The sickest trucks and SUVs have rolled off the pages of Truckin' magazine and onto the shelves of toy retailers and on the Web.

Want a red H2 Hummer with silver tribal flames and a working suspension? Got that. Or a two-tone, black and silver, and tribaled S-10 laying so low it's bulging a road in China? Just look for the 1BADDRIDE 1/64-scale, die-cast versions of these rides and more with the Truckin' logo at www.1baddride.com and at K-Mart, Wal-Mart, and other fine dealers.

How about something with a little juice, and, no, not the healthy kind your mama made you choke down back in the day? We're talking high-voltage, baby! Courtesy of the XMods Evolution line of radio-controlled racers, it's an orange Ford F-150 ready to customize to your tastes with separately sold wheels, suspension, flames, and more. And you can get a black H2 Hummer, too, ready for you to snap on the aftermarket trimmings. Go to www.xmodsrc.com for details, or to a Radio Shack or other RC retailer near you.

Insider
Firstlook
2006 Nissan Titan 4x4 SE Crew Cab
The imports' first incursion into the fullsize pickup truck market couldn't afford to simply look like an oversized Frontier when it hit the beach a couple years ago. That's probably why the exterior design on Nissan's fullsize Titan pickup has a swoopy - but, paradoxically, generically bold - attitude that seems to appeal to the style-conscious folks in the custom world.

There is no doubt that the interior is big. We're not talking Dodge Mega Cab big, but the convex curve of its interior surfaces create an illusion of spaciousness in the same way that the arc of the Earth's horizon hints at our planet's true size. But to avoid succumbing to hyperbole, I'll say that the Titan is big enough (in a very practical way) for three guys to stretch out comfortably, with one of them lying across the backseats, napping next to the luggage, during an eight-hour roundtrip. It is quite liveable and functional, with nooks, crannies, and storage compartments within easy reach of front-seat denizens who need to grab their cell to catch an important business call, and flat surfaces that double as tabletops for both fast food and notepads. I like that compartment that runs the length of the center console, next to the seat. Whatever its intended purpose may be, I believe that its true calling is to catch the change, keys, french fries, and whatever else might fall from pockets or fingers while cruising down long stretches of freeway.

All that said, examining the anemic execution of the buttons, controls, and other plastics on the dash and center console made me suspect that while the interior concept must have looked almost heroic on a designer's sketchpad, it suffered on the chopping block of frugality.

That 5.6L V-8 certainly lives up to the Titan's bolstered aura. When you consider that Nissan was certainly gunning for the F-150 (the 1/2-ton leader at the time of the Titan's inception), it doesn't hurt that its hp and torque numbers of 305 and 379 just manage to surpass the F-150's 300 hp and the 365 lb-ft, 5.4L Triton. Speaking of power, the optional SE Popular Package installed in this truck includes, among other things, a Rockford Fosgate sound system that actually sounded pretty good for a factory stereo, thanks, most likely, to a 350W amplifier and a subwoofer. Sirius satellite radio makes CDs obsolete but for the most finicky of music lovers. An overhead DVD player would have kept the backseaters entertained if we had remembered to bring a disc. The storage management system of the SE High Ulitlity Bed Package has a spray-on liner (tidier than the usual bolt-ons), a driver's-side lockbox, a 12V DC outlet in the bed, and a Utili-track channel system with four adjustable tie-down cleats. An Off-Road Package upgraded the wheels and tires to 17-inch alloys and P285/70R17 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail rubber, installed Rancho shocks, skid plates, a lower final gear ratio, and a switch-on-demand electronic locking rear differential (increasing the utility of an already capable truck).

All in all, the Titan is a solid pickup that emanates more masculinity than the usual offshore offering, backed by capability. While it hasn't taken the domestics-domintated, fullsize truck market by a tsunami, it will certainly give the new Toyota Tundra a run for its money in a year's time.

2006 NISSAN TITAN 4X4 SE CREW CAB
Price (as tested)
$37,370 without destination
APPROACH ANGLE
32.2 deg
Engine
5.6L V-8
DEPARTURE ANGLE
28.3 deg
Horsepower
305@4,900 rpm SAE
RAMP-OVER ANGLE
24.3 deg
Torque (lb-ft)
379@3,600 rpm SAE
CURB WEIGHT
5,137 lbs
Transmission
5-speed automatic with overdrive 4WD
GVWR
6,522 lbs
AXLE RATIO
3.357
MAX. TRAILER WEIGHT
9,400 lbs
Suspension
Double wishbone (f), leaf springs (r)
PAYLOAD
1,387 lbs <GVWR - curb wt>
Brakes
4-wheel disc, 4-wheel ABS
CARGO BED (LENGTH)
67.1 in
Wheelbase
139.8 in
INTERIOR CARGO
61 cu ft (second row)
Turning (Curb-to-Curb)
45.3 ft
SEATING
2/3
Height
75.1 in
MPG
14/18
WIDTH
78.8 in
 

Insider
Firstlook
2006 Saturn VUE Red Line
Looks certainly are deceiving. What was expected to feel like a long week in a midsize SUV - one I wasn't overly excited to receive - actually turned out far better than I would have ever imagined. All it takes to be impressed is one look at the front-wheel-drive 2006 Saturn Vue Red Line, packed with Honda's 3.5L SOHC 250hp V-6. Our loaner was painted bright silver and fit with the optional Red Line interior and exterior package consisting of a color-matched body kit, slightly lowered suspension dressed in Plus 2-sized 18-inch alloy wheels, and slightly lower-profile tires.

It is the interior that draws upon a Gen-X expectation of cool that really makes this thing such a pleasure to drive. The ultra-supportive bucket seats were trimmed in supple black leather, with suede pattern inserts and color-coordinated stitching on the interior. The gas and brake pedals reflect a sense of style unseen in other General Motors trucks and SUVs. In addition, the ambient lighting located at the footwells provides a nice inviting glow when the doors are opened. Optional XM satellite radio makes those ultra-long drives much more enjoyable.

Like I said, this Saturn Vue was a blast to drive. Never has my opinion of one vehicle so easily changed. It does everything well. The 250hp V-6 is deceptively quicker than one would imagine. About the only downside of this power is a severe torque steer when the gas pedal is maxed out (something common on front-wheel-drive vehicles). This tester model was priced at a very reasonable $25,480, and believe me, it is worth every penny. Where else can one person in the market for a capable midsize SUV get such a great value for under $28K and pull down over 23 mpg (our average during the weeklong testing session)? GM claims 20 mpg in the city and 28 mpg out on the highway. About the only real drawback to the 2006 Saturn Vue Red Line edition was the Friday at the end of the week when I had to return it. The folks at Saturn have a winner on their hands here and need to do a better job of marketing this incredibly valued SUV. Needless to say, it was a hit.

2006 Saturn VUE Red Line
Price (as tested)
$25,480
Engine
3.5L V-6
Horsepower
250@5,800 rpm SAE
Torque (lb-ft)
242@4,500 rpm SAE
Transmission
5-speed automatic FWD
Suspension
Independent, strut-type with coils and anti-roll bar (f), independent, trailing arm with three lateral links, anti-roll bar and coils
Brakes
disc (f), drum (r), power assist, 4-wheel ABS, traction control
Wheelbase
106.6 in
Height
66.5 in
Width
71.5 in
Curb Weight
3,478 lbs
Max Trailer Weight
3,500 lbs
Interior Cargo
30.8 cu ft
Seating
2/3
MPG
20/28 (EPA)
23 (as tested)

Insider
Long Term Update
Driver: Bob Ryder
2006 Jeep Commander Limited 4x4
One of the responsibilities as an editor of the "World's Leading Truck Magazine" is to drive and evaluate the latest trucks and SUVs, both domestics and imports.

The latest vehicle I had the pleasure to put through its paces was our 2006 Jeep Commander Limited 4x4 long-termer that I drove for six weeks, driving to and from the office, shows, and patches of off-road adventure.

I appreciated the Commander's boxy utilitarian profile, flared fenders with chrome hex-head bolts, and two-tone color scheme on the Commander's instrument panel and interior trim. The all-new upper instrument panel features 16 Allen-head bolts, which contribute to the military-style dcor.

The potent 5.7L, 16-valve Hemi V-8 transformed the Commander into a mighty tug with 7,200-lbs towing capacity. The overall suspension, with independent short-long control arms with coil springs and gas-filled shocks absorbers, helped limit body roll in the corners; and firm ABS braking helped me avoid mishaps. The chrome-clad, cast aluminum 17x7.5-inch wheels are wrapped in P245/65SR17 Goodyear Fortera HP tires, which gripped the asphalt and clawed through treacherous off-road terrain effortlessly.

My grown-up kids liked the stadium-style, three-row seating - especially the legroom and the view they got from the second row (no way they would try the dwarf-sized third). Whether navigating twisty mountain roads, straight flat desert highways, or bumper-to-bumper traffic, it was all calmed by activating the multi-zone climate control to a comfortable ambient temp. and then reclining the electric seat to find that "just right" relaxed position. With an effortless reach, I powered up the GPS navigation to guide me to my destination. While the kids were safely belted in the backseat they were entertained by a favorite DVD movie. The wife and I had the option of listening to a medley of CDs or tune into AM/FM or Sirius satellite radio.

My overall opinion while behind the wheel of the '06 Jeep Commander was of power, pleasure, comfort, and confidence, both on- and off-road.

This is the third installment of our long-term coverage of the Jeep Commander.

Insider
Mistubishi Raider Taking a Bath?
Mitsubishi halted production of its Raider pickup truck after slow sales forced the manufacturer to cool its heels until dealers sell off excess inventory of Mitsubishi's newest pickup truck. The company had a 200-plus supply as of the spring, so it reportedly asked Chrysler group, its manufacturing partner for this Dakota-based vehicle, to cease production for a while. Rumors abound that the truck might be canceled. The Raider went on sale last fall for the '06 model year, and is the only truck in Mitsubishi's lineup (check out our write-up of it in our "Truck of the Year" coverage in Issue 1, 2006).

Go with the Flows... and Win!
Flowmaster will award a GTO to some lucky soul this fall. The vehicle was used as a test mule for the company's GTO product development and was featured in our sister mag Hot Rod. It comes fully customized with Flowmaster's new 2004 Pontiac GTO system. The tailpipes exit in the stock location and are finished off with a pair of 3-inch, Flowmaster-embossed stainless steel exhaust tips. A stock LS1 is mated to a six-speed manual transmission, Centerforce clutch, and genuine GM Performance parts. Budnik Four-Thirty billet wheels, Nitto tires, Baer brakes, Hotchkis suspension, B&M shifter, K&N induction system, and body graphics round out the mods. Go to www.flowmastermufflers.com to enter.

Shizzle The Spinal Sizzle
More to come next issue. This spine image is brought to you by the truck suspension and accessory folks at AIM Industries, Dept. TR, 260 S. Hibbert, Mesa, AZ 85210, (800) 289-9980, www.aimind.com.