The light-truck market is piping hot these days. Now American Motors is after a share of the action with its snappy 2- and 4-wheel-drive Jeep Comanche. ``Pickups are the sports cars of the 1980s,'' says Peter Guptill, head of sales and marketing at AMC. The automaker is 46.4 percent owned by French carmaker Renault.
One in every 3 new-vehicle buyers, in fact, now opts for a light truck.
Last year Ford Motor Company sold 562,507 F-series pickups, while Chevrolet and GMC combined for a total of just under 600,000.
Feeding the demand, both Ford and General Motors will launch new full-size pickups for 1987, featuring more room, better fuel economy, antilock braking, and expanded electronics. Ford's new lightweights debut in the fall, while GM's are delayed till the spring of '87.
AMC's Mr. Guptill says the Jeep Comanche will be followed by a new Jeep utility truck.
Jeep sold 190,000 vehicles in the United States and Canada last year, an all-time record. This year AMC is looking for 200,000 sales in the US alone, with about one-quarter of them Comanches.
The test Comanche was equipped with AMC's optional 2.8-liter V-6 and 3-speed automatic transmission. While the fuel economy wasn't anything to write home about, you may not consider it too bad, given the versatility of the vehicle itself. Environmental Protection Agency figures are 17 m.p.g. in the city and 22 on the highway for both the 2- and 4-wheel-drives. With the smaller 2.5-liter engine, the figures are a few miles higher.
As a workhorse, the Comanche does a good job.
When I needed coal for a fireplace stove, for example, I loaded 25 bags (50 pounds apiece) onto the truck bed, put the Comanche in gear, and headed home with no trouble at all. The vehicle was stable on both dry and wet roads.
The Comanche is a rugged, comfortable pickup. Fit and finish are up to the best on the road. Dials and controls are convenient to see and operate. Headroom and legroom are not a problem for a six-footer. Fitting a third adult in the front seat may not work too well, however.
The ride is as good as you can expect in a light truck. When the truck is loaded, the ride is very smooth. Braking is also very good. The tailgate is a snap to operate with one hand.
The wheelbase, at 119.6 inches, is extra long for this size of light truck. Curb weight is under 3,400 pounds.
The base 2-wheel-drive Comanche lists at $7,199, while the 4-wheel-drive version goes for $8,899. The heavily optioned test Comanche lists at $12,998.
Equipped with 4-WD, the Comanche will cut through some of the toughest terrain anywhere, competing with such vehicles as the Ford Ranger Supercab, Isuzu Spacecab, Suzuki Samurai, Toyota 4Runner, Nissan pickup, and more.
At the moment about half of all Comanche sales are 2-wheel-drives, but an AMC spokesman says that ``we expect an increase in the 2-WD number as time goes on.''