If you're just now in the market for a new truck, it's safe to say you missed the boat on most of the 0% financing deals auto manufacturers used last year to combat the post-9/11 dip in the economy. But just because you didn't take advantage of the auto world's everything-must-go mentality last winter, that doesn't mean the wait won't pay off. Almost every major truck manufacturer, from Ford to Freightliner has upgraded its light-, medium-, and heavy-duty models with everything from more powerful engines to additional carrying capacity. Fleet Owner magazine has rounded up the skinny on all of the pertinent changes to the 2003 truck models you're looking into buying. You may have waited too long last year and let those financing deals pass you by, but with this 2003 Truck Preview you'll know what to look for and you won't have to miss out again.

Dodge


Daimler Chrysler's Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups for 2003 will have the new High Output turbodiesel 5.9-L engine from Cummins, which produces 555 lb-ft of torque at 1,400 rpm and 305 hp at 2,900 rpm. The engine features a new high-pressure, common-rail fuel system that injects a small amount of fuel to start combustion before the primary fuel charge is injected. According to Cummins, smoothing out the combustion pressure in the cylinder reduces noise substantially. Average major overhaul interval for the turbodiesel is 350,000 miles.

The standard gasoline engine for these pickups is the new 5.7-L HEMI Magnum V-8, generating 345 hp at 5,600 rpm and 365 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm.

A new rack-and-pinion steering system improves handling of the 2WD Dodge Rams; for the 4WD, an all-new recirculating ball system improves on-center steering feel through lower internal friction. Two new transfer cases are available for 4WD 2500 and 3500 Dodge Rams — a conventional manual shift for ST and SLT models, and an electric shift for the SLT Plus. Rear-axle capacity has been boosted to 12,000 lb.

Ford


Ford Motor Co. has a number of improvements slated for its light-duty pickups next year. At the top of the list is a brand-new 6.0-L V8 diesel that increases power to 325 hp and torque to 550 lb-ft as a low-displacement option for the company's F-250 and F-350 models. This V8 comes with a new Torque Shift automatic transmission. In addition, Ford is increasing the torque on the 7.3-L Powerstroke diesel option with automatic transmissions. The enhanced engine produces 525 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm, and 250 hp at 2,600 rpm. This is an increase of 20 lb-ft of torque over last year's Power Stroke engine. Both the 6.0 V8 and the 7.3-L Power Stroke are built exclusively for Ford by International Truck & Engine Corp.

Ford has increased the towing capacity on the F-250 and F-350 models equipped with either the 7.3-L Powerstroke engine or the 6.8-L V8 gasoline engine to 12,500 lb. Ford will also offer an optional skid plate package on the 4WD versions of the F-250 and F-350. A four-wheel antilock braking system is standard for the F-Series line, including XL models.

Also new next year is an off-road option package for Ford's Excursion SUV, including the new 6.0-L diesel and Torq Shift automatic transmission.

General Motors


The Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra will include more than 40 new features and enhancements for 2003. Chief among those changes are a passenger-sensing air bag system, a modified instrument panel (including a new driver information center), new redundant steering wheel controls, and the expanded availability of GM's new Quadrasteer 4-wheel steering system.


For 2003, the Quadrasteer will also be available on the Silverado and Sierra 1500 HD 2WD and 4WD shortbox pickups. Quadrasteer is an electromechanical system that turns the vehicle's rear wheels (up to 12°) in relation to the front wheels, resulting in good low-speed maneuverability and high-speed stability.

At lower speeds, Quadrasteer reduces the 1500 HD models' curb-to-curb turning diameter by up to 21% to 39.2 ft., comparable to the 37.1-ft turning radius of a Saturn S-Series compact car. At higher speeds, Quadrasteer reduces the vehicle's “yaw,” or rotational motion, for better control during lane changes and when being passed by a large truck, according to GM.

The manufacturer's redesigned 2003 Chevy Express and GMC Savana full-size vans come with a range of new features, including an all-wheel drive option, a left-hand-side entry/load door, and unique side access panels on Express Access and Savana Pro models. The 2003 Express and Savana vans are available in both regular (135-in.) and extended (155-in.) wheelbases and cutaway chassis with GVW ratings of 8,600-12,300 lb.

Nissan


The Frontier 4-door Crew Cab is the heart of Nissan's pickup line, and it will undergo little change for the 2003 model year. The most popular model is the Long Bed, which measures 74.6 in. and has extensive frame reinforcements. The 2003 version comes complete with a center console, 25% larger glove box and as many as three power outlets. Engine offerings include a 4-cylinder V6 and a 210-hp, supercharged V6.

The company is introducing a full-size pickup concept vehicle called the Alpha-T for 2003. The prototype features a sharply sloped A-pillar and unique glass panel/roof treatment, with a scooped hood and aggressively styled 4-door body and a cargo bed. The 4WD Alpha-T is powered by a 300 hp, 4.5-L DOHC V8 engine and equipped with a rugged, off-road suspension to handle tough work environments.

Toyota


Although the 2003 Toyota Tundra will not undergo significant changes, several models will now come standard with features that used to be optional, including ABS, daytime running lights, keyless entry, and an anti-theft system.

The standard engine spec for the Tundra is a 3.4-L, V6 engine that generates 190 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. However, an option for the full-size Tundra is the 4.7-L i-Force V8, strong low-end torque and top-end acceleration, delivering 245 hp and 315 lb-ft of torque. The V6 comes standard with a 5-speed manual transmission; 4-speed automatics are optional for both the V6 and V8 engines. Several 2003 V8 models can also be equipped with a new Limited Slip Differential for added traction.

The Tundra comes in a variety of 2WD and 4WD configurations, including 2-door regular-cab and 4-door Access Cab. The Access Cab features large double-doors with interior and exterior handles, and its 60/40 rear split-bench seats three.

Ford


Ford has made a number of changes to its E-Series commercial vans and F-Series Super Duty trucks for model-year 2003. For the E-Series vans, power mirrors are standard and include a driver-side flat lens and passenger-side convex lens. A full-length vinyl floor covering comes standard and daytime running lights are optional. A 6.8-L V8 gasoline engine is standard on both the Cutaway and Chassis cabs; a 7.3-L diesel will be optional. Five wheelbases will be offered for the 2003 E-Series lineup (E-350, E-450, and E-550): 159 in., 177 in., 191 in., 209 in., and 233 in.

An array of commercial “prep” packages is available for the E-Series models, including an ambulance, school bus, and shuttle bus with optional trailer tow mirrors. Roof marker or clearance lamps and tail lamps are standard on all cutaway models; daytime running lights are optional.

New for the Super Duty F Series is a 6.0-L V8 diesel engine that increases power to 325 hp and torque to 550 lb-ft. This engine will be available on the 2003 model F-450 and F-550 chassis cab models.

Other changes to the F Series in 2003 include hydraulic brakes and an optional 18,000-lb GVWR towing package for the F-650. Air or hydraulic brakes are available for the F-750, with an optional 26,000-lb GVWR towing package, as well as an 8,500-lb front axle and 17,500-lb rear axle. The F-650 and F-750 will offer a special National Hi-Back Air Ride driver's seat as an option; it will be available immediately for the 2003 regular cab model, and later in the year for the crew cab version.

Freightliner


Freightliner is expanding its product range on two fronts. The Class 2-3 Freightliner Sprinter, marketed by Daimler Chrysler Vans LLC, is available as a cargo or passenger van. Both continue to be offered in two GVWRs (8,550 lb or 9,990 lb), three wheelbases (118 in., 140 in., or 158 in.), and a standard or high-roof height. A cab/chassis version of the Sprinter for applications that require the box to be closed off from the cab is due this year.

Further up the GVW scale, the company has launched the Business Class M2, the next generation of its medium-duty line. Like the original Business Class models they will replace, the M2 trucks will eventually span Classes 5 through 8 and offer 100-in., 106-in., and 112-in. BBC models. Starting this summer, the OEM will begin limited production of the 106-in. BBC M2. Extended and crew-cab versions are due late this year with 100-in. and 112-in. BBC models joining the M2 line next year.

Design highlights of the M2 line include an aluminum cab with a 2,500-sq-in. windshield and sloped hood. Maneuverability is enhanced by wheel cuts as sharp as 55°, delivering a turning radius of less than 57 ft with a 20-ft van body.

Mercedes-Benz MBE900 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder diesel engines come standard in ratings from 170 hp to 280 hp, and are mated with an Allison automatic transmission.

General Motors


GM has officially turned its new GMT560 medium-duty truck chassis into the 2003 Chevrolet Kodiak and GMC TopKick models. The Kodiak and TopKick names should be familiar to commercial fleets since they were used by GM from the early '80s through the mid-'90s.

The Kodiak/TopKick C4500-C5500 Series (Class 4-5) has been redesigned and reengineered from the ground up for 2003. With regular and commercial cutaway chassis cabs to vocational packages like school bus, fire and rescue, and snowplow configurations, there are more model choices than before — crew cabs and 4WDs are still on the horizon. GVWRs range from 16,000 lb for the C4500 to 18,000 lb and 19,500 lb for the C5500.

The new Kodiak/TopKick C6500, C7500, and C8500 trucks replace GM's conventional-cab C-Series with regular and crew cab, chassis cab offerings. With GVWRs covering 19,501 lb to 61,000 lb, model ranges include LoPro, Tandem, and Tractor chassis configurations.

In addition to an improved ride and handling, the Kodiak/TopKick line for 2003 features better maneuverability and visibility, expanded powertrain choices, upgraded serviceability, and advanced chassis and braking systems.

Hino


Hino Diesel Trucks, which is owned by Toyota, will be making few changes to its Class 4-7 cabovers in 2003 since many models received upgrades last year. One important difference, however, is that Allison automatic transmissions will now be available in Class 4 and 5 vehicles. Another change for Class 4 is increased capacity for the FA model, with wheelbases now ranging from 115 in. to 165 in. and accommodating 12-ft to 18-ft bodies. FA (Class 4) and FB (Class 5) are both powered by 4-valve, overhead cam, 4-cylinder diesels producing 168 hp at 2,500 rpm.

The FD Series (Class 6) has wheelbases ranging from 148 in. to 217 in. to accommodate 16-ft to 24-ft bodies and a 4-valve, 6-cylinder diesel engine that produces 200 hp at 2,500 rpm.

The FE Series can accommodate 16-ft to 28-ft bodies, while the FF is designed for 18-ft to 26-ft bodies. These lines employ the same engine as the FD.

For Class 7, Hino offers the SG Series, with a 244-in. wheelbase for 19-ft to 28-ft bodies. The engine is a 4-valve, overhead cam, 6-cylinder diesel that can produce 252 hp at 2,500 rpm.

International


International Truck & Engine's latest addition to its medium-duty 4000 Series is the International 4200, designed for such vocations as utility and beverage service. According to the OEM, the 4200's 50° wheel cut offers improved maneuverability.

The 4200 is powered by the new International VT 365 diesel engine in 175-hp, 195-hp, 215-hp, and 230-hp ratings. It replaces the International T444E in the OEM's lineup. The new V8 features a 4-valve, 6-L displacement and boasts a new electro-hydraulic Generation Two (G2) fuel system, which works in tandem with an electronic variable response turbocharger (EVRT) system to improve responsiveness and efficiency, according to the company.

In addition, 4200 models equipped with Allison transmissions are fitted with intuitive shift controllers that are calibrated to shift depending on load and driving conditions. The trucks also come with 15,000-lb to 26,000-lb single-drive axles and 40,000-lb tandem drive axles.

International is rolling out a new Class 7 construction model. The 7600 severe-service 4×2 and 6×4 models, targeted for heavy-duty waste and construction applications, went into production this summer. Powertrain choices include Cat C-10 and C-12 engines as well as Eaton Fuller manual and Allison HD automatic transmissions.

International's six-person crew cab is now available on both 4000 and 7000 Series vehicles. International says the crew cab uses strategically placed insulation and sealing to shield the driver from outside noise and extreme temperatures.

Isuzu


American Isuzu Motors now functions under a joint venture identity, General Motors Isuzu Commercial Truck, which combines General Motors and Isuzu medium-duty commercial vehicle sales, service, and marketing functions in the United States. The GMC, Chevrolet and Isuzu brands remain intact.

Minor modifications to Isuzu's Class 3-7 line for 2003 include a beefed up alternator for the N-Series and W-Series models equipped with diesel engines. The NQR and W-550 Series feature a new 6-speed manual overdrive transmission that's 64 lb lighter than the previous model. For the FRR and WT-5500, a low-emission vehicle/clean-fuel fleet diesel engine will be available for vehicles with a GVW of 19,500 lb.

The rest of the specs are the same as the 2002 model. The Class 3-4 N-Series includes the NPR Diesel, NPR HD Diesel, NPR Gas, and NPR HD Gas. The NQR takes the N-Series design to Class 5 weight with an increased GVW rating of 17,950 lb and a body payload capacity of 10,382 lb to 10,592 lb. Class 5 FRR GVWR is 18,000 lb to 19,500 lb; Class 6 FSR is 21,300 lb.

Kenworth


Kenworth Truck Co. has made a number of improvements to its Class 6-7 T300 conventional. A new dash includes improved ergonomics, contemporary styling, and an enhanced HVAC system. The T300 standard dash features a wraparound instrument panel, an easy-to-reach AM/FM radio, and rotary HVAC controls. It also has a standard under-dash console that includes a driver cup holder, ashtray, and lighter.

The company is making Allison 2000 and 2400 Series automatic transmissions available for the T300. Both models are fully automatic, 5-speed overdrive transmissions with lockup, and a powerful 32-bit microprocessor. PTO drive gears are optional.

The company expects most buyers of the automatics to be pickup and delivery (P&D) operations. The Allison automatics are mated to Caterpillar's 3126 diesel rated at 545 lb-ft of torque or less. Also part of the package is a Spicer SPL100 driveline. The Class 6 version of the T300 also offers Allison automatics as well as optional Bosch hydraulic disc brakes.

For those applications requiring higher front-end weight capacity, a 14,600-lb-capacity front axle is available.

The T300 is available as a straight truck or tractor in a variety of wheelbases, with single or tandem axles, air or hydraulic brakes, and with GVWs ranging from 26,000 lb to 54,000 lb.

Mack


Mack Trucks isn't making any major changes to its Freedom Series line of medium-duty trucks, which began replacing its Mid-Liner Series last year. The Freedom line consists of four cabovers spanning Class 6 and 7, designated as the M, L, XL, and XXL models. Each is available in the Standard 63-in. BBC, or the 79-in. BBC XTRa cab.

According to the manufacturer, the Class 6 M model, which uses 17.5-in. wheels, has one of the lowest cab heights in its class and a very low loading height. The Class 6 L and Class 7 XL models, on 9.5-in. wheels, also allow easier cab access than competitive models, says Mack. And the Class 7 XXL model, on 22.5-in. wheels, uses a standard frame height.

All Freedom Series trucks are powered by the Mack E3 diesel engine, and have either the standard rating of 210 hp or the 250-hp rating that's optional on XL and XXL models.

Mitsubishi Fuso


Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America plans to make its 4M50 dual overhead cam diesel engine available for a Class 5 under the model designation FH. The 175-hp engine, which produces 347 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm, comes with an Aisin 4-speed automatic transmission; it also incorporates Mitsubishi Fuso's twin balance shaft system. Standard equipment on the 17,900-lb GVWR FH includes an exhaust brake (i.e. a butterfly valve in the exhaust system, similar to those used in the intake system of a gasoline engine) and power windows and door locks. User-friendly features, such as a park position on the shift selector and an in-cab oil level check are standard, as are safety features like door crush bars, collapsible steering wheel, and daytime running lights.

The company's current Class 5, the FH-SP, which is still available, sports a GVWR of 17,995 lb, 6-cylinder diesel engine, and manual or automatic (optional) transmission.

Mitsubishi Fuso markets 10 different medium-duty cabover trucks, ranging from 12,000-lb to 32,900-lb GVWR.

Peterbilt


Peterbilt Motors is making new options available on its Model 330 conventional, which comes in Class 6-7 truck and tractor configurations. Chief among the options is the 5-speed, automatic Allison 2000 and 2400 Series transmissions, which feature two-pedal operation. The Allison 2000 is available in trucks with GVW ratings as high as 30,000 lb, and the Allison 2400 is available in models with GVWs as high as 26,000 lb. Both automatics boast maximum input torque of 525 net lb-ft. Each transmission has a tower-mounted shifter and is available with converter-driven PTO provisions that have PTO pads located on the right and left sides of the unit.

Another new option is a Reyco auxiliary spring, rated at 4,500 lb. This new helper spring is interchangeable with the 3,000-lb rated spring, and is compatible with all Model 330 rear axles rated at 21,000 lb, 23,000 lb, and 26,000 lb. The company says the heavy-duty spring is an ideal option for vehicles requiring additional rear support, such as those that dump material or operate a forklift inside for loading and unloading.

Model 330s specified with optional hydraulic brakes (available on Class 6) now come standard with a new Bosch axle-mounted driveline parking brake.

Sterling


Sterling Truck's medium-duty (Class 5 and up) Acterra trucks are now available with Mercedes-Benz 6-speed manual transmissions that feature hydraulically actuated clutch systems. They are offered in two versions — the direct-drive MBT520 for trucks as heavy as 40,000-lb GCW and the overdrive MBT660 for trucks as heavy as 60,000-lb GCW. The MBT520 has an overall gear ratio of 9.20 for engines that produce peak torque as high as 520 lb-ft, and the MBT660 has an overall gear ratio of 9.18 for engines with as much as 660 lb-ft of peak torque.

The transmissions are fully synchronized, boast hydraulically activated clutches, and are compatible with Mercedes-Benz as well as Caterpillar and Cummins medium-duty diesel engines.

The Acterra line will otherwise continue virtually unchanged for model-year 2003. The line of conventional 106-in. BBC trucks and tractors consists of the 5500, 6500, 7500, and 8500 models. Available GVW ratings are 19,000 lb, 26,000 lb, 35,000 lb, and 64,000 lb, respectively.

UD Trucks


UD Trucks won't make many changes to its medium-duty vehicles for 2003. The Class 3 (UD 1200) has a GVWR of 12,000 lb, while the Class 4 (UD 1400) weighs in at 14,250 lb. Class 5 offerings include the 1800CS (City Spec) and 1800HD (Heavy-Duty), both with GVWR of 17,995 lb. There are three Class 6 models: the 2300LP (Low-Profile) and 2300DH (Dock-Height) have a 23,000 lb GVWR, and the 2600 weighs in at 25,995 lb. Finally, the Class 7 3300 has a GVWR of 32,000 lb.

The 1200 and 1400 have a vacuum-assisted hydraulic brake system, with front disc and rear drum brakes and an engine exhaust brake as standard equipment. Wheelbase options range from 108.9 in. to 149.4 in.

The 1800CS has air-over-hydraulic brakes equipped with ABS and a standard engine exhaust brake; wheelbase options range from 137.4 in. to 191.7 in.

UD says the heart of its trucks is still the FD46TA diesel, a direct injection turbocharged and intercooled engine. Horsepower for Class 3 and 4 is rated at 145 and 175 for 1800CS, 175. For the heavier Class 5-7 applications, 225-hp ratings with 492 lb-ft of torque are available.

Workhorse Custom Chassis


Workhorse Custom Chassis will continue to build on introductions it made in the 2002 model year for chassis in the 8,000 lb to 16,000 lb GVWR range, while dropping the 19,500-lb GVWR W-Series altogether.

For step van operators who want to spec diesels in the 10,000-lb to 14,100-lb GVWR range, the Cummins ISB 4-cylinder engine and Allison 1000 Series 5-speed electronic transmission is the option package of choice. Engine ratings are 170 hp at 2,300 rpm and 145 hp at 2,300 rpm; both provide 420 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm.

GM's Vortec V-8 powerplant remains the gasoline engine option for Workhorse step vans, with two ratings: 195 hp at 4,200 rpm and 250 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm, or 235 hp at 4,000 rpm and 325 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm.

Workhorse continues to offer its FasTrack step van program, which includes five step-van size and interior design options that can be delivered in four weeks; final dealer up-fitting can take as little as 10 days. A 9-ft, 3-in. step van body was added to the FasTrack line last year, aimed to compete with the cargo vans.

Workhorse also offers a Class 2 model of its step van, the FT1061, which it markets as a “stand up” alternative to cargo vans. Specs include a 125-in. wheelbase, 10-ft, 6-in. load space and 76-in. ceiling height. Rated at 9,400 lb, it's powered by the GM Vortec V-8 gasoline engine; ABS, power steering, and independent front suspension are standard.