Jeep let its latest Wrangler out of its cage at 2006 North American International Autoshow. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents watched the story unfold.
The iconic Wrangler gets a major change for the 2007MY. Sales are set for fall 2006, and the two-door Wrangler broke free at the 2006 North American International Auto Show, drove straight out of Cobo and onto the a Jeep stand across the street, demonstrating both the vehicle’s need to be unrestrained and its ability to climb stairs and inclines with ease. Though not introduced in Detroit, a four-door version is expected as well as the two-door.
The latest Wrangler is described as more Jeep. Though Wrangler enthusiasts are a tricky group to please, as they don’t really want their beloved friends to change, Jeep likely has a winner with upcoming version. It offers more safety and convenience and a better ride, while at the same time improving off-road ability and retaining it’s signature look.
Introducing Saturn Vue Green Line
Among the most significant news about the Saturn Vue Green Line news at the Detroit auto show was its expected $23,000 price tag. GM explains being able to charge less by offering a less costly system than the competition. This compares with a price tag for the Escape hybrid at $27,500 in January 2006 and the Toyota Highlander at $33,650 (both for front-wheel-drive models). Even the Toyota Prius has a base price of nearly $22,500. Whether Saturn will actually find the Green Line a profitable vehicle, GM has decided to win the price war. Sales are set for summer 2006.
Introducing the Toyota Yaris
Toyota has long offered an economy car, at least as far back as the 1981 Starlet. For the 2007 model year, Toyota comes back with the Yaris. After the ungainly looking Echo, the Yaris at least has the benefit of a stronger presence on the road. The Yaris, which will be offered in sedan and three-door hatchback versions beginning in spring 2006, is a development of the Echo, despite its new-to-the-U.S. name. Though we knew it as the Echo, the previous generation had several names worldwide as well as more available bodystyles. With this latest iteration, Toyota has decided to call all versions outside the home market by the Yaris name.
Though substantially revised, the suspension and brakes carryover. The Yaris continues to offer the very familiar 1.5L DOHC 16v four-cylinder engine, mated to standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmissions. A brief drive of both Yaris sedan and hatchback models reveals, as can be expected, a familiar driving experience, but in a quieter package with improved interior and dramatically improved exterior styling. And though familiar, the Yaris is competitive for its segment. This competes with entry-price and entry-level cars that are focused on solid, dependable transportation rather than speed and sport. In this arena, Yaris is as entertaining as it gets.
While the Echo looked ungainly and poorly proportioned, the Yaris sedan has a much better balanced look. The Echo never looked quite right, reflected in its poor sales, but the Yaris sedan has a purposeful, proud stance. The hatchback has a lively and entertaining look, and promises that you’ll keep a smile on your face driving down the road. While neither version offers a particularly exciting driving experience, they crisp and confident.
Introducing the Ford Edge
The hot buzzword in early 2006 is CUV, or crossover utility vehicle. Loosely defined as car-based product in the shape of an SUV, these types of vehicles have been around for about ten years. But as the domestic brands, specifically GM and Ford, are in the midst of expanding their offerings of this type of vehicle, they are fueling use of the term. Vehiclevoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) analysts believe that these vehicles are not really crosses between anything, but rather the evolution of the SUV. Or what we like to call Post-Modern SUVs.
Whatever the name, these are clearly the vehicles that the majority of SUV buyers in the mid 1990s really wanted. Truck-based SUVs provided more off-road ability, that wasn’t used in many cases, and more towing capacity, also not used by the majority of SUV buyers. For those that actually use the expanded capability, there will continue to be truck-based options. For the rest of us, why not put the best attributes of an SUV onto a predominantly front-drive platform with a smaller and more fuel-efficient engine? The result of this evolution is vehicle ranging from the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V that started the trend (back in the days when they were called Cute Utes and knocked for their lack of truck-toughness) to the Chrysler Pacifica to Mercedes-Benz R- and ML-Class to Pontiac’s Torrent to Ford’s Escape and including Ford’s new-for-2007MY Edge.
Just like the Lincoln MKX, the Edge uses the platform introduced with Ford’s latest trio of mid-size sedans, the Fusion, Mercury Milan, and Lincoln Zephyr. Edge will broaden Ford’s SUV lineup to five when it arrives in late 2006, similar to Toyota’s lineup. Ford dealers will offer Edge, Explorer, Escape, Freestyle, and Expedition for 2007MY. Edge is sized and powered above Escape, but smaller than the Explorer or Freestyle. It brings Ford’s car-based SUV total to three (Escape, Edge, Freestyle), with the Explorer and Expedition continuing their truck-based personalities.
If the Edge is as good on the road as it sounds on paper, it should find a sweet spot in the market. Styling is more modern and attractive than the boxy and aging Escape. The current Escape was developed when manufacturers were first realizing that some customers want the utility of an SUV but the drive, handling, and fuel economy nearer their cars and the talk of crossovers was nil. Ford designed the Escape to look as much like a truck-based SUV as possible, but since then the market has been snapping up softer-looking utility vehicles. In the world of post-modern SUVs, the utility vehicle is taking a shape much more like that of a tall wagon than borrowing truck cues. The Edge is set to be the right product at the right time, and Ford may find more success with it than they did with the Escape.
Mazda expands its lineup with a car-based SUV in spring 2006 called the CX-7. While the entry was previewed by the 2005 MX-Cross Sport concept, the production car was unveiled at Los Angeles and Detroit auto shows in January 2006. As with other car-based, post-modern SUVs, or crossovers, the five-seater CX-7 comes standard in front-drive form with an optional AWD system available. The CX-7 will be built in Japan, and is not directly related to the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX new-for-2007MY entries also being introduced to at the Detroit auto show.
VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) will showcase the CX-7 at the Los Angeles Auto Show in an upcoming videocast.
Spring 2006 Sales for Saturn’s First Convertible
The wait is nearly over. After the 2002 Saturn Sky concept sparked speculation about when and if Saturn would add a convertible and was followed by a concept version only twelve months ago, the production vehicle arrives at showrooms in spring 2006. The concept introduced at the Detroit auto show and the production car on display at the 2006 Los Angeles auto show are nearly identical, though the two-seat, rear-wheel-drive roadster is basically the opposite of the front-wheel-drive 2002 concept.
What a way to start the year and get the folks at VehicleVoice salivating! At the 2006 Los Angeles auto show, an appropriate venue given both Southern California’s obsession with cars as status symbols and the proportion of customers who might be able to afford the $111,600 price tag, Porsche unveiled a 520HP version of its Cayenne, using the same 4.5L V8 as the Cayenne Turbo. Torque also gets a similar boost to 530 lb.-ft., with at least 510 of that available from 2500 past 5000 rpm. Porsche claims a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.8 seconds. Among the specific engine updates are larger intercoolers that increased cooling efficiency enough to increase turbo boost pressure.
The extra power comes with a modified suspension, revised Porsche Active Suspension Management software, more substantial braking power, and an optional exterior body kit. The Turbo S gets twenty-inch wheels, though there are two wheel designs to choose from.
We can’t wait to drive one!
500HP, 11 Shift Programs, and a Carbon Fiber Roof.
Subtle Styling Cues Signal Special Model
BMW’s M6 high performance coupe started with borrowing the 500HP 5.5L V10 and seven-speed sequential manual gearbox found in the latest M5. Though launched in 2005 in Europe, North American sales do not begin until spring 2006. The M6 was introduced in the States at the 2006 Los Angeles auto show in January, where its nearly $97,000 price tag was also revealed.
Consistent with European understated high performers, M6 specific exterior cues are subtle and include a larger front air intake, the unique nineteen-inch wheels, a new rear diffuser surrounding the four exhaust pipes, sculpted side sills, M-style mirrors, and the M logo in the ornamental side slats. There are seven colors available for the M6 in its first year, with four of them exclusive to BMW M cars.
Latest S-Class Introduced to North America in Los Angeles
Though Mercedes has been making more news Stateside with its new SUV entries, the R-Class, the M-Class and G-Class, their top sedan is all new for the 2007 model year. While the S65 AMG introduced in Detroit can get lead-footers interested, Mercedes launched the U.S. S-Class with the 382HP 5.5L V8 in the form of the S550. The S65 and a S600 (with a 510HP 5.5L V12) both arrive later in 2006. Within the next couple of years, the S-Class will also likely get a hybrid powertrain option as indicated by a show version at the 2005 Frankfurt auto show alongside the world premier of the S-Class.
The newest S-Class, as its previous iterations have done, raises the stakes in terms of technology and style. Among them are an update to the Pre-Safe anti-crash system as well as Distronic radar-based cruise control that can assist in stop-and-go traffic and works with the brake assist system to help avoid rear-end collisions. Also on the table is an infra-red night vision system.
AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) research shared with VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) indicates that Mercedes-Benz reliability with newly introduced high technology features has been spotty. At the same time, AutoPacific research shows that Mercedes’ image in the USA has deteriorated substantially over the past five years as the images of archrivals BMW and Lexus have continued to soar. The new S-Class has to be bulletproof for Mercedes to begin regaining its reputation as the highest quality, most prestigious automobiles available. View an upcoming VehicleVoice videocast in which Robert Cumberford, renowned styling critic for Automobile Magazine, gives a critique of the new styling of the S-Class.
North American Introduction of Maybach 57 S in Los Angeles, January 2006
Though the 57 S model was available in fall 2005 in Europe after a 2005 Geneva auto show introduction, it was introduced to U.S. buyers at the 2006 Los Angeles auto show in January. Along with a bump to twenty-inch wheels, this model boasts an AMG-modified 604HP 6.0L V12, compared with the standard model’s 550HP. The S in this case stands for Special. With the power boost are also some interior tweaks and a firmer suspension. Other changes for 2006MY included making the parking assist system standard and the addition of the Business Package for making the Maybach an office on wheels.
VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) analysts note that the minor facelift to the front end of the Maybach 57 S is very reminiscent of the now out-of-production Hyundai XG350.
The suspension tweaks for 57 S include a firmer setting for the air suspension and shock absorbers, a lower ride height by 15 mm, and thicker stabilizer bars. Electronic driving aids including the stability and traction control programs have been revised for maximum enjoyment of the extra power. Maybach reports that these changes provide “even more impressive handling without unduly compromising the car’s whisper-smooth ride.”