MRO Magazine

How to supercharge your day

When you need a pickup truck to haul equipment and gear to the plant or to a remote jobsite, your first consideration likely is how well the vehicle hauls your cargo--tools, compressors, generators, e...


December 1, 2001
By Bill Roebuck, Editor

When you need a pickup truck to haul equipment and gear to the plant or to a remote jobsite, your first consideration likely is how well the vehicle hauls your cargo–tools, compressors, generators, everything you need to get your job done in the field.

But sometimes, guys just want to have fun, and that’s why we’ve chosen these two workhorses for review in this column. They both stand tall in the hauling department, yet claim a huge fun-to-drive quotient. These supercharged models, the Frontier Crew Cab SC from Nissan and the F-150 Lightning from Ford’s SVT division, are both hot looking and hot under the hood.

Nissan’s 2002 Frontier Crew Cab SC-V6 has a design that makes it look as if it’s ready for anything. The 4WD Extended Cab model we tested, despite being in the compact pickup category, has a cargo bed 74-in. long–almost full-size. It also has a locking tailgate, handy if you install a tonneau cover over the bed.

The Crew Cab model has seating capacity for five, and all four doors are forward-hinged. There are other models in the Frontier line-up, including short-box crew cab and two-door king cab versions, as well as two-wheel drive and four-cylinder setups in XE and SE trims, for a total of eight different models.

The standard stereo is a nice-sounding 100-watt system, but the SC comes standard with a knock-your-socks-off, 300-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system. It features an in-dash, six-CD changer and nine speakers, including a massive subwoofer behind the rear seats. If you want to escape the sounds of the workplace, you can settle into the cab and crank up the volume to a heart-thumping max without any hint of distortion in the music. Despite the subwoofer being covered up by the rear seatback, the sound from this system is amazing.

While the power of the stereo is impressive, the description unfortunately doesn’t apply to the supercharged engine, as it isn’t as fast as you might expect from a 210-hp, 3.3-litre V6. A street start to 100 km/h took 10.7 seconds in our tests. That’s about the same as the 2002 Dodge Ram 1500. The engine is fairly loud when accelerating, but quiets down at steady highway speeds. When the supercharger revs up, it sounds pretty sweet. The power it provides really kicks in at passing speeds. It provides a boost of 40 hp over the normally aspirated V6 and produces 231 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm, allowing for a towing capacity of 5,000 lb with the automatic transmission.

Probably the main reason people will drive the Frontier is for its impressive, tough looks. Nissan has given the Frontier what it calls a “modern industrial” or “mechanical” look with prominent fender flares that look bolted on and a massive front bumper that screams “get out of my way.” The look is enhanced with 17-in. rubber on the SC models. (The fat 265/55R17 tires barely fit into the guide channels of my local Petro Canada carwash.)

Inside, the interior look has been upgraded for 2002; air conditioning is standard, as are power door locks, windows and mirrors. Controls are large and easy to grasp, and the sporty gauges are easy to read. The seats are fairly low, so getting in and out is a snap. They have the “SC” logo stitched in them for a custom look.

The rear doors provide a narrow opening to squeeze through, however. The back seat is high and forces good posture–meaning it’s not comfortable for long rides. Although there are seatbelts for three in the back, only two adults fit comfortably. One asset is that the rear windows go all the way down.

The SC model comes with a sunroof, but it’s a waste. A large air deflector that’s part of the roof rack covers much of the glass area, so it doesn’t let in much light. Also, there’s no good place inside to store the removable interior cover.

The ride is fairly smooth and controlled. The four-speed automatic shifts smoothly through the gears. On a five-speed manual model we drove briefly, we really liked the easy, long throws of the tall shift stick. It made for a wonderful combination of transmission and engine.

The Frontier also tackled gravel and muddy potholes on country roads as expected. Its four-wheel drive felt secure and grippy. However, you must be travelling less than 40 km/h to switch from 2WD to 4WD. Heavy duty skid plates also are standard and would prove useful around rugged jobsites. There’s plenty of ground clearance too.

The brakes feel strong and smooth. ABS is standard on Crew Cab models. Stopping distance is good, going from 100 km/h to zero in 156 ft in our tests. The hand brake is an old-fashioned design–a twist-and-turn lever hidden under the dashboard.

In sum, the Frontier looks great, handles off-road challenges well, and has lots of grunt and cargo-carrying space. It sounds, handles and drives like a real truck. But its muscular appearance isn’t backed up with supercharge-class speed. It’s ideal for someone who wants utility and a tough, up-to-date look in their vehicle.

Base price/as tested: $35,398 is the tested price. A base Frontier King Cab XE-V6 4×2 starts at $22,998. Freight adds $976.00.

Ford SVT F-150 Lightning

The Ford SVT F-150 Lightning might look like a truck, but it isn’t really–it’s a smokin’ hot rod that happens to have a pickup bed attached. It’s been called the World’s Fastest Pickup, and nobody seems to be challenging the claim. Ford reports the Lightning goes from 0 to 100 km/h in under six seconds. It’s guaranteed to put a big smile on your face.

The real story behind this model is the 5.4-litre supercharged V8 engine that develops a whopping 380 hp at 4,750 rpm. That’s over 70 hp per litre. Torque is just as impressive–450 lb-ft at 3,250 rpm. Punch the accelerator and as the four-speed automatic shifts smoothly through the gears, you’re treated to 8.0 psi of turbo boost, a throaty whine as the engine winds up, and the feeling of being pushed back into your seat. This is not a toy for the careless driver.

The Lightning is built on an F-Series regular cab, but designed by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT). It is distinguished from regular models with a new front grille design, crystalline lenses on all lights, 18-in. cast-aluminum wheels, and a pair of impressive side-venting exhaust pipes. There are only four colour choices: red, black, white and silver. ABS brakes are standard, and work quite well, bringing the Lightning to prompt, smooth stops.

For 2002, the Lightning has been engineered to offer 20 more hp and 10 lb-ft more torque than the 2000 model. A new rear axle ratio of 3.73:1 improves off-the-line performance. Its unidirectional Goodyear Eagle F1-GS 295/45ZR 18-in. tires use a new rubber compound that improves grip, and the rear axle is a limited-slip design.

All this power comes with a superb handling package. The Lightning never feels out of control. Steering is light for a truck that weighs over two tons. The ride is firm but definitely not trucky.

When it’s time to put this pickup to work, there’s a 78-in.-long bed and a towing capacity of 5,000 lb. Payload capacity is just 800 lb, so you can’t load it up with too much equipment.

The interior features leather and cloth seating, a 40/60 split bench seat with a centre jump seat for three-passenger capacity, sun visors with auxiliary blades to shade the side windows as well as the windshield, power driver’s seat, and power windows, locks and mirrors. I found the white-faced SVT gauges hard to read. A boost gauge is among the instruments included.

The stereo has very good sound, but the six-disc CD changer is mounted behind the passenger seat, making access awkward.

The rear-wheel-drive Lightning’s special suspension system lowers the truck half an inch in the front and two inches in the rear, not so great for taking it on rough roads or to remote jobsites. But you sure can have fun getting to them.

Base price/as tested: $41,300. The only option is a factory-installed soft tonneau cover at $260.00. Freight is $990.00MRO

These supercharged pickup trucks can make hauling around all your gear fun.