capless. Dual radiators, dual ATF coolers, and a lower slung charge air cooler have increased cooling capacity by 25 percent. When the engine wants more cool air for peak power, an active air intake draws from a cooler location, and it closes automatically to prevent water or snow intrusion and allow quicker warm-ups. Some diesel units may be optioned with dual 220-amp alternators (about 3 kilowatts), but all HDs get the "powernet" architecture adopted on the 1500.
The interior was redesigned, with new HVAC controls, an 8.4-inch screen, new center consol
Borg-Warner transfer cases -- one electric shift, one manual -- share a 2.64:1 low-range and drive a new front axle disconnect system that uses an electric motor rather than vacuum. Ram claims the change can add up to 1 mpg. The transmission PTO is larger and offers left and right output.
Interior changes follow those of the '13 Ram 1500 with the 8.4-inch central screen and 7-inch gauge display, Uconnect, keyless enter and go that includes tailgate locking, and so on. A pair of rearview cameras is available: one in the tailgate handle and one on the back of the cab for lining up in-bed trailer pins.
The 2014 Ram HD goes on sale in the first quarter of 2013.