Setting off the second media day for the 2006 show was a presentation by GM executives who proudly unveiled a host of new vehicles, including the 260-horsepower Pontiac Solstice GXP, the redesigned Chevrolet Suburban, a couple new Saabs, and the Corvette ZO6 Pace Car, which will lead the field at this year’s Daytona 500. Driving that particular ZO6 will be none other than Jay Leno, Tonight Show host and car enthusiast extraordinaire. Despite the early hour, Leno held the audience’s attention with overwhelming praise of the ZO6, offered kudos to the amped Solstice GXP, wondered aloud if he could cram a few ears of corn into the bio-fuel Saab’s tank, and lauded the Chevrolet Suburban for its ability to carry nine log cabin Republicans up Brokeback Mountain, a pop-culture joke lost on the GM executive with whom Jay shared center stage. If only everyday could start with a special-edition ZO6 and a few jokes delivered from Leno firsthand.
Next up was BMW’s Chief Designer, Chris Bangle, who jabbed less at his listener’s funny bone, choosing instead to give an off-the-cuff lecture on surfaces. Yes, surfaces. In short, the man responsible for that funky bubble-butt on your neighbor’s 7 Series suggested that automotive design has just started to catch up to architectural design, it is finally starting to reflect current times, and that his goal with BMW was to match the look of the brand’s car with their advanced technology and engineering. Other respected designers also took to the microphone during the presentation, but given their horrible sense of fashion (think 70’s disco shirts and bad ties), one wonders how these folks got to choose what our rides look like. Of course, a few hours later Ferrari executives explained with thick accents that the key to this brand’s success is to never change – evolve, but don’t change. It seems that auto shows can sometimes raise more questions than answer.
Of course, this being SoCal, there were a handful of vehicles that were downright sexy, so much so that bleach-blonde and inflated show floor models seemed to grow green with envy. Stealing their thunder was the Bugatti Veyron 16.4, the Spyker C8 and C12, and the redesigned Chevrolet Aveo. OK, that last one was just to see if you’re paying attention. But, then again, this is LA – somebody’s probably aching to download pictures of that little Korean import.
2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Pace Car
Not that the Corvette Z06 can reach that speed, though it gets close with a top velocity of 198 mph. Leno, who owns a new Z06, is thrilled to drive the pace car at the 48th running of the Daytona 500. “This is the one American car that (snooty European car magazines) go, ‘OK, we’ve gotta give it up,’” gushed Leno about the Corvette Z06. Rightfully so, especially when you consider the base price and the specifications sheet.
For a starting price of less than $70,000, you get 505 horsepower and 470 lb.-ft. of torque out of a 7.0-liter V8 engine that gets up to 28 mpg on the highway. Acceleration to 60 mph takes just 3.7 seconds, and this is one supercar that completely avoids a gas-guzzler tax. That’s an incredible performance bargain.
For the Daytona 500, the Z06 gets a flashy multi-hued paint job, race logos, special safety equipment, and strobe lights. There is no plan to offer a limited-production run of replicas to consumers.
2006 Lotus Exige
Based on the Lotus Elise, the new 2006 Lotus Exige coupe is a harder-edged automobile than that already raw roadster. It’s got the same Toyota-sourced 1.8-liter inline-four equipped with variable timing, and it makes the same 190 horsepower and 138 lb.-ft. of torque. A six-speed manual transmission transmits the power to the rear wheels, and the powertrain is installed in a plastic-bodied automobile with a lightweight aluminum chassis.
Since the 2006 Lotus Exige weighs just 2,000 pounds, give or take a few, it accelerates to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and crests 150 mph on the top-speed-o-meter. Yokohama A048 performance rubber keeps the Exige glued to dry ground. Where the main difference lies with the Exige is that it produces lots more downforce at speed than the Elise, and that affects the car’s entire driving character.
Though at first glance the 2006 Lotus Exige looks like an Elise with a fixed roof grafted on, it shares only its doors with the Elise. Everything else is new, from the longer front end with an air splitter to its unique rear wing, and the new bodywork is specifically designed to maximize downforce and thus, performance.
Don’t expect luxuries inside this $50,000 sports car. The 2006 Lotus Exige is a bare-bones ride to keep weight down. You can subtract from the performance by adding to the bottom line with carpeting, interior door panels, leather upholstery, and better sound system, but you’d be missing the point of this car by selecting any of them. In fact, if you really know what the Exige is about, you’ll pay a couple hundred bucks for the air conditioning delete option to save more than 20 pounds.
If you want to find out what a raw sports car really is, the 2006 Lotus Exige goes on sale this month. But with its limited-production status, you’d better hurry.
2006 Saab 9-3 Convertible
Limited to a production run of just 300 vehicles, the 2006 Saab 9-3 Convertible 20 Years Edition also includes the Aero model’s lowered and sport-tuned suspension, but comes with unique double five-spoke alloy wheels and a lip spoiler on the trunk. The interior is Parchment leather with electric blue accenting.
If this special-edition Saab is just what you’ve been waiting for, rush off to your local dealer this February to plunk down $44,615 on one. And don’t forget, when you buy a Saab Aero, you get a free two-day driving course at Road Atlanta. What a great road trip to make while breaking in your new Swedish sun-tanner on wheels.
2006 Spyker C8 Laviolette
A sample of rolling artistry, the C8 Laviolette is a work of beauty inside and out. Power is supplied by an Audi-sourced 4.2-liter V8 engine making 400 horsepower and 354 lb.-ft. of torque, connected to a six-speed manual transmission driving the rear wheels. Ram hard through the gears, and the C8 Laviolette will get to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds on the way to a 187-mph top speed.
Well equipped out of the box, the C8 Laviolette can be optioned with a turned aluminum dashboard fascia, 19-inch magnesium wheels, Chronoswiss gauges, and even quilted leather seatbelt covers. You can even get a custom-made Louis Vuitton luggage set designed specifically for your Spyker.
Spyker, based in the Netherlands, dates to 1898 when it was founded by two Amsterdam coachbuilders. A century later, the company was preparing an assault on supercar territory, and launched the C8 Spyder in 2000. Five years later, Spykers became available in the United States, and now the Dutch automaker offers a range of four high-powered, high-priced sports cars to wealthy customers who want only the finest detailing, exquisite interior environments and the attention to detail available only in a hand-built automobile.
As for Sharon Stone, well, reports that she made off with a set of custom Louis Vuitton luggage after filming was complete could not be confirmed.
2006 Spyker C12 LaTurbie
These achievements provide a thin editorial tether to what’s happening with Spyker today, but you might say the company has always been about the creation of premium vehicles that the babes really go for. After all, Sharon Stone drives a Spyker in the upcoming “Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction.” But moreover, Spyker represents exclusivity in a supercar market where a Ferrari or a Porsche are increasingly commonplace.
Spyker first debuted the C12 LaTurbie at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show, and the car is shown to Americans for the first time at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show. Quite a piece of work, this, what with its 6.0-liter W12 engine sourced from Audi, good for 500 horsepower, 443 lb.-ft. of torque, acceleration to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, and 196-mph top speed. This, combined with the C12 LaTurbie’s unique design and gorgeously detailed interior, will set you back $362,500.
That’s plenty of bank, but some people like knowing they own one of just a handful made, and in places like Newport Beach, Calif., and the Hamptons on Long Island, driving a hand-built Spyker in a sea of Italian and German supercars instantly sets you apart from the crowd. But it’s more than the C12 LaTurbie’s design that makes it special. Inside, you can get a turned aluminum dashboard decorated with Chronoswiss gauges, and buyers choose from several different leather upholstery options, including quilted seatbelt covers. There’s even a custom-fitted Louis Vuitton luggage set available.
Wonder if Jacobus and Hendrik-Jan Spijker would know what to do with that sort of bling.
2007 Chevrolet Aveo Sedan
It’s a good thing GM decided to update the Aveo for 2007, because the previous car, despite its commanding 40-percent share of the market (thanks mainly due to fleet sales to rental car agencies), was not particularly appealing. But starting in the summer of 2006, this new ’07 Aveo sedan will be available to entice the financially-strapped and financially-wise alike.
Buyers will be able to choose a 2007 Chevrolet Aveo sedan in LS or LT trim. Standard features include an iPod jack in the dashboard, six-way adjustable front seats, cruise control, and a tilt steering wheel. Options include a power sunroof, a six-disc CD changer, dual heated exterior mirrors, and steering wheel buttons for the cruise control and audio systems.
Longer, wider, and taller than the car it replaces, the 2007 Chevy Aveo gets crisp, clean new lines that give it a more expensive appearance. Chrome door handles are even available on this diminutive little sedan. Inside, you’ll find the biggest improvements. All new materials, a clean-sheet dashboard design and control layout, and upscale touches like perforated leatherette upholstery, two-tone décor schemes, and woodgrain trim accented by satin chrome and carbon fiber accents help erase the old Aveo’s budget-class cabin.
Under the hood, the 2007 Chevrolet Aveo sedan contains a 103-horsepower four-cylinder engine that drives the front wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. Chevrolet says this powertrain can get 35 mpg on the highway. A four-speed automatic is optional for folks who can’t, or don’t, row their own gears. Power steering is standard, and antilock brakes are optional.
On the safety front, Chevrolet installs dual-stage front airbags and side-impact airbags, but there are no side-curtain airbags like in the competition. Nevertheless, Chevrolet claims that the 2007 Aveo will achieve five-star safety ratings during impacts with vehicles of similar size and weight based on NHTSA frontal crash-test scores for the structurally-identical 2006 model.
Though Chevrolet is poised to reap potential benefits for being in the right place at the right time, we’re not convinced that the 2007 Chevrolet Aveo sedan is the best car in the class. The Honda Fit, the Nissan Versa, and the Toyota Yaris are promising and should be just as reliable as the larger vehicles sold by these automakers, while Hyundai and Kia provide the peace-of-mind that comes with a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty. Chevrolet is stuck in the middle – selling a Korean car with an inferior warranty – and though the Aveo is more stylish than ever, we think its market share dominance may still depend on sales to Avis, National, and other rental fleets.
2007 Chevrolet Suburban
Whether its towing boats, hauling a horse trailer, or transporting enough Christmas presents for a family of 50, the 2007 Chevrolet Suburban has the job covered. Available wit either rear- or four-wheel drive and LS, LT or LTZ badges (look for a Z71 version later in the year), Chevy’s biggest SUV moves its roughly 5,700-lb. mass thanks to one of two powerful V8 engines. The base motor is a 5.3-liter small block that pushes 320 horsepower at 5,300 rpm and puts out 340 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm. For more giddyup, buyers of the 2007 Chevrolet Suburban will want to opt for the 6.0-liter motor, which is good for 355 horsepower at 5,400 rpm and 365 lb.-ft. of twist at 4,400 rpm (a 6.0-liter featuring variable valve timing is due later this year). A four-speed automatic transmission is standard. Recognizing consumers’ focus on efficiency, General Motors includes Active Fuel Management with both of these engines, a system that lets the Suburban run on four-cylinders when less power is needed, such as cruises on flat highways. Also noteworthy is the 5.3-liter V8’s flex-fuel status, which allows it to run on either gas or ethanol. GM is so sure of the benefits of ethanol, in fact, that it is leading an effort with the state of California, Chevron, and Pacific Ethanol to investigate the use of this alternative fuel in CalTrans fleet vehicles.
Besides the powertrains, the redesigned 2007 Chevrolet Suburban offers attractive new styling that mirrors that of the recently introduced 2007 Tahoe, including clean body lines and sporty smoked headlights. Inside is a simpler layout that drops the button-festooned interior of the previous truck and replaces it with a sleek and more understated look. Once on the road, GM promises that its new large SUV lineup will be markedly quieter. Among the features found on the Suburban are new audio and navigation systems and curtain airbags for all three rows of passengers.
Prices for the 2007 Chevrolet Suburban have not been released, but units will start to hit the lots during the second quarter of 2006 – just in time for a muddy, spring time romp up Brokeback Mountain.
2007 GMC Yukon XL
GMC offers the Yukon in two flavors, the base XL and the upscale XL Denali. Though based on the Chevy Suburban, the GMC version of this nine-passenger SUV carves its own path with unique headlights and badging, as well as a unique powerplant reserved for the XL Denali. Base models get the same engine choices offered with the Suburban, meaning there’s a 5.3-liter small block V8 generating 320 horsepower at 5,300 rpm and 340 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm, with a larger 6.0-liter V8 pushing 355 horsepower at 5,400 rpm and 365 lb.-ft. of twist at 4,400 rpm. XL Denali’s house a 6.2-liter V8 that’s good for 380 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 415 lb.-ft. of torque t 4,400 rpm. Premium fuel is recommended for the XL Denali, while regular ol’ 87-octane juice works fine for the smaller motors. Those lesser V8s are also designated flex-fuel engines, allowing them to run on gas and ethanol. This hints at GM’s focus on ethanol as an alternative fuel source, a fact supported by its new partnership with Chevron, the state of California, and Pacific Ethanol that will focus on the study and promotion of ethanol use. Also unique to the 5.3-liter and 6.0-liter engines is Active Fuel Management, a fancy name for GM’s displacement on demand system that cuts power to four cylinders when less oomph is needed. Company executives claim that such technology allows the 2007 GMC Yukon XL to return mileage up to the high 20s on the highway. If accurate, that’s pretty remarkable for a vehicle weighing in at about 5,700 pounds.
Other notable mentions in the 2007 GMC Yukon XL include the clean body lines and large, reflective headlights shared with the recently released GMC Yukon. The interior, especially the dash, has a more refined look and is a huge improvement over its predecessor. Once on the road, GMC promises that the Yukon XL will be significantly quieter. Other enhancements for 2007 include new audio and navigation systems, and side-curtain airbags for all three rows.
All that leaves is this question: Speed boat or party barge?
2007 Pontiac Solstice GXP
Ah - yes. About that ownership thing. What’s real on stage will be a reality for only the lucky few who get to purchase one this fall, and a silent nightmare for those poor souls caught in the waiting list netherworld. Come on -- you can’t even buy a regular Solstice, so buying a high-powered GXP model will be like winning the lottery – or picking Texas by three in the BCS Championship Game.
But all the same and all things equal, this is the Solstice enthusiasts have been anticipating, the one GM put a priority on when it became apparent that the Mazda MX-5 was still more fun to drive. Not so much, not anymore, as long as you’ve got that GXP badge on the back and GM’s Ecotec 2.0-liter turbocharged engine under the hood. As the most powerful production engine in the Ecotec family, the 2.0-liter delivers 260 horsepower and 260 lb. ft. of torque, power that propels the Solstice to a 0-60 mph time of under 5.5 seconds. That will make even the proudest of MX-5 owners feel a bit slow and chumpish one lane over, and maybe a little envious. What they won’t be going green over is the amount of green GXP buyers are likely to lose on the deal, compared to the modestly priced and under-the-radar MX-5. Nor will they lose sleep over a Solstice interior that, while improved to include a GXP instrument gauge, leather wheel trim and red seat stitching, fails when it comes to quality fit and finish. It’s not so much a matter of equipment as it is supply and demand: As the demand for the Solstice rages, and the supply trickles, the GXP will command more for less. As it is, however, the Pontiac Solstice GXP comes with more than just that Ecotec. Also standard are features such as GXP front and rear fascias, dual-outlet exhaust, StabiliTrak vehicle stability enhancement system, a sport suspension system. four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, limited-slip rear differential, power window/locks/mirrors, remote keyless entry and18-inch polished aluminum wheels. Many of these features, such as the sport suspension system, four-wheel disc brakes and power controls, are also available on the regular Solstice. Additional options on the 2007 Pontiac Solstice GXP include a rear deck spoiler, leather seating, sport metallic pedals, chrome wheels, enhanced audio options, including XM Satellite Radio, and OnStar.
Bugatti Veyron 16.4
The shell around it doesn’t matter so when you’re talking about the kind of power that propels man and machine to 62 miles per hour in three scant seconds, except in the things you have to do in order to make the car stay connected to mother earth when the going gets really fast. Make no mistake: the Bugatti Veyron’s body is nice, and the interior is awash with leather, but what was really on display at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show was that engine, that brutishly powerful collection of V8 that, together give the letter W a whole new meaning. After all, you don’t pay more than $1,000,000 for leather, or a nice paint job, you pay it so that you can do things few other people in the world can do. In this case, the money goes toward owning the fastest passenger car ever built, a phenomenal exercise in engineering, perseverance and the great lengths a rich person will go in the ultimate game of one-upmanship. The engine has four turbo chargers, a dry sump lubrication system and a giant radiator so as to handle the amount of heat that comes from all that power. The transmission is a paddle-operated, dual clutch system with seven gears, driving power to an all-wheel-drive set up. The tires are specially-made Michelins, and are reportedly the widest passenger car tires in the world, designed to handle up toe 1.3 G on the skid pad. The body of the Bugatti Veyron is made of carbon fiber in order to keep its weight down. Even with that, at a little more than 4,000 lbs., it’s 1,000 lbs. heavier than a Dodge Viper. Inside is swathed in leather from dash to door, and, at least according to most who have sat inside, a very comfortable perch on which to marshal the hounds of hell. The consensus seems to be that Bugatti, which was purchased by VW in 1998, is an exquisitely made super car, though many people are still wondering why a maker of affordable sedans and such would decide to build a super car of which no more than 300 will ever be made, and only 50 to 80 per year.
Perhaps it was for the halo effect – or maybe the unbridled ego or mind-numbing ennui of automaker lords with gobs of money and time. They want to build fabulous machines for the fabulous among us, because that’s what lords do in order to have a proper automotive legacy. In the case of the Bugatti Veyron, however, the challenge was wrought with difficulties. When the concept was originally introduced at the 1999 Tokyo Auto Show, the Veyron was plagued with problems: how to build a car around that enormous engine and how to keep it from taking off – or overheating – when the speed reached 200 mph or more.
So far, they haven’t figured out how to keep owners from taking off – or overheating – when the speedometer reaches 250.
Maserati Birdcage 75 Concept
In recognition of 75 years, the design house has teamed up with Maserati and Motorola to create the Birdcage 75 concept, a step back to an era when they specialized in extreme sports prototypes, a time many automotive enthusiasts consider a golden age in Italian car design. Indeed, heroic shadows dance on the smooth white body of the Birdcage 75, shadows such as legendary prototypes like the 1954 Maserati A6 GCS, the 1965 Ferrari Dino Berlinetta Special, and the 1970 Ferrari Modulo. Whether this prototype, or concept, takes its place among the great Italian design exercises is up to time and evolution. As it is, showcased at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show, the Birdcage 75 stands a great chance for being remembered as a sexy, sporting dream with an edgy communications future. The name helps, of course, as the concept carries the famous title of the Maserati “Birdcage” racing car built from 1959 to 1963 – so named because of its tubular chassis. Based on the chassis of the Maserati MC12, the goal of the Birdcage 75 is to stretch the boundaries of design and techniques. For example, the Birdcage 75 was built as a single object, instead of a sequence of parts, and was designed to convey a futuristic representation of sultry lines and power. To that end, the concept features Maserati’s 700-horsepower V12 engine tucked into a teardrop shell with a “floating” center that is purposely uncluttered and smooth, a streamlined design intended to facilitate air flow, and, as a result, speed. The wheels are 20 inches up front and 22 inches in back, and the chassis is made of carbon fiber. The theme of the Birdcage 75 continues into the interior of the concept, with an uncluttered design meant to convey the racing heritage of Maserati and the communications force of Motorola. Indeed, with features such as a head’s up display, projection screens and advanced cell phone communications technology. The ideal represented in the Birdcage 75 is a communications system that includes all facets of man and machine; a totally integrated environment which naturally connects driver to passenger, road and information.
Saab 9-5 Aero BioPower Concept
Who needs hybrids when you’ve got corn?
According to General Motors, bio-ethanol – or more specifically, cars able to drive using either gasoline or a mixture of gasoline and ethanol – is a viable way to significantly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. General Motors points to the success of its Saab 9-5 BioPower Concept as proof: Equipped with a 2.3-liter turbo engine that produces 310 horsepower and 325 lb. ft. of torque – 25 percent more than a gas equivalent – the Saab 9-5 BioPower Concept is able to accelerate to 60 mph in under six seconds. When powered by gasoline, GM says that performance times are significantly slower, and emissions are significantly higher. That’s some fast-moving corn, to be sure, and while the 9-5 Aero is a concept, Saab already is the first luxury automaker in Europe with a bio-ethanol model, its 9-5 2.0t BioPower production model, which went on sale in Europe last year. Ethanol fuel is of course, normally produced from the sugar and starch in corn. Unlike gasoline, its consumption does not raise atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) because emissions during driving are balanced by the amount of CO2 removed from the atmosphere, through natural photosynthesis, when crops for conversion are grown. To ensure acceptable performance, ethanol is blended (85 percent ethanol/15 percent gasoline) and sold commercially as E85 fuel. As E85 fuel has a much higher octane rating than gasoline, it enables engine systems to perform at a higher rate. Hardware modifications needed to handle E85 fuel include more durable valves, valve seats and the use of ethanol-compatible materials in the fuel system, including the tank, pump, lines and connectors. The Saab BioPower vehicles can use either gasoline or E85 fuel thanks to a Tritonic monitor system that gauges fuel quality and automatically makes adjustments for the type of fuel used.
But while it may seem that General Motors is intent on branding Saab as the corn car of their stable, GM has a much broader initiative in mind that includes nine 2006 models from Chevrolet and GMC, and a total 1.5 million vehicles on the road today. General Motors is also working with Chevron Technology Ventures and Pacific Ethanol, to develop a project in which the State of California would use between 50 to 100 GM bio-ethanol vehicles in a fleet of work vehicles, to be used in Northern California and the Central Valley
Photos by Ron Perry