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Redesigns, hybrids and Harley inspiration lead next-gen trucks, SUVs

Sep. 8, 2011 - 02:13PM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 8, 2011 - 02:13PM  |  
2012 Honda Ridgeline
2012 Honda Ridgeline ()
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2012 Range Rover Sport turbodiesel ()
2012 Ford F-150 Harley-Davidson SuperCrew (Wieck)
2012 BMW X1 (eb.andriuolo)

The 2012 model year is almost here — and could mark a turning point away from traditional truck-based SUVs, at least as far as mass-market vehicles.

The new year will see the launch of a hybrid version of the 1500-series Dodge Ram truck, and you may be able to get behind the wheel of a 33 miles per gallon Range Rover next year if Land Rover imports the new twin-turbo diesel engine it has announced will be available this fall in the Range Rover Sport in European markets.

But if you still want to haul ass — and don't care about gas — Ford has you covered with the new F-150 Harley-Davidson SuperCrew, powered by the SVT Raptor's 6.2-liter, 411-horsepower V-8.

A look at what's coming your way later this fall and by next spring and summer:

Major Makeover

2012 Honda Ridgeline

Honda's controversial pickup will not be discontinued as feared by those who like its different-drummer layout, in particular the carlike ride quality and handling. Honda has committed to the Ridgeline's future and will be introducing an updated 2012 model in a few months that will feature revised exterior and interior styling, including a new Sport and top-of-the-line RTL-model trim package with a more rugged-looking grille design. Honda may also try to improve the Ridgeline's not-so-great fuel economy numbers (15 city, 20 highway) by replacing the standard five-speed automatic with a new, more efficient six-speed. The company remains convinced there is a market for people who need the light-duty capability of a vehicle with a pickup's bed and winter-weather grip of all-wheel drive, but don't want the heavier-duty underpinnings of a traditional truck or truck-type four-wheel drive. And the Ridgeline is not a lightweight: It can take 1,550 pounds in its composite, dent-resistant 5.5-foot bed, with an additional 8.5-cubic-foot hidden — and lockable — bed underneath that can be filled with ice and beverages, with drain plugs in the bottom to let the water out afterward. It can also pull 5,000 pounds, not far off from the capability of a medium-sized V-8 SUV and better than many compact pickups.

Estimated price: $30,500

Available: Fall

FUEL SAVERS

2012 Range Rover Sport turbodiesel

The current Range Rover, including the Range Rover Sport, is one of the best rides around when the going gets tough. Short of a Hummer H1 Alpha — or a dirt bike with off-road knobbies — few vehicles can go where the Range Rover can when the pavement ends. The downside is you won't get very far because of the 5-liter V-8's big-time appetite for gas: 13 mpg city, 18 highway. But help could be on the horizon. Land Rover just announced that a new, high-efficiency, high-output twin-turbo 3-liter diesel V-6 will be available in the 2012 Range Rover — first in European markets, and then, fingers crossed, in the U.S. With the 3-liter diesel under the hood, the Range Rover is reported to be capable of 33 mpg on the highway — not far behind what you'd get in a compact economy sedan such as a new Toyota Corolla (35 mpg highway). But the Corolla isn't packing 400-plus pound-feet of torque or 265 horsepower, and you probably don't want to take one off-roading.

Estimated price: $63,000

Available: Spring 2012

2012 Dodge Ram hybrid

Like the GM 1500-series hybrid trucks (the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra), the Ram hybrid will feature V-8 power for performance — thanks to a 5.7-liter Hemi — but the gas engine will be supplemented by an electric battery pack and motor that will reduce fuel consumption by letting the truck "idle" without the gas engine operating. The hybrid also will reportedly be able to move on electric power alone. In stop-and-go city driving, and at speeds up to about 30 mph, it will be possible to drive using just the electric side of the hybrid powertrain. At the time of this review, Chrysler had not published fuel economy stats, but given that the Ram hybrid is directly targeting the GM 1500-series hybrids, which get an average of about five miles per gallon better gas mileage than the equivalent gas-only versions of those trucks, the Ram 1500 ought to be in the same ballpark — in the mid- to high 20s under ideal conditions. Though the cost of the hybrid is expected to be higher than the otherwise equivalent gas-powered Ram 1500, for people who do a lot of stop-and-go driving, the long-term fuel savings could make the hybrid Ram a sensible choice.

Estimate price: $39,500

Available: Spring

POWERMEISTER

2012 Ford F-150 Harley-Davidson SuperCrew

All members of the F-truck lineup got new engines last year, including a new standard 3.7-liter V-6 that makes 50-plus more horsepower (302 hp) than the previous 4.6-liter V-8 (248 hp) did while returning noticeably better gas mileage numbers: 17 city, 23 highway vs. 14 city, 19 highway. But if you want the full monty, check out the 2012 F-150 Harley-Davidson. There's a 411 hp 6.2-liter V-8 under the hood with two spark plugs per cylinder and variable-cam timing — derived from last year's SVT Raptor muscle truck — plus a wild-looking snakeskin leather interior similar to the material used on the tank inserts on top-of-the-line Harley bikes, plus massive 22-inch machined alloy wheels, electric-deployable running boards and a new 4.2-inch LCD "productivity screen" to monitor the functions of the voice-activated GPS, audio and entertainment systems. And those are just the major features of this loaded-to-the-door-sills ultimate F-150. What Ford calls "dimensional" (basically, 3-D looking) Harley-Davidson emblems are featured on each box side, and there are numerous chrome and piano-black trim inserts and details inside and out. Each truck gets a special laser-engraved VIN plate, too. The 6.2-liter V-8 gives the truck a 7,500-pound max tow rating (1,400 pounds in the 5.5 foot bed — ample room for a custom chopper) and a 110-volt power inverter runs accessories. A six-speed automatic is standard, and you can choose either rear-wheel drive or full-time four-wheel drive.

Estimated price: $49,500

Available: Fall

PRICE CUTTER

2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Really big news for 2012 is the dramatic price cut Chrysler just announced for the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It was redesigned for the 2011 model year with a 290 hp 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 that delivers a spectacular 80 hp more than the previously standard 3.7 liter V-6. Responding to a slow market for real-deal SUVs (as opposed to car-based crossovers), Chrysler is taking $3,220 off the base price for the 2012 GC Laredo. The 2012s do get a few mechanical improvements, including electric-assist power steering that ups the gas mileage slightly to 23 mpg highway from 22 mpg in 2011. A six-speed automatic may be on deck, too.

Estimated price: $26,995

Available: Fall/winter

ALL NEW

2012 BMW X1

Most crossover SUVs are based on front-wheel-drive cars, often with an all-wheel-drive system optionally available. Only a handful are based on a rear-drive platform, and none of them is compact-sized. The soon-to-be-here X1 will give buyers both a rear-wheel-drive-based layout and compact size. BMW's littlest crossover SUV will be based on the 1 Series, a shorter-wheelbase version of the rear-wheel-drive 3 Series sport sedan and coupe. Like the slightly larger X3, the X1 will come standard with a full-time all-wheel-drive system that's biased toward the rear wheels — the opposite of most front-wheel-drive-based crossover SUVs. That means that until the system detects wheel slip, most of the engine's power goes to the back wheels. This — and the fact that the weight of the X1's drivetrain is spread out more equally from front to rear — should give the X1 the handling feel of a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan. For power, it appears there will be two choices: First, the same gas-fed 3-liter (230 hp) inline 6 used in the current 1 Series and 3 Series sedans and coupes. But it looks like BMW will offer a 2.0-liter turbodiesel later in 2012 that should be capable of 40 mpg or better on the highway — making it the most fuel-efficient compact SUV on the road.

Estimated price: $32,000

Available: Fall

GAME CHANGER

2012 Toyota RAV4 electric

Electric cars are not news, but an electric SUV is. Toyota looks to be the first major automaker to get one into a dealer showroom for sale to the public. Toyota reportedly invested $50 million in Tesla Motors, maker of the rock-star (and six-figure) Tesla Roadster electric car. But where the Roadster was built to sex up the idea of electric cars by showing how good they can look — and how fast they can go — the electrified RAV4 will be all about bread-and-butter functionality: range and room. A large lithium-ion battery pack producing about 50 kilowatts of power will feed a direct-drive electric motor. Unlike the Chevy Volt, there will be absolutely no internal combustion involved. The upside: Toyota is claiming the electric RAV will have a 100-mile real-world range. The downside is that even with its sophisticated battery pack, recharge times still will be measured in hours, not the minutes it takes to refuel a conventional, gas-powered vehicle. However, it's good to see EVs branching out from almost-unusable two-seaters and microcompact cars to more realistic vehicles that can carry four to five people. (No photos available.)

Estimated price: $35,000

Available: Spring/summer

Eric Peters is a Military Times automotive writer.

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