The 2001 GMC Sierra 1500 (left) and the 2001 HD 2500.

If bigger is better, Chevrolet and GMC aren't holding back.

This fall, GM unveils a wide new lineup of 32 heavy duty pickups, including 2500HD (3/4 ton) and 3500 Series (one ton) regular cabs, four-door extended cabs, Crew Cabs and chassis cabs.

We thought the unveiling of the new-for-'99 models two years ago revealed some good things going on under the hood and in the cab, but the overall exterior styling was rather subdued - not on a par with the Dodge Ram's unique look or the redone Ford's tasteful appearance.

But the Silverado HD boasts a massive new front-end that includes wider openings and a bolder chrome center bar displaying the giant, gold Chevy bow tie to distinguish it from its normal size siblings. Its hood is elevated, and front bumper pads are thicker to accommodate a two-inch higher body height.

Both models also feature integrated wheel flares for a more macho, aggressive appearance. Big Dooley models featured one-piece composite rear fenders for less weight and added durability (they'll tend to flex rather than scrunch).

The extended cab model provides the industry's largest rear-door openings, according to GM.

Diesels seem to be all the rage, especially in this size vehicle, and with gasoline prices at record levels (diesel prices are less so). A new Isuzu-GM Duramax diesel engine built in Moraine, Ohio offers good fuel economy, high output (300 hp) and exceptional durability (in the 200,000 mile range). It's also supposed to be "amazingly quiet" which is not usually a diesel engine's strong suit.

The bigger Vortec diesel is also basically a new engine. A sensor tells you when to change the oil, saving on unnecessary changes, and the engine coolant is said to be good for 150,000 miles. There is also a "limp home" feature which allows you to drive the truck short distances even after a total loss of coolant.

On the gas engine side, GM has chosen to forego its competitors' V-10 designs in favor of its standard big block, which it claims outperforms the Ford and Dodge V-10s.

Another unusual feature of the trucks (not on all models) is a composite 8-foot box which will never rust and won't require a bed liner.

Vans are essentially unchanged except for the engines and a couple of new exterior colors: light pewter metallic and forest green metallic. There is a new LT model loaded with options.

Returning to the commercial truck lineup are the S-10 pickup, described as "a versatile light-duty delivery vehicle;" the Venture Cargo Van; and the Astro Cargo Van, "a combination of a minivan and a truck."

Interestingly, GM will offer an optional four-wheel steering system called Quadrasteer on a full size pickup in the 2002 model year. Use of it allows the driver to turn in the same radius as a Saturn coupe, reducing circle diameter by 20%. At low speeds, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction of the front wheels. At moderate speeds, the rear wheels remain straight. At higher speeds, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front wheels.

The 2001 Ford F-Series SuperCrew has four full-size doors.

Ford goes 4-door with newest SuperCrew

DEARBORN, Mich. - It took a while, but Ford brought to market what consumers wanted: a true, four-door truck in a conventional (F-150) truck line.

Once upon a time, pickup trucks held only driver and one passenger or, in a pinch, driver and two passengers. Thus. the supercab or crew cab was born. Then rear seat passengers were given a third door: no one wants to have to be "let out" by whoever's in the front seat. Of course, a fourth door followed, but they were small doors, mini-doors in fact. Now you can get an honest four full size doors in a conventional size pickup truck (8,500 lb GVW) without having to go to a bigger heavy duty model truck.

The truck becomes almost a hybrid vehicle: an SUV with a bed. As such, it makes an interesting work vehicle: big enough to carry tools and equipment, what with the usual pickup truck racks, tool boxes, etc., but also large enough in the cab to carry along a crew of four. On weekends, it doubles fine as a personal vehicle. You don't have to switch over to a passenger car when it comes time to take the family to the fair.

Ford introduced the F-150 SuperCrew at the North American International Auto Show in January.

A test drive showed the truck to have all the familiar car-like amenities that have now transferred over into the truck lines: comfortable seats, plenty of cupholders and storage space, compact disc player: even a few you maybe haven't seen, such as power adjustable pedals (an unnecessary frill, I thought), an overhead console with compass and temperature gauge. SuperCrew is designed for a broad range of buyers who need all the capability of a "Built Ford Tough" pickup along with passenger-carrying capacity and increased ease of entry and exit. Its 5 1/2-foot box and optional Bed Extender - which creates a total of seven feet of cargo carrying capacity - ensures owners can put it to work like any other Ford pickup.

The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices for the 2001 F-150 SuperCrew range from $26,755 for the XLT 4x2 to $31,790 for the Lariat 4x4 (including destination and delivery charges).

"The new 2001 F-150 SuperCrew adds a new dimension to work and personal use trucks offering customers a one-of-a-kind combination," says Gurminder Bedi, Ford vice president, Fort Truck Vehicle Center. "Its four full doors and spacious rear seating make F-150 SuperCrew a true, full-function passenger vehicle."

SuperCrew is the only under-8500-pound gross vehicle weight (GVW) truck in its class with four full-size doors and a full rear passenger compartment. The F-150 SuperCrew for 2001 extends the range and appeal of Ford's best-selling F-Series family of trucks even further. Offered in both XLT and Lariat trim levels, the F-150 SuperCrew "has been designed for consumers who want more interior space without compromising the functional capability and versatility of a full-size pickup," according to Ford. Its looks reflect the same muscular, aerodynamic stance and styling of the current F-150 Regular Cab and SuperCab models.

The bright red 4x4 tested topped out at $32,965, mostly cosmetic enhancements driving up the base price of $29,310 with the exception of $800 for the 5.4 liter engine upgrade from the standard 4.6. Anti-lock brakes are standard along with electronic shift-on-the-fly.

The bad news is the fuel economy rating: 13 in the city, 17 on the highway. I barely drove 300 miles even with a 25 gallon tank.

The F-150 SuperCrew is the same overall length as the 139-inch wheel base SuperCab model, which is an advantage when maneuvering in tight spaces like parking lots or garages. At the same time, it offers extra interior space, improving rear passenger comfort.

The new 2001 F-150 SuperCrew models are built at the Kansas City Assembly Plant in Missouri.

Close to 70% of the under 8,500-pound F-Series trucks produced by Ford are SuperCab models. Ford has increased its SuperCab mix to nearly 80% of production in response to higher than anticipated dealer orders.

Also getting a facelift is the compact 2001-model Ranger, which borrows design elements from Ford's F-Series. On 4x4 XLT and an all-new Edge series, the hood is raised - giving a hint at the added power under the hood. Alternative grille treatments include high-tech mesh or the more traditional two-bar chrome grille cues creating a strong family resemblance.

Under the hood, Ranger offers three engine choices: a new optional 4.0-liter SOHC V-6, which produces 207 horsepower, 29% increase than the previous model's V-6; a 3.0-liter OHV V-6, and an I-4 engine. At introduction, the 2.5-liter I-4 engine currently offered in the Ranger will be available. Later this winter, an all-new I-4 engine will be introduced.

The 2001 full-size Dodge Ram is largely unchanged from last year.

Few changes for the Dodge Ram

DaimlerChrysler's Dodge truck line sports few changes for 2001. Why mess with success? The compact Dakota pickup continues to sell and perform well, as does the full-size Ram.

We took the new midsize 2001 Dakota for a test drive and immediately noticed the new front fascia and a completely redesigned interior. The floor console is new, as are the door trim panels and carpets. Two new interior colors, dark slate gray and taupe, are available for the first time. Besides cosmetics, the Dakota's transfer case actuation is now electronically controlled from a rotary dial mounted in the dashboard. Steering components have been redesigned and the overheard console has been made easier to operate.

A new exterior color, bright silver metallic, is available for the first time. Also new this year is the availability of factory-installed tow hooks, popular for off-road applications.

As in past years, Dakota remains the most powerful compact-class pickup truck in the country. Available engines include a 2.5-liter Magnum inline four-cylinder, with 120 hp and 145-lb.-ft. of torque; a 3.9-liter Magnum V-6, rated at 175 hp and 225 lb.-ft. or torque; a 4.7-liter Magnum V-8, boasting 235 hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque; and the 5.9-liter V-8, which tops out at 250 hp and 345 lb.-ft. of torque. Maximum towing capacity of Dakota is 6,700 lbs. and 2,100 lbs. maximum payload.

New this year are the 15 x 7-in. cast aluminum wheels, standard on the popular Dakota Quad Cab and an option on the Regular Cab and Club Cab models. Larger 16 x 8-in. wheels are now available as an option on all Dakotas.

Dodge Ram's 2500 and 3500 models are now available with a high output, 245 hp/505 lb.-ft. of torque Cummins Turbo Diesel, making Ram the most powerful pickup on or off the road, with a maximum towing capacity of 15,150 lbs. For truck owners who prefer gasoline, a 8.0-liter magnum V-10 is also available, churning out 310 hp and 450 lb.-ft. of torque. Smaller diesel, V-6 and V-8 engines are also available.

Also new this year for Ram is the choice of Bright Silver Metallic and Amber Fire exterior paint (how can you not like a color called Amber Fire?) Four-wheel disc brakes are now standard on the 2500 and 3500. Four-wheel ABS is standard on the 2500.

For people who like to go off-road in their off hours, Ram brings back the Ram Off-Roadster, first introduced last year. It has a limited-slip differential, heavy duty suspension, front stabilizer, skid plates, tow hooks and LT275/70R17 all-terrain tires.

The Ram full-size van line remains popular as dependable work vehicles or as comfortable conversion vans. The Ram van features Unibody construction and can carry up to 4,160 lbs. of payload and has 299.5 cu. ft. of cargo capacity. A new Crew Cab model allows up to five people to ride comfortably without sacrificing a lot of cargo space - perfect for many businesses.

There is an unconfirmed rumor that Dodge will drop its venerable full-size B van, long a favorite of contractors, in favor of a Euro version badged under corporate parent Mercedes. Extra production capacity would be gained for a full size SUV built on the Ram pickup platform, similar in size to the Chevy Suburban or Ford Expedition, and a revival of the old Dodge Ramcharger type of vehicle. If so, will contractors be swayed into buying a Mercedes van?