By DAVID THOME
Special to ADAMM
Cars influence truck innovations
Leather seats and sunroofs, features formerly reserved for cars, have made their way onto pickups — but technology developed for sedans also is being adapted to improve fuel efficiency on some of today’s pickups and give them even greater utility.
A trunk? The Honda Ridgeline has that. An eight-speed transmission crafted for a sports car? That’s on GMC Sierra 1500 Denali. An engine that uses a 19th-century concept to boost the EPA ratings of gas/electric hybrids? That’s under the hood of the Toyota Tacoma.
Experts from WILDE Honda, BOUCHER Cadillac Buick GMC of Waukesha and DON JACOBS Toyota of Milwaukee agree that these innovations illustrate how pickups can borrow from cars without losing their beefy appeal.
• Honda Ridgeline lockable in-bed trunk
The trunk has been a feature since the Ridgeline made its debut a decade ago, but several reviewers seem to have just discovered it when Honda introduced the radically updated 2017 model.
“The best thing about the Ridgeline is the generous underfloor trunk,” Andy Mikonis writes for Tribune Newspapers. “It’s well-sealed, well-lit, washable, lockable and hidden under the bed floor.”
Malcolm Gunn of Wheelbasebasemedia.com says the trunk is perfect for “stowing bulky valuables such as tools and groceries, and can function as an ice chest.”
Mike Cornfield, Wilde’s new car manager, said the hubbub is surprising but, “not everybody knows about it. If someone comes in who hasn’t heard of it, it’s the first thing we show them.”
The trunk, he said, is about three-fourths as big as a compact Honda Civic’s, not counting the niche where the spare tire and jack are stored.
“Pickup owners have to deal with where to put things they want out of sight,” Cornfield said. “If the bed’s open, anyone can reach in a grab whatever’s back there. You can get a bed cover, but they can cost upwards of $1,000, while the under-bed trunk is included.”
• GMC Sierra 1500 Denali eight-speed transmission
Seven-, eight- and nine-speed gearboxes first appeared on cars a few years ago as a fuel economy measure. According to New York Times blogger Lindsay Brooke, more gears “keep the engine operating in a speed range where it has the best performance with the least fuel consumption.”
Alexander Stoklosa, who writes for CarandDriver.com, says that with the transmission, also used in Chevrolet’s Corvette, and a 6.2-liter engine, the GMC truck “is a seriously quick beast,” going from zero to 60 in 5.6 seconds. Still, gas mileage is one mile per gallon better than with the six-speed it replaced. It doesn’t sound like much but, as Boucher sales rep Matt Borkowski pointed out, it’s a 5% improvement.
The eight-speed, Stoklosa says, also shifts more smoothly, “quickly and unobtrusively shuffling through ratios,” and “downshifts quickly when power for a quick pass is needed.”
Borkowski added that the two extra shift points made it possible for GMC to set a higher ratio for first gear, which helps to get going more smoothly under any conditions, even with a load.
• Toyota Tacoma Atkinson-cycle engine
The Atkinson-cycle engine was invented in the 1880s. It worked great, but Autofocus.com writer Jil McIntosh says that because it’s not as powerful as a so-called Otto-cycle engine, it fell out of favor with car manufacturers. “It can be enough when cruising at a steady speed,” she says, “but it won’t give the burst of power that drivers expect when they want to accelerate.”
Toyota’s Prius, like most hybrids, has an Atkinson cycle gas engine. So why would Toyota put one in a truck?
The answer is that computer-controlled variable valve timing, makes it possible to deploy the Atkinson’s fuel-saving properties while retaining the Otto’s power output. There’s only one engine; computers decide when to switch from one cycle or the other.
The Otto cycle—intake, compression, power and exhaust—creates a vacuum and pushes the fumes out instead of harnessing the energy to drive the vehicle, explains Tim Esterdahl of news.pickuptrucks.com. The Atkinson cycles leaves the valve open longer, avoiding a vacuum and making the piston work less on the upward stroke. Furthermore, some of the fuel-air mixture is forced into the intake manifold and re-enters the cylinder when the intake valve opens again.
Mike Sweers, Toyota Tacoma’s chief engineer, calls it torque on demand. “At constant speed, we’re running Atkinson. When you ask the engine to produce more torque and do more work, it changes over. The change is entirely in the valve timing.”
The result is a EPA rating of 24 miles per gallon, a three miles per gallon improvement from the previous model.
“People don’t really care that the engine is smaller or how it works,” said Eddie Reyes, sales rep for Don Jacobs. “What they care about is that the truck is more fuel-efficient and has a better towing capacity for the same price.”
The Toyota Tacoma’s engine helps it save on fuel.