CHICAGO - Chicago, gritty yet cosmopolitan, blue-collar but cultured, is a metropolis populated by hard-working, outspoken people of every stripe who are unafraid to exhibit pride for or staunchly defend their city, their culture, and their country. Not surprisingly then, homegrown cars and trucks are the traditional theme of the annual Chicago Auto Show.
In 2005, however, it seems that importers are making most of the headlines. Toyota stole the show, debuting its own go-anywhere, do-anything vehicle, the 2007 FJ Cruiser. With the assistance of Chicago’s Second City troupe of comedians, Toyota had reporters laughing during the tongue-in-cheek unveiling of the FJ Cruiser, a rugged new retro-styled SUV that recalls the legendary FJ 40 sport-utility – the one that looked like a Jeep CJ, but wasn’t. Designed to split the difference between the Honda Element and the Nissan Xterra and admittedly not for everyone, the funky FJ Cruiser looks to be another winner for Toyota. Honda, too, made a big splash with the Civic Si concept, which the company admitted is 90-percent representative of the redesigned 2006 Honda Civic Si that will debut at the 2005 SEMA Show in Las Vegas this fall. With 200 horsepower, handsome styling, and a return to the favored coupe body style, this new Civic Si should prove far more popular than today’s 160-horse rolling doorstop.
Japanese automakers have established themselves as industry giants, and Korean car companies aren’t far behind, as evidenced by the debut of the impressive new 2006 Kia Sedona minivan. But what about China, where industry, and the economy, are exploding with growth? In Chicago, entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin and his new venture, Visionary Vehicles LLC, announced a plan to import hundreds of thousands of Chinese vehicles in the next few years. Bricklin, you might recall, is the man responsible for the Yugo. But he also brought Subaru to the U.S., so if his track record is any indication, this new venture with Chinese automaker Chery might have a 50-percent chance of success.
Counterbalancing these major announcements by importers, International Truck debuted new variations of the hulking CXT, a heavy-duty, all-American commercial truck with a cargo bed grafted onto the back that serves as the vehicular equivalent of Viagra for pickup truck buyers. The CXT is Americana at its most grotesque, a caricature of our favorite go-anywhere, do-anything vehicles.
Oddities aside, the 2005 Chicago Auto Show held several “normal” product unveilings from Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors that preserve the city’s tradition of showcasing American metal and big trucks. Buick and Cadillac trotted out reengineered and renamed versions of the LeSabre and DeVille called the Lucerne and DTS. Dodge unveiled the updated 2006 Ram Mega Cab pickup, a new special edition sedan called the Charger R/T, and a thinly veiled concept version of its upcoming Nitro SUV, which is based upon the Jeep Liberty. Mercury debuted its new Milan midsize sedan, a refreshed Mountaineer sport-ute, and a hybrid version of the Mariner crossover suv.
Last, but not even close to being least, Mercedes-Benz continued a seemingly endless rollout of product in Chicago, one of the company’s major markets, introducing an AMG-massaged edition of the S-Class sedan and the new E350, which comes equipped with a more powerful 3.5-liter V6 engine.
Like Chicagoans, we'll work hard to bring you complete, outspoken coverage from the 2005 Chicago Auto Show. Check back with us starting on Feb. 10 to see all the latest photos, video, and stories from the McCormick Place convention center.
2006 Buick Lucerne
Buick suffers the taint of microwaved leftovers. With the introduction of the 2006 Lucerne at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show, every model found at a Buick dealership looks and smells like it's ready for consumption, but possesses the shelf life of leftover lasagna. LaCrosse, Rainier, Rendezvous, Terraza, and now, Lucerne, are band-aids designed to shore up sales until the real Buick renaissance begins with the reintroduction of rear-wheel-drive to this formerly proud premium General Motors division.
Of this rag-tag group, however, the 2006 Lucerne has clearly benefited from the revitalization currently sweeping GM. General Motors North America President Gary Cowger, before introducing the Lucerne to reporters, held it up as an example of "the energy, enthusiasm, and emotion which depicts GM today" and called it a car "for the dreamer in all of us."
We're not drinking the corporate Kool-Aid, but upon initial inspection the new 2006 Lucerne, more than any other vehicle found in a Buick showroom, serves to support the brand's positioning of attainable elegance. This is no dream car, but it strikes us as an interesting alternative to the equally cushy Lexus ES 330.
Replacing the LeSabre and Park Avenue in Buick's lineup, the Lucerne is a large, front-wheel-drive sedan based on an extensively re-engineered version of the existing LeSabre platform. GM's familiar 3.8-liter, 195-horsepower V6 engine is standard, but a 4.6-liter V8 estimated to make 275 horsepower is available, making the Lucerne the first Buick passenger car in a decade to be equipped with an eight-cylinder engine. Either engine is matched to a four-speed automatic transmission.
Handsomely styled, the Buick Lucerne would convince as a luxury car were it not for the return of port-holes to the front fenders. This heritage design cue somewhat clutters the Lucerne's clean flanks while instantly identifying it as a Buick. That's too bad, because from the back, some might confuse it with the much more expensive Volkswagen Phaeton.
Inside, a new dashboard features tighter seams and flush surfaces, helping to impart a quality, upscale look and feel. The Buick Lucerne includes QuietTuning, body insulation designed to reduce wind, road, and engine noise in the cabin. The Lucerne features plenty of room for five passengers, and standard safety equipment includes a dual-stage driver airbag, a new dual-depth front passenger airbag, side-impact airbags, and side-curtain airbags. The dual-depth airbag design takes occupant seatbelt usage, seating position, and crash severity to deploy the front passenger airbag at a shallow depth or a deeper depth to protect the passenger. The 2006 Buick Lucerne is also equipped with OnStar telematics, which includes a notification system that alerts rescue personnel in the event that the airbags deploy. StabiliTrak stability control also comes standard.
In Chicago, Buick displayed the top trim level, called the Lucerne CXS. Features of this model include the V8 engine, a remote engine start feature, a magnetic ride control suspension, 18-inch chrome wheels, and chrome exhaust tips. Inside, the Lucerne CXS is decked out in wood trim, French-stitched leather upholstery, and includes a 245-watt Harman Kardon audio system with XM satellite radio. A heated washer fluid reservoir and rain-sensing wipers keep the view ahead clear, while an available DVD navigation system helps to point the way. Those living in extreme climates will want the available heated and cooled front seats to keep winter and summer at bay.
Arriving in the fall of 2005, the 2006 Buick Lucerne is yet to be priced. We'd guess that base models with the V6 engine would overlap with higher-end versions of the Buick LaCrosse, with loaded Lucerne CXS models closing in on $40,000.
Though Buick still has a ways to go before it truly represents attainable elegance, the 2006 Lucerne is a clear step in the right direction, if not the final piece of the puzzle.
2006 Cadillac DTS
With the introduction of the 2006 DTS at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show, the last remaining vehicle in Cadillac's lineup with a real name is the Escalade, which in a short period of time has built enormous value thanks to the entertainment industry's fascination with it. Eldorado? Gone. Seville? Dead. DeVille? Meet its replacement, the DTS.
The 2006 Cadillac DTS isn't a new car. Rather, it's a re-worked version of the existing DeVille platform. That means it's still a large, front-wheel-drive sedan powered by a 4.6-liter Northstar V8 engine and a four-speed automatic transmission. Strangely, but mainly because they're sitting in the parts bin so GM might as well use them, two versions of the V8 are available in the DTS. The standard motor is estimated to make 275 horsepower calibrated for quick off-the-line and part-throttle response, while an optional version generates about 290 horsepower that revs higher but whips up less peak torque.
Either engine is mounted to a new front cradle, which itself is attached to the front frame rails for greater strength and a reduction in vibration. Cadillac says this results in a quieter, smoother, refined ride quality. Every 2006 DTS is equipped with larger antilock brakes with brake assist and traction control. StabiliTrak stability control is standard on all but the base-level DTS, and when equipped with the Performance package a magnetic ride control suspension is included. Standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels and tires, with 18-inch rims and rubber a part of the Performance package.
Other changes are primarily cosmetic. From the windshield pillars forward, the 2006 Cadillac DTS is redesigned with a new power-bulge hood, egg-crate grille, trapezoidal bi-xenon headlights, bumper fascia, and fenders. The doors and greenhouse are carried over from the current DeVille, but the multi-spoke wheels are new. In back, the revised quarter panels, LED tail lamps, decklid, and bumper update the appearance of the DTS, though we see more than a hint of vintage Chevy Monte Carlo in the rear styling. The new look brings the DTS into line with the CTS and STS to create a familial resemblance.
More important is the new interior design, which resolves the weaknesses of the DeVille. Simpler and more elegant than before, the improved cabin of the 2006 Cadillac DTS is instantly apparent to those familiar with the DeVille. The front seats have been redesigned for improved comfort, the parts fit together better and with flush seams, and the control layout is easier to use and understand than before. A front bench seat is still available, allowing the DTS to carry six adults.
Sold in a single trim level with multiple Luxury packages or a single Performance package, some of the available luxury features offered on the Cadillac DTS include heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and triple-zone climate control. Remote engine starting, a heated washer fluid reservoir, and rain-sensing wipers also help to take the sting out of inclement weather. The DTS also features ultrasonic park assist, automatic high-beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, a DVD navigation system, and XM satellite radio.
Safety gear includes a dual-stage driver airbags, a dual-depth front passenger airbag, side-impact airbags for the front seat occupants, and side-curtain airbags for all outboard seating positions. The dual-depth airbag design takes occupant seatbelt usage, seating position, and crash severity to deploy the front passenger airbag at a shallow depth or a deeper depth to protect the passenger. In the event of an accident that causes the airbags to deploy, the standard OnStar telematics system can notify rescue personnel of your location and status to speed medical treatment, if necessary.
Since 1967, when the first Eldorado debuted, Cadillac has always sold a front-wheel-drive car. The 2006 DTS is the last of a 40-year legacy, likely to be replaced by the end of the decade with a rear-drive, redesigned version. And though the DTS amounts to little more than a warmed-over DeVille, it looks pretty good to us.
2006 Dodge Charger Daytona R/T
Hot on the heels of the its introduction in Detroit comes a special-edition version of the 2006 Dodge Charger that commemorates the nameplate's return to NASCAR racing at Daytona International Speedway. But the new 2006 Dodge Charger Daytona R/T displayed at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show is more than just a paint 'n stripes special.
Significant hardware upgrades are includes on the 2006 Dodge Charger Daytona R/T. It includes a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 that makes 10 extra horsepower, a sport-tuned suspension package with self-leveling rear shock absorbers, faster steering, and 235/55 performance tires.
Painted in "Go Man Go!" metallic orange paint or, later in 2005, "Top Banana" yellow, the 2006 Dodge Charger Daytona R/T also includes a blacked-out honeycomb grille, a flat-black hood, a front chin spoiler, a black decklid spoiler, special decals, and heritage "R/T" badges. Polished aluminum wheels measuring 18 inches and chrome dual exhaust tips complete the exterior modifications.
Inside, the 2006 Dodge Charger Daytona R/T gets sport seats with suede inserts and embroidered "Daytona" logos, body-colored accent stitching and dashboard trim, and a sequentially numbered plaque on the dashboard. Other features include power adjustable pedals, heated front seats, a dual-zone automatic climate system, and stability control.
Arriving this summer in limited numbers, the price of the 2006 Dodge Charger Daytona R/T has not been set, but we doubt Fiddy will care much what it costs.
Dodge Nitro Concept
Hubris is integral to Dodge’s aggressive brand character, and lately the company has been able to easily back it up with terrific product. But during the introduction of the Dodge Nitro Concept at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show, Chrysler Group Senior Vice President of Design, Trevor Creed, slipped into a state of marketing dementia unmatched since the Pontiac Aztek dropped into the market with a dull thud despite the exhortations of the GM public relations squad.
Calling the Dodge Nitro a concept vehicle that could become a reality, Creed said that if produced the Nitro would have the best engine, the best brakes, the best handling, the best towing capacity, and the best interior roominess of any midsize SUV.
That’s just silly. Let us set the record straight. In concept form, the Dodge Nitro is based on the existing Jeep Liberty, a compact sport-ute known for none of the attributes listed by Creed. It’s got the Liberty’s 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V6 engine; four-speed automatic transmission; full-time 4WD system; 4,115-pound curb weight; and independent front and solid axle rear suspension. In the Liberty, this doesn’t add up to anything “best” except off-road capability, and we doubt the 20-inch wheels and 255/50 Michelin Diamaris tires on the Nitro make that big a difference. In fact, press releases for the Dodge Nitro state a top speed of 108 mph, a zero-to-60 mph time of 9.6 seconds, and a quarter-mile trap time of 16.9 seconds. Maximum cargo volume for this alleged midsize SUV is a measly 66.9 cubic feet. See what we mean about a smokescreen?
Now that we’ve got that out in the open, here’s what’s cool about the Dodge Nitro Concept. It looks terrific, and something like this slotted under the full-size Durango makes sense. Dodge needs a smaller SUV, and when it arrives, we hope it looks just like the Nitro. With bulldog front styling, a chopped-top roofline, squared-off edges, and flared fenders, the Nitro exudes attitude. Details such as side vents (which look like those on the Range Rover Sport), an integrated tow hitch, and chrome exhaust outlets enhance the Nitro’s stylish and aggressive appearance.
Inside, Dodge jazzed up the Jeep’s cabin by adding a three-pod gauge cluster with electroluminescent lighting, lots of satin silver trim, and brushed aluminum pedals. Black leather seats with red inserts provide a sporty ambience, and the cargo area features ultimate utility thanks to a textured vinyl floor that slides out for easy loading and unloading. Modular storage bins and a first-aid kit are also included.
Despite our gripe about public relations spin that could qualify as a Category 1 hurricane, the Dodge Nitro Concept is a great idea. It looks great, fills a hole in the Dodge truck lineup, and would make a compelling alternative to many entries in the small(er) SUV segment.
2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab
With the introduction of the 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab, interior space is no longer a problem.
To create the six-passenger Mega Cab, the roomiest pickup truck ever built according to Dodge, engineers started with the 2500-Series Quad Cab longbed. By replacing the eight-foot cargo box with one measuring six-feet, three-inches, the Quad Cab received a 20-inch stretch that results in more rear legroom than the Maybach ultra-luxury sedan. You know, the one with reclining leather seats and a full entertainment system in the back.
Available in 1500-, 2500-, or 3500-Series trim dressed up in SLT or Laramie garb and either 2WD or 4WD, the 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab is available with one of two engines. The RAM 1500 Mega Cab is only offered with a 5.7-liter, 345-horsepower Hemi V8 making 375 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm. The Hemi is also standard on the RAM 2500 Mega Cab, and an industrial-strength, 5.9-liter, 310-horsepower Cummins turbodiesel engine with 610 lb.-ft. of earth-shaking torque peaking at 1,600 rpm is optional. The RAM 3500 Mega Cab is equipped with the turbodiesel engine right out of the chute, and properly equipped, the 3500 Mega Cab can tote 2,840 pounds of payload and tow a trailer weighing 15,800 pounds. The Hemi is hooked to a five-speed automatic, while the Cummins comes with a six-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. In addition to impressive powertrains, Dodge claims that the Mega Cab is equipped with the largest brakes in the segment, and they come with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution.
Standard equipment includes the usual litany of power accessories plus 17-inch wheels and tires, a 60/40 split-fold rear bench seat that reclines and slides, and storage bins behind the back seat that measure 7.6 cubic feet of volume. With the rear seat folded, the Ram Mega Cab swallows 71 cubic feet of stuff, better than most compact SUVs for weather-protected cargo space. Options include a 384-watt Infinity sound system with Ceramic Metal Matrix speakers, Sirius satellite radio, a navigation system, UConnect Bluetooth wireless communications, and a rear seat DVD entertainment system with game ports and a 6.5-inch wide screen. Side-curtain airbags, power adjustable pedals, a power sunroof, and heated front seats are also available.
But just because you can load the 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab with features, don't think this sumbitch is going to be easy to drive around town. It's more than 20 feet long, and urban parking areas are tight, making maneuverability a weak point.
Revised styling for entire 2006 Ram lineup debuts on the Mega Cab, which has a new look in front that is reminiscent of the smaller Dodge Dakota pickup. Inside, the cabin gets spruced up, too, with higher quality materials, new seats, and a redesigned instrument panel.
Dodge likes to boast that the RAM pickup lineup includes the most powerful light-duty truck on the market (Ram 1500 with the Hemi engine), the fastest production pickup in the world (Ram SRT-10), the strongest pickup for sale today (Ram 2500 and 3500 equipped with the Cummins turbodiesel), and the most capable off-road pickup ever created at the factory (Ram Power Wagon). Now, with the debut of the 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab, it can lay claim to the largest cab of any pickup ever created.
When you've got it, you might as well flaunt it.
Honda Civic Si Concept
Before the video game Gran Turismo came along, Honda had a lock on youthful buyers with the Civic. Fun to drive, reliable, and equipped with technologically advanced and fuel-efficient engines, Honda Civics could be easily tailored to the owner’s personality through myriad aftermarket parts catalogs and websites.But then the PlayStation gaming system exploded into living rooms, exposing the youth of America to Civic alternatives ranging from aging Nissan 240SXs to hyper Mitsubishi Evolutions. Honda responded by killing the handsome Civic Si coupe after the 1999 model year, and by dropping the Civic’s popular double-wishbone suspension system with a 2001 redesign. In 2002, the Civic Si returned as a 160-horsepower version of the Europe-only hatchback, which looked like a doorstop and didn’t possess the increasingly popular aggressiveness popularized by drivel such as “Too Fast, Too Furious.”
At the 2005 Chicago Auto Show, Honda made it clear that it still wants its slice of the sport-compact pie by unveiling the Civic Si Concept, a barely disguised version of what will appear in showrooms for 2006. It also announced that the production model would debut at the 2005 Specialty Equipment Marketers Association (SEMA) trade show in Las Vegas this fall, and that Honda is SEMA’s official vehicle manufacturer for the show – which means scores of modified new 2006 Civics adorned with scantily clad women will litter the desert floor come November.
In the meantime, the Honda Civic Si Concept not only signals a return of America’s favorite compact car to favor among aftermarketers, but it foreshadows the entire redesigned 2006 Honda Civic lineup, which includes coupes and sedans in various states of trim, the performance-oriented Si Coupe, the environmentally responsible Civic Hybrid sedan with updated Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology, and the natural-gas powered GX sedan.
John Mendel, Senior Vice President, Automobile Operations for American Honda, promised, “The new Civic will be the safest car in its class, bar none.” Standard equipment on every 2006 Civic will include antilock brakes, side-impact airbags, and side-curtain airbags. More details on the redesigned 2006 Honda Civic lineup will be available at a later date.
To whet appetites, we have the Honda Civic Si Concept to ponder. It’s been 20 years since the first Honda Civic Si arrived in the U.S. for the 1984 model year, and Honda says that the 2006 Civic Si will be the fastest and most powerful production Civic ever. A 200-horsepower, 16-valve, dual-overhead cam, inline four-cylinder engine with an 8,000 rpm redline boasts the latest generation of i-VTEC technology to produce optimum power, optimum efficiency, and optimum levels of emissions.
A close-ratio six-speed manual transmission delivers power to the front wheels, and the engine breathes through a sport-tuned exhaust system that sounds terrific. Honda recorded a production Civic Si making a run through the gears and played it for the assembled press. It sounded more powerful, and more exotic, than a four-cylinder ought to. Keeping that power flowing to the ground is a standard helical-type limited slip front differential. Large 18-inch alloy wheels wearing 225/40 performance tires filled the wheel wells on the Honda Civic Si Concept, fronting four-wheel-disc brakes with cross-drilled rotors and Brembo four-piston calipers. But these rotors and calipers are just for show, like the glossy black-painted hood, giant rear decklid wing, and the air diffuser with center-mounted exhaust mounted under the back bumper.
What will translate to showrooms is the Honda Civic Si Concept’s swept roofline and ultra-fast windshield rake, which present a gentle arc that stretches from front to rear. There’s plenty of Acura in the Civic Si Concept’s face, which results in a more aggressive appearance, but the flanks are plain despite better elegance and flow than a Scion tC. Don’t expect the full aero kit on the Honda Civic Si Concept to be standard when the car goes on sale early in 2006.
Mendel called the Honda Civic Si concept, “Fast, fun, and full of what makes a Civic, a Civic.” Let’s hope Honda was smart enough to get the car programmed for inclusion in the next iteration of every driving enthusiast’s favorite video game, Gran Turismo 4.
Hyundai Portico Concept
Ask someone outside of Hyundai Motor America (HMA) what vehicles successfully blend the attributes of a station wagon and a minivan, and the answer might be the Chrysler Pacifica, the Ford Freestyle, or even the upcoming Mazda 5. Apparently, within HMA, the answer is only the Hyundai Portico Concept, and during its unveiling at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show, John Krafcik, Vice President of Product Development and Strategic Planning, insisted that the egg-shaped Portico Concept “defies segment definitions.” Hyundai’s Vice President of National Sales concurred, deeming the Portico Concept “the next wave in family transportation” and claiming that while “wagons and vans were practical solutions, Portico is a passionate solution.” Here’s the pitch: Mommy and Daddy get a boring car when they have kids and trade up into larger boring cars as the sweet little young’uns become surly teens. During this 20-year time span, the family car is an appliance utterly devoid of style, appeal, and emotion. The Hyundai Portico Concept, the theory goes, is a refined, stylish, fun-to-drive family vehicle of the future, able to transition from one life stage to the next without skipping a beat or forgetting that many people can’t get past the notion that they somehow are what they drive.
In other words, it’s Korea’s idea of a Chrysler Pacifica, Ford Freestyle, or even the upcoming Mazda 5.
But once you’ve weeded through the marketing hype and have looked past an exterior design that resembles an angry sea mammal, the key attributes of the Hyundai Portico Concept are notable. For example, it’s wide enough that six people can comfortably fit in two rows of staggered seating, leaving a huge cargo area behind the second-row of seats. Here’s another cool feature: there’s no B-pillar, so the suicide doors open wide to create a huge portal through which to enter and exit. Want another one? An available hybrid drive system includes electric motors front and rear, effectively creating a slick all-wheel-drive system. Finally, the Hyundai Portico Concept includes a glass panoramic roof that can be darkened on bright sunny days.
Otherwise, the Hyundai Portico Concept is fairly conventional, with an aluminum V6 engine equipped with variable valve timing, a six-speed Shiftronic transmission, a rear seat DVD entertainment system, and a navigation system.
We’d guess that the Hyundai Portico Concept is mostly pure fancy, with certain elements ultimately bound for production. And since Hyundai has a new seven-passenger Santa Fe SUV and a new minivan debuting this year, we’ll be able to see sooner rather than later if the design and technology showcased inside the Portico Concept becomes a reality.
2006 International XT-Series
Believe it or not, there is a need for a semi-truck with a pickup bed, and International Truck has not only identified this need, but is pursuing it with the same tenacity that Donald Trump might for large plots of cheap Manhattan real estate or gold digging ex-models half his age. Heck, the paint is barely dry on the hulking four-wheel-drive 2005 International CXT, and already the legendary producer of heavy-duty commercial trucks has a two-wheel-drive version called the RXT slated for production in 2006, and is going to start building the MXT for both military and civilian use starting this fall. Towing and hauling are the primary reasons to purchase a member of the International XT-Series. For some people, a heavy-duty pickup truck just won’t do, and that’s where International Truck rides to the rescue. Though the diesel engine selections found under the clamshell hoods of the International XT-Series trucks might not match the most powerful Dodge Ram 3500 equipped with a Cummins “610” turbodiesel, the Internationals can tug and tote far more weight and payload because of their massive, commercial-truck frames and components. For example, the Ram 3500 Cummins “610” peaks at a trailer weight of 15,800 pounds. An International CXT, when properly equipped, can move a trailer weighing 44,000 pounds.
By the end of 2006, three International XT pickups will be on sale. The International CXT arrived for 2005, and is a 4WD crew cab pickup with an eight-foot cargo box starting at about $90,000. A 220-horsepower DT466 diesel inline six-cylinder engine peaks at 540 lb.-ft. of torque, and power is managed by an Allison 2500 HS five-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy ranges between 7 and 10 mpg. The International CXT is equipped with antilock air brakes, and is the towing and hauling leader of the bunch with a GVWR of 25,999 pounds and a maximum trailer rating of 44,000 pounds. Next year, the CXT’s engine will develop as much as 310 horsepower for improved performance.
Truck buyers who don’t need 4WD or maximum capabilities can select the less expensive International RXT, which starts at about $70,000. International calls the RXT “sleek and sporty, strong and athletic,” and maybe if we read “Truckin’ Weekly” we’d see how that’s remotely accurate. Flush headlights, a cleaner bumper, and a lower ride height must be what does the trick. Equipped with an eight-foot bed like the CXT, the RXT is very different under the skin. This one has a diesel V8 capable of 230 horsepower and 540 lb.-ft. of torque, shuttled through an Allison 2200 five-speed automatic transmission and capable of achieving as much as 12 mpg. Hydraulic rather than air brakes are used on the International RXT, and this truck is equipped to handle 20,500 pounds GVWR or a trailer weighing up to 24,000 pounds. In the fall, power ratings rise to about 300 horses.
A different beast entirely, the International MXT appears ready to tackle a HUMVEE, chew it up, and spit it out – but in an elegant, post-depression 1930s way. Specifically designed to meet military requirements, the MXT will nonetheless be available to the general public in 2006, which must put a smile on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mug. The MXT sits low, with a shallow seven-foot bed on the back. Behind the classy chrome grille is a diesel V6 engine making 230 horsepower and 460 lb.-ft. of torque, routing power through an Allison 2000 five-speed automatic. The MXT’s mission evidently doesn’t include significant huffing and puffing, since the GVWR is 18,000 pounds and International didn’t discuss towing capacity.
But wait, there’s more! International also rolled out the Project XT, a concept truck with front driving lights, an integrated pickup bed with flat interior sides, dual cabin skylights, and a rear spoiler that serves to shield rear seat riders from direct sunlight. Under the Project XT’s hood is the 300-horsepower version of the diesel V8 bound for the RXT this fall.
Hey, Dodge, now who’s your daddy?
2006 Kia Sedona
Every family needs a minivan. Problem is, nobody wants one. They exude practicality rather than adventure, and signal that life is on hold rather than actively pursued. But anyone who has twisted a back muscle in a crowded parking lot while wrestling a toddler into and out of a child safety seat through the rear door of an SUV can instantly understand the appeal of a minivan’s sliding side doors. And once a parent overcomes vanity in favor of sensibility and actually lives with a minivan, it becomes indispensable. Families growing tired of strained muscles, lousy fuel economy, and the potential for rollover in high-profile SUVs might be ready for the 2006 Kia Sedona, which debuted at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show. With few exceptions, the 2006 Kia Sedona appears poised to tackle the best minivans on the market through a compelling combination of safety, utility, design, performance, and craftsmanship.
Korean investment in creating world-class cars and trucks is no more evident today than it is in products like the 2006 Kia Sedona. Hyundai, the conglomerate that owns Kia, has spent about $100 million on design, research and development, and proving grounds facilities in the U.S. in recent years, and this commitment to creating high-quality, desirable vehicles is palpable in new products from both companies.
With a new platform that gives the completely redesigned 2006 Kia Sedona an interior volume measurement on par with class leaders like the Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna, this minivan fires on all six of its brand-new aluminum cylinders. A 3.8-liter V6 makes more than 240 horsepower while overall Sedona curb weight decreases, resulting in better acceleration than before and a lighter, more lively feel through the steering wheel. A five-speed automatic transmission drives the power to the front wheels, while a four-wheel-independent suspension soaks up road anomalies. Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are standard on the 2006 Kia Sedona.
Additional safety technology includes six standard airbags – dual-stage front, side-impact, and side-curtain airbags that protect in all three rows of seats are included in the base price. A tire pressure monitor is also standard, while a stability and traction control system, a rear sonar parking system, and power adjustable pedals are available. The previous Kia Sedona received the highest government rating in crash tests, and Kia claims to have engineered this lighter, larger, and more powerful 2006 Sedona to exceed those already high standards.
Every 2006 Kia Sedona comes with a 60/40 split-folding third-row seat that drops into the floor, power roll-down windows in the sliding side doors, triple-zone air conditioning, a CD player, and dark tinted glass. Available features include a power sunroof, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a DVD entertainment system, and a premium sound system with 11 Infinity speakers. For added convenience, the 2006 Kia Sedona can be equipped with power sliding side doors and a power liftgate, both operated using the remote keyless entry fob.
On the outside, the 2006 Kia Sedona exhibits a clean and contemporary look that is almost sleek thanks to its tapering roofline. The side door handles are designed to integrate with one another to reduce clutter, and the only decoration on the Sedona’s appealing flanks is a Kia logo in the grille and, on the EX trim level, a chrome license plate brow on the tailgate. The 2006 Kia Sedona EX that debuted in Chicago wore handsome 16-inch, twin-spoke alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Energy tires, and fog lights tucked into the front bumper beneath projector beam headlamps.
Inside, a vastly improved cabin design includes fake wood trim on the Sedona EX. The gear selector is mounted to the instrument panel but doesn’t block controls, and the second-row captain’s chairs feature a one-handed flip-and-fold design. Based on our cursory examination, the primary shortcoming is that the second-row captain’s chairs must be lifted out of the Sedona – they don’t fold into the floor like a Dodge Grand Caravan or Nissan Quest.
But that’s a minor gripe. The 2006 Kia Sedona arrives around the first of the year, and final pricing has not been set just yet. But Kia promises a compelling value equation consistent with current marketing schemes, and given what we’ve seen in Chicago, the 2006 Sedona looks like another home run for Kia.
2006 Mercedes-Benz E350
Sliding under the hood of the 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 is the aluminum, 24-valve, 3.5-liter V6 engine from the SLK sports car. Rated at 268 horsepower, a 20-percent boost over the old 3.2-liter V6, the new motor also gets a sizable bump in torque, the majority of which is available over a wide rev range between 2,400 and 5,000 rpm. Impressively, at 1,500 rpm, the new 3.5-liter engine is generating 87 percent of its maximum torque, which should translate to sprightly off-the-line responsiveness. In spite of these gains, Mercedes-Benz says the new engine is slightly more fuel-efficient than the outgoing motor.
Power flows through a new seven-speed automatic transmission, and the new 2006 E350 will accelerate to 60 mph in about 6.8 seconds, according to Mercedes-Benz. Models equipped with 4Matic all-wheel-drive will receive a five-speed automatic transmission with TouchShift manual control.
A new AMG Sport package is available on E350 and E500 models with rear-wheel-drive. The package includes 18-inch, thin-spoke alloy wheels; low-profile performance tires; a subtle body kit; and polished exhaust tips.
The improved 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 arrives this summer.
2006 Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG
Whether the installation of a hand-built, 604-horsepower, 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V12 engine that generates an astounding 738 lb.-ft. of torque qualifies as fiddling is a subjective judgment. Irrefutably, however, the resulting Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG thunders down the road, surpassing 60 mph in 4.2 seconds on the way to an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.
Power flows to the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission equipped with SpeedShift manual controls. Bigger, internally ventilated and cross-drilled brakes with fixed eight-piston front calipers; larger, staggered-size AMG twin-spoke alloy wheels with performance-grade rubber; and suspension tweaks accompany the massive infusion of horsepower and torque. The standard Active Body Control (ABC) is calibrated specifically for the S65 AMG, and the steering is more responsive for greater precision. Stability control and brake assist are an integral part of the package to ensure that even the most talented drivers don't get in too far over their heads.
Styling is scarcely changed; most obvious is the chrome badge on the side of the S65 AMG that reads "V12 Bi-turbo" and the beautiful AMG wheels. Inside, however, luxurious Nappa leather upholstery covers the seats, dashboard, and door panels, while the roof is lined with Alcantara suede.
Only a handful of these ultimate Mercedes-Benz S-Class models will be produced - Mercedes-Benz says it could be fewer than 500 - and for a significant premium over the outgoing S55 AMG at $169,000.
Rob Allan, AMG product manager, called the new 2006 Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG "the world's most powerful luxury car," adding that it's "for the privileged few that demand the best of the best." Translated, this means that if you're new to Stuttgart's wares, don't count on getting your hands on this delectable automobile. The new S65 AMG is likely headed straight to the German automaker's most loyal, and wealthy, customers.
2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid
Mercury’s new 2006 Mariner Hybrid is what most people would consider to be a “no-brainer.” Fundamentally identical to the Ford Escape, which is available with a gasoline-electric full-hybrid propulsion system that sips fuel like a four-cylinder but powers around town like a V6, the Mercury Mariner makes perfect sense as the next candidate for Ford Motor Company’s new hybrid technology.
Because the two vehicles are identical except for minor trim differences, the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid boasts the same high fuel economy, driving range, and clean emissions ratings as the Ford Escape Hybrid. Estimated to achieve 33-mpg in the city and 29-mpg on the highway (city estimates are higher because, as a full hybrid vehicle, this SUV can operate solely on battery power at lower speeds), the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid meets California’s Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle standards.
To create this full-hybrid propulsion system, a 2.3-liter inline four-cylinder engine is matched with two AC electric motors powered by 250 D-size nickel-metal hydride batteries located in a pack that is mounted beneath the cargo floor. This combination results in the equivalent of 155 horsepower, and a regenerative four-wheel-disc braking system automatically recharges the Mariner Hybrid’s batteries. A continuously variable transmission helps to optimize fuel economy and acceleration, sending power to all four of the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid’s 16-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels. A light foot on the throttle and speeds of less than 25 mph result in electric-only motoring, conserving fuel and helping to boost city fuel economy figures.
Choosing between a 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid and a Ford Escape Hybrid comes down to styling. The Mercury gets a liberal coating of satin-finish trim inside and out, along with a two-tone interior color scheme and fake Sapele wood trim on the dashboard. If you like the more upscale appearance of the Mariner Hybrid, expect to pay a little more than the Ford, putting the Mercury into the low $30,000 range.
That’s plenty of coin for a compact SUV, especially when it can take half a decade to recoup that initial investment at the gas pump. The bigger benefit is ultra-low emissions from a vehicle designed to carry plenty of people and their stuff through storms and on light-duty dirt trails. If you want to be green but need lots of space, the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid fills the bill.
2006 Mercury Milan
Today, it's clear that yesterday's marketing philosophy has Mercury firmly back in its grip for the foreseeable future. That's how Lincoln-Mercury President Darryl Hazel is able to assert that his "more new products, faster, business strategy is working." Witness the debut of the swanky new 2006 Mercury Milan, a handsome sedan with a sound foundation that splits the already narrow difference between a Ford Fusion and Lincoln Zephyr in an effort to "attract younger buyers, and many women, who might otherwise buy European or Asian brands," according to Phil Martens, Ford Group vice president of product creation.
Based upon the same corporate CD platform as the Fusion and Zephyr, powered by the same engines and transmissions, and sharing the bulk of its exterior design with the Ford and Lincoln, the primary differentiator for the 2006 Mercury Milan is a waterfall grille coated with a liberal dollop of satin-silver trim.
Actually, that's an overstatement. The Milan's styling differences go beyond the grille. Unique fascias, a different decklid, and modified LED tail lamps set the Milan apart from the Ford Fusion. Plus, the Milan rides on multi-spoked 17-inch alloy wheels, and the outside mirrors are heated. Inside, there are subtle interior upgrades such as a standard power driver's seat and optional two-tone leather upholstery to give the Mercury a more luxurious cabin.
Otherwise, the 2006 Mercury Milan is a carbon copy of the Ford Fusion, from its four-wheel-disc antilock brakes and four-wheel-independent suspension to its interior control layout, optional side-curtain airbags, and snug rear seat accommodations. Choose between a 2.3-liter, 160-horsepower, inline four-cylinder engine (PZEV-rated in some regions of the country) and a 3.0-liter, 210-horsepower V6 - each driving the front wheels. The four-cylinder can be equipped with a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission, while the V6 is matched to a six-speed automatic. Either engine can be installed in the Milan's two available trim levels of base and Premier.
Indeed, when selecting a new midsize sedan from Ford Motor Company, all you need to do is decide how much you want to spend and which styling cues you prefer. Yet, with an all-wheel-drive option arriving for 2007 and a planned hybrid version slated for 2008, the future of the new Mercury Milan appears to be bright and shiny. Like the satin-silver trim that decorates it inside and out.
2006 Mercury Mountaineer
Four years later, the Mercury Mountaineer gets a mid-cycle update for 2006 that includes an all-new interior, a significant power upgrade, and a re-engineered platform that should tide consumers over until a completely redesigned model arrives later this decade.
Starting on the outside, the 2006 Mercury Mountaineer gets a revised grille, a new front bumper treatment, fresh wheel designs, and power retractable running boards that are completely hidden from sight when the doors are closed. The ribbed side cladding is ditched for a smooth, clean appearance, and bigger side mirrors improve visibility. In back, a revised tailgate is added, the tail lamp lenses are clear with red bulbs, and the bumper gets a strip of satin-silver trim. The overall effect is a more aggressive yet contemporary appearance, especially with the optional 18-inch wheels, which do a great job of filling the wheel wells.
Under the skin, the 2006 Mercury Mountaineer receives a new 4.6-liter V8 engine that whips up 292 horsepower at 5,750 rpm and 300 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,750 rpm, a significant upgrade over the old 240-horse V8. The standard 4.0-liter V6 engine continues to generate 210 horsepower for 2006, and Mercury still offers the Mountaineer with either 2WD or AWD. Additional engineering updates include a strengthened frame, as well as retuned front and more compact rear independent suspensions. The anticipated result of these upgrades is tighter handling, improved ride quality, and two rows of rear seats that fold completely flat to create a level cargo area.
In addition to the revised load space, the 2006 Mercury Mountaineer's interior gets a new instrument panel, complete with a dished four-spoke steering wheel, fresh gauge cluster, console-mounted shifter, and restyled door panels with contoured release handles integrated into the forward edge of the armrests. The seats are also new, with the 2006 Mercury Mountaineer offering three different second-row seating configurations - 60/40 split bench, 60/40 split bench with third-row access, or bucket seats divided by a center console. Plus, buyers can opt for power folding third-row seats for the first time in a midsize SUV. Throughout the 2006 Mountaineer, materials are upgraded for a premium look and feel.
In terms of safety, the 2006 Mercury Mountaineer is equipped with a standard stability control system with rollover sensing called AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control (RSC). A Safety Canopy system of side-impact and side-curtain airbags includes rollover protection that keeps the curtain airbags inflated for an extended period of time to better protect occupants, and the front passenger frontal airbag is a dual-depth design that deploys based on crash severity, seatbelt use, and occupant position. Improving visibility during poor weather conditions, and thus safety, is an available electrically heated windshield.
The Mercury Mountaineer, and the Ford Explorer upon which it is based, have been among our favorite SUVs for years. With significant upgrades for 2006, the Mountaineer remains among the best of the breed.
2005 Saleen S281-E
Saleen is one of the best-known creators of aftermarket performance Mustangs. For nearly two decades, the company has been tweaking America’s favorite performance car to extract more power, better handling, and improved braking. Garishly outfitted with signature decals, scoops and spoilers, Saleen Mustangs have sold in small but reliable numbers, enough to allow the small company to perform its magic on a wide range of Ford products from the Focus to the Thunderbird.
Accompanying the 2005 redesign of the Mustang is the 2005 Saleen S-281, originally introduced at the California Auto Show last fall. Three versions of the Saleen S281 are available to consumers: the standard S281, the S281-SC, and the S281-E. Each Saleen Mustang gets modified styling front and rear, boosts in power, suspension modifications, upgraded braking components, and unique interior trim.
For extreme performance, enthusiasts will want to pony up at least $65,000 for the new 2005 Saleen S281-E, which was introduced at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show as a coupe but will also be offered in convertible format. “E” stands for Extreme, and with a 500-horsepower engine generating about 480 lb.-ft. of torque, this Saleen has no problem living up to its name.
Only the 4.6-liter V8 motor’s block is retained – Saleen replaces everything else and re-assembles the engine in-house. The S281-E contains a forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods, forged aluminum pistons, and special aluminum cylinder heads with unique valve springs and performance camshafts. The result is an engine with a higher redline and more power.
Then Saleen installs a twin-screw supercharger to blow the horsepower and torque ratings into the stratosphere. With all this firepower on board, Saleen claims that the S281-E will run to 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds and can blaze the quarter mile in 12.1 seconds at 117 mph. Other engine modifications include a Saleen PowerFlash performance engine management system, a variable design muffler system that reduces engine backpressure while creating an intoxicating wail at speed, and a free-flow air cleaner.
A heavy-duty, close-ratio Saleen six-speed manual transmission manages the muscular mill, shunting power through a high-performance flywheel and clutch disc assembly to a custom-balanced driveshaft and Saleen MaxGrip limited-slip rear differential.
Suspension modifications include Saleen Racecraft springs, shocks and anti-roll bars. Additional S281-E upgrades include boxed rear lower control arms and a specific Panhard rod to better locate the solid rear axle during hard driving. Huge and handsome 20-inch alloy wheels are stuffed into the wheel wells, wearing low-profile Pirelli P-Zero Rosso performance tires and covering 14-inch drilled brake rotors, which are the same size as those found on the Ford GT supercar.
A unique body kit visually differentiates the Saleen S281-E from lower-performance models, and it includes a front splitter and a special rear diffuser. Saleen HID headlights are included, but the dead giveaway that you’re seeing a Saleen S281-E is the rear quarter window insert that effectively creates the look of a solid panel..
Inside, specially bolstered sport seats, high-grip racing-inspired pedals, a short-throw shift lever, a unique Saleen gauge cluster, special interior trim, and specific floor mats make the S281 different from a run-of-the-mill Mustang. Both the S281-SC and S281-E models have a twin gauge pod atop the dash that displays supercharger boost pressure and air temperature. Each Saleen S-281 is well equipped, leaving just two extra cost ptions for the 2005 Saleen S281-E: 19-inch wheels wearing Pirelli Corsa summer tires, and a Shaker 500 audio system with in-dash CD changer.
When the 2005 Saleen S281-E arrives this summer, it will beat obvious competitors such as the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and Dodge Viper SRT10 Coupe, which boast of greater performance numbers, to market by a driving season. Though it may be King of the Hill for just a short while, the Saleen S281-E will always be one of the hottest Mustangs built yet.
2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser
Authenticity, value, and expressiveness define the latest product unveiled by Toyota at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show, a new sport-utility vehicle designed to "go anywhere and do anything," according to Don Esmond, senior vice president and general manager, Toyota Division.
The new 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser looks more than tough - it is tough, thanks to a foundation and powertrain shared with the current 4Runner SUV. Shorter in length and wheelbase than the 4Runner, the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser is a two-door SUV with rear access panels like a Honda Element, but is designed for serious off-roading. Judging by the 4Runner's capability in the rough, combined with the FJ Cruiser's greater approach and departure angles, 9.6 inches of ground clearance, standard skid plate, optional locking rear differential, and 17-inch 265/70 all-terrain tires, it appears that Toyota is splitting the difference in terms of capability between the Element and the Nissan Xterra. And like the Element and Xterra, Toyota offers the FJ Cruiser with rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive.
Of course, Toyota knows that styling, in addition to capability, will sell the FJ Cruiser, so this SUV is designed to look like the legendary FJ 40 of the 1960s and 1970s, right down to the "Toyota" badge centered in the grille. Other FJ 40 cues include round headlights, an upright windshield cleared by three wipers, a white-capped roof equipped with a huge utility rack, and wrap-around rear corner windows. The standard full-size spare tire is mounted on the split rear tailgate for easy access as well as a rugged appearance. The effect is at once retro and modern. Anyone familiar with the unforgettable FJ 40 will recognize the design inspiration here, and yet the FJ Cruiser strongly resembles the Honda Element in terms of overall packaging.
Under the hood is the 4Runner's 4.0-liter V6 engine, making 245 horsepower and 282 lb.-ft. of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard, while 4WD versions get a six-speed manual as an option. Toyota says that the 2007 FJ Cruiser can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Inside, the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser is designed to be flexible and functional, styled to resemble the bare-bones trucks of yesterday. Body-color trim decorates the dashboard, and the gauges are expected to convey a mechanical appearance. The rear seats fold flat to maximize cargo space, and buyers can opt to add body-color door panels for an enhanced bare-metal look.
Standard equipment on the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser includes basics like air conditioning, a CD player, and a tilt steering wheel. Thankfully, a number of options will be available to tailor the FJ Cruiser to your tastes such as brushed aluminum alloy wheels, running boards, power outside mirrors with "image" lights, cruise control, a CD changer, premium sound system, dark tinted glass, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Toyota covers the safety bases with the 2007 FJ Cruiser, too, which is important since this is a vehicle designed to attract young drivers. Antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist are standard, as well as stability control with traction assist. Models with 2WD also have an automatic limited slip differential. Options include front side-impact and side-curtain airbags, parking assist sonar, daytime running lights, and a rear wiper to improve outward visibility. FJ Cruisers with 4WD can be equipped with an electronic four-wheel traction control system.
The 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser arrives in dealer showrooms in early 2006, at a price yet to be set. Toyota promises extraordinary value in the FJ Cruiser, and though plans are to build 40,000 units annually, the company thinks it will be an easy sell-out. Based on what we saw in Chicago - an authentic, unique, expressive, value-laden SUV - we have little reason to doubt that the FJ Cruiser will be a tremendous hit.
--Photos by Erik Hanson